That’s not true, Prophet TB Joshua is not dead. God forbid! This was a reaction from one of the adherents of Prophet T.B Joshua when the news of his departure was first circulated on social media. A lot of Nigerians and lovers of Prophet Joshua hoped that the news will be subsequently confirmed as fake.
After a mild speculation and enquiries, the Synagogue Church of Nations (SCOAN) via a publicly issued statement dated 6th of June, 2021, confirmed the death of its founder and renowned televangelist and philanthropist, Prophet T.B Joshua, who died aged 57.
Following the confirmation of his death, a lot of encomiums have been showered on the popular preacher. Prominent individuals have eulogized the life and times of the popular teacher; in fact the media yesterday were awash with stories of members and friends visiting the headquarters of the synagogue in Lagos, to confirm the news of his departure.
In view of this, naijabusiness.com.ng through this piece, wants to evaluate the contributions of the popular preacher to religious tourism, and how his death might hurt Nigeria’s largest economy, Lagos.
Understanding TB Joshua’s SCOAN contribution to Lagos economy
According to the late prophet, the journey to start one of the most visited religious attractions and charismatic Christian mega church in Nigeria started in 1987, after receiving a ‘divine anointing’ and covenant from God. The church which has its headquarters in Ikotun-Egbe Lagos started with a handful of members. According to Wikipedia, the church has now grown to be one of Nigeria’s most influential churches, attracting over 50,000 people to its weekly Sunday services. Despite the surge in members, it is stunning to note that the church never had a branch outside its headquarters.
According to figures released by the Nigerian Immigration Service, six out of every ten foreign travellers coming into Nigeria are bound for The SCOAN, a major reason why the church is dubbed as ‘’ Nigeria’s biggest tourist attraction’’ and ‘’ the most visited destination by religious tourists in West Africa.’’
According to The Guardian, the church receives more weekly attendees than the combined number of visitors to Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London. All this portends a great opportunity for local businesses situated around the church.
Why the surge in attendance?
Naijabusiness.com.ng understands that the popular prophet during his lifetime was well known for conducting miracles. The regular occurrences of these divine miracles coupled with the quest for life changing spiritual experiences and prosperity, have been a major PULL to a lot of these tourists. Some of the incurable disabilities and illnesses allegedly healed by the prophet include; HIV/AIDS, blindness, open wounds etc.
Though controversial, some of these miracles have been mentioned in reputable print media globally, such as Time Magazine, Associated Press interview, Foreign Policy, among others.
Multiplier effect on the Lagos economy
As earlier stated in this piece, despite the surge in the membership of the church, it was striking to note that the great prophet never thought of decentralizing the church or better put, citing branches elsewhere. By implication, all members of the church that wish to visibly attend its service will have to travel down to its one and only branch situated in Ikotun Egbe, Lagos.
In understanding the role the church play in impacting local businesses and by extension the Lagos economy, a report by The Guardian of London stated that: ‘’ The SCOAN is a big brand for Nigeria, and a lot of revenues are generated by those involved in the tourism chain, especially members of ACHAN, who provide nothing less than 35 buses and equally a large number of small vehicles to move these visitors on a daily basis.’’
The report went further to showcase how new and emerging businesses around the location have sprung up in recent years. From hoteling business to a surge in the demand for catering professionals like cooks and even local shuttle. In one way or the other, residents and local businesses around seems to have benefited from religious tourism and will most likely pay higher taxes to the government.
It is naturally anticipated that the tourists who fly into Nigeria to visit his church do lodge in hotels, board commercial vehicles and patronize eateries and visit other tourist sites around the locality. These activities are evident by the human and vehicular congestion usually experienced around the location of the church during services.
Furthermore, a tourism lecturer at the Tshwane University of Technology, Unathi Henama in her article titled ‘’TB Joshua emigrating to Israel: Lessons for South Africa on religious tourism,’’ opined that the demand to travel to Nigeria in a bid to visit SCOAN remains robust especially from South Africa. She estimated the cost of travel from SA to the aforementioned place at R24,000 per individual.
To buttress the impact of the church to our economy, the Vice President of the Nigerian Association of Tour Operators, Ime Udo, while reacting to a planned relocation of the church to Isreal in 2017 had informed the press that Nigeria would lose billions of Naira from religious tourism revenue if SCOAN relocates to Isreal. She said: ‘’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,’’ she added.
With the aforementioned points, it will be an understatement to say that the demise of the great prophet will affect a lot of people and businesses that depend on the thriving state of the church. A lot of direct and indirect jobs that have been created through the process will most likely be affected.
A flip of the coin
By contrast, to have a glimpse of what the demise of the prophet portends for local businesses around the area, naijabusiness.com.ng recalls the hardship faced by hoteliers during the closure of the church as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A report by BusinessDay newspaper revealed that over 60% of hotels and accommodation facilities in Ikotun were shut down due to the closure of the church, ultimately sending thousands of hospitality and ancillary workers back into labour market.
Lamenting the losses incurred during the one year closure of the church due to the pandemic, Sunny Ozumba, owner of a hotel and a pilgrims’ hostel in Ikotun told BusinessDay that: ‘’ We have those whose main source of clientele is accommodating pilgrims that visit the SCOAN only or mostly. I don’t know about others, but for us who are involved in accommodating pilgrims to Synagogue, we are having it tough.
‘’The situation is also the same with fast food restaurant business and other shop owners in Ikotun. The way it is with us, that is the way it is with most of them because we are all thriving from the visitors. Most of them have closed shop while some are just hanging on as I am. That is the position of things.
But, there is hope. Without hope we would have shut down. I think the church may not open its door until the virus fizzles out,” Ozumba concluded. Conclusion: With the demise of Prophet Joshua, it is unlikely that SCOAN will keep attracting the number of religious tourists that it does weekly. This comes with a huge cost to local businesses and individuals that depend on the thriving nature of the church. However, the loss can be mitigated if there is a good succession plan in place to ensure continuity, otherwise the direct and indirect jobs created by the virtue of the location of the church in Lagos might be threatened, leading to a loss of thousands of jobs. The negative impact of these losses of jobs cannot be overemphasized, especially now that there is a rising level of unemployment and insecurity.