The Dangerous Lies Of TB Joshua, By Ebenezer Obadare

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Editor’s note: Ebenezer Obadare, a columnist, has a lot of questions for Pastor T.B. Joshua regarding the September 2014 SCOAN guesthouse collapse and the subsequent attempts of the mega-popular religious leader to divert attention from and conceal details of the tragedy. How come in Nigeria we are so easily distracted in everything church-related?
By now, you must have come across the totally unexpected news of the naming of the leader of The Synagogue, Church of All Nations (SCOAN), Pastor Temitope Balogun Joshua, as the first-of-its-kind 2015 Yoruba Man of the Year. Egbe Omo Oodua Parapo, the organization which has adjudged Pastor Joshua worthy of this special distinction, assures us it is “a coalition of 35 pan-Yoruba groups drawn from across the world,” and that the decision to bestow the special honor on Pastor Joshua was arrived at after a careful screening “of over 500 nominees” by its planning committee, following its annual conference at an unnamed venue in the United States.
If you are at a loss as to the need for a special award for a Yoruba man, or for that matter the fact that before now, you knew nothing about either the Egbe Omo Oodua Parapo, or Dr. Akinwale Adewunmi, the purported signatory to its release, you are not alone. And you need not worry, because you are not missing anything.
This is all you need to know: the Egbe, the planning committee, and the alleged Dr. Adewunmi are, in all probability, the same person — yes, you guessed right, T.B. Joshua himself; and if you have been debating whether or not Pastor Joshua is worthy of such an award, then, sadly, you have fallen for his gimmick, which is to deflect attention away from his ongoing legal troubles with the Lagos state government. Mr. Oyetade Komolafe, the latter’s coroner, has recommended Joshua’s prosecution for criminal negligence after a collapsed guest house within his Ikotun-Egbe church left 116 people dead on September 12, 2014. Ever since, Pastor Joshua has been doing his utmost both to discredit the coroner’s report and ultimately derail the legal process. This totally mysterious award is his latest gamble.
In any other society in which certain values are held sacrosanct, Pastor Joshua would be by now cooling his feet behind bars, and the fact that he is still allowed to enjoy his freedom, which he then uses to pervert the course of justice, tells you everything you need to know about the state of affairs in our country.
For our own education, it is important to recall some of the things (at least the ones we know publicly) that Pastor Joshua has done till date to hide the truth of what happened within his church premises on that fateful Friday, and mislead the Nigerian public.
First, for the first three days after the incident, he barred officials of the National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA) from entering the site to gather evidence and help survivors.
Second, for several weeks after, until the Lagos state bowed to public pressure to act, he promoted the ludicrous lie that an unknown small plane was the cause of the guest house’s collapse.
Third, he was caught on tape trying to pay journalists N50,000 each as inducement to publish falsehood about the incident. The authenticity of that tape has never been denied.
Fourth, he tried to financially induce family members of the estimated 85 South African victims of the collapse. In December last year, he had them flown into Lagos with a promise to “assist them with various household expenses”.
Fifth, and in explicit homage to some of the ignoble holdovers from our recent military past, Mr Joshua has created faux civic associations to champion his cause. Two such associations are the Oodua Nationalist Coalition and the Nigerian Human Rights Community, the latter ostensibly “a coalition of 135 NGOs and CBOs”. On Sunday July 19 2015, both published full-page advertisements in Sunday Sun (page 67) and The Punch (page 45) respectively, each seeking to absolve Pastor Joshua of any guilt for the collapsed building. The statement attributed to the Nigerian Human Rights Community, and signed by one Dr. Anselm Oboku, even had the chutzpah to suggest that the building collapse might have been due to “a revenge attack by terrorists”.
Egbe Omo Oodua Parapo is the third known association that Pastor Joshua has manufactured.
In short, Pastor Joshua has spent a lot of money trying to get away with plain murder. He has hustled, blustered, and bamboozled. He has used every trick in the book and he has, up till now, failed. But there is no telling what he might do next, especially if the justice system stands its ground and he gets more desperate.
As we await his next maneuver, it is critical that we are mindful of the reason why fraudsters like Pastor T.B. Joshua tend to flourish in a clime like ours, and what it is that gives his ilk their tenacity. As I have explained at length elsewhere, the T.B. Joshuas of this world are enabled by a potent mix of popular gullibility and economic vulnerability, and as the horizon continues to darken on the economic front, ordinary Nigerians increasingly put their trust in the hands of social agents who provide irrational explanations for, and solutions to, our self-inflicted crisis.
For T.B. Joshua not to get away with murder, we must remain vigilant. Some will say that even if he gets away with it, he won’t be the first. It’s true. But nothing stops us from using this particular case to chart a new direction in our social life. What does it say about us as a nation if a man gets to lie and cheat his way out of the murder of 116 people?
Ebenezer Obadare is associate professor of sociology at the University of Kansas.


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