Posted by By NICK UWERU and NDIDI KENNEDY-UKAGA on
Sunday, January 14, 2007 started like any other day in Lagos. The sky still wore the brownish coat of cloud it had donned the previous days as the harmattan wind pounded the city with early morning chill and left its signature on the lips of many Lagosians as blisters.
Sunday, January 14, 2007 started like any other day in Lagos. The sky still wore the brownish coat of cloud it had donned the previous days as the harmattan wind pounded the city with early morning chill and left its signature on the lips of many Lagosians as blisters. Despite the chilly morning, however, it was an unusual stir at Alhaji Itanola Drive in Ajao Estate, Isolo, as residents took strategic positions to witness what many thought would be a spectacle.
Sunday morning might be meant for church going for Christians and a day of rest for those with a different faith but this particular one meant something else for the residents. Their expectation (or was it apprehension?) hung so thick in the air you could almost slice through with a knife.
It couldn’t have been otherwise. The foundation for the frenzy was laid a few days before as a Lagos High Court ordered that Emeka Ezeuko, a.k.a Rev. King, the eccentric general overseer of the Christian Praying Assembly, CPA, be hanged for burning to death a female parishioner, Ann Ukoh, for alleged fornication. But how could a man who claims to be God be hanged? How would his followers react to this ‘heresy’? What would they be saying to the Almighty God on behalf of their bearded impostor who, unless his appeal succeeds, faces the gallows?
What would life be after the man they call ‘father’? Would they be like sheep without a shepherd or would they be like the disciples of Jesus, who received the Holy Ghost and power to spread the gospel after their Master resurrected and ascended to heaven? Questions. Plethora of questions.
These were some of the question Weekly Spectator anticipated would be answered by last Sunday’s worship service at CPA.
Even though Sunday worship service usually starts at 7 a.m., the Weekly Spectator team had positioned itself strategically in the church precinct from 6.30 a.m. to be able to capture the mood at the place. Like every worshipper, the team was frisked to its pants to ascertain its status and prevent importation of any unholy tool, like a tape recorder, into the sanctuary. Like General Olusegun Obasanjo once wrote in a notice at his Otta farm, ‘journalists and dogs are (also) not welcome’ at CPA. And God help you if you are detected to be a news hunter on this particular day.
Although there might no signpost barring trespassers, the fear of the CPA is the beginning and the end of wisdom in Ajao Estate. Apart from the ominously brackish water from a carnal in the area, which some will readily swear is grave to some of the church members believed to have disappeared mysteriously, the place screams of an unusual kind of seclusion. A reason why commercial motorcyclists, the most common means of transport in the estate, hardly ply the area, except the customer is ready to pay something extra.
A thick pall of anxiety and uncertainty hung over Alhaji Itanola Drive, Ajao Estate on this day as nobody was sure how CPA members would react to the judgment. Even in normal times, there was no love lost between the residents and King’s gendarmes who perpetually terrorized and intimidated them. Therefore, to avert any untoward incident, most residents perched endlessly on verandas, distant locations from the church and indeed any ‘safe’ place to monitor the parishioners’ mood this Sunday morning.
Of a truth, you don’t need any seer to tell you something serious had happened. Unlike before when they used to surge in their numbers, worshippers began to trickle in twos and threes for a fairly long time. Then, they began to come in a steady stream from about 7 o’clock. Some walked, several drove. They came on the back of motorbikes, in buses, cars of various make and class. Peripherally, everyone appeared to be in high spirit, most of them chatting away like they are wont to do during a special bazaar. Notwithstanding the sword of Damocles hanging on their leader’s head, the flock still seemed intact. The ‘excitement’ belies the church’s current travails.
Signs of the church’s rapidly changing fortunes were noticeable from the gate. Even though CPA has a long history of frisking both members and visitors trying to enter the auditorium, the searching was more vigorous last week. Three men, huge and menacing in their rabbinic beards, as well as three ladies of similar mien but without beards, stood at the gate, frisking people with professional dexterity. The assault does not end there. Move a few metres into the church and you are confronted by two ladies who mount what looks like a ‘toll-gate’.
