14 October, 2014

Nigeria's 'megachurches': a hidden pillar of Africa's top economy

Insight - Nigeria's 'megachurches': a hidden pillar of Africa's top economy

Bishop Oyedepo of Living Faith Church, also known as Winners' Chapel, conducts a service for worshippers in the church in Ota
View gallery
Bishop David Oyedepo (C), founder of the Living Faith Church, also known as the Winners' Chapel, …
By Tim Cocks
OTA Nigeria (Reuters) - When a guesthouse belonging to one of Nigeria's leading Christian pastors collapsed last month, killing 115 mostly South African pilgrims, attention focussed on the multimillion-dollar "megachurches" that form a huge, untaxed sector of Africa's top economy.
Hundreds of millions of dollars change hands each year in these popular Pentecostal houses of worship, which are modelled on their counterparts in the United States.
Some of the churches can hold more than 200,000 worshippers and, with their attendant business empires, they constitute a significant section of the economy, employing tens of thousands of people and raking in tourist dollars, as well as exporting Christianity globally.
But exactly how much of Nigeria's $510 billion GDP they make up is difficult to assess, since the churches are, like the oil sector in Africa's top energy producer, largely opaque entities.
"They don't submit accounts to anybody," says Bismarck Rewane, economist and CEO of Lagos consultancy Financial Derivatives. "At least six church leaders have private jets, so they have money. How much? No one really knows."
When Nigeria recalculated its GDP in March, its economy became Africa's biggest, as previously poorly captured sectors such as mobile phones, e-commerce and its prolific "Nollywood" entertainment industry were specifically included in estimates.
There was no such separate listing for the "megachurches", whose main source of income is "tithe", the 10 percent or so of their income that followers are asked to contribute.
As the churches have charity status, they have no obligation to open their books, and certainly don't have to fill in tax returns -- an exemption that is increasingly controversial in Nigeria, where poverty remains pervasive despite the oil riches.
The pastors argue their charity work should exempt them.
"We use the income of the church to build schools, we use the income of the church to serve the needs of the poor," David Oyedepo, bishop of the popular Winners Chapel, told Reuters in an interview. "These are non-profit organisations."
Nonetheless, the surging popularity of the megachurches among the Christians who make up half of Nigeria's 170 million population has propelled their preachers into the ranks of the richest people in Africa.
In 2011, Forbes magazine estimated the fortunes of Nigeria's five richest pastors. Oyedepo topped the list, with an estimated net worth of $150 million.
He was followed by "Pastor Chris" Oyakhilome of Believers' LoveWorld Incorporated, also known as the Christ Embassy and popular with executives and politicians, on $30 million to $50 million.
TB Joshua, pastor of the Synagogue Church of All Nations, at the centre of the recent diplomatic storm over the deaths in its guesthouse, was thought to have $10 million to $15 million.
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) declined to comment on how churches fit into their GDP figures, but a source there said they were included as "non-profit", which falls under "other services" in the latest figures. In 2013, the category contributed 2.5 percent of GDP, the same as the financial sector.
A former banker at Nigeria's United Bank for Africa, who declined to be named, recalled being approached five years ago by a church that was bringing in $5 million a week from contributions at home or abroad.
"They wanted to make some pretty big investments: real estate, shares," he said. "They wanted to issue a bond to borrow, and then use the weekly flows to pay the coupon."
In the end, he said, the bank turned down the proposal on ethical grounds.
Yet Nigerian churches do often invest large amounts of their congregations' money in shares and property, at home and abroad, he and another banking source said.
One pastor bought 3 billion naira ($18 million) worth of shares in the defunct Finbank, which later merged with FCMB, after it was rescued in a bail-out in 2009, a fund manager who handled the deal told Reuters. The pastor used a nominee trust account to keep his name off the books.
In 2011, Oyakhilome was investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and charged with laundering $35 million of contributions to his church in foreign bank accounts. He denied all wrongdoing and the case was dismissed for lack of evidence.
Oyakhilome was not available for comment and Joshua's media team declined a request for an interview with him.
Oyedepo's headquarters, "Canaanland", is a 10,500-acre (4250-hectare) campus in Ota, outside the commercial capital Lagos. It comprises a university, two halls of accommodation, restaurants and a church seating 50,000 people, with a total overflow capacity of five times that.
