• Friday, May 24, 2024
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BusinessDay

The man at the Synagogue

OBADIAH-MAILAFIA-2

On Friday the 12th of September, a guest house belonging to the Synagogue Church of All Nations collapsed into rubble in the sprawling Ikotun district of Lagos. At least 115 souls perished, the overwhelming number of them South Africans (at least 85). Building collapses are, sadly, a recurring phenomenon in Nigeria –so common that our newspapers report them with an element of blasé nonchalance. The latest case has raised considerable sentiments because it happened to a high profile personality in person of Prophet T. B. Joshua of the Synagogue Church.

A South African friend who works as an international banker has a thriving real estate business in Johannesburg. While he busies himself with banking, his wife takes care of the real estate business. He explained that in his home country there was little chance of anyone cutting corners in the real estate sector. When you buy land, it goes through rigorous verification before a certificate is issued. Then when you have a building plan, it also goes through an approval process. And when you lay your foundation, there has to be yet another approval process. The series of inspections and approvals continue until project completion. If at any stage there is a structural or other problem, all parties involved – builders, contractors, architects and the approving authorities – would have to answer for it.

Contrast the situation with Nigeria. In our planning laws we have all the extant necessary statutes regarding building standards. But in practice, they are obeyed in form rather than in spirit and in truth. It is a pernicious evil that permeates the entire construction industry from real estate to bridges and highways. And as far as I am aware, no builder or contractor has ever been imprisoned or made to pay for being responsible for a building collapse in Nigeria.

Love him or loath him, Nasir El-Rufai was something of a national hero because of his remarkable success as Minister for our Federal Capital Territory of Abuja. A Quantity Surveyor by profession, he had an instinctive grasp for what was right and professional in the urban planning and construction sector. He wielded the big stick with panache when necessary. It did not matter whether you were a peasant or a party bigwig or even his uncle. That Abuja is the beautiful world-class city it is today is largely due to Nasir El-Rufai. If we had more people like him managing our cities, the syndrome of building collapse would have been a thing of the past.

Honesty requires some disclosure on my part. A few years ago I did visit the Synagogue at the instigation of a friend and senior brother who happens to know the Prophet Temitope Joshua. The Pastor sent one of his assistants, a beautiful young Fulani woman convert in a jeep with police escorts, to receive us at Ikeja airport. We were driven all the way to Ikotun and were lodged in the guest house. I recall that the rock-hewn building looked as solid as the rock of Gibraltar.By Nigerian standards, I would rate it as a four-star facility. My big brother had something to discuss with the Pastor which they did privately. We were never billed a dime.

I went to the Synagogue as a great sceptic. I could not vouch for its theology. When I met the man in person I found him to be disconcertingly humble. St. Augustine of Hippo described humility as “the mark of Christ”. Unlike many clergy, he also exhibited great love and compassion for people.

There are people out there who entertain a visceral dislike for the man and everything he stands for. He has been the object of hatred and jealousy, especially by members of the household of God. Some dismiss him as the devil incarnate.

In matters of religion, wisdom requires that one doesn’t rush to judgement. On the last day, there will be legions of bishops in hell and a surprising number of despised people in heaven. God is no respecter of persons. Temitope Balogun Joshua was born in the small town of Arigidi in Ondo State on June 12, 1963. As it happens, I did national service as a teacher at Akoko Anglican Grammar School in the same town. I still feel very much a part of that community. Pastor Joshua was born into a humble home and had very little education. He does not preach quoting the Bible in Greek. But he has been an instrument for tremendous miracles in the lives of millions across the world.

Remarkably, he has never condescended to joining issues with his detractors. There have been two separate foiled attacks that we know of from agents of the dreaded Boko Haram. A video clip of a mysterious plane that circled round the building three times before it came down cannot be ignored. There have been pressures to arrest the Pastor and to close down his ministry. This is precisely what those who might have brought down the building hope to achieve. Pressures have mounted on Governor Babatunde Fashola to take rash punitive measures. I am glad that he has resisted such pressures and has insisted on painstaking investigation in accordance with the precepts of the rule of law.

Before we crucify the Man of the Synagogue, let us remember that he has brought more tourists to Nigeria than the National Tourism Board. He is the most famous Nigerian in Southern Africa. If he was an impostor, the sick and the infirm – and Heads of State – would not be trooping to Ikotun in such numbers. You cannot lie in that manner with statistics.

One thing that is certain is that Beelzebub cannot continue to cast out Beelzebub forever. Umaru Yar’Adua, a Muslim President, conferred the honour of Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR) on Joshua in 2008. If that building was brought down by those who have received billions of dollars from the Arab world to destroy our country, they will reap whirlwind.

OBADIAH MAILAFIA