BY ERIC DUMO.
For three months, Funke Sopade was a slave. She was not in chains yet she lived everyday of that period in complete bondage, fearing and not knowing what the next moment could bring. Moving out of her parent’s house in the Ogudu area of Lagos and into a small church covered with worn-out woods and rusty roofing sheets in Itamaga, Ikorodu, a remote part of the metropolis, the strange-looking religious house became her home for the most part of that period. Though she went to Ogudu once in a while to pick a few items, her mind drifted away from her family and home the more she stayed at her new abode. But one morning after community leaders and some policemen invaded the church following a tipoff, the veil suddenly fell off the 34-year-old lady’s eyes. She has yet to recover from the disturbing experience.
“Till this moment, I cannot explain what I was doing in that church for three months,” Sopade, who now runs a provision store in the Oregun area of Lagos, told our correspondent during a chat earlier in the week. “A friend directed me to the place after I told her I was looking for a husband because all the men that came my way were not very serious about marriage,” she continued. “The owner of the church who was called Prophet Jacob, told me that marine spirits were responsible for my predicament and that until those spirits were chased out, I would never marry and become anything meaningful in life. To accomplish that, he said I needed to be within the church premises for at least three weeks.”
While she had thought salvation was close by, events that soon followed proved otherwise. Each passing day came with its own problems. Sopade was in for a long, horrible ride.
“By the second week he told me that he got a revelation that I must not go back to my parent’s house till the entire exercise, which he revealed would now go beyond the initial duration,” she said. “He told me that since God was preparing me for a completely new life, I must dispose all the material things I had and bring the money to the church for prayer of upliftment and breakthrough. At different times within the period, I went to my parents’ house at Ogudu to pack some of my things and sell. Everybody in the house tried to stop me but I resisted them. The only person I listened to and believed was the prophet; he was the one controlling my life.
“While I was there, different things were done on my body which I cannot completely remember. There were several other women who had also abandoned their homes and moved into the church on the orders of the prophet. I met some there while the others joined us later. Most of the women who were looking for husbands like me were also asked to sell of their belongings and bring the money to the church which they did. We did not know we were in bondage until the police and some community leaders came to invade the place very early one morning,” she said.
One herbalist arrested by the police in the Ogijo area of Ogun State for being in possession of used female sanitary pads led officers to the church. The items, which he later confessed were used for ritual purposes, were usually supplied to him by the fake prophet whom he said he had known for more than eight years.
The herbalist also revealed that he made charms for Prophet Jacob which he uses to hypnotise, hold down and milk those who attended his church especially women looking for husbands and pregnancy.
“Immediately after that invasion by the police where the entire place was ransacked and many items destroyed, it was as if all of us staying in the church regained consciousness,” Sopade cuts in. “It was a moment of great shock to many of us, personally I was shedding tears, wondering what I was doing in that type of place. The church was inside the bush in a new site, I cannot tell what kept me in that place for so long.
“I am happy that God rescued me from that place but I still feel hurt whenever I think about all the things I lost. I sold everything I had and submitted the money to the fake prophet, it is all gone. It was a life of bondage, the man had our lives in his hands, I thank God for rescuing me,” she said, regret and disappointment still visible on her face.
Like Sopade, Evelyn Obasi, a 41-year-old businesswoman suffered financial and psychological loss when she fell into the hands of a fake pastor in the Orile area of Lagos.
Introduced to the ‘man of God’ after sharing her problem of not having a husband with a friend in February 2016, Obasi, for the next four months, was conned of her hard earned money after being asked to abandon her home and business and move into the church for a special deliverance session which would usher in her long-awaited blessing – a husband. She was asked to submit everything she had to the church and obey the ‘spirit’ till the work was complete.
But after waiting tirelessly without a result for four months, Obasi became doubtful. Her fears were confirmed one evening after eavesdropping on a conversation between the purported pastor and the friend who had introduced her to him.