"You can see that everything this man touches turns to gold," Nigerian Agriculture Minister Akinwumi Adesina said in a speech at a reception for Oyedepo's 60th birthday at Canaanland last month.
"May the grace of God abide with you," he added, to a rapturous "Amen!" from the guests in a marquee.
Other dignitaries present included twice-president Olusegun Obasanjo and former military ruler Yakubu Gowon. A choir sang gospel songs as the guests cut an elaborate six-tiered cake and popped fizzy grape juice out of champagne bottles in golden wrapping -- alcohol is banned in Canaanland.
The next day, he delivered four Sunday services in a row to tens of thousands of cheering followers, his white-suited figure projected onto large flat-screen televisions all around.
"From today, no evil spirit, no demon will survive the Almighty!" he shouted, and the crowd roared "Amen!".
A spokesman said the church has 5,000 branches across Nigeria, and 1,000 more in 63 other countries across five continents. But Oyedepo's empire also includes two fee-paying universities that he built from scratch, a publishing house for Christian self-help books, and an elite high school.
Other pastors have similarly diversified ways of getting the Gospel of Christian salvation out.
Oyakhilome owns magazines, newspapers and 24-hour TV station, and Joshua draws miracle-seekers from all over the world with claims that the holy water he has blessed cures otherwise incurable ailments such as HIV/AIDS.
Before Joshua built his 10,000-seat headquarters at Ikotun-Egbe in outer Lagos, the area was part swamp, part abandoned industrial estate.
Now, it is a boom town with shops, hotels, eateries and bars catering largely to the travellers who come not only from West Africa but also from all corners of the globe to hear his sermons. Joshua also runs a TV station.
Guests entering Oyedepo's birthday marquee in Canaanland would have seen a picture of the poor household in southwest Nigeria where he grew up, testament to a rags-to-riches story that many Nigerians would love to emulate.
Like U.S. televangelists, Winners Chapel preaches the "prosperity gospel" that faith in Jesus Christ lifts people out of poverty, and that message partly explains the explosion of the Pentecostal movement in sub-Saharan Africa, where misfortune and poverty are often seen as having supernatural causes.
"We see giving as the only way to be blessed. Blessing other people is a way of keeping the blessings flowing," said Oyedepo, whose blessings include a Gulfstream V jet and several BMWs.
Giving to support the church and its work is something the faithful are encouraged to do, a Christian tradition that was a pillar of the Roman Catholic church in medieval Europe, just as it has been a major money-spinner for U.S. televangelists.
Aneke Chika, a business analyst in an oil services company, told Reuters on the steps of Oyedepo's church that she set aside 20,000 naira of her 200,000 naira ($1,218) salary every month.
Asked about Forbes' estimate of his fortune, Oyedepo told Reuters: "For me, to have fortune means someone who has what he needs at any point in time. I don't see myself as having $150 million stacked up somewhere. Whatever way they found their figures, I am only able to say I am blessed by the Lord."
He said he could not estimate the church's total revenues or expenditure on items such as salaries because the various departments, including education, were too diverse.
The enterprises on the Canaanland campus, from the shops selling cold sodas and bread, to a woman boiling instant noodles and eggs for breakfast in a lodge, to pop-up book stalls hawking Oyedepo's prolific literary output, are owned by the church's estate, which employs their staff on its payroll, workers at all the outlets told Reuters.
Winners Chapel's Corporate Affairs department said the church employed more than 18,000 people in Nigeria alone.
Oyedepo says the wealth the church gathers is invested in expanding it, and that if he did not use a private jet, he would be unable to oversee its many foreign operations and still return to Ota every week in time for Sunday's worship.
Britain's Charity Commission says it is reviewing potential conflicts of interest in his finances, and last month the Home Office (interior ministry) barred him from Britain, though it declined to say why.
Oyedepo said he knew nothing of the commission's review, nor had the Home Office explained to him why he was barred.
A national conference to debate Nigeria's constitution this year proposed that the megachurches should be taxed.
But with an election coming up in February, it is debatable whether President Goodluck Jonathan, who is close to several megapastors, would risk upsetting these influential men and their hefty congregations with a fat tax bill.
"There is no single government input on this premises," Oyedepo told Reuters in the interview. "We supply our water, we make our roads, then you ... say: 'Let's tax them'. For what?"
(1 US dollar = 164.2 naira)
(Additional reporting by Chijioke Ohuocha in Lagos and Ahmed Aboulenein in London; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Kevin Liffey)

