February 04, (THEWILL) – At their command during Sunday service thousands of worshippers pray, stand, sit, dance, go on their knees or jump up for Jesus. With a pained expression on the faces of ushers standing rigid like statues, they nudge sleepers awake as if they’re committing a cardinal sin while the GO is preaching. And then, of course, there is the altar call towards the end – the obligatory offering, mandatory tithe, voluntary donations for a church project or some such levies pastors demand. More powerful than monarchs in medieval Europe, GOs, pastors and leaders of Pentecostal denominations in Nigeria have never had it so good, inspiring God-like adulation from worshippers, blind obedience and total dependence. This one-way trust is oftentimes betrayed by supposed men of God taking for granted those looking upon them for spiritual guidance. THEWILL examines cases of pastors taking advantage of worshippers. Michael Jimoh reports…
For the last days of her life, Ann Uzor was on life support in an ICU at a private hospital in Ajao Estate Lagos. With sixty-five degree burns on her body, she was rushed from Christian Praying Assembly on Ugo Nnabuife Street to the health facility in the same estate. From time to time, nurses in the emergency ward bend over her inert form covered in inky salves swaddled in bandages, listening to the faintest signs of life: a throbbing heart, a racing pulse, a flicker of eyelids.
Those who took the young woman to the hospital didn’t offer any explanation as to how she got burnt. One thing was certain: it was not an act of self-immolation. So, who’d done it?
The man who had done Ann in was none other than the General Overseer of CPA, her own pastor Chukwuemeka Ezeugo aka Reverend King. Well-muscled, smooth of face with a shining pate contrasting sharply with chin whiskers filling out to luxurious black beards, church members looked upon King as some kind of father figure, no wonder many of them called him Daddy GO. With a combination of paternal affection and military discipline, the pastor kept his flock in line with CPA’s rules and regulations. Whoever flouted any of them was liable to punishment. What was Ann’s crime?
She had fornicated with a member of the church, and so had to be disciplined. Ann was not the only transgressor on that day at CPA’s premises on 22 July 2006. There were five others. After flogging them while on their knees, Reverend King ordered their bodies doused with gasoline and then casually tossed a lit match on them.
Screaming and writhing in pain, five of the victims bolted. Ann was not so fortunate. On 2 August, after spending 11 days under intensive care, she died, a victim of the GO who was accuser, prosecutor and judge all at once.
Members of CPA are not unfamiliar with corporal punishment of that nature. There had been floggings for certain infractions, some of which the GO administered himself or commanded someone else to on his behalf. A graduate of Psychology from Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka who must have studied Pavlov and his theory of conditioning, Reverend King admitted during his trial for murder and attempted murder in a Lagos High Court presided over by Justice Joseph Oyewole that, yes, he does not spare the rod in correcting the erroneous ways of his church members.
“I am a preacher. I know that the spirit of witchcraft is against the Almighty God. If somebody is a liar, he is bewitching God,” Reverend King said gamely in court as if God appointed him as a defence attorney. “I don’t condone lie. Dr. King does not condone sin. I flog a lot. I have canes. If husband and wife mess up by having misunderstanding, I have to settle them. But the person that is at fault, I must flog. If the person refuses to be flogged, I will send him out of the church.”
Flogging Ann didn’t excommunicate her from CPA. Because of the severity of her burns, she ended up six feet below, a case of premature death of a promising young woman who, instead of running for her dear life from the church, submitted lamely as a match struck by the GO engulfed her in flames.
Ann’s death would forever change the fate of Reverend King and, by extension, the church he led. Instead of the usual Sunday service and weekly vigil, he started keeping dates with investigating police officers and making frequent appearances in court. From the comfort of his home, Reverend King was remanded in prison custody and promptly achieved infamy as a pastor who tormented worshippers for the slightest transgressions. Meanwhile, the man himself was not beyond the very crimes he criticised parishioners for. For instance, a prominent member of CPA Edwin Akubue claimed during the trial that King was “romantically involved” with his wife.
While he was a law unto himself within his church premises, Reverend King was certainly not above the law of the state where a high court tried and convicted him for murder. Not even his defence that a generator which exploded in the church’s premises caused the burns Ann and the five victims sustained swayed the judges. Verdict was death by hanging.
The GO appealed the judgment. The Appeal Court judges were unmoved, reconfirming the death sentence passed by the lower court. Next was the Supreme Court. The justices were equally unimpressed with Reverend King’s defence because, as one of them said, the generator in question was never tendered as evidence. Verdict from the apex court? Death by hanging.
From Maximum Correctional Centre Kirikiri in Lagos where he was on death row, Reverend King has since been moved to Kuje Correctional Centre in Abuja where he is now one of the most famous inmates awaiting the hangman’s noose. Whether the GO will have his day on the scaffold is hard to say. Though sentenced by those who know the law, a higher authority by way of the Nigerian Constitution forbids taking of human life through executions – firing squad, hangings, etc. As human rights advocate Mr. Femi Falana once argued, the Constitution provides every Nigeria with freedom from torture, which includes shooting by firing squad and death by hanging. In place of execution of prisoners on death row, Falana suggested, their sentences could be commuted to life.
Though out of sight of worshippers at CPA in Lagos and its branches elsewhere, Reverend King is forever in their minds. At least once every week, they receive sermons from the detainee in Abuja which is read to the congregation. More remarkably, some church members splashed 17 pages of colour adverts on Reverend King in THISDAY when he was a year older in February 2021 with accompanying adulatory messages stopping short of deifying him.
