By Bolanle Bolawole
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Prophet T also tried to match-make for me at the Synagogue. One day as we were in his sitting room, he sent for a lady; the lady came and knelt down at his feet. I cannot remember what they discussed but after she left, Prophet T turned to me and said “Se e like lady yen?” (Do you like that lady?). According to him, she was a good girl. By this time a bonding had developed between Prophet T and me; so I actually gave his proposition a thought. The next day on my way to the Synagogue, I muted a simple wish: If Esther is it, let her be in the church and cause me to recognise her instantly! I hadn’t looked in her direction as she knelt before Prophet T the day before; so I never thought I could pick her out of a crowd. I entered the church and moved to the front rows by the altar and, lo and behold, Esther smiled broadly as she came down from the Choir stand to greet me! Esther and I courted for a while. She actually appeared to be a good girl and was running a part-time course at the University of Lagos. If I knew as much scripture as I do today, maybe the story would have been different.
When The PUNCH re-opened and we worked feverishly to cover lost grounds, I got TB Joshua to agree to an interview and he picked up a thousand or so copies of the publication. One day as we threw banters, TB called me “Uncle to n d’ese” (Uncle that still indulges in sin). When I told Monica, she laughed. The same TB had suggested a relationship between the two of them ‘like the one between Jesus and Mary’, as TB reportedly put it! Whatever that means! Asked to explain, TB reportedly placed his hand on Monica’s knee and she yanked it off! Monica was not anyone’s mill-of-the-run woman that would be taken on the cheap.
Tales of miracles (real, feigned, imagined, orchestrated?) and sex scandals pervaded the Synagogue in those days. Many people that I knew had one story or the other to tell. So also were good news of TB’s giving and generosity for those who saw it that way. After reading Part One of this story, many have called me to recount their own Synagogue/TB Joshua experience. But few will be ready to put pen to paper like I have done here. My hunch, however, is: You get what you deserve or, better still, you get what you came to the Synagogue for! If you are gullible, you pay the price for gullibility! If you shine your eyes, you can get away unscathed. A momentous event however happened at the Synagogue that made me decide against further going there.
One day Prophet T just ran away and no one knew where he went; not even TB knew the whereabouts of his Number Two man or had prior knowledge of his disappearance. I had thought TB would simply wave his hands as usual and conjure up Prophet T! Remember I had said Prophet T was the Editor-in-Chief while I was the Editor of the church’s maiden newsletter and we had worked very closely together. We were already at the printing stage when Prophet T called me and asked for a copy of the newsletter. He sounded frantic. When I told him it was not ready, he demanded to have the pages that had been printed and the plates. I wondered why the haste. The next day I knew!
We had agreed to meet in the morning at the old site. I got there but Prophet T was nowhere to be found – and none of his disciples as well. So unusual! What further heightened my curiosity was the way people looked at me and answered my questions. I went to the new site only to learn that Prophet T had run away! One of TB’s female disciples nearly assaulted me. She screamed at me: “Go and bring Prophet T from where you hid him!” Me, hide Prophet T? I soon found out she was not alone. TB himself believed I knew. A crest-fallen TB asked me dejectedly: “Uncle, do you want to tell me you don’t know Prophet T’s whereabouts?” I simply told him I was disappointed and left.
The following days, weeks and months were melancholic at the Synagogue. Virtually everyone was downcast. TB was not himself. He collected all the copies of the newsletter which had by now been printed. He treated the Editorial Board members with suspicion. He stopped his regular attendance at our meetings and when he came, it was to express his disappointment as well as fire innuendoes. Our meetings became far in-between. Editorial Board members began to drop out. I waited, thinking I could salvage the situation so that all our efforts on the maiden edition of the Synagogue newsletter would not be in vain.
Another issue that really unsettled me while at the Synagogue was when the fund for the printing of the newsletter was released and I was called upon by Prophet T to collect the money in cash. In those days, transactions at the Synagogue were done through cash – no cheques to the best of my knowledge. It was on a Friday and the Board was to meet on Monday when assignments would be shared and funds allocated. But on Saturday evening I came to church only to understand they had been looking everywhere for me. What was the matter? They said I took Synagogue money home! That it was not done! That church money, once released, must be kept in lockers with padlocks inside the church! I never knew! No one told me! That was my first – and only! – time of handling church money. The atmosphere was electric and it was as if I stole the entire church! I was upset. Prophet T apologised and tried to calm me down but that weekend was one of the most miserable in my life.
