By Adebayo Obajemu
Shock and disbelief has greeted news of the death of Pastor T.B Joshua at the weekend with the event bringing to the fore once again many of the differing and contrasting perspectives associated with his life and ministry.
Indeed, Temitope Balogun Joshua’s life is a tasking one for biographers. Evidently, his is profile in mysticism and controversy, love and hate.
As Arts and Books review editor at The Week magazine in 1997, this writer was determined to interview T.B.Joshua, who was then at the height of his glorious but controversial, flourishing ministry.
The prophet popularly called T.B.Joshua declined the interview, adding that he would only grant the interview after this writer must have observed his healing and preaching activities for one month.
For one month, along with a retinue of “whites” and Asians, this writer minutely observed the healings done through deploying his hands in an acrobatic fashion, in this process, lethal diseases ranging from cancer to tuberculosis and HIV were healed, some would say “healed”, the later said in derision as there were unfounded allegations of the diseases coming back to afflict the sufferers shortly after healings done in the full glare of the camera.
The interview eventually took place, but he predicted that this writer would have to fight to get it published back in the office, and it was exactly as he predicted that it happened.
Arguably, Joshua was about one of the most controversial men of God in Africa, yet he was equally one of the most influential.
T.B Joshua was born in Arigidi, Akoko, Info State on June 12, 1963 , and without an iota of doubt, achieved remarkable renown as a charismatic pastor, televangelist and philanthropist.
As the leader and founder of The Synagogue, Church of All Nations (SCOAN), widely acclaimed as a Christian megachurch that runs the Emmanuel TV television station from Lagos, he has through his philanthropy and healing ministry touched millions of lives, and arguably, he is the most philanthropic of televangelists in the country.
T. B Joshua is loved by many for a number of reasons: one, for his healing ministry; and the other reason being his willingness to help people who reach out to him for financial help or to intervene in the resolution of some of their other personal challenges.
In 2011, Forbes put his networth at S$10-15 million.
Widely acclaimed for his healing ministry, his renown cut across several continents, and in his rare visits to other countries, he was always feted and treated as a royal, and indeed given a presidential treatment of sorts.
Joshua’s popularity in particular traversed Africa and Latin America and he had a quite large social media presence with as much as 3,500,000 fans on Facebook.
His YouTube channel, the Emmanuel TV platform, had over 1,000,000 YouTube subscribers and was the world’s most viewed Christian ministry on the platform before it was suspended. He was described as the “Oprah of Evangelism” and “YouTube’s most popular Pastor”.
Accolades and recognition had come in torrents, included his being awarded the Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) by the Nigerian government in 2009 and being voted the Yoruba man of the decade by Pan-Yoruba media outlet Irohin-Odua.
Also, Joshua was in the rarefied list of Africa’s 50 most influential people by the Pan-African magazines, The Africa Report and New African Magazine.
As of 2011, according to Forbes, Joshua was Nigeria’s third-richest pastor, although the claim was immediately denied in a statement by the church at that point. He was known to be controversial, and was even ‘blacklisted’ by the government of Cameroon in 2010.
This writer was on journalistic mission to the church when the late Assistant Inspector General of Police, Raphael Ige was in attendance. Then he was commissioner of police.
Right at the service, he predicted that he would promoted at a specific period but that his career would be enmeshed in a political mess that might cost him a lot, warning him to be careful.
Months after he was promoted as predicted by Joshua,but got enmeshed in the famous Ngige kidnap saga in 2002.
His teachings, healing ministry and weird way of using his hands to do the healings have led to charges of mysticism and black magic, but none of these could be verified.
According to Joshua’s official biography, unusual circumstances surrounded his birth. He notes that he spent 15 months in his mother’s womb, and narrowly avoided death after a quarry explosion near his house sent rocks through its roof just seven days after his birth.
It is also alleged that Joshua’s birth was ‘prophesied’ 100 years prior.