28 September, 2014


ince the recent brouhaha involving the use of Ayo Oritsejafor's private jet loaded with $9.3 million in cash on a covert arms run to South Africa, many Nigerian military generals have spoken out publicly on how the United States has continued to hinder Nigeria's efforts to procure arms from the U.S. and their western allies. Surely these arms are needed by the Nigerian army if they must defeat the dreaded terrorist group that have caused so much havoc in the northeast of Nigeria and elsewhere. On the face of it, it sounds like an improbable argument to make against the United States, after all, it is in American interest for Nigeria to defeat the Boko Haram. How can America then be hindering our fight if indeed they now have some of their men on the ground gathering intelligence and their drones hovering non-stop over the sambisa forest in search of the same Boko Haram terrorists. The answer to this question is a lot more complicated than it seems, but it boils down to how America is constrained by the rule of law while Nigeria isn't.
In spite of Obama's promises to help Nigeria defeat the Boko Haram, rescue the Chibok girls, and provide all the weapons necessary to achieve these things, one thing remain. Every weapon that is procured from the United States goes through Congress for vetting. This has been a long standing practice that predates Nigeria's problem with Boko Haram. For Congress to vet these arms purchases means that politicians in Washington DC have put many conditions that would virtually make it impossible for countries like Nigeria to directly procure arms from the United States government. It would have been easier for America to donate these arms to Nigeria, as they have done through the years to countries like Pakistan than for us to be purchasing them. In scrutinizing these arms deals, things like human right abuses, extra judicial killings by the police and the army become the hindering issues for countries like Nigeria to overcome before the US Congress.
Apparently persistent accusations by several human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other agencies have finally caught up with Nigeria, and many Nigerians are now crying foul. Some have said that the US does not have the moral right to impose such standards on Nigeria. Well, if you look at the Abu Ghraib incidence in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and ongoing police abuses across America, one can easily understand why any Nigerian might accuse America of playing double standards. But there is one remarkable difference; the rule of law always prevail in America, and when these things wash up in the surface the law must be seen to take its course. The US army and police can sometimes be a bunch of rednecks behaving as if they own the world, but once their violation of the law is made public, then they are often prosecuted to the fullest weight of the law. Even if their bosses wish to cover these things up, the ever-prying American media and the public will protest until these people are brought to justice. Civilization does not begin and end in driving fancy cars and living in big modern homes, it also requires the acquisition of sensibilities that can easily be offended by behaviors outside the acceptable norms.
In a place like Nigeria, most citizens do not give a damn if the police are killing criminals in droves and dumping them in the forest or river somewhere. We always justify these killings by assuring ourselves that these are good riddance. We always keep a blind eye in Nigeria, as long as our relatives are not the victims of these extra-judicial killings. This, I found out, is a huge problem in Nigeria. The average Nigerian is unlikely to rise up and protest extra-judicial killings or torture. It has for long been an open secret in Nigeria that the police sometimes eliminate threats of armed robbery and kidnapping simply by killing some of the detainees in their stations. I do not wish to become a crusader for suspected armed robbers and kidnappers, and if you have been a victim of either, you would most likely be glad to know that police officers are finally getting rid of the bad guys. But there is one problem. Several hundreds, perhaps thousands of suspects have been eliminated by the police and the army in the past few years, yet neither armed robbery nor kidnapping has decreased around the country. Some police officers, especially SARS would privately argue that such elimination is an effective way of carrying out justice. That to do otherwise will likely put those useless suspects before the Nigerian judiciary, probably awaiting trial for 5 to 10 years without any resolution.
Expedience is never the answer especially when a man's life is involved. Lately, many of these human rights organizations have paraded Nigerians on television testifying of various types of torture on them in different Nigeria police stations. Recently I saw a video on facebook that showed the most horrific scenes of Nigerian soldiers that lined up some Boko Haram suspects. They made these guys dug their own graves, and then shoot them one by one and simply push them into those graves. I am not a saint, but nothing offended my sensibilities more than watching that video. It is true that I have seen worse by ISIS and Boko Haram, but this was a video of Nigerian army officers, and that was just unbearable to me. There must be a difference between a terrorist group and a national army. The US has presented this tape to the Nigerian military, but they are still taking their time to investigate. What utter nonsense, especially when the video of their officers is rather clear. This is the same Nigerian army that rushed to publicly try a bunch of junior officers for mutiny, and handed down a verdict of guilty punishable by death on firing squad.
I'm sure that the Nigerian military can act quickly if they wish to do so, but they cannot drag their feet and still expect America to simply ship arms to them without asking appropriate questions. In February last year, I wrote an article on extra-judicial killings in Nigeria, (A conspiracy of silence…the silence of our politicians on extra-judicial killings) indicting the SARS wing of the Nigerian police. I received quite a few threats after that article, but I wasn't bothered at all. It is really up to us Nigerians to stand up and speak up against these injustices on our people. America can only refuse our military arms, which they can easily buy from willing markets like Russia, China, South Africa, and others, but it is our own outcries that will put pressure on these police and military officers from acting with impunity and getting away with it. And to those military generals who are whining that America is hindering their fight against the Boko Haram, perhaps it is time you all learn to operate an army worthy of the 21st century Nigeria. And in the meantime, kudos to our military for killing Abubakar Shakau once again or was it his imposter?

