- Nigeria is home to a couple of megachurches that have evolved into self-contained cities, providing services like electricity, water, accommodation and good roads to members and visitors.
- One of such religious organisations is The Synagogue Church Of All Nations (SCOAN) which is regarded as the most visited destination by religious tourists in West Africa.
- Business Insider Sub Saharan Africa (BISSA) got a chance to visit this global pentecostal denomination and found a bakery, automobile service area, 5-star restaurants, lodges and even a makeshift zoo.
“Good morning” is the first thing you hear as soon as you arrive at the Synagogue, Church of All Nations (SCOAN) in Ikotun-Egbe, Lagos, Nigeria. It is founded by Prophet Temitope Balogun Joshua.
Business Insider SSA was there on a special invitation from the church. Comments online suggest it is not an easy place to get into. As one person on TripAdvisor puts it, “You need to have permission, and sometimes it does take months.” It is ranked 11th out of the 97 tourist attractions in Lagos state on the travel platform.
The greeting is repeated as you step into the waiting area where a television airing a service on Emmanuel TV, a Christian television station founded by the general overseer commonly known as Prophet T.B. Joshua. It has over a million YouTube subscribers.
The morning greeting repeats itself even in the afternoon. When asked why, a member of the church said the phrase is used regardless of the time of the day. “We greet according to the promises of God,” he explains.
A day inside this popular megachurch
A member of the Church's media department is on hand to lead visitors further inside. SCOAN is built with stones, wood and stained glass windows. It also has an illuminated fountain behind the altar complemented by portrayals of the last supper.
The scale of the Church is reminiscent of a blockbuster Hollywood movie set. Reportedly, a Sunday service attracts a minimum of 150,000 attendees every week.
From the media room, the guide leads downstairs to the church's printing press. SCOAN publishes its pamphlets and books which are more cost effective than outsourcing to a third party.
The second part of the tour begins on the other side of the road opposite the church itself. The guide showed off a bakery, medical section, a gym, and 10 ambulances in the automobile service area. For guests of the Church, accommodation is sectioned into regular and VIP for important guests like celebrities, ministers and even presidents.
This section also has an area for children and a zoo with dogs and a couple of exotic birds. Outside of the compound are a couple of tents. The guide says this is the overflow reserved for the thousands who are unable to sit in the main church.
According to the Nigerian Immigration Service, six out of every ten foreign travelers coming into Nigeria are bound for the SCOAN. Reportedly, the church attracts more weekly attendees than the combined number of visitors to Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London.
“About two million local and inbound tourists” visit annually, The Guardian reported a few years ago.
The church provides its own electricity, water and built the road between the two compounds. The guide says the church is responsible for the good roads around the church as it cannot depend on the government.
The Genesis of SCOAN
Prophet T.B Joshua’s ministry started over 30 years ago with about seven people in a swampy area. This old site has since been transformed into what is now called the Prayer Mountain. A bus ride is required to get there. This is where you will find the founder’s original place of worship, along with a resort area. This site is very quiet and filled with seats and trees that provide adequate shade for the prayers. The guide says the area is active 24 hours a day. It is surrounded by water which provides a scenic, calming effect.
Tourism and the ecosystem effect
SCOAN has had a positive effect on the business activity of the surrounding area. Hotels, restaurants and other establishments around the area also enjoy business from the thousands that flock the church every other week.
This explains why many stakeholders in the tourism sector fought against Prophet T.B Joshua's proposed relocation to Isreal in 2017 arguing that Nigeria would lose billions of naira.
Mrs Ime Udo, the Vice President of the Nigerian Association of Tour Operators (NANTA) told pressmen that “Religious practices both under the auspices of Christianity, Islam and traditional practices have in no small way contributed to the development of tourism in the world."
"The local community; hotel operators, food vendors and others around SCOAN must have benefitted from tourists. SCOAN has, no doubt, contributed immensely to the tourism profile of Nigeria with several heads of government from various African countries that had visited there to seek spiritual restoration and advise from Pastor TB Joshua."
Commenting on the relocation rumors, a hotel operator told the press it would have a negative effect on the hospitality business in that area and the state.
“Ninety–five per cent of guests that lodge in hotels in the community are international and local visitors outside Lagos and they are SCOAN members. We have over 130 rooms and are always fully booked every weekend. We usually enjoy huge patronage from Fridays to Sundays weekly; and they are mostly SCOAN members from near and far,” she explained. The preacher has remained in the country.
Over the years, TB Joshua has become one of the wealthiest preachers in Africa with an estimated net worth of $10 million — $15 million according to Forbes.
Apart from his ministry, he is well known for giving over $20 million to several causes in education, healthcare and rehabilitation programs for former Niger Delta militants. Since he has no known business, it is safe to assume that this comes from his ministry, which is tax-exempt in Nigeria because of its charity status.
To critics who say these big churches should be taxed, pastors argue that the charity work done should exempt them.
As David Oyedepo, bishop of the popular Winners Chapel, told Reuters, “We use the income of the church to build schools, we use the income of the church to serve the needs of the poor. These are non-profit organisations.”