By Amma Ogan
Pastor T. B. Joshua has declared all those who were crushed to death when the additional floors he was adding to his ‘Synagogue Church of all Nations’ gave way, martyrs. The word martyr as defined, means a person who is prepared to die rather than renounce a religion or cause. Historically martyrs have been tortured a to death by a variety of cruel means. Lists of people who were declared martyrs down through the centuries can be easily obtained. Usually there is a process by which a martyr is recognized and declared a saint and an official entity or office of that faith or religion examines the facts and decrees such a person worthy. All martyrs of whatever religion, have one defining characteristic: rather than renounce their principles they were prepared to die for the cause or article of faith they were sworn to uphold, knowing as they took their last breaths why exactly they were doing so.
It is possible to leave your house one fine day without intending to become a martyr and down the road find yourself in a situation where the choice is made for you, but that would require a particular set of circumstances where the issues at stake would at some point become clear and a choice would have to be made. This is not what happened on Friday 20 September in Lagos at Pastor TB Joshua’s Synagogue Church of all Nations. People flew in from abroad, drove, and walked probably even taxied to his church to worship without let. The one thing it seems you are free to do in Nigeria is set up a place of worship, “anyhowly” in fact. And there lies the crux of the matter.
Another common trait in the examining and declaring of martyrs is the passage of time to allow discourse, reflection, judgment and appreciation of the act that made the person or persons worthy of consideration, particularly where such acts of martyrdom pertain to religion. Acts of bravery and heroism can be assessed instantly and we have, despite it all, courageous Nigerians performing acts of bravery everyday.
No need to mention Nigeria’s biggest industry that flows like oil and manifests in words and prophesy and scripture and endless booklets as pastors and adherents, testify and speechify, proselytize and speak in tongues armed with prayer and promising all the goodness of heaven to those who will follow them in their beliefs: All well and good.But if I in my desire to hear your word, and freely commune with others of like mind also flocking to your Synagogue, to worship God and not you, Pastor; and your Church falls on me without any instigation on my part, am I a martyr or a victim?
What is the cause to which I unknowingly martyred myself? You?
The question arises because you, Pastor plying the tools of your trade, talking without a pause for humility or reflection or, or tears, or examination, or just common decency, absolved yourself of blame.
There is a story in the New Testament of Jesus, the man who travelled by donkey (and that was first class for him) in a rare moment of anger routing the money lenders from the Temple, accusing them of turning it into a den of commerce, what we might today call, a source of wealth acquisition, AKA, a business. If one were to go by some of the most well known pastors we might be tempted to think that each nation has its own God and that the singular feature of the Nigerian one was wealth. Donkey ke…
There is also another story about that famous phrase when, “some clever people,” thought they could trap Jesus: Give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s Jesus said, and to God the things that are God’s.
Let us say that Caesar in this case, as far as the location of the Synagogue Church of Nations (this is such a long fangled name as to be almost a misnomer, but it is the freedom we enjoy in Nigeria where a word and its definition can be miles apart) is the Lagos State government. What would then be due to the State government, as an evidence of your desire to be a good and responsible citizen, is the acquisition from them of the proper documentation to ensure that your Synagogue Church would be built on solid foundations. (The wise man built his house upon a rock!) Of course the caveat would be that Caesar would have to be behave like Caesar and govern judiciously by laying down the law, and following it.
Living in South Africa I have come across people who see Nigeria and Nigerians as bastions of religion and who will continue to flock to this country to seek the satisfaction faith gives them. People of faith might bristle at the suggestion that religion can be an industry and not a calling for the Marks, Peters and Matthews of this world. But prophets are flying private jet these days (the money isn’t floating down from the sky) some kind of basic regulation is a concept we must come to terms with if we are to acknowledge and believe in the value of religion, the right of people to pursue their faith safely and legally, which our constitution clearly says we do.
Like all professions including law, medicine, catering, the conduct of religion should be regulated and respected and be subject to the same laws that govern the conduct of any institution in Nigeria. Well, at least, that should be the direction we must move towards. This awful tragedy, where scores of our fellow African brothers sisters and children perished because a building on a construction site suddenly collapsed on them, was man made.No fast talk, and this is not to cast aspersions on anybody’s personal line to God. There is blame to be laid here.
Amma Ogan is a veteran woman journalist and a former newspaper Editor