Joshua, then known as Balogun Francis, attended St. Stephen’s Anglican Primary School in ArigidiAkoko, Nigeria, between 1971 and 1977, but failed to complete one year of secondary school education.
In school, he was known as “small pastor” because of his love for the Bible. He worked in various casual jobs after his schooling had ended, including carrying chicken waste at a poultry farm. He organised Bible studies for local children and attended evening school during this period.
Joshua attempted to join the Nigerian military but was thwarted due to a train breakdown that left him stranded en route the military academy.
On the genesis of his church, The Synagogue, Church of All Nations (SCOAN),
Joshua stated that through a heavenly vision he had received divine anointing and a covenant from God to start his ministry.
Following this, Joshua founded the Synagogue, Church of All Nations (SCOAN). According to the organisation, more than 15,000 members attend its weekly Sunday service and visitors from outside Nigeria are accommodated in the accommodation blocks constructed at the church.
It was widely believed that The SCOAN attracts more weekly attendees from home and abroad – Japan, Australia, South Africa, etc -which some sources say is more than the combined number of visitors to Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London. The SCOAN’s popular services have also resulted in an enormous boost for local businesses and hoteliers.
Despite Joshua’s popularity, the church only has a branch in Ghana, Joshua stating that “it is not yet time” for him to have branches worldwide as “it will be too much for my character.”
The SCOAN has been described as “Nigeria’s biggest tourist attraction” and “the most visited destination by religious tourists in West Africa,” with thousands of foreigners flocking in to attend the church’s weekly services.
Figures released by the Nigerian Immigration Service indicated that six out of every ten foreign travellers coming into Nigeria are bound for The SCOAN, a fact discussed in Zimbabwean parliament when addressing the economic potentials of religious tourism.
This Day newspapers reported that “about two million local and inbound tourists” visit The SCOAN annually. The church’s popularity has led to an increase in flight routes to Lagos from several African countries and European, Asian and South America in 2013.
Joshua’s healings and miracles at
SCOAN have led to wide admiration, yet many have dismissed such healings and miracles as voodoos. Several hundred Nigerians and international visitors come to the SCOAN each week to register for the prayer lines where the visitors are prayed over by Joshua. SCOAN has published numerous videos claiming to document the healing of incurable disabilities and illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, blindness and open wounds.
Spiritual healing at The SCOAN has been the subject of several media reports, including a mention in Time Magazine, an Associated Press interview and an article by Foreign Policy detailing the tendency of Nigerians to seek ‘spiritual’ help due to insufficient medical facilities.
A huge debate was stirred within Nigeria when the father of abducted school girl EseOruru stated his intention to take his daughter to T.B. Joshua for ‘prayers’ following her release. Similarly, a leaked report stating the intention of Nigeria’s embattled former petroleum minister Diezani Alison-Madueke to visit Joshua for ‘spiritual support’ in her battle against breast cancer elicited controversy.
Many celebrities, political and business elites are said to have secretly visited Joshua in the past for help.
Many have also claimed to be healed through ‘anointing water’ that has been prayed over by Joshua and given to those who are unable to physically attend his church in Lagos.
Others claim they were protected from deadly incidents because they had the water with them. Joshua also made headlines when he claimed his anointing water could cure the deadly disease Ebola. He subsequently sent 4,000 bottles of the water alongside a cash gift of $50,000 to the Ebola-stricken nation of Sierra Leone. This came after Lagos State Health officials visited Joshua, requesting he publicly discourage Ebola victims from visiting his church for prayers.
A Sierra Leonean politician later claimed the water helped stop the spread of the disease and cured several Ebola victims.
Alleged exorcisms are also common in the church.
SCOAN is also known for the purported “deliverance” of those allegedly possessed by evil spirits during its services. Strange occurrences have been reported during these deliverance prayers, including the case of a South African girl who allegedly ‘cried blood’ and a Liberian man who began behaving ‘like a dog.”