I had deposited the money in my Owena Bank (later Omegabank) account at the Oshodi branch. I got there on Monday morning before anyone else, withdrew the money and took it back to the Synagogue. It was a harrowing experience. The reason given to me for the Synagogue money-keeping practice was to maintain fidelity. So, the disappearance of Prophet T that came shortly afterwards was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Day after day it became clear that TB was not going to allow the newsletter to be launched. Prophet T’s imprimatur as Editor-in-Chief had become the newsletter’s albatross. I pushed the case for launching the best way I could but TB would not budge.
Fortunately, my newspaper, The PUNCH, was re-opened at about this time and I went back to work. When my frequency at the Synagogue petered out, TB came to the office one evening to look for me. He sat in his car and sent one of his disciples to ask me to meet him downstairs. He asked me to return to the Synagogue but I asked him: To do what? He explained that the newsletter we produced had been made worthless by Prophet T’s disappearance but that a rosy future awaited me at the Synagogue if I returned. Have I forgotten his predictions of how he would travel and be celebrated all over the world? Didn’t I want to be part of that glorious future? Still, he did not believe I knew nothing about Prophet T’s whereabouts. In that instance, I should return to do what? Once trust is broken, what is left?
Weeks after, I caught a glimpse of Prophet T in the front seat of a car furiously racing towards the Ikeja roundabout along the Oba Akran way and I shouted “Prophet T!” He looked back, waved but the car maintained its speed. Afterwards, he sent a prominent erstwhile member of the Synagogue to my home at Ogba to bring me to his hide-out. I was surprised that the hide-out was, literally speaking, a stone throw away from the Synagogue! Prophet T apologised for not letting me into his plans. He said he knew I would be accused and he wanted me to be able to speak truthfully.
Monica had a difficult decision to make concerning whether or not she should relocate abroad. I advised her to relocate. One day I accompanied her somewhere to pray. Lo and behold, the pastor turned out to be a friend of my friend! My apartment at Ojota had been the quiet place where they studied for their ICAN examinations. He invited me to his parish and I consented. The rest, as they say, is history!
With Monica overseas; with the embarrassment of taking church money “home”; with the debacle of Prophet T’s disappearance; with me not continuing with Esther; and with the lifting of the proscription order on my newspaper, I made the firm decision to put the Synagogue behind me. But I judge no one! It appears to me that TB achieved some of his vision and mission. He used to say he would overcome his educational limitations. And on the way to doing that, he allowed us to correct his grammar.”Uncle, se mo gba?” (Is my grammar correct?) he would ask and we would correct him. He would laugh and say he would soon speak good English like any of us on the Editorial Board. He used to say he would become an international preacher travelling all over the world; that he would spend more time abroad than in Nigeria; that Nigerians would appreciate him better when they had to obtain a visa to consult him; and that foreigners would value him better than Nigerians.
For whatever purpose, from wherever and however gotten, TB was immensely gifted. Opinion is divided, however, on how he applied his talents. One thing that is beyond controversy, though, is that positively and or negatively, TB affected lives. He was passionately loved as he was desperately despised and hated. It depends on which side of the divide you pitch your tent. TB, however, transitioned before fulfilling some of his ideas such as a world-class university at his Arigidi-Akoko, Ondo State homestead. He reportedly also fantasized about turning the rusty and sleepy Arigidi into another Jerusalem of sorts to which pilgrims would flock from all the corners of the world. All of that is now gone with the winds!
As a reporter, writer, and critic, what I have recounted here about TB are eye-witness accounts and straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were. I am not approbating; neither am I reprobating. As to each and everyone’s earthly score-card as well as the question of who makes heaven and who goes to hell, I leave that to the Impartial Judge to decide! Suffice it to say, however, that it is a comedy of errors when men – any man, dead or living – play God. No man is infallible – not one! Not in Bible times; not now; and possibly never! Another comedy of errors is when men expect men like themselves to be God. The one is as guilty as the other.
I close with the evergreen song of Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey (as he then was): Commander/Ebenezer/Do your best/And leave the rest!” Need I say more?