“I was totally in shock when I heard their conversation,” Obasi said. “It was as if I was in dreamland,” she added. “He said he was going to balance her immediately he was able to get some more money from me, that she should still manage the N300, 000 he had given her. He said he was going to make sure I sold my two cars and emptied my shop before he would let me off his hook. He told her that he deliberately didn’t attempt to sleep with me so that the charm he used on me would not spoil. At intervals they would laugh and giggle while discussing my matter over the phone.
“After hearing that conversation, my eyes cleared, it was as if I was removed from darkness and taken into light. I reported the matter to the police who eventually arrested the two of them. Though I have yet to get back what I lost, my life is more important to me. I have never seen this level of deceit since I was born,” the bewildered woman said.
But beyond targeting and milking vulnerable women in the society, individuals perpetrating evil in the name of God appear to have taken their craft to even more terrifying levels in recent times.
For example, Kayode Olatiri, a recharge card seller in the Alausa, Ikeja area of Lagos, was left licking his wounds five weeks ago after running into two fake prophets around the vicinity.
Armed with the gift of oratory and a fair knowledge of the Bible, the two men told the unsuspecting 24-year-old that they had a revelation that his current suffering was being spiritually orchestrated by one of his uncle’s wives who wanted him dead by all means. They declared that if the young man didn’t quickly listen to the ‘voice and direction of the spirit’, his enemy would succeed in tampering with his destiny.
“They were so convincing in their words,” Olatiri told Saturday PUNCH during a recent encounter. “They quoted portions of the Bible well and spoke like real men of God; it was hard not to believe them. They told me that to break the curse placed on me by my uncle’s wife, I had to pick seven stones and walk from where I was standing and begin to pelt the first seven electricity poles I would see. They told me to recite some words after throwing each stone. They told me to keep everything I had on me with them, remove my shoe, wristwatch, belt and other items as those were material things related to idolatry. Out of my desperation or maybe innocence, I left the bag containing N30, 000 worth of recharge cards, my two phones and other items I had on me for the two men and followed their instruction. By the time I came back to the spot I met them, they had disappeared. I have never set my eyes on them till date. The loss is a cross I have to bear for my ignorance,” he said.
Mr. David Banjo and his family are lucky to be alive today. After being robbed by the unlikeliest of persons about one year ago in their Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State, home, their perception about individuals parading the streets as ‘servants of God’ has changed.
Banjo, a restaurant operator, told Saturday PUNCH that the entire family was in the house when they heard a knock on their gate one morning. The three men at the gate who wore white garments claimed to have a disturbing revelation about the household which they must share with them immediately. Without suspecting any foul play, the 48-year-old invited the strangers into his house. It was a grave mistake.
“Immediately we got into the house, two of them brought out guns while the third who had an axe threatened to butcher any of us who acted ‘funny’ into pieces. They ransacked the entire house and went away with over N60, 000, mobile phones, one laptop and several other handy items. They tied all of us together before finally leaving. It was a friend who later came to check me at home after not meeting me at my restaurant that untied us. It was a nasty experience, I can never trust any ‘man of God’ again especially those ones that go from one street to the other claiming to see vision,” an embittered Banjo said.
According to findings by Saturday PUNCH, to milk members of the public, some ‘servants of God’ now devise all sorts of means to achieve their target. For example, some operators of phoney religious houses like Prophet Jacob now observe fast on behalf of persons who are willing and able to pay a certain fee. Also in some of these places people are asked to pay certain amounts if they wanted visas, husbands and even a child. The fee paid by persons seeking twins is a bit higher than those who want a single child.
As part of the new strategy adopted, many of these conmen disguising as ‘men of God’ now roam tertiary institutions and major motor parks across the country where they accost people with the ‘holy word’ before eventually tricking them into parting with certain amount of money.
Disturbing as it sounds, these cases are only a fraction of the level of deceit and fraud that has been perpetrated in God’s name across most parts of Nigeria in recent times.
For instance, on August 19, the police in Enugu arrested a syndicate specialised in the art of faking miracles and prophecies for pastors who usually contracted them for a sum. The suspected fraudsters – Obi Ejike; Mary Kuku; Joy Oluwakemi; Nwosu Chizoba and Peter Uchechi, were heading to Abakiliki, Ebonyi State for a ‘show’ when they were apprehended following an argument among them.
