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TB Joshua, Nigeria, and the fools who build houses on sand- SIMON ALLISON

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TB Joshua has an explanation for everything,
even if his gifts of prophecy are not quite as
acute as he would like us to believe. The
collapse of his church guesthouse in Lagos is no
exception. But conspiracy theories can’t mask
the obvious truth: the self-styled prophet’s
empire is built on wobbly foundations. And his
is not the only one.
You would think TB Joshua, Africa’s most famous
and commercially successful pastor, would know
exactly what caused the collapse of the
guesthouse belonging to his church in which at
least 80 people died – including 67 South
Africans. He is a self-styled prophet, after all,
apparently possessed of divine powers of
prediction, although even he is powerless to
alter the fates he claims to foresee.
Nonetheless, the good pastor waited several
days before revealing his thoughts on what
caused the unnatural disaster. “I do not want to
put fear in the minds of Nigerians. We are still
battling with the Ebola virus disease, and that
was why I have decided to delay my comment
till now,” he said.

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Classic TB Joshua, always putting the greater
good first. A cynic might assume the delay was
actually about buying himself enough time to
concoct a plausible explanation that absolves
himself of blame, but we know that’s not true –
for the explanation he eventually proffers is far
from plausible.
This is what happened, according to Joshua:
minutes before the eight-storey building
eventually collapsed, a mysterious plane circled
four times around it in unusually close
proximity. The pressure and the vibrations
generated by the plane somehow triggered the
building to crumble; perhaps, he suggests,
because some kind of corrosive chemical
substance was sprayed on it at the same time.
As for who might be responsible, well Joshua
has a theory on that front too, telling his
congregation on Sunday that Islamist militant
group Boko Haram were the likely perpetrators.
“They are trying to scare you from coming to
church. Don’t be scared, you are not the target,
I’m the target. I know my time has not yet
come. I have not yet finished my job,” he said.
It is a fanciful story. Unidentified aircraft
buzzing around busy Lagos airspace? Chemicals
falling from the sky? As for Boko Haram, well
they’re rather busy at the moment, occupying
vast swathes of territory in north-eastern
Nigeria. And they wouldn’t need to come up
with such an elaborate plot: the group has
repeatedly demonstrated in the past that they
can destroy targets seemingly at will, using more
conventional methods such as car bombs.
So what, then, was the real problem? I’m no
multimillionaire televangelist, so forgive me for
preaching, but perhaps TB Joshua should consult
his Bible again. The story of the foolish man
who builds his house on the sand comes to
mind. This is what happened next: “And the rain
fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew
and beat against that house, and it fell, and
great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:27).
TB Joshua and his Synagogue Church of All
Nations may not have built their guesthouse
upon the sand. But, as initial reports indicate
and as Nigeria’s long history of building collapses
suggest, they almost certainly built their
guesthouse on poor quality foundations with
cheap materials and dodgy construction
practices. And great was the fall of it indeed.
There are lessons in this for TB Joshua, whose
precipitous rise from farmhand to fame and
fortune is itself based on the shakiest of
foundations. He’s a charismatic preacher, sure,
but it’s hard to believe sthere’s any real
substance behind his claims to heal injury and
disease – is it holy water he’s selling, or snake
oil? Miracles or cheap magic tricks? Either way,
his failure to protect his congregation – and,
even more damning, his failure to predict this
tragedy in advance – will surely damage his
reputation.
There are implications too for the Nigerian state,
and not just because of the close relationship
between Joshua and President Goodluck
Jonathan (first lady Patience Jonathan is a
particular fan). Although that certainly does
present an already weakened Jonathan with yet
another headache. One of his core
constituencies is the evangelical Christian
community, and the president will need to find
a way to punish those responsible for the
building collapse without attacking the still
enormously popular TB Joshua himself.
On a grander scale, however, it’s hard not to
view this incident as a metaphor for the
precipitous, vertigo-inducing rise of Nigeria
itself. Just five months ago, Nigeria became
Africa’s largest economy when its GDP figures
suddenly increased by hundreds of millions of
dollars, leapfrogging ahead of South Africa. The
country has become an investment darling, with
its enormous population ripe for an explosion in
consumption, and is starting to demand
recognition as a – or perhaps the – continental
superpower.
But Nigeria itself is based on wobbly
foundations. That economic growth is something
of a mirage, based on non-sustainable resource
exploitation and some long over-due fiddling
with the way in which GDP statistics are
calculated. Good governance, key to any
successful nation, is still sorely lacking – the
inability to impose a regulatory framework on
the cowboy construction and cement industries
being a prime example of an endemic failure of
the rule of law. And that’s before we even get
on to the country’s legendary corruption,
notoriously poor infrastructure or even that civil
war it’s fighting (and losing, by some accounts)
in the north-east of the country.
Don’t build your house on the sand, the Bible
says. I would normally advocate for a strict
separation of church and state, but maybe this
is one bit of scripture of which both TB Joshua
and the Nigerian government should take note.

Written by:  SIMON ALLISON originally published on Opinions.NG

About SIMON ALLISON:
Simon Allison works at the South African publication, the Daily Maverick.

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