I genuinely grieve for my nation, Nigeria. A people so enriched with natural talent, a country so bequeathed with bountiful resources, a land so engraved with a remarkable history. Yet what headlines ring out across the globe today? Death, decadence and disaster! A nation ravaged by Islamic fundamentalists who chew sticks and cut throats with alarmingly fiendish frequency! A nation filled with power-hungry politicians who put personal aspirations above national interests! A nation polluted by the venomous fumes of corruption which have crept like a cankerworm into almost every facet of our society! With the 2015 elections around the corner, tensions rising and violent words being meted out by both militants and ministers of God alike, I wonder what lies next for the supposed giant of Africa.
My insipid musings were suddenly broken by a tap on the shoulder. My neighbour for the next several hours on a flight from Lagos to New York had belatedly arrived, takeoff fast approaching. After pleasantries were exchanged, my morbid national reflections continued. However, they were about to be somewhat lightened by a peculiar revelation my companion shared with me mid-flight. After introducing myself as a writer, I pondered if I could publish his tale. He reluctantly agreed on the premise that I should shield his identity.
After our discussion had danced across topics from Buhari to Babangida to Bakare, I bitterly told him that it was nigh on impossible to point to a Nigerian icon today that has genuinely put his country ahead of his own personal pursuits. “Selfless patriotism can still be found,” he defiantly retorted. “Do you know Temitope Joshua?” Who doesn’t? The bearded Nigerian pastor has become increasingly famous (or infamous?) within Nigeria of late. “Let me tell you something about that man. My tight friend knew him almost 30 years ago. He taught his children for evening classes.” My interest was kindled. I had visited Joshua’s SCOAN once and was quite taken by the unique brand of spirituality at work in Ikotun. Apparently, a young and sprightly Joshua was in the tutoring career before delving into God’s work. “My friend and his children loved the guy so much; he practically became part of their family,” the unassuming gentleman continued.
But here comes the bombshell! “Would you believe he actually offered to pay for T.B. Joshua to travel with the family to America when they wanted to relocate?” What! So Africa’s most contentious pastor could have travelled abroad with a well-endowed family in his early 20s before he achieved any form of clerical reputation? “What stopped him,” I frowned, expecting to hear that perhaps his visa was denied or he had a sharp fall out with the family in question.
“He refused,” my new friend muttered. “He told them that God said he should stay in Nigeria until ‘it was the right time.’ ” The answer given by the famous preacher several decades ago left me astounded. Which other young, fledgling Nigerian could have made such a decision and not be crowned a raving lunatic by friends and family alike, I wondered. Especially considering Joshua’s poverty-stricken background in Ondo State.
However, upon some reflection, I can’t say that I am so surprised. Today, 30 years down the line, Pastor Joshua continues to tread the path of the unusual that has earned him the reputation of being both unconventional and unpredictable! While his counterparts (who have at one point in time vilified him) are embroiled in various political controversies via associations or damning statements, he has remained a consistent beacon of morality and magnanimity, choosing to let actions speak louder than words.
I genuinely admire the fact that Pastor T.B. Joshua chose to remain within Nigeria, especially considering the economical impact his decision to stay has had on our nation. Oil aside, it is a well known fact that the nation’s main tourism revenue comes from religious pilgrims, the majority of whom make their way to The Synagogue for some form of solace. And evidently they find it, given the fact that the foreign influx has consistently increased as time has progressed. Despite unending controversies, The SCOAN has continued to wax stronger, its founder standing in the forefront of a positive message being spread concerning Nigeria to counter the negativity projected by the likes of Boko Haram and Niger Delta militants. I hope it will not take the arrival of ‘the right time’ for Joshua to set his tents abroad before Nigerians wake up to value the abounding potential that lies within an unusual church compound in a rundown Lagos environ.
It is stories like this that help fan even the faintest embers of hope within me for my motherland. The very faintest…
Samuel Olaleye is a young novelist currently in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. He can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org