WHAT people make of the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) depends on what side of the fence they stand. For many, it is hated and maligned over what they perceive as unorthodox Christianity. But for residents at the fringes of its headquarters, the church is the best thing that has ever happened to the community. And they have good reasons to believe so.
There are “uncountable hotels” in the area, said Rotimi, an Ikotun resident. Light-skinned and bearded, the young man seemed short of words to describe the magnitude of business potentials in the church’s host community. “It is cool money!” he exclaimed emphatically, adding, “money dey for this area!” Rotimi had wanted to rent a room near the church but had been put off by the exorbitant cost. He probably would rue that decision today. At least, he might have been one of “some people (who) will even let out their rooms to guests and then put up with friends”; all in a bid to make extra bucks.?
Suddenly, the phone rang. It was a lady. The interview was put on hold as the respondent fed the female with amorous words. He began to explain how his “precious brother” had come to visit him. And before you could say ‘Juliet’, he had passed on the phone, urging a conversation that could further consolidate his relationship with the lady. “Some landlords, even chase out their tenants and use the houses as lodges,” he went on, but not until he had explained how important it is to always say nice things to women. “Who knew this place before?” he asked matter-of-factly, stressing that the host community lives off the church. “If this man (Pastor T.B. Joshua) relocates from here, everybody will suffer,” he concluded.?
So, how do guests find their ways to these innumerable lodges? “There are agents,” said Rotimi. “They bring people and then collect a commission.” Perhaps, Rotirni had a special way with figures or it was merely his way of stating hard facts, but the agents, like the hotels and lodges, are also “uncountable”.
Into The World Of Merry Hostel Agents
?? ?DISGUISED as a traveller, who for all the world might just have arrived from Ghana or Togo, I walked, slow-paced, past the imposing structure, taking in its magnificence, the skillfully crafted sculptures, the sighting of Oyibo men and women here and there, the armed and surprisingly smartly-dressed police officers, the…then an Okada (commercial motorcyclist) rode past. The rider, clad in a white shirt and black trousers was saying something. He was barely audible. He rode on. About a minute or two later, he returned.”Hostel?” he asked. “Yes, hostel,” I answered. “They don’t allow us to stop here,” he explained, urging me to hop quickly on the bike. “There are different, different rooms, he began. “There is one for N500. There is one for N1000. There is self-contained; that one is N2.500. Everything is per night.”?
?? ?The motorcyclist rode past the tarred road that stretched alongside the church building, and a little beyond, and then hit an un-tarred extension – Segun Irefin Street. It was the archetypal bad Nigerian or Ejigbo road. A turn to an alley ended the journey at a lodge. It was a spacious premise, which seemingly had consisted only a green flat. Now, other structures have sprouted to make space for the periodic flood of visitors.?
?? ?Still posing as a guest, a tour of the facilities began. ?This big man would certainly not settle for a N500 room,?? the manager might have thought. And so, she led the way, first, to the N1000 affair, which looked like the flat’s parlour, stripped of furniture, replaced by some 10 or more mattresses neatly laid on the floor. Next was the N2.500 range. These were bed-rooms indeed: they had just enough space for a bed. Any baggage that thought to share the room might have to plead its way. The N500 ‘room’ might have deserved the name because it was meant for humans. Frankly, it could have hosted poultry. Plywood rose from a concrete floor to form an enclosure with a door. Halfway to the roof was wire mesh for windows. One brown fan looked down pathetically on some mats and carpet??
?? ?”Let me have the N1000 room,” I said, placing the sum on the table as the lady reached for her register. The motorcyclist, meanwhile, had found himself a chair and was looking on. “No, don’t bother,” I told her. She put the book away and I explained my true mission. The money was for her troubles, and for the Okada man’s, I explained. About an hour after the encounter, however, the motorcyclist walked up to me: “Oga, you no go find something for me?” he asked. “But I told her that the money was for both of you,” I said perplexed. The motorcyclist was equally astonished at the lady’s strange behaviour. Barely six or seven footsteps into our resolve to go and challenge the lady, he said: “Oga, no problem. You fit just dey go. E no go good make I worry you. Make you just dey go.”?
?? ?ONE agent, Nnamdi, explained how profitable business has been. “I was living in an uncompleted building before. I started leading people to lodges and collecting small, small… Now, I live in a rented three-bedroom apartment. I am married with children. I have about eight brothers and sisters living with me and feeding, with my kids,” he said.?
?? ?”This church makes lkotun lively,” Nnamdi went on. “In the past, nobody knew about Ikotun. But now, people all over the world, as a result of the church, recognise the location. And when they did, things began to move on well. You can see that if you enter the community, there are no poor people there. Things are moving. Whatever you display will be sold. People let out their apartments to guests and use the proceeds to take care of their families and themselves. But for this church, I don’t think people here would have had such opportunity. These agents, for example, some of them have even bought cars.”?
?? ?Felix, a co-agent, however, thinks the boom in business has had a negative effect. “Landlords will chase you out of the house and use the place for accommodation. Many houses have become lodges. If you count 20 houses at random, you will find that about 17 are lodges; they are frustrating people. Look at the man that owns that storey building (pointing to a building), the Pastor queried him, asking, ‘how can you drive people out of your house?’ It is frustrating.”?
?? ?Nevertheless, he admitted: “l am benefiting from the church. On a regular day, even without dissipating much energy, I take home at least N20.000. But it is not everybody that can do this job. You will notice that there is hardly a Yoruba boy here. Instead, you will find Delta, Igbo, Calabar and other states; these are people who are good at hustling.”?
