Reports in both Nigeria’s This Day and New Telegraph newspapers have chronicled the impact The Synagogue, Church Of All Nations (SCOAN) has had on Nigeria’s tourism industry, noting the negative affects the local community has felt since the tragic incident that befell the church in September 2014 and the resultant legal battle with the government:“Operators of tourism enterprises in Ikotun, a Lagos suburb have sent a Save-Our-Soul appeal to the Federal and Lagos State governments over the current plight of the Synagogue Church of All Nations and its leader, Prophet T.B. Joshua.
According to them, as a result of the impasse, they and their dependents are facing serious hardship. They said they are finding it difficult feeding and taking care of their families. Among those that spoke were members of the hotel owners, cab drivers, food vendors, hair stylists, commercial motorcycle operators and others.
One of the hotel owners in Ikotun, Chief Jerry Omorodion, who spoke on the issue, said it was unfortunate how the situation has degenerated. “Our discomfort is that the issue is not being treated as an accident in a tourist destination that welcomes thousands, if not millions of tourists, both local and international, annually. It is important that the state government should be mindful of the role the church plays in the spiritual lives of people. Millions of people flock here for solution to their physical ailments and spiritual craving. The state government, I am sure, are aware of the role the church plays in the lives of the people of Ikotun. We depend on these pilgrims and religious tourists for our livelihood.
“We saw what happened in Saudi Arabia where close to 2,000 persons lost their lives. There have been tragedies in tourist destinations like Kenya and Paris. But they moved forward. The government should do its job but the destination and what brings people there should not be made victims and they should remember that we and our family members are facing difficult times. We have no other means of livelihood outside the ancillary services we offer to pilgrims visiting Ikotun.“There have been accidents in many tourist destinations in the past. In these climes, knowing the importance of tourism and such destinations in the lives of these host communities, while investigating and getting to the root of the accidents, the governments did not create the impression they want to destroy these destinations. Look, by destroying a destination, you are destroying millions of lives that depend on it for survival.
“Look at me; I am a retired civil servant but I am finding it difficult, as the schools have just re-opened, to pay the school fess of my children. My hotel has been empty. I invested in the hotel, as a fall back, after my retirement. It is mostly on weekends that we have a little bit of improvement in our occupancy. Many of my colleagues that had initially converted their houses to hotels are changing them back to residential areas due to lack of patronage.”
He pointed to about three storey buildings around the vicinity: “There are hotels that were springing up before the unfortunate incident. Since it happened, work has stopped in the hotels. Most importantly, in this period Nigeria is trying to diversify the economy; you can’t kill a destination because of an accident. Tell me, in the whole of Africa, which other single destination is capable of attracting such large and diverse number of tourists from all over the world like The Synagogue, Church of All Nations? Nigeria should be proud of this and it should not be destroyed.”
“Look I doubt whether there is any individual alive that in Nigeria, indeed Africa that can attract people to a particular country as Prophet TB Joshua does. There is no church or religious event in the country that has the capacity to attract tourists like the Synagogue. Some may not like the founder while others do, this is understandable. However, the incontrovertible fact remains that he is the biggest tourist attraction to Nigeria. If anybody has a contrary opinion, let the person say it. I think he has done much for this country and does not, in my opinion, deserve what he is getting.”
In the last 20 years, Ikotun, a Lagos suburb has seen a tremendous growth both in its economy and as a tourist destination. From being an obscure suburb, Ikotun was transformed into a renowned global tourist destination for Christian pilgrims who throng to the place from all over the world. Annually, about two million local and inbound tourists visit the place. The tourists from all over the world come to worship at the Synagogue Church of All Nations. The pull to Ikotun is also to have an encounter through Prophet Temitope Balogun Joshua (Prophet T.B. Joshua). Due to this influx of tourists, many residents of the area quickly latched on to the business opportunity the huge influx of tourists to the area creates.
While the church has accommodation facilities for inbound tourists who came under organised tour, with the huge influx of religious tourists, hotels and guests houses started springing up around the Ikotun. Most of these hotels are not luxury or branded hotels, but they offer decent accommodation for tourists who were not on leisure trip but to find both physical and spiritual fulfillment for their ailments.
Some owners of residential houses also quickly converted their houses to guest houses to accommodate visitors to the church. Fast food joints and food vendors were also not left out in this economic boom to the area. With the large number of hotels and guests houses that sprang up, there was a need regulate the services offered. The operators came together to form an association known as the Pilgrim Hotels Owners Association.
This new found source of livelihood was suddenly faced with a difficult time when on September 12, 2014, a hostel facility owned by the church came crashing down. About 115 pilgrims, mostly from South Africa, lost their lives in the tragedy. Since the incident, the church and the Lagos State government have been in court. While the court case drags, it has negatively affected activities in and around Ikotun as the large number of local and foreign tourists
has drastically gone down. Most of the ancillary services that depend on activities around the church for livelihood are seriously being affected.