“Some pastors use us to grow their churches and ministries and we are paid later through our coordinator, depending on our roles,” one of them confessed after their arrest.
On the same day a self-proclaimed prophet, Emmanuel Adeyemi, was arrested by the police in Lagos after 28 persons were allegedly found chained in his apartment in the Oke-Ira, Ogba area of the state.
The victims, who comprised 15 adults and 13 teenagers, were discovered after a neighbour gave the police a tip-off that a 17-year-old boy, Toba Adeyemi, who happened to be the suspect’s son, was chained in a room.
Commissioner of Police in Lagos, Fatai Owoseni, on Tuesday further revealed that shallow graves containing human remains were also discovered at the residence of the 70-year-old prophet.
Owoseni said: “We got a tip-off that there were people he buried in that compound and he confirmed it during interrogation.
“Because the area is swampy, the suspect had allegedly buried some people in the swamp and about three others in the house.
“When we asked him of their identities, he said it was some of his patients that were brought to his home from the hospital, after they were given up for dead. He said the patients finally died in his care and were buried in the swamp.”
Similarly, on August 11, 45-year-old pastor, Joseph Olude, and his church member, Rasak Raheem, were arrested by the police for allegedly engaging in robbery around Idiroko-Oke, a border community between Ogun State and neighbouring Benin Republic.
Olude, a father of five children, who pastors a church in the Ajegunle area of Ogun, was discovered to have five guns hidden in his premises.
On August 3, a 42-year-old fake pastor known as Wasiu Lawal was arrested in Lagos for raping a 38-year old woman during a spiritual cleansing.
Lawal who claims to be a pastor, native doctor and a Muslim cleric, forcefully had sexual intercourse with the woman under the guise of “praying” for her.
In June, another pastor, Delight Okorie, was arrested by the police in Imo State for attempted murder and stealing of vehicle of a female member of his church.
The man, it was learnt, told to his victim, Chioma Oleka, that she was being troubled by marine spirit which must be cast out for her to fulfill her destiny. He allegedly lured her to a river in the guise of exorcising the marine spirit before inflicting machete cuts on her and making away with her car after leaving her for dead. The suspect who confessed to the crime after being arrested a few weeks after, however, blamed his action on the devil.
In April, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Ondo State Command, arrested a 34-year-old pastor of Christ Apostolic Church “DANGUNRO”, Mr. Moses Abiodun, for burying fetish items in his church.
Following a tip-off, men of NSCDC stormed the church where they asked Abiodun to dig some spots inside the place and later discovered items suspected to be charms such as cow head, pigeon head tied with kola nuts, big clay pot wrapped with white clothes and other fetish items buried in the ground. The list is endless.
Sad as it is, the latest trend is not limited to the Christendom alone, fake Islamic clerics have also been running riot across the country, hiding under the guise of being God’s servants to dupe, rob and take advantage of unsuspecting members of the public.
In June this year for example, the Lagos State Police Command arrested a 42-year-old cleric, Rasheed Ayuba, for alleged car theft.
Ayuba, who hails from Igbesa, Ogun State, was apprehended along with one transporter in Ibadan, Oyo State, Falade Igbekele, who reportedly bought six of the stolen cars from him. A bunch of master keys and about 13 other car keys as well as charms were later recovered from the cleric.
“I finished from an Arabic school in Ikotun and started teaching Arabic in Ishasi. It was only four cars I had stolen this year before I was arrested. I sold a Toyota Camry to one Pastor Dare for N100, 000, and a Honda for N80, 000 to another pastor. But Pastor Dare had just paid me N50, 000. They all knew I stole the cars,” Ayuba confessed.
In August 2015, a 42-year-old cleric, Jamiu Mukaila, was arrested after turning a 34-year-old lady into a sex slave for three days under the guise of performing deliverance on her. Mukaila equally confessed to defrauding the lady identified as Bose Alele to the tune of N350, 000.
