Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Ogun state as gateway to heaven

In my column on this page on Wednesday, July 3, 2013, I wrote about the ‘Unique features of Ogun State.’ In that piece,  I x-rayed the immense  contributions of the state to the political economy of the South West geo-political zone as well as Nigeria in general. I also mentioned a number of first prizes the state has won in the annals of Nigerian history. I said inter alia that: “Ogun State indigenes have scored a number of firsts in Nigeria. The first Premier of the old Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo is from Ikenne in Ogun State. The first woman credited to have driven a car in Nigeria, late Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome Kuti is from the state.   The first Nobel Laureate for Literature in Black Africa, Prof. Wole Soyinka also hails from Ogun State. The first indigenous Chief Justice of Nigeria, Chief Ademola Adetokunbo;

The first western trained psychiatrist in Africa, Professor Adeoye Lambo; The first Nigerian lawyer, Alexander Akintola Sapara-Williams; The first Nigerian Supreme Court justice, Hon. Justice Olumuyiwa Jibowu; The longest serving Nigerian president, Chief Olusegun Okikiola Aremu Obasanjo (1976-1979; 1999-2007) are all from Ogun State. Though Yorubas generally love to party, however, the Ijebu people of Ogun State are unrivalled when it comes to elaborate partying popularly called ‘Owanbe’. Ogun State it is where journalism profession started in Nigeria more than 150 years ago when Reverend Henry Townsend published the first Nigerian newspaper titled “Iwe Iroyin fun awon ara Egba ati Yoruba” in 1859.” In addition, Ogun State is the home of the incumbent vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo who is also a cleric (Senior Pastor at the Redeemed Christian Church of God).

There was a great omission in my 2013 piece on Ogun State. That is what I have returned to highlight. The gateway state as Ogun is nicknamed is not a misnomer. This is because as it is the door to other parts of Nigeria and indeed the West African countries through Benin Republic, Ogun State is also the ‘Gateway to Heaven’. How? Ogun arguably is the spiritual headquarters of Nigeria. The state is replete with religious camps some of which have become cities. It was reported that there are over thirty of such religious camps in the state with many of them located along the Lagos – Ibadan expressway.

The most prominent ones among the religious camps are the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Prayer City; the Cherubim and Seraphim religious camp at Ogere; the Celestial City at Imeko; the 50,000 capacity Living Faith Church aka Winners Chapel at Ota which also housed the Covenant University and ‘the father of them all’ the Redemption Camp of the Redeemed Christian Church of God located at Kilometer 46, Lagos -Ibadan Expressway. The last two mentioned here have become towns on their own due to the large size and facilities on these religious camps. The NASFAT camp is also along the expressway.  

These religious camps have brought development to Ogun State and Nigeria. I recall that before the advent of Redemption Camp, the Ibafo, Mowe, Magboro and even Ogere area were sparsely populated and traveling through those areas was a nightmare as there were a lot of armed robbery incidents along the expressway. Today, many housing estates have sprung up in those areas largely due to the influence of the Redemption Camp. Even on the Camp itself, many members of the church have been allotted land and have built homes on the ‘holy site’. While some of the home owners use it during the church conventions and monthly programmes, there are many others who have taken permanent residency in their houses on the Camp.

 On the camp are also facilities like banks, clinics, schools, hostels, fuel stations, police stations, transport services, hotels, Bible Colleges, etcetera.  Until its recent relocation to its permanent site in Ede, Osun State, the temporary site of Redeemer University was on the Redemption Camp. Similar development has taken place at the Living Faith Church headquarters at Ota. As earlier pointed out, the church has invested heavily in education from primary to tertiary level. It has Kingdom Heritage and Faith Academy for the primary and secondary education and Covenant University. The Mountain of Fire and Miracles church in addition to establishing a University has also floated a football club, MFM Football Club currently playing in the first division of Nigeria Premier League.

Apart from physical infrastructure that these religious camps have attracted to Ogun State, they have also jointly enhanced tourism in Nigeria. These churches have contributed immensely to religious tourism. Every year hundreds of thousands of church members in Diaspora and even those who are not members but have heard of the signs and wonders (miracles) taking place at these religious camps troop to attend their annual conventions and monthly programmes.  Nigerian presidents and even presidents of other African countries have visited and worshipped at some of these religious camps. Among them are former President Olusegun Obasanjo and ex-President Goodluck Jonathan. As these foreign visitors travel from different parts of the world to attend the Power Must Change Hand monthly programme of the Mountain of Fire and Miracles or the annual Shiloh of the Living Faith Church or the RCCG Holy Ghost Congress and annual convention; they bring in the much needed foreign exchange as they have to pay for hotel accommodation, feeding, travel and souvenirs.

On the negative side, many travellers have been caught in traffic gridlock occasioned by improper management of the traffic during these religious meetings.  Motorists and commuters who have been at the receiving end of this logjam have constantly called for the relocation of these religious camps or better management of the traffic situation. There seems to be some improvement in the recent past as the churches have had to engage the services of men of the Federal Road Safety Corps and other ancillary road traffic management agencies to assist in the enhancement of free flow of traffic.  Not too long ago, the Ogun State government had to repair the bad portions of the expressway which actually is a federal road in order to ease traffic.

However, one thing the state government can do is the provision of light rail to service these religious camps especially those who have been attracting huge human traffic like the Redemption Camp and Winners chapel. This can be done in partnership with the federal government and churches involved.  This will reduce considerably vehicular traffic on the expressway and make the road to last longer. Ogun state government must also ensure that it is involved in the physical planning of these religious camps so that proper and standard facilities are built on the camps. The government should learn from what happened at the Synagogue Church of All Nations in Ikotun, Lagos a couple of years ago when the hostel being built by the church collapsed and killed over hundred people many of whom are South Africans.