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    Wednesday, December 30, 2015

    Synagogue Struggles For Life Months After Building Collapse

    The controversial collapse of a building at the Synagogue Church of All Nations, Lagos has dug a hole in its profile and programmes, writes Afeez Hanafi, who attended some of the programmes
    It is a year and a quarter after about 116 persons, mostly foreigners, lost their lives to the collapse of a six-storey guesthouse on the premises of the Synagogue Church of All Nations in Ikotun, Lagos State.
    Many people may be gradually putting the incident behind them. But not SCOAN and its environs, as lives have yet to be fully restored in the area, as visits to the church and its neighbourhood by our correspondent revealed. 
    It was around 2pm on Friday, November 27 and worshippers, including foreigners who had already booked into the lodges within the church, had started arriving with their luggage filed in for inspection at a security post.
    Punctuated with national flags of countries across the world and symbols of the Christ, SCOAN is indeed edificial and boasts an appreciable capacity with comforting facilities that can make thousands of worshippers feel at home.
    But the atmosphere on the Friday was rather too quiet for Prophet T.B. Josua-led SCOAN, which is expected to be preoccupied with one programme or the other preparatory to the major Sunday service that attracts worshippers from far and near. 

    “The man (Prophet) has reduced the church programmes since the guesthouse collapsed. That is why there has not been much crowd these days. But he will start those programmes again and even introduce new ones. God is using the man no matter what people are saying about him,” a church member, who identified herself only as Abigail, told our correspondent.
    Eric, also a member of the church, strongly believes that December would usher in the suspended programmes, including much-awaited Prophecy, Healing and Prayer Line, during which people from far and near throng the church to get special anointing.
    Our correspondent learnt that one of the programmes, Monday Counselling, recommenced on November 28.
    “We have started Monday counselling again. Other programmes like Prophecy, and Prayer Line Healing will start soon. Before the guest house collapsed, we used to have Prayer Line on Thursdays and Prophecy on Saturdays. But they stopped because of the incident. We are praying that everything should be okay,” Eric added.

    A teenage girl who sells confectionery near the church, Blessing Joseph, said some people had yet to get over the panic created by the collapse, noting that usually on a Friday in November, “every lodge would have been filled up. But because of the lodge that collapsed last year, some people are still afraid to come.”

    Lodge agents lament fall in patronage
    At both entries to the church premises are lodge agents – comprising men and women – hunting for customers with each of them persuading whoever comes to the church to spend days. It takes between N1,000 and N5,000 to pass a night in any of those lodges but because of a drop in patronage, they are ever ready for bargain.

    The agents our correspondent chatted with were reluctant to speak on the trial they are passing through as most of them happen to be members of the church. But inherent in their voices was a tone of frustration, indicating that the incident has taken a toll on their business.
    One of the agents, Austin, said, “The number of people that comes to church has reduced but those who believe they are coming to serve God are still coming. It has really affected our business because lodges here are usually filled up during this time (November).”
    Another agent, who identified herself as Edith Rejoice, made a lot of effort to persuade our correspondent, who approached her, under the pretext of booking a room in her lodge on Onilewura Street, Egbe. She gleefully took our correspondent to the storey building lodge, which is about 10 minutes’ walk away from the church.

    “When you are coming back to lodge in, please come to meet me directly. Those people (her competitors) around here will rush you.
    “If you and four others want to sleep in a room, it is N1,000 per night. For a personal room without air conditioner, it is N3,500 while a room with AC is N5,000. If you are actually ready to lodge in, I will reduce the price for you,” she pleaded.
    All the rooms in the lodge and one other visited by our correspondent were completely vacant that Friday..

    Special seats for respected people
    Looking simple in a shirt and trousers, Sunday Wandima had arrived at the church as early as 7am on Sunday from the Badagry end of Lagos to buy a bottle of holy water. He also longed to get anointed for success so that he could join the league of highly respected members of the church who occupy front seats.

    “Before you can be allowed to seat in the front, you have to wear expensive clothes. At 5am, there will be screening for those going into the church. If you do not wear an expensive clothe, let me tell you the truth, they won’t give ordinary persons like us tickets. They will tell you to wait. I have tried it before. Even the entrance for those set of people is different from ordinary people like us.
    “I came to buy water today (Sunday). A small bottle is N5,000. It will be around 12 noon before I can get it. God is really using the man even though people are telling different stories about him. The last time I came, he (the Prophet) was healing and delivering people. But unfortunately, he did not reach the row I was when he stopped and left,” he said.
    Wandima’s claim appeared to have some merit. Even a glance at the exotic dresses worn by the members of the congregation at the front rows of the church bore a sharp contrast with other worshippers at the rear. Many might want to interpret is as a manifestation of class stratification that exists outside the world of church. 

    Dosu Kofi from Ghana was one of the foreigners who came for that Sunday service. Unlike his enthusiastic counterparts, who occupied a corner in the church during the praise worship, Kofi, who looked sick and forlorn, was upstairs sitting and standing intermittently as the service unveiled.
    When he was asked what specifically brought him from Ghana, he simply tendered his prayer request form, the content of which partly read, “God, give me wisdom and understanding and show me the truthful way. Open my eyes to see and heal me in all the sickness in my body. God, review my destiny and do me great in my family.”

    Buy the mandatory N200 Message book or worship outside
    Ideally, gaining entry into the ‘house of God’, be it a mosque or church, requires little or no stress. But contrary to such an expectation, there are procedures to follow to gain access into SCOAN’s prayer venue. As a matter of fact, the long queue of worshippers billed for inward screening was enough to scare away an impatient first comer.

    From the point of getting screened to enter the venue, where tickets are issued; to the prolonged wait for the collection of tickets and eventual queuing for entry into the church, one could spend no fewer than 30 minutes.
    However, fulfilling all of these procedures could mean a waste of time if one does not have N200 to buy a copy of ‘message’, a weekly-produced pamphlet, containing inspirational words written by the Prophet. That was, of course the experience of this correspondent.
    The spontaneous manner in which people pay to collect the pamphlets raised no eyebrow until one stern-looking man, who seemed to be in his mid 30s, told the ushers that he did not have money. He was retired to a corner at the church entrance. The man was so furious that he declined to reply our correspondent’s enquiries on what had gone amiss.

    “You cannot enter without the Message and you have to buy it,” the usher explained to him.
    Our correspondent also gave it a try by begging one of the ushers to grant him entry without buying the message. But all his entreaties fell on deaf ears. He eventually bought a copy – the passport for his entrance.
    A member, who identified himself as Israel David, said selling of the pamphlets started about a year ago and was meant to raise funds for the church.
    Asked whether it was connected with the collapsed guesthouse, he said, “It is likely because the space of the lodge inside the church cannot contain those who usually come for programmes like Healing. So, we want to build another lodge as soon as possible.”
    An official of the church who spoke with our correspondent on the telephone confirmed that some programmes had been suspended, adding that the prayer line was still functioning.
    When asked why the purchase of the pamphlet was mandated, the woman, who did not identify herself, hung up on our correspondent.
    When contacted again, she promised to send an email address where our correspondent could send his enquiries. She had, however, yet to do so as of 9pm press time on Monday.
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