The Nasarawa State Command of the NSCDC in 2015 arrested a 45-year-old cleric, Shahidu Suleh, for allegedly sexually assaulting a 10- year-old boy in Lafia, the capital.
“The Command, through intelligent reports, arrested one Shahidu Suleh, a mallam, for sexually assaulting his supposed student, Okasha Ishaka. We were able to trace and pick him with the boy who he claimed he was teaching the Quran.
“The boy narrated that the man had been having sex with him and threatened to kill him if he exposed him,” leader of the security agency in the state at the time, Lawan Bashir-Kano, disclosed while parading the suspect before newsmen.
Before his arrest by the police, Isiaka Adeleke swindled several persons of large sums of money under the pretext of being a Muslim cleric.
Those who sought his spiritual help paid between N200, 000 and N400,000 for his services, however luck ran out on him recently when he defrauded one of his friends of N8m under the guise of “doubling” the money for him.
Spokesperson for the Special Fraud Unit which later arrested the culprit, Ngozi Isintume-Agu, a Deputy Superintendent, said: “Having trust in the clergyman, who was said to be his childhood friend, the victim approached him for prayer and blessing for business success. The complainant obeyed as instructed and gave the N8m to the so-called cleric only to come back after seven days to discover that he had relocated to Ilorin, Kwara State, and switched off all his mobile phones. Through intelligence we were able to track down and arrest the suspect.”
Highly religious and having a soft spot for the things of God, smart conmen and women have capitalised on this to inflict grievous harm on many unsuspecting persons across Nigeria. To further cement their grip on their victims, many in this criminal act have established worship centres of all kinds where real spiritual works are faked. In Lagos and other big cities across the country, thousands of churches and mosques dot the entire landscape. While there are no laws regulating the activities of some of these religious houses, the rapidity of their spread has also gone largely unchecked. Today, rooms and shops as small as the size of a 14-seater commercial bus are used as venues where some of these deceits take place.
Sociologist, Gloria Mandu, points that as long as the society fails to address the key issues that have to do with the basic needs of people, individuals would continue to devise means to survive in such environment, including posing as pastors and alfas to rip off people.
“All the pointers to these types of crimes are there for all to see in a society like Nigeria. Many citizens are deprived of their basic rights and in a bid to address some of these basic needs like hunger and shelter, people would easily take to crime to solve this problem.
“Most of the fake pastors and alfas we see everywhere these days are smart and intelligent people who couldn’t have gone into what they are doing if indeed the society was well structured and there were equal opportunities for everyone. If there were jobs and everyone was earning a decent income, the man or woman who runs to these fake guys for prayers and miracles won’t even go to them because life could have been going on fine for them.
“In every society, religion is usually the last hope and refuge of any man. In Nigeria where basic amenities are lacking and where survival becomes critical by the day, religion is what in fact is keeping many people alive. These fake guys understand this and that is why they are able to manipulate a lot of people into giving in to their tricks. Until we address the factors fuelling this scourge, it would be difficult to fight this disturbing trend,” she said.
A top ranking member of the Christian Association of Nigeria who asked not to be named told Saturday PUNCH that the threat posed by these false prophets is quite disturbing but that as a body they do not have express powers to check or totally regulate the activities of any religious house.
He however, called on members of the public to be vigilant as according to him, some of these happenings were in tandem with the Bible’s prediction of fake prophets springing up during the end time.
“People must be extremely vigilant. The moment you encounter a fake prophet you would know if you are spiritually strong. As a body, CAN does not have the power to completely regulate the activities of churches, we can only enlighten and encourage people to seek the true word of God by avoiding some of these fake pastors. People must watch out for bogus claims of instant miracle and deliverance,” he said.
Abdul-fatah Ahmad of the Ansar ud Deen, a respected Islamic organisation, said any man or woman using the name of Allah to perpetrate crimes is only condemning and bringing the punishment of the Almighty upon himself.
According to him, no true Islamic cleric with the fear of God would engage in any funny activity like asking for money for deliverance or engaging in any fetish exercise.
culled from Punch