Dissecting TB Joshua: Spellbinding Preacher or Con man? – Mustafa Jamal
Meet the Preacher
In Harold Robbin’s bestselling novel, Spellbinder, an unknown out-of-town clergyman becomes a world-renowned televangelist the rich and famous defer to with thousands of followers hanging on to his every utterance. When a crisis almost runs down the church, a Texas billionaire admirer of the evangelist comes to the rescue, pledging his money and support to the protagonist known only as Preacher.
The transformation from a-nobody to one of the most charismatic men of God in Robbins’ fictional tale was so complete people dimly remembered the Preacher’s past. They were fixated on the glowing present and the miracles he performed.
His preaching style and charm buoyed by televised appearances assured him rock star status. Greed, sex, and drugs were ever-present ingredients in the heady cocktail the Preacher shared at his commune.
By the time Spellbinder was published in 1987, two popular American televangelists Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker had been embroiled in sex scandals. Swaggart ratted on Bakker for cavorting with prostitutes which led to the latter’s downfall. Swaggart himself would later confess and break down on television that he’d done the same thing and ask for forgiveness.
Unlike Swaggart and Bakker, the charismatic televangelist with the mononym Preacher in Spellbinder was not done in by a strumpet or a Delilah. He was knocked off by the very man who bankrolled him because the Texas billionaire thought he had deviated from the tidy script of mass deceit he had been mandated to act out on stage.
A master storyteller in a class of his own with such thrillers as The Pirate, Carpetbaggers, 79 Park Avenue, Robbins’ Spellbinder is remarkable for its prescience in detailing the deceit, the charade and lack of substance in some Pentecostal revivalist churches.
In place of quiet contemplation characteristic of true religious worship and oneness with God, material possessions and miracle healings take centre stage.
From Preacher to TB Joshua
Though Temitope Balogun Joshua aka TB Joshua, the late founder of Synagogue Church of All Nations was not done in by a woman or rich individual when he passed on in June 2021, his shtick followed the same playbook as Preacher’s in Robbins’ Spellbinder.
When TB Joshua began his ministry decades ago in a run-down part of Lagos, he was virtually unknown. It did not help that he was born into a Muslim household: he became a Christian convert early on and then began his church with a membership of only eight people.
But before then, he had started some sort of evangelising in secondary school in his natal Arigidi-Akoko in Ondo state where he was born on June 12 1963. Apocryphal stories abound about his birth. One said he spent 15 months in his mother’s womb; another claimed that a large boulder fell where he lay as a three-day old baby narrowly missing him, thus the name Temitope – what God has done for me is worthy of thanks.
TB Joshua was not a particularly bright student but he showed early promise as a devout Christian becoming a leader in the Scripture Union. He also preached to young people in school before he dropped out.
Job wise, TB Joshua, had a brief spell in a poultry farm shoveling chicken shit before moving to Lagos where he started his ministry. Those who remember him then recall a reedy fellow garbed in not-too-tidy accoutrements with the ubiquitous black beard on an angular visage with no resemblance to the fresh-faced and world-famous preacher he became in later years.
Man of God or con man
Like Harold Robbin’s Preacher, TB Joshua believed he had a genuine message from God to pass on to whoever cared to listen. It was one such message he received in a heavenly vision after a mountain-top visit that led him to start his Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) in 1987. That was where his meteoric rise in evangelism began just like Preacher’s in Spellbinder.
Miracle seekers came in their thousands from all corners of the globe and his reputation grew correspondingly. He said with a sweeping arc of his hand over prostrate forms on the marbled floors of his magnificent church, all sicknesses would be banished – be it HIV-AIDS, cancerous growths, a malfunctioning kidney, liver or palsied limbs.
“There was no known disease he couldn’t cure,” so the story went, drawing worshippers to his church at Ikotun an otherwise forgotten suburb of Lagos which would soon become a Mecca of sorts to those troubled in body and soul.
Of course, miracles and faith healings alone would never suffice because there are always doubters amongst us, thoroughgoing skeptics who believe it is near impossible to miraculously heal what is clearly a medical condition requiring proper medical attention.
So, under the founder’s guidance, SCOAN began what made the ministry more popular in the eyes of many: philanthropy. It also gave it a human touch, making the leader into a man who could feed the soul and also the body.
TB Joshua sponsored indigent students to school and while many of those were done privately there were more public-facing spectacles of the man’s magnanimity to crowds waiting for hand-outs.
For instance, if you missed the Sunday sermons and special crusades beamed on local and international television channels, you were sure not to miss the bags of foodstuff the church donated to the needy at the church premises.
The man sometimes carried the bags on his head himself, delivering them to the waiting arms of penurious but grateful families under the gaze of television crews. To observers, the spectacle of a man of God of his calibre logging bags of rice or beans like a labourer discharging cement bags from an articulated lorry was nothing short of humility. Many more people were bowled over by that singular act.
