By Julius Ogunro
Five Lessons from BBC’s Expose on TB Joshua
The BBC’s three-part documentary on the late TB Joshua: The Disciples: The Cult of TB Joshua, highlights the disturbing abuse that took place in his church for decades. Here are the five lessons from it:
1. Anyone can be psychologically manipulated and controlled regardless of their education and class. A barely literate man, TB Joshua was a master manipulator who dominated people far superior people to him in education and class. And it did not matter that they were black, white, or yellow. They ate from his hands, tolerated abuse, and would probably have committed great crimes if he asked them to do so. They probably did.
How could he do this without a university degree or great formal education? Joshua probably had ‘native intelligence’ and had honed his art through trial and error over time. What is clear is that at his peak, he had become a master of mass hypnotism and mind control, as he was in the use of public relations and the media. The outcome was the man who ran what seemed from the outside a compassionate religious ministry but beneath the glamour was a devilish schemer, rapist, hypnotist, and master manipulator.
2. Nigeria lacks adequate regulation and oversight across many sectors. Despite documented allegations of long-term abuse from former members of the Synagogue Church, authorities did not investigate or intervene over a period spanning multiple years. Bisola Johnson, a former Synagogue devotee and prominent voice in the documentary, has had a video on YouTube detailing Joshua’s crimes for years, yet no one paid attention. The “Prophet” appeared to have a pass to do as he wished. Even when the guest house in the church premises collapsed in 2014, killing about 116 people, the majority of them South Africans, he was not brought to book, despite the coroner’s report indicting him for criminal negligence.
Had he been alive when this documentary came out, it is safe to say nothing would have happened to him.
3. Nigeria’s religious space is permissive. Religious leaders seem to have the liberty to engage in any bad behaviour, given the lack of regulations in that sector. This is due to the sensitivity of religion in the country, which is often viewed through the lens of competition between the two predominant faiths of Christianity and Islam.
The last time a government agency attempted to actively regulate religious groups by proposing a code of governance, it didn’t end well. The Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRN) had initiated a set of reforms, requiring the tenure of heads of religious groups to not exceed 20 years, among others. The agency’s head, Jim Obaze was sacked following the uproar that greeted the proposal. Now, the country’s political elite seem to have conceded that space entirely to religious leaders, shady or not. It is this lax environment that produced men like Joshua and other predatory religious figures hiding in plain sight.
4. The traditional media in Nigeria is inept, weak and ineffective. It took the BBC to finally highlight Joshua’s crimes that had been ‘begging’ to be reported for years. There are many important issues, of great corruption, abuse, and injustice burbling beyond the surface, waiting to be broken.
The Nigerian mainstream media appears not interested and seems to have taken a vow not to conduct serious investigations, or engage in in-depth analyses. Only the online media appears active and the best is the faction represented by a small pool of reporters led by David Hudeyin and Fisayo Soyombo.
Perhaps, these media organizations’ precarious financial situations make their distaste for investigative journalism understandable. They earn most of their revenue from advertisements and exposing corruption or abuse may hurt the government or big corporations which provides them with advert revenues. So they limit themselves to reporting the news and other boring stuff. Or, perhaps, it is because of the speed with which news is broken these days due to the prevalence of social media that leaves them no time to conduct proper investigations. Whatever the case, Nigeria’s mainstream media space is dull, with all of them reporting about the same things without flair and flavour.
5. Psychological and emotional abuse can be as devious and bad as physical one. The question that is frequently asked by those who saw the documentary is: Why didn’t they leave, after all, he didn’t put a gun in their heads. However, these people tend to minimize emotional and psychological abuse and control, which, in some cases, can be as bad or even worse than physical abuse.
Emotional and psychological abuse involves manipulation, control, and isolation, causing the victim serious nonphysical damage that may affect his long-term emotional and mental well-being. The ‘scars’ are often invisible but difficult to heal.
Let us understand that these victims had given up their identity, their family, their education, and indeed their lives for Joshua. It was therefore tough for them to wake up to the understanding that it was all for nothing and that they had been conned. In many cases, going back to their former lives was impossible – relationships had been destroyed, and too much water had passed under the bridge. Victims in such circumstances tend to make excuses for their oppressor and in some cases will serve as props to the abusive institution, demonstrating a form of Stockholm syndrome. They deserve our sympathy and not scrutiny.
Finally, there are still many shady religious figures like Joshua, hiding under the guise of charity and ‘doing God’s work.’ But beneath the glamour of their TV programmes and faux American accent are predatory characters who run slave camps, abuse women and children, and have grown wealthy on the back of these.
We must expose these crimes. The victims don’t have to be our friends and relatives to make these revelations. We don’t even need the mainstream media. In this age of the smartphone, everyone can be a citizen journalist. If we fail at this, if we fail to organize our society and our religion in such a way that villains like Joshua are deterred or quickly exposed, then no one can save us.