In Nigeria, the slogan has become, ‘One week, one controversy.’ And somehow, each new controversy emerges when issues arising from previous controversies are still stoking national discourses. And most often, the new controversies divert attention from the previous ones and put a final seal on further discussions on them.
The previous week, a nation dazed by harsh economic realities brought about by spiralling energy and foreign exchange costs was awoken by stories of a federal Minister charged with the duties of empowering poor and vulnerable citizens diverting hundreds of milions of naira of those fund to private accounts.
That debate was still hot when the British Broadcasting Corpration (BBC) World Service investigating unit codenamed Africa Eye announced the release of a damning three-part documentary on its investigation into allegations of serial sexual abuse, manipulated miracles and gross human rights violations by the late Prophet Temitope Balogun Joshua, TB Joshua for short, founder of the Lagos-based Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN).
In the documentary tagged, ‘Discioles: the Cult of TB Joshua,’ BBC interviewed 30 former workers and members of the church, who alleged that they were subjected to abuse by the late Prophet TB Joshua. They were mainly women from Europe and other parts of Africa who came to the Lagos base of SCOAN for miracles but said they were trapped for many years and serially abused by the late Prophet.
SCOAN has denied the allegations, describing the documentary as gangster journalism aimed at dragging down the name of the founder of the church and the church itself.
Dare Adejumo, the church’s director of public affairs, said said it was an attempt to give a dog a bad name in order to hang it. He said BBC’s report was “weird and strange” and failed to meet with ethical and professional standards of journalism that demand fairness, balance and objectivity.
He added that most of the characters presented in the documentary were not known to the church, while some of them were relics of gay lifestyles.
First to approach the BBC with her story was one Ajoke, a 28-year-old lady who claimed to be a love child of TB Joshua. Ajoke, who said she was in hiding narrated how she had relocate to SCOAN base and was compelled to become a disciple, a term used to describe devotees of TB Joshua, who were quartered at the church headquarters at Ikotun Lagos.
She said the disciples were kept under strict conditions that denied them adequate sleep and to attend to the needs of Prophet TB Joshua, who they called ‘Daddy’. However, Ajoke said she spoke out against those conditions and refused to stand up each time TB Joshua entered their rooms. For doing so, she said she was subjected to further abuse and isolation.
Two British women identified as Rae and Anneka also featured in the documentary. Rae said she came to Lagos to be cured of her gay sexuality but ended up trapped for 12 years at SCOAN base where she was converted to a zombie and abused many times by TB Joshua and his workers. Anneka said she was thrilled after watching TB Joshua heal people of cancer and decide to come to find healing for her mother that had terminal cancer. Both women said they didn’t get what they came to see TB Joshua for.
Namibian female journalist, Jessica Karimu, said in the BBC investigation that she was 17 and a virgin when she visited SCOAN. She alleged that TB Joshua raped her in the bathroom of his penthouse. “I was screaming and he was whispering in my ear that I should stop acting like a baby. I was so traumatized, I couldn’t shout,” Jessica said recalling the five years she spent as a disciple of the late Prophet.
Interviewees in the documentary told stories of abuse harassment, rape, manipulation and staged miracles. BBC said the investigations began months before the death of TB Joshua in June, 2021.
Allegations in the documentary were damning and struck at the faith of millions of TB Joshua ‘s followers in and outside Nigeria. The Ikotun base of the church has been a Mecca of sorts to thousands of people from Africa, Europe and Asia, including former Heads of States, celebrities and world leaders.
Apart from healings and deliverances that the church claims to be carrying out, Prophet TB Joshua had also carried out philanthropic projects, distributing food and relief materials to the poor and needy. He had also offered scholarship to many people even outside the church membership.
Expectedly, reactions have been sharp and divided. If the documentary intended to divide the following of the late prophet, it do not quite do it. It rather made many of TB Joshua’s supporters and devotees stick with him. They queried the release of the documentary after the death of the prophet, when he had no opportunity to respond to issues raised in it.
Some of those that reacted have even alleged that the documentary was part of a grand plot by those who failed to take over the empire left behind by TB Joshua to crumble the church, knowing that dead men don’t talk.
The story has it that the instigators of the story were mainly foreigners, who joined Joshua and used their clout to draw in people from Europe and other African countries to buy into the SCOAN project.
They had sidelined the wife of TB Joshua, Prophetess Evelyn Joshua when he was alive and were set to take over he structures when he died. But at the last minute, Prophetess Evelyn was brought in to take over despite their efforts. This position tends to corroborate the church’s position that the documentary was aimed at giving the church a bad name in order to destroy it.
“There may have been serious powerplay as reported after TB died. His wife was almost shut out from the power game and it was believed at that time that some of the foreigners and Nigerians were already taking control of affairs before his wife with the help of other loyalists fought their way back.