Suspects abandon Italy, China to lead robbery gang in Lagos

Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Suspects abandon Italy, China to lead robbery gang in Lagos
by Olaleye Aluko

The suspects and the recovered arms and ammunition


The Lagos State Police Command on Tuesday paraded seven suspected members of an armed robbery gang, two of whom confessed to have travelled from Italy and China to lead the gang in Lagos.
PUNCH Metro learnt that the gang members were arrested on Saturday, September 20, in the Ebute Meta, Lagos while they were preparing for an operation.
Our correspondent gathered that the suspects - Joel Eghon, Jude Dike, Ifeanyi Onwegbuchi, Solomon Igwe, Emmanuel Ifeanyi, Ejike Emegwo and Leonard Afoaku - were apprehended with a Toyota Hiace which they had earlier snatched along the Ibadan-Ife Expressway.
According to the police, the bus contained Volkswagen engines, female bags, shoes and motor gear oil, which had been recovered.
Speaking with PUNCH Metro, the Italian returnee, 55-year-old Dike, said he had spent eight years in Italy trying to make ends meet, but returned to Nigeria about three years ago to join the gang.
Dike, who hails from Orlu, Imo State, said he supervised the sale of all the goods stolen by the gang.
Grey-haired Dike said, "I have my stores on Ashogbon Street, Isale Eko, Idumota in Lagos. Before coming to Lagos, I was in Italy for eight years. I was doing drugs runs for many dealers. I came back to Lagos three years ago, where I met Emegwo. We were staying together in Idumota. He was the one who introduced me to the gang.
"When they go on operations, they drop the goods they snatch in my store. I sell them for the gang and share the money out after removing my own gains. When some cosmetics were stolen, my gain was N800,000. On