Worshippers are meant to part with money at this point before going on to the auditorium. One of the ladies is middle-aged. She readily turns on the charm, while the other, younger, serves as the rough neck. Most of the worshippers did not cut the look of the biblical ‘joyous and generous giver’ on this occasion. They just dropped the offerings and hopped off into a group.
However, and contrary to the trend in normal times, the parishioners, rather than go into the auditorium and be engrossed in rapturous chorus singing, gathered in groups on the church grounds, and in little corners, and engaged in conversations, back slapping and greetings in Igbo language, the predominant language here. While some brooded glaringly over the development, the die-hards among the members carried on as if the conviction was an acid test to prove that the man they call god is truly their messiah. To this set of worshippers, Ezeuko’s death sentence is a positive development. “Uka ‘gu Nnwa nne, nna anyin bu ezigbo, (meaning Rev. King is the real god)” one member was heard telling another in Igbo, pumping hands.
Others simply went about bandying threats, promising to bring hell to their traducers, “especially journalists who have been writing rubbish all over the place”. “We will get them,” one of them said, his eyes popping out of their sockets. Our correspondents had to shift position as some members began to ask probing questions.
By 10 a.m., it became crystal clear that no service would hold. Even though music continuously wafted from the giant speakers, as it had been since 7.30 a.m., only few of the members went in to the auditorium. Much of the time was spent discussing events of the past week, essentially the trial and conviction of their heavily bearded general overseer.
The fate of the CPA founder may have unnerved his followers in no small way, but the immediate impression may not in anyway be that the church is about to disband. For residents in Ajao Estate, this may well be a clear and present danger. At least, most of the residents know the harm a religious zealot could do if care is not taken. “We don’t need any Maitasine around us,” said a resident who pleaded anonymity for safety reason.
Many of the them said that King has committed too many atrocities to allow his church to continue in the community. Elemo Sekoni, the Baale of Mafoluku, the community in which the estate is located, leads the group of those who want CPA out fast. “We are talking of atrocities that span more than five years,” he told Weekly Spectator, tracing the genesis of the community’s travails in the hands of Rev. King to the immediate aftermath of the 2001 Ikeja Military Cantonment bomb explosions. Although the explosions occurred at the Maryland area of Lagos, the stampede caused by their thunderous quakes killed many Nigerians.
“Reports were brought to me about how survivors who ran to CPA for safety never came out again,” Sekoni alleged. “The reports said even hawkers who passed through the vicinity were routinely kidnapped and never seen again. Even Rev. King is finally left off the hook, I can tell you categorically that the community would resist him and his church here.” He said it was, however, gratifying that it was Rev. King’s fellow Igbo that made most of the reports to him. “If it had been Yorubas or Hausas, we might have been battling with ethnic skirmishes in Lagos now,” said Sekoni.
Commercial motorcyclists had their own tales of woes to tell. Some told the newspaper they are wary of taking members of the church to their place of worship because they often refuse to pay when they get to their destination. “Before you know what is happening, they get their fellow members to set upon and beat you black and blue,” said one of the cyclists who asked that his name should not be mentioned.
Property owners around the church were also said to have suffered in CPA’s hands. “There are innumerable cases of lands and properties confiscated by King,” said Sekoni. Some, according to him, were forced to part with their lands at give-away prices.
Some were even forced to leave the place without getting a penny in compensation, the paper learnt. Our correspondents were also told of the travails of the overseers of Christian Pentecostal Mission, CPM, who left their parcels of land for CPA after its grand overseer threatened to ruin their ministry. “Reverend King had, indeed, started carrying out the threat before he was arrested,” said a member of CPM. It was gathered that CPA would put buses in Oshodi, a strategic point in Lagos, and deceive worshippers of CPM into entering them. They are then ferried straight to the CPA worship ground. Once there, they are persuaded that the ministry is one and the same with CPM. “Our church lost members through this gimmick,” said the CPM convert who preferred anonymity.
Reprieve may have come at last for those oppressed by the activities of Rev. King and his disciples. But would they have the last laugh? Only the Court of Appeal, and ultimately the Supreme Court, can tell. For the time being, King is tamed and caged in a lonely, dingy cell at the Kirikiri Maximum Prison, awaiting a possible appointment with the hangman.
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