?? ?AT Kaywy Lodge, The Guardian met Sufi Onilewura. Sitting in front of a Lenovo laptop, the young man said: “Many investors have swarmed on lkotun. What people do now is buy houses, break them down and build up hotels.” His disclosure was not difficult to verify. Across the road, a multi-floor hotel was nearing completion. “The church has totally changed the landscape of this area. It is now a big commercial environment,” he said.?
?? ?There appeared to be a touch of class to the lodge; something Sufi suggested makes his guests keep coming back. But there is a price tag. “We don’t have these rooms available for now,” Sufi said, pointing to a price list that indicated N4.400. But then there were other rooms: executive with A/C N5.500; executive, A/C, hot bath N6.600; executive, A/C, big bed N7.700; twin bed N8.800; big bed, hot bath N8.800.?
?? ?BUSINESS owners in the area seemed reluctant to disclose how much rent they pay for their shops. One Mrs. Philips, however, admitted it was “high” compared to what is obtainable in other parts of Ikotun. Upon learning that a reporter was in her shop, she emerged from an enclosure within, hands whitened with flour. She had been making pastries and the inviting aroma hung pleasantly in the air. There was strong indication that business was good. The shop looked ‘filled to the brim’; and some unlucky items may have had to wait patiently for their turn to occupy the shelves. While the cost of renting a shop would ordinarily have bit quite painfully, Mrs. Philips admitted she doesn’t feel it, as a result of sales occasioned by the church’s programmes.?
One food seller in the community, Charles, argued, “There is no business that is particularly for men or women,” when he was asked what he thought about being in a business predominantly undertaken by women. “It is just like mobile phones. Some people will say, ‘this is for women’ or ‘that is for men. But it is not true. Business is business, whether it is a woman doing it or not. Asked how he would rate business, Charles chose the word: “excellent!”?
THE church plays host to people from practically all corners of the world. For persons who come from West Africa and who are minded to travel back by road, flash garages appear along the busy lkotun road near the premise of the church. It was found that a bus ride to Ghana for passengers with passports costs N9.500 while those without passports pay N13.000. Those with “virgin” passports are charged N10.000.Three transport companies – Rock Foundation, Elcharis and The Young ply the Ghana route. Also, passengers may board buses for Enugu or Kaduna at N3.000 and N5.000 respectively. It was also found that besides conveying passengers to or from the church, many drivers make handsome money by liaising with managers of hotels and lodges. They drivers bring the passengers to the residences, and earn a corresponding commission per head.?
‘Business Transcends Religious Borders’?
?? ?ONE basic find was that the sweet waters of business in the host community was being sipped, not just by faithful of the church alone but by everything – from Animism to Zoroastrianism. The religious divisiveness that plagues the larger society and which often results in bloodletting was nowhere to be found. And like dehorned creatures, assuaging their thirst at some cool meadow, the Catholic, Muslim, Protestant, and all others, stooped for once in unity of purpose for a drink.?
?? ?”Business is not religion,” said Engr. K.Y. Aminu, chairman of Pilgrims Hostel Operators’ Association, an umbrella body of lodgings providers in the area. He downplayed unwarranted emphasis on religion: “His church being here is an asset to the entire community. Apart from people engaged in accommodation business, there are others who sell food, plait hair and sew dresses. It’s not an issue of whether I am a Muslim or not. The thing is that I am making money out of something that he has established. It is like building a stadium, like Surulere stadium. During the days when it was good, people around the facility were getting business.”?
This Bad Road Is Hurting Business’?
?? ?BESIDES the age-worn lkotun road and the beautiful stretch that runs past the side of the church, there is little to be desired of any other road in the host community. A respondent remarked that the deplorable state of Segun Irefin street, particularly, has often made guests change their minds about lodging in the area. As at Wednesday May 14,2014), rain had fallen and the road was a mess of dirt, mud and floodwater.?
?? ?Another source also highlighted how the road is hurting business. “The only problem here is the road. T.B. Joshua wanted to tar the road. But he had a misunderstanding with the company beside the church. There was a little piece of land between the church and the company.They could not reach an agreement on it. When they went to court, the company won. Even when he was trying to fix the road, the company said,’no, we don’t want a situation where we won’t be able to control our own portion of the land. Tar your own side; we will tar ours’. So, Joshua did his own end and the company did its. The government may have to do the rest. And think of it, this is an industrial area and these companies pay tax to the government.”?
?? ?Another source added: “We heard that the church wanted to repair it and the owner of the street said that he (Joshua) should not do it; that the road belongs to him. You claim that you own the road, but who knows you? People know the church. Leave him (i.e., Joshua). Let him… He wants to spend his own money. Even if you put your name on the street.. My brother, since I came here, the name has remained Synagogue Road. When these foreigners ask,’why is the road so bad?’ I tell them,’this is a village. In a village, things are not always as you want them to be’.”?
‘Only The Wise Will Simile…At The End’?
?? ?MRS. Eyitope sells fabric in the area. She explained that life is fraught with vicissitudes; hence people must be discrete about how they manage proceeds. “Before, about two years ago, you will sell, sell, sell…Sometimes, you will not even know what to do with the money. This is because, as you bring in the items, people buy them up. But things have changed, because more people are going into this business in this area. And you can’t expect everybody to buy goods from you alone. That is the reality of trading.”?
“I thought recently that if the entire business bubble around the church bursts, maybe due to some unforeseen circumstance, what would be next? As a businessperson, you are expected to sit down and think about what could happen in the future; not focus on the present alone. So that as the money keeps flowing in, you will be wise enough to save some amounts in a fixed deposit. This is because, if the business collapses, you will have something to fall back on. It is failure to follow this basic principle that drives people into bankruptcy. For instance, in the past, programmes were held for four or five weeks. But now, it is two weeks. The programmes for this month have come and gone. And that is why you are not seeing people around.”