Nigeria: Church Burns During Funeral for Controversial Preacher

A minibus drives by as church members gather at the main gate of The Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOA) headquarters to mourn the death of late Nigerian pastor TB Joshua, in the Ikotun distrcit of Lagos on June 6, 2021. - TB Joshua, 57, one of Africa's most influential …
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP via Getty Images

A late-night fire assailed the Lagos, Nigeria, Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) on Monday shortly after a candlelight vigil for its late founder Temitope Balogun (T.B.) Joshua, one of Africa’s most celebrated, and controversial, clergymen.

Joshua, whose followers refered to as “Prophet,” died on June 5 at age 57 of unknown causes. At the time of his death, he was one of the wealthiest Christian church leaders in the world and his SCOAN counted on thousands of followers around the world. The church identifies itself as Christian though not affiliated with any major Christian institution around the world, which other Nigerian Christian leaders have often used to question Joshua’s position as its leader.

“God had planted a vision in the heart of T.B. Joshua. Some would think it strange for a church of just a small number in a humble area in Lagos, Nigeria to be prophetically named a church of all nations but for the vision in the life of T.B. Joshua,” the SCOAN website claims. “The name given to the church is testimony to the prophetic insight given to Prophet T.B. Joshua and his calm and determined focus on that vision.”

SCOAN held a memorial service on Monday featuring international supporters and a candlelight vigil attended by 6,000 people – the first in a week’s worth of events to honor Joshua. Evelyn Joshua, the late pastor’s wife, led the service.

The fire began at about 11:30 p.m. local time in the church building’s kitchen, according to Nigeria’s The Guardian. The incident followed the service by about two hours, not endangering attendees, but imperiling those who live on the greater campus, though authorities did not report any casualties. Kenya’s Daily Nation contradicted this report, stating that mourners were forced to “scamper for safety” as the fire erupted while they were still on the premises.

An official statement from the SCOAN did not indicate any foul play and blamed the fire on an electrical fault.

“As part of the preparedness for the weeklong services celebrating the life and legacy of Prophet T.B. Joshua, the SCOAN has worked closely with relevant government agencies including the Lagos State Fire Services, whose members were on ground at the time of the incident,” the statement read in part. “We thank God for His continued protection. We assure the general public that there is no cause for alarm and the services celebrating the life and legacy of Prophet T.B. Joshua will continue as scheduled.”

Nigeria is nearly evenly split between its Christian and Muslim populations. About 53.5 percent of the country identifies as Muslim, most of them in the nation’s north; the 46 percent who identify as Christian largely populate the nation’s south. Lagos, in particular, is home to a fervent megachurch culture attracting hundreds of thousands of people. Most of these churches are some form of Protestant or independent from international institutions.

Joshua founded the SCOAN with no formal divinity training in 1987, building it from the ground up into one of the most popular megachurches in Lagos. As Nigeria’s Daily Trust noted shortly after his death, many prominent Christian leaders questioned Joshua’s vocation, citing the fact that he had trained under no pastor and did not come from a traditional clergy background.

“I have been grossly misunderstood by fellow ministers of God, who are always asking who my mentor is. Apart from the Anglican Church in my village that I attended as a young man, I have no other mentor than Jesus Christ,” Joshua once said in response to the criticism.

Adding to the suspicion were many bizarre myths that surfaced around Joshua, such as the claim that he was born after a 15-month gestation period and that he could magically cure diseases like HIV. Joshua also made prophetic, incorrect predictions, such as decreeing that the Chinese coronavirus pandemic would abruptly end on March 27, 2020, and that Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 presidential election in the United States.

Despite the controversies, many heads of state counted on Joshua’s counsel or personally extended invitations to him. Among them, the Daily Trust noted, were “ex-President Joyce Banda of Malawi; ex-President John Magufuli of Tanzania; President George Weah of Liberia; and President Salva Kiir Mayardit of South Sudan.” Late Ghanian President John Atta Mills and former Dominican President Leonel Fernández also attended Joshua’s services, the former flying to Nigeria and the latter inviting him to the Caribbean nation.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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