If there is one thing brought to the fore by the recent death of the Senior Pastor of the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), the late Prophet T.B. Joshua, it is the fact that he single-handedly turned his locality, Ikotun, into a tourist destination that welcomes thousands from all over the world who visited the Lagos suburb for spiritual and physical solutions to their problems.
In 1987 when the late Prophet T.B. Joshua began his ministry in a nondescript marshy, mosquito infested swamp of Agodo-Egbe, the area was little known and people hardly ventured there in search of accommodation, and there was little business.
Joshua was to later move the church from the marshy land in Agodo-Egbe to Ikotun because his church was constantly being washed away by erosion and also the area was infested with mosquitoes. He was to later build a multi-billion naira world class resort on the site called SCOAN Prayer Mountain Resort which he was planning to open today, July 12 before his demise.
From this humble beginning, the church first became a local phenomenon as the reputation of Joshua as a faith healer grew. Thousands from every part of Lagos and neighboring towns and cities started trooping to Ikotun in search of a solution to their problems. Tourism activities like provision of accommodation facilities, food vending and others thrive as visitors come to the church.
Once the numbers visiting the Ikotun started increasing, people started setting up ancillary businesses that cater for the needs of the visitors to the church. Using word of the mouth and reports in the media, Joshua’s reputation as a faith healer spread across Nigeria attracting inbound tourists into the country. Although the church tried to provide in-house accommodation and hospitality services for visitors to the church, the number was just too much for them to cope with. Some who could not be accommodated within the church but who were desperate for prayers from Joshua, look for alternative accommodation outside the church in Ikotun. That was the beginning of the tourism boom and the development of a tourism economy in the suburb.
One of the major activities in the church created by the late pastor that was a major boon for the tourism was the Prayer Line.
Prayer Lines were held on special days in the church where anybody with any ailment in search of solution would come as early as possible come and line up in the church carrying a cardboard starting the ailments they were suffering from. On the day that there would be a prayer line in the church, many would come as early as between 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. to line up. To achieve that, especially those coming from West Africa, would look for accommodation facilities within Ikotun and environment. This became a major boon for hospitality activities in and around Ikotun leading to the springing up of thousands of hotels in the area. In Lagos metropolis, outside Victoria Island, Ikotun has the highest concentration of hotels, and they depend on visitors to SCOAN to fill the hotels. The returns on hotel business as a result of the activities of Pastor T.B. Joshua was so huge that many landlords gave quit notices to their tenants and converted their facilities to hotels and hostels.
However, the first trouble for Ikotun as a tourist destination built around an individual first came on September 14, 2014 after an accommodation facility in the church collapsed leading to the death of 115 tourists, majority of whom were South Africans.
International tourists and pilgrims were restricted from visiting the church for almost two years.
According the hoteliers in Ikotun then, the hotels lost over N3.9 billion in revenue. The hoteliers under the aegis of Pilgrims Hostels Association of Nigeria, said the total number of bed spaces of different categories for all the hotels in the Ikotun area stands at about 3500 as at 2016.
One of the hotel owners, Chief Jerry Omoridion had said then, “We have been crying for a long time and the government does not seem to understand our plights. It is a serious issue for us because our means of sustenance is currently being wiped out. Before the unfortunate incident at the Synagogue Church of All Nations, cumulatively, we had a total of about 3500 hotel bed spaces. I am not adding some of these hotels that were in the process of coming on board but had to stop since the accident.
“The hotels have different categories of rooms, but for you people to understand the enormity of our loss, let me peg the room rates at just N5,000, that is the cheapest room rate in any decent hotel in Ikotun. Before the accident, we were having 100 per cent occupancy rate on at least three days in a week, this may sound unbelievable. You are members of the press, go round and do your investigations. But now, the occupancy rate in these three days is less than 10 per cent. Many of my colleagues have reduced their staff to the barest minimum; some of us are doing the jobs we used to employ and pay workers to do, since we can’t afford to employ them now due to the bad business climate.
“With a 10 per cent occupancy rate only about 350 rooms are sold by our members every night. Many had zero occupancy severally. What it means is that with 3150 empty rooms, at N5,000 minimum per night, we are losing about N15,750000 per night. In a month the lost is put at N189,000000. If the figure is multiplied by 21 months, you have a whooping N3,969,000,000 as loss of revenue. This is just a conservative estimate. Think about the multiplier effect on the economy of the area. You can understand why we are shouting loudly. I am just talking about three days that we were sure of patronage.”
That was 2016, between then and up till the death of Joshua, the number of hotels in the area has doubled. Currently. Ikotun and its environs would be boasting of about 7000 bed spaces feeding from the tourism traffic at SCOAN. They are apprehensive of what would become of their businesses now that the major draw to the destination has died.
Speaking on the death of Prophet T.B. Joshua and the implications for tourism, Nigeria’s Father of Tourism and former President, Association of Tourism Practitioners of Nigeria (ATPN), Chief Mike Amachree said: “Prophet T.B. Joshua singlehandedly elevated Nigeria into a religious tourism destination that attracts thousands of inbound religious pilgrims from all over the world, who troop to the SCOAN for worship and spiritual solution to their problems.
“Visit Ikotun, you will see the number of hotels and other accommodation facilities, eateries, different kinds of vendors who are depending on visitors to Ikotun for their source of livelihood. The tourism industry in Ikotun is all tied to Prophet T.B. Joshua’s SCOAN, he feeds and clothes thousands of people in that axis. How are they going to survive and generate income without the tourism business? His death is a huge setback for the country.
”In addition to this, the late Prophet T.B. Joshua had built a multi-billion naira, world-class tourism resort, the SCOAN Prayer Mountain Resort. The resort would create thousands of jobs for people to earn livelihood. He really did so much for the industry. That is why his death is a great loss to us in the country.”
Professor Wasiu Babalola, a professor of Hotel management and Tourism at Atiba University Oyo, and Honorary Chairman, Institute of Hospitality UK-Nigeria International branch, also spoke on the demise of Prophet T.B. Joshua gave advice for the future of the destination: “ It is a tragedy for us although our domestic tourism is picking up. Our condolences to the family of the late pastor. The post T.B. Joshua era will come in two ways: if we want to take ownership of the church as a monument, which it is, then we can turn what we have now into a very big tourism opportunity for the country.
We should realize that the church, SCOAN, is a separate entity from the late T.B. Joshua… we can’t equate T.B. Joshua to Jesus Christ or even those who are greater than him. They’ve come to this earth, and they are gone. T.B. Joshua has come and he has gone, but the monument, which is in Lagos, which is an attraction, we should ensure the monuments are preserved and try to sell these as a destination to those who were unable to visit the SCOAN while T.B. Joshua was alive, depending on the narrative about the destination.
I want to assume and believe that the church has a succession plan and somebody should be in charge of the church. Apart from that, the leadership needs to reposition the SCOAN as a place for people to visit. They have to now separate the church as a separate entity from whosoever that is going to take over. So, with that we can ensure we have a story to tell about SCOAN for those who want to visit the Synagogue.
“In the area of hospitality, their future will depend on what happened to the church. That is why we expect the church to be creative enough to be able to send the right message they send out to people. When you depend on a destination to generate your income, anything that happens to that destination affects you. We want to believe that the hotel has an exit strategy and the strategy to survive this kind of situation. We expect them to downsize in the short term and expect business to pick up when things strengthen out, but everything depends on the church, what is the succession plan of the church. That is what we intend to be looking out for.”
Many industry practitioners are also calling on both the state and federal government to help the church navigate into the post T.B.Joshua era in the light of the huge socio-economic implication of the collapse of Ikotun as a religious tourism destination.