Isaac Gbenga has been toying with the idea of retiring to his native Edo State after years of sojourn in Lagos because when the coronavirus pandemic struck in 2020, the hospitality sector where he works was among those severely affected.
With Lagos being the epicentre of the disease in Nigeria, Mr Gbenga, who runs Divine Lodge in Ikotun, saw the earnings plummet, from N200,000 weekly to less than N50,000 monthly.
On June 5, the Synagogue Church Of All Nations suddenly announced the death of TB Joshua, the church’s founder.
The announcement rekindled Mr Gbenga’s desire to return home and “start afresh.”
“I’m praying to God to let it be as soon as possible (to go back home),” said Mr Gbenga, 57, a father of four. He said he left his job at a poultry farm in Benin to come to SCOAN for “deliverance and breakthrough.”
He later worked in SCOAN’s maintenance unit where he was paid N2,000 daily before getting a job to manage one of the lodges near the church.
“Doing this kind of job, at this age, it calls for a question, I’m ashamed to say it but there is nothing one can do about it. So, I had to voice out, I didn’t want to come here but my family said maybe I need divine intervention.”
Like Mr Gbenga, hundreds of individuals and businesses in Ikotun and environs are having to re-evaluate their strategies after Mr Joshua’s death.
SCOAN is yet to announce Mr Joshua’s successor, and many believe whoever takes over would not command the same respect as the church’s founder.
Several small business owners who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES said the economy of Ikotun and its environs is tied around SCOAN.
Mr Joshua was laid to rest at SCOAN headquarters in Ikotun on July 9 after a weeklong event that began with a candlelight procession.
SCOAN was founded in 1987 and as it grew bigger with Mr Joshua’s popularity, several businesses, including lodges and restaurants, sprouted in the area to accommodate the influx of worshippers and pilgrims
Sunny Ola, a landlord in Ikotun, said he converted his residential building to a lodge of 36 rooms because of the SCOAN.
“When the service was going on fine, I changed it to lodge, the tenants were owing, they couldn’t pay, I changed my house to lodge,” said Mr Ola, 54, an ex-police officer.
He said he renamed his house to O.J Guest House and Sunny Lodge, and added that between 2010 to 2014, he made up to N1 million weekly. He said that by 2015, there was no “healing and prophetic service, there was none again, so, money did not come.”
Mr Ola said the church brings people from far and near who are seeking solutions to ailments, deliverance from ‘evil forces’, which had positive impacts on their businesses.
Those positive impacts, however, now appear to be in the past.
“In a week now, I don’t make up to N10,000,” he said. “The burial was the worse, people did not come because they have already announced that people should stay at home and watch Emmanuel television. Myself o, I don’t know about the others.”
In the street opposite SCOAN, there are over ten lodges which serve the church’s worshippers, pilgrims, and those coming for “miracles and deliverance”.
Most of the lodges have at least eight rooms, with prices often ranging from N2,000 to N4,000 per night.
There are also third-party agents who link the lodge managers to clients and are paid a certain percentage based on the number of customers they bring in.
Joyce Sunday, who manages an eight-room lodge alongside her mother told this newspaper more.
“We are not happy with what happened because it is because of him that we are still seeing what we are seeing. We are able to feed because of daddy (deceased), if not daddy, I don’t think anything is going on here,” said Ms Sunday, a staffer of Emmanuel Lodge (not owned by SCOAN).
She said over the past few days, ”business has virtually ground to a halt”.
“When there is a church (service) we make between N300,000 to N400,00 monthly,” she said.
“But now, I can’t say. We pray that someone else takes over the church and start preaching so that people will start coming. We pray that the person that will take the place will be like daddy, If not I don’t think there will be any lodging business around here again.”
A restauranteur, who preferred not to be named, said ”she made more profit during Mr Joshua’s burial ceremony than she had made in recent years”. But now, she said, there is “no market.”
“Sometimes in a day, we make up to N100,000 here but as you can see, there aren’t many customers here now.
“Many people are planning to leave because they know that there is no market again. Most of the agents that carry visitors to the lodge has gone back to their village,” she said.
Lucky David, manager of Salvation Guest House, said the lodging business is the “most lucrative” enterprise in the area but he has been “experiencing low turnover since the beginning of the pandemic now coupled with the death of father T.B Joshua.”
He told this newspaper that the burial ceremony was a booster as he made “a rough estimate of N110,000 but as members of SCOAN, we are hopeful that better days are ahead”.
Robbers on rampage
For Mrs Sunday, Joyce’s mother, the death of Mr Joshua there might lead to an upsurge in crime in the area.
She told this reporter that some unidentified burglars recently stole a plasma television, ceiling fan, and gas cylinder in one of the rooms while they were away.
Such fears from lodge owners are not unfounded.
Around SCOAN, a ‘Synagogue Police Patrol,’ a detachment of officers from the police division, patrol the streets mostly on weekends. There are worries that with the uncertainty over the church’s future, the police officers might be withdrawn or their numbers reduced drastically.
“We are scared that he is dead, before any small thing, their police will be here but now, see that room they used a long stick with gum, opened the window and steal (sic) one woman’s phone beside the window,” Mrs Sunday said.
“There is another woman who paid for AC, a nice woman, she came with her son, I told her not to open her window, later she started shouting that her phone has been stolen. I asked her, how did you open your window, she said she wants to take breeze (get fresh air),” she recounted.
She said a foreigner’s N450,000 was once stolen ”and the owner of the lodge had to refund it”.
Mike Obinna, however, believes that his 11-year-old laundry business would blossom regardless of Mr Joshua’s death.
“The church has been helping me right from time,” he said. “I gained from the church a lot, during the lockdown period, I know what I passed through and almost gave up if not for the fact that I have a strong belief that everything is going to come back.”
Mr Obinna said he struggled to successfully ride the wave of the lockdown, only to be hit with the news of Mr Joshua’s passing.
“I believe that even though he is dead, it cannot take away our survival here. Like me, I cannot give up, if I wanted to give up it would have been during the lockdown.”