A young man allegedly delivered from a ‘homosexual demon’ at The SCOAN also attracted widespread media attention, as did the ‘transformation’ of a Paraguayan transvestite.
After ‘deliverance’, those involved often confess the atrocities which the ‘evil spirit’ allegedly pushed them to engage in, such as prostitution, armed robbery, internet fraud and human trafficking.
Ghanaian human rights lawyer KwablaSenanu claimed that he was delivered from a spiritual problem.
Similarly, Ghanaian musician Denise Williams said she was delivered from a demon that had pushed her to become a drug addict and suicidal.
Veteran Nigerian Nollywood actress Camilla Mberekpe was also said to have been delivered at The SCOAN.[ Popular Nollywood actor Jim Iyke also said he received deliverance at The SCOAN, with the video of the event subsequently going viral.
A video of Kenyan Olympic athlete Mercy Cherono receiving ‘deliverance’ through Joshua’s prayers attracted widespread attention in Kenya. She subsequently testified in the company of her husband how the ‘evil spirit’ had negatively affected her young marriage and career.
Joshua’s humanitarian and philanthropic work is well known.
A Forbes blogger estimated that Joshua spent $20 million on “education, healthcare and rehabilitation programs for former Niger Delta militants”.
There is also a rehabilitation programme for militants from Nigeria’s volatile Niger Delta region, repentant armed robbers and sex workers who came to the church for ‘deliverance.’
Joshua’s ministry is also noted for a ‘scholarship program’ which caters for the academic needs of students in their thousands, ranging from primary to tertiary education.
In 2012, Joshua sponsored a Nigerian student doing a PhD in Oxford University, with Nigerian media reporting she received £100,000 from the church.
He also gave a scholarship to a young Motswana to study at Harvard Law School in America.
After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Joshua sent a team of medical personnel and humanitarian workers to the affected area, establishing a field hospital called ‘Clinique Emmanuel.’
He additionally sent support to nations such as Philippines, India and Ghana in the wake of varying natural disasters. The ‘Emmanuel TV Team’ also assisted victims of the earthquake that struck the nation of Ecuador in April 2016, providing over $500,000 worth of humanitarian aid.
Joshua funded the building and running of a school in Lahore, Pakistan named ‘Emmanuel School’. He also rebuilt a school in a rural area destroyed by the 2016 Ecuador earthquake, travelling to Ecuador for the opening of the school in June 2017.
When Hamza Al-Mustapha, the Chief Security Officer of former Nigerian President Sani Abacha, was released after eleven years of imprisonment, his first port of call was to Joshua’s church in acknowledgement of a ‘prophecy’ the cleric allegedly gave him when Abacha was still in power.
Some critics however argue that Joshua’s predictions are too vague.
His influence in African politics was also enormous.
A BBC Africa journalist once questioned whether Joshua was “the most powerful man in Africa” due to his alleged influence in the African political sphere, with him being linked to leading political actors in East and West Africa for example. Google ranked one of Emmanuel TV’s YouTube videos as the fourth most viewed clip ever within Nigeria.
Relationship with other pastors.
Joshua has been publicly condemned by several prominent pastors within Nigeria, his most vocal critic being Pastor Chris Okotie who described him as a ‘son of the devil’. The Christian Association of Nigeria and Pentecostal Fellowship Of Nigeria have both acknowledged Joshua is not a member of either organisation and denounced him as an ‘impostor.’
Enoch Adeboye, David Oyedepo, Ayo Oritsejafor, Paul Adefarasin and Matthew Ashimolowo are among the pastors who publicly denounced Joshua, as did disgraced American megachurch leader Ted Haggard.
Blacklisted in Cameroon.
He was ‘blacklisted’ by the government of Cameroon in 2010 and termed a ‘son of the devil’. Rumours of a visit by Joshua to Zimbabwe in 2012 led to an intense national debate, culminating in several pastors and politicians strongly objecting.