The Synagogue Tragedy

BAMIDELE JOHNSON

I  am not in a position to know if Pastor Chris Oyakhilome and Prophet TB Joshua are still friends.  They were friends, I am sure, around 2001. They visited each other, a development that was not to the taste of Kris Okotie, who branded both as shamans, and kicked up a widely publicised quarrel with Oyakhilome. Well, I hope Oyakhilome and Joshua are still friends, as they need each other at this time. Oyakhilome’s marriage is threatened. Joshua’s church has just recorded a tragedy that will provide a fresh and very stiff challenge to his credentials as a “man of God”.

His credentials, it has to be said, are not exactly sturdy in the country’s Christian circles. It is the same with Oyakhilome, who is a king among his followers, but regarded with scorn elsewhere. The Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN, the umbrella body of the Pentecostal movement in the country, prefers not to fellowship with the two men, which it views as charlatans. I’m not sure the position of the PFN is a correct one, given that its ranks is teeming with preachers of similar hue to the two men denied its membership. We can debate that till the end of time.

Now, let’s go to the facts of the tragedy at Joshua’s Synagogue Church of All Nations. Just before midday on 12 September, a building serving as a guest house in the church came down, taking with it many in the building and those outside it. The number of deaths has been put at over 40. The injured are similarly numerous. Public reaction to the tragedy has been a bit bizarre. Sympathy for the victims and their families has not been sufficiently expressed. The dominant emotion has been anger-directed very strongly at Joshua. Even in our anger, we need to express sympathy to the families that lost their loved ones. It is the least we could do in these trying times.

The prevalent allegation is that the building was a product of shoddy construction job, one that was indifferent to building regulations or one that utilised inferior materials or materials in inadequate proportions. The tragedy has re-invited  attention to Joshua’s less than sparkling resume as a preacher. I would have been surprised if it had turned out otherwise.

Speculations and conjectures, things we are ludicrously good at, have been prevalent. Sympathy, as I mentioned earlier, has been almost an afterthought.

Everybody wants Joshua prosecuted for one thing or the other. We do not seem ready to wait for an investigation. This carries a whiff of an opportunistic stick-up. There appears to have been a long-running desire to have Joshua unhinged. The tragedy, I have to say, has fallen so well for those with such a desire. They are rubbing their hands in glee.

I am no fan of Joshua’s. That, perhaps, puts me in the category of those who have wanted him unhinged. But that should not stop of us from feeling grief, expressing sympathy commensurate with the scale of the tragedy. I haven’t seen that done.

That also should not stop at examining Joshua’s explanation for the crash, the ill-treatment of emergency officials and journalists by members of his church. He has apologised for the ill-treatment. That leaves us with his explanation.

Joshua’s attempt to ascribe the collapse of the building to some terrorist attack has got me more perplexed than angry. A plane, probably waiting for landing clearance, hovered above the building. Four times it did, flying very low. That  could result vibration arising from engine noise. From the CCTV footage released, the plane did not drop bombs. If the building collapsed on account of the vibration from the hovering aircraft, it is not unreasonable to believe that that the integrity of the structure was dodgy. If, as being speculated, extra floors were added to the building, it is a safe assumption that structural reinforcements necessary to deal with the excess tonnage in terms of man and material were not made. It would then mean that the  vibration was just a trigger for the collapse.

My secondary school, Baptist Boys’High School, Abeokuta, is situated close to three quarries. For over 35 years, the school buildings have withstood the effects of rock blasting. Not one building has buckled. I also suspect that planes, maybe once or twice, must have hovered above buildings close to our airports and we haven’t had such buildings come down. These are the reasons for which I am taking Joshua’s claim with a pinch of salt.

I am no fan of his, I repeat. He comes across, like many in his trade, as a con. He’s one of those who claim to see things before they happen. His last list of prophecies, laughably non-specific, did not include the collapse of his guest house. He claims to have been given the power to raise the dead. Well, this is a chance to demonstrate such and shut people like me up. It may make me look bad, but it would end every debate about his powers.

Joshua is getting pasted because many, including church-going people who consider themselves lovable and spirit-filled, because he lacks the polish of others in his trade. I suspect that if this had happened in the church of one the A-list pastors, his followers would have mounted a sturdy defence.  Joshua is a B-lister. He doesn’t have the eloquence of the A-listers. This may be due to his sparse education. If your church is name Synagogue Church of All Nations (synagogue church?), you are not likely to have been well educated. But he has succeeded all the same, selling deliverance from a smorgasbord of afflictions. Joshua would win me over if could bring back to life those killed in the rubble of his guest house. Even then, the tragedy must be investigated by the appropriate authorities and penalties dished out to those found culpable. We have a history of messing up things like this. We faff around for a while and wait for another tragedy, preferably a low-profile one, to take our minds from the big one. That way, nothing gets done and the cycle continues.

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