“Daddy, you are the reason why I and my family are existing,” a member of CPA by name Somtobechukwu wrote. “We wish you many more triumphant years. Your kingdom shall reign over all the earth and shall endure from everlasting to everlasting.” Another birthday wish went thusly: “On the glorious day of his birthday, you are the light of the world which have (sic) come to stay, to lighten the lives of your true children. Sir, you are the reason why we are alive today.”
Long forgotten is the late Ann by church members who may have been subjected to the same fate if they had gone against CPA’s dos and don’ts prescribed by Reverend King. Her death notwithstanding, the goodwill messages suggest that members not only believe in the GO’s innocence but that he is a much beloved man even though he is in prison.
The same outpouring of love and admiration by worshippers of Synagogue Church of All Nations followed the BBC’s recent expose on Prophet TB Joshua’s serial abuse and rape of women in his church. No fewer than 20 women, some in their preteens and of different nationalities were subjected to unwanted advances by the charismatic preacher and founder of SCOAN, the BBC investigation charged. Taking full advantage of their trust and belief in him, TB turned many of them into sex slaves holding them for decades in the church’s premises against their wish. Many of the nonconsensual sex resulted in abortions.
Unlike Reverend King however, TB Joshua didn’t live to hear his accusers haul him to court and so make him a subject of public ridicule. His death in June 2021 was so sudden leaving many wondering how a man of God with such prophetic powers didn’t see it coming. But there were other theories. One of them was that TB Joshua got an inkling of the Beeb’s investigation in 2021. Aware of the possible massive public relations fiasco and humiliation to his person and the institution he set up and nurtured for decades, there was only one option left to him: suicide.
Staging his own death, a few discerning minds now suggest, was all part of the manipulative process of the respected preacher. Unlike Reverend King who has a university degree, TB Joshua never went beyond secondary school so didn’t have to understudy a Russian doctor and his drooling dogs. But he sure knew a thing or two about gas lighting people, especially church members who approach him for solutions to problems of the mind or body. And they went to him in multitudes, men and women, old and young, peasants and presidents, from all around the world.
Former President of Ghana Mr. John Evans Atta Mills flew from Accra to Lagos and shared SCOAN’s podium with TB Joshua himself sometime in 2009. In 2021, former Vice President and later President of Malawi Joyce Banda called at SCOAN with a sick spouse, Richard Banda, in tow. Nollywood greats and has-beens have not been left out of the holy pilgrimage to SCOAN, one of them famously performing the croc belly role right at the foot of a beaming TB.
But not all were impressed by the ‘famed’ miraculous touch of the man of God. One or two saw through him and branded him as such. Following a prophecy by TB Joshua that onetime Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe and his counterpart from Malawi, Professor Peter Mutharika will die, the latter dismissed the Nigerian pastor as “fake.”
Indeed, TB Joshua’s fakeness prompted BBC’s investigation “Disciples: The Cult of TB Joshua” to uncover the seamy underbelly of a supposedly prosperous church whose overseer dispensed faith healings by mere touch of his hands. According to church members interviewed by the Beeb for the documentary, miracles were often staged but passed off to the public as real. But what gripped the public imagination most were the charges of rape, abuse and torture against TB Joshua.
“Evidence of widespread abuse and torture by the founder of one of the world’s biggest Christian evangelical churches has been uncovered by the BBC,” the report bylined by Charlie Northcott and Helen Spooner began. “Dozens of ex-Synagogue Church of all Nations members – five British – allege atrocities, including rape and forced abortions, by Nigeria’s late TB Joshua. The allegations of abuse in a secretive Lagos compound span almost 20 years.”
TB’s sudden death obviously prevented him from going to the slammer but not another man of God and GO of iReign Christian Ministry in Lagos Bishop Oluwafeyiropo Daniels who was sentenced to life imprisonment last week for rape and sexual assault. Two teenage girls and members of iReign Christian Ministry had complained of rape and assault against Bishop Daniels leading to his arrest and prosecution. The first by an unnamed 19-year-old said the rape happened at the home of Feyi’s assistant pastor at Ikota Villa Estate in June 2020. Another assault took place at the church’s headquarters in Opebi Lagos in April 2021 where the pastor “forcefully sucked and touched the breast of a member without her consent.”
Led by prosecuting counsel Babajide Boye, the court pressed for conviction of Bishop Feyi who entered a plea of not guilty on April 17 and May 9 2023. But the presiding judge found the man of God guilty as charged. “Oluwafeyiropo Daniels, I have convicted you of sexually violating two women, who were members of your church,” Justice Oshodi said in his ruling last week. “The first one, you raped ferociously and caused her so much pain. The second, you sexually assaulted using your dominant character and position as a clergy.”
Following Bishop Feyi’s sentencing, some people have praised it or denounced it. On his X handle, for instance, Oke Matarazi wrote thusly: “The reported case of a Lagos pastor, Feyi Daniels, receiving a life imprisonment sentence for raping a church member is a deeply troubling and unfortunate incident. Such acts of misconduct, especially within a place of worship where trust and moral guidance are expected, are reprehensible.”
To Mrs. Peace who is a leader in Evangelism and Welfare Unit of iReign, Bishop Feyi was framed, insisting that “I know my pastor. He will overcome. He has been a staunch attacker of this government and they are victimising him. Our God is not asleep. In this month of our fasting, we will not stop praying for him even while in captivity.”
Framed or not, Justice Oshodi best captured what Nigerian GOs are capable of doing to parishioners. Looking at Bishop Feyi level-eye in his ruling, Oshodi said: “You sexually assaulted using your dominant character and position as a clergy.”
He could have been referring to either Reverend King or TB Joshua.