“Sex, torture, manipulation etc were already existing in that place for decades but members covered up because of what they were gaining materially and financially,” said Joseph Ichokwu.
Onyeukwu Nzota said the documentary was the handiwork of people whose “kingdoms” were destroyed by TB fighting back.. “TB Joshua destroyed their kingdom. Sons and daughters of God must not be deceived by the antics of the devil driven documentary. They are trying to stop people from believing true men of God going forward.”
Akugbe Daniels, a Nigerian journalist belongs to this school. “The whole idea is to to bring down the empire. It is a case of we built thile legacy. We will destroy it,” Daniels said.
Another journalist, Abimbola Adelakun, writing in the Punch, said the entire episode stated in the documentary was not a surprise. “He did what most ministers did, but he also superseded them,” she said. “They said Joshua was abusive, but physical and sexual abuses are endemic to religion. Making people disciples involves grooming, indoctrination and disciplining them in ways that too quickly devolve into abuse” she added.
Daddy Freeze, a popular critic of charismatic preachers said the BBC documentary has further created trust issues for pastors. “Touch not my anointed and do my prophets no harm. Na TB matter dey ground now. I don’t know who to trust anymore,” Freeze said in reaction to people who abhor criticism of church ministers.
Helen Apkabio, founder of the Calabar -based Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries and a long time critic of TB Joshua, said she had said it long before TB Joshua died that he practised spiritism. “It’s a level of magical practice. Everybody knew. When he started as a native doctor, we all saw; later he started wearing white garments and then changed again. People said it till he died,” Akpabio said.
“Why didn’t BBC conduct this investigation when he was alive,” asked Erasmus Sylvester, who croticised the BBC documentary.
Timothy Samuel, who criticised the alleged victims of TB Joshua in the documentary, said, “What a sweet story. Or does it mean that all of you were gaining favour and selling your bodies I return? Please, I never believed all your stories.”
Blessing Edokpolor simply accused BBC of chasing clout with the documentary. “Na money BBC dey find. Why nau, bloggers,” she queried. Similarly, Richmond Ede said, “I have noticed that when some people want to get followers on social media, they will come out to lie against someone God has made great thanking that it is the only way to get followers easily.”
Izzy Man, one of the respondents to the saga blamed the prophet for making disciples out of women. “One major error of TB Joshua is making female disciples. He should have just toed the path of Jesus Christ who never had female among his 12 disciples. There would have been scandals after the death and resurrection of Jesus if he had female among his 12.”
Fr. Kelvin Ugwu, a Nigerian Catholic priest based in Malawi, the southern African country where many of the devotees of TB Joshua came from hiweve praised BBC for taking a “bold step” to ivestigate the allegations against the late Nigerian prophet.
“Before you start fighting and defending TB Joshua, take three hours of your time and quietly watch the three episodes documentary. At least, give the benefit of hearing other people’s views.ost of you know that TB Joshua was evil, but you think God will slap you when you tell the truth. Why this bothers me is that many of you will not learn,” Ugwu said.
Some other views have been moderate. Former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode said,”The late founder of SCOAN touched many lives, fought a good fight, stood till the end and established a great and enduring legacy. No man can destroy it with dirty lies, not even the BBC.”
Senator Shehu Sani said, “If you have any issues against your pastors, alfas or imams, please confront them with it when they are alive and not when they are gone and have no right of reply.”
Apostle Johnson Suleman, who once had a spat with TB Joshua said, “When the man died, there was a lot of talk about him being fake. Validation is of God. Leave it alone.”
BBC has yet reacted to the flurry of responses to the controversial documentary. It’s not the usual practice for media organisations to hand over their investigations to security agencies, except when such investigations reveal infractions criminal or security against them.
Similarly the security agencies in Nigeria have not responded to the documentary. One of the alleged victims in Britain, Rae said she had reported the matter to the British police but she said no action has yet been taken.
The Synagogue Church of All Nations was established in 1987 by the late Prophet TB Joshua. It grew gradually to an internationally renowned centre over the years and attached high profile pilgrims seeking miracles and deliverances at the Ikotun base of the church.
In 2014, a major disaster befell the church when aulti-storey building it was constructing within its headquarters collapsed and killed about 114 people in the lower floors, most of them pilgrims from southern Africa countries. Scoan paid huge compensation to the families but the report of an investigation into the building collapse by Lagos State government was never made an issue.
SCOAN’s television station, Emmanuel TV was watched on satellite tv all over the world. But Nyasa Times reported during the week that Emmanuel TV announced that it will cease broadcasting on Multichoice platforms – DStv and GOtv from January 17, a development, Nyasa Times said Multichoice had confirmed.
Nigeria is regarded as one of the most religious Countries where people seek spiritual and supernatural assistance for personal growth and development. The Country therefore a rich repertoire of religious leaders with cult following. However the country is yet to record cases where religious devotees die in circumstances similar to the Guyana tragedy of the 1970s.