“Have you seen any of his contemporaries doing the same thing?” They would ask.
And it was hard to argue considering how hard it was to imagine a David Oyedepo or Enoch Adeboye or Chris Okotie hefting a bag of rice.
TB Joshua exposed
For TB Joshua, it was part of what we now realise was a carefully cultivated persona. That facade was blown away early on Monday January 7 2024 after an investigative documentary by the British Broadcasting Corporation exposed details of the late man of God’s private life. Alas, TB Joshua’s private life was completely different from what the public saw of him on stage as a minister of God.
In two years of investigation, the BBC unearthed awful stories from scores of women who had more than casual relations with the overall head of SCOAN, the women were comprised of Brits, French, Germans, Ghanaians, Koreans, a Namibian, Nigerians, a Russian and so on. Together, they all had the same story to tell the BBC, heart-wrenching tales of rape, of torture and forced servitude in the church’s premises against their wish.
When Rae, a Briton, from Brighton left England in 2002 for Lagos, she was a bright-eyed girl of 22. She was in university but abandoned her studies. Obviously, she was captivated by the charismatic Nigerian preacher who could perform wonders. After all, she’d seen the man himself doing things on Emmanuel Television, a channel devoted mainly to the Sunday sermons, miracles and wonders TB performed live. According to Rae, she was gay. She wanted to be straight. Whether she tried therapy sessions with psychiatrists in Brighton or not is hard to say. Maybe she didn’t care a hoot about them. What she cared about was the man of God in Nigeria. And so, along with a friend, Carla, Rae flew to Lagos to SCOAN for deliverance from Pastor TB Joshua, a man she idolised and hoped for so much from. He turned her into a sex slave instead and held her captive in the church premises for 13 years, ostensibly as one of the “disciples” under his care.
According to the revelations from BBC’s Africa Eye “evidence of widespread abuse and torture by the founder of one of the world’s biggest Christian evangelical churches has been uncovered by the BBC,” the report bylined by Charlie Northcott and Helen Spooner began. “Dozens of ex-Synagogue Church of all Nations members – five British – allege atrocities, including rape and forced abortions, by Nigeria’s late TB Joshua. The allegations of abuse in a secretive Lagos compound span almost 20 years.”
The BBC pointedly noted that they not only had “dozens of eyewitness accounts of physical violence or torture carried out by Joshua, including instances of child abuse and people being whipped and chained” but also “numerous women who say they were sexually assaulted by Joshua, with a number claiming they were repeatedly raped for years inside the compound.”
There were also testimonies of “multiple allegations of forced abortions inside the church following the alleged rapes by Joshua, including one woman who says she had five terminations” and “multiple first-hand accounts detailing how Joshua faked his ‘miracle healings,’ which were broadcast to millions of people around the world.”
Apparently it was one of such “miracle healings” that led Rae to TB Joshua when she departed Brighton for Lagos. For her, it turned out, as the BBC summed up, “a shocking journey into a maze of manipulation and terrifying abuse perpetrated by one of the most powerful religious figures of the 21st Century.”
In Rae’s account after meeting and being held captive by TB Joshua, “we all thought we were in heaven, but we were in hell, and in hell terrible things happen,” insisting that she “was sexually assaulted by Joshua and subjected to a form of solitary confinement for two years.”
All she could think of during that time was suicide which she “attempted multiple times.”
How did TB Joshua get away with such atrocities?
Though not-well-educated, TB Joshua had the innate intelligence common to conmen. He could read and anticipate situations correctly, a point made by Paul Agomoh who was his second in command for many years. “He was a genius at making things happen the way he wanted,” Agomoh said in the BBC documentary.
TB Joshua almost always never failed, which accounted for his successes with the women in his bondage. Where guile failed, sheer brute force prevailed, which security staff of SCOAN used against individuals and corporations.
Those who spoke out against TB Joshua were either ignored or intimidated. “A number of our witnesses in Nigeria claim they were physically attacked, and in one case shot at, after previously speaking out against the abuse and posting videos containing allegations on YouTube.”
A BBC crew that “attempted to record footage of the church’s Lagos compound from a public street in March 2022 was also fired at by the church’s security, and was detained for a number of hours.”
All that streak of violence and secrecy was far from the Christ-like existence TB Joshua portrayed in his many sermons, the image of a kindly patron of the deprived in the society. Those who know him closely tell of a man with a volcanic temper, once overturning a glass-topped table in fury during a meeting with subordinates. So, the question remains: Was TB Joshua a true man of God or a phony?
Mohandas K Ghandi once mused that “I admire Christ but not Christians.” With the recent disclosures by the BBC on one of the most charismatic preachers in Nigeria, it is hard to disprove that keen observation by the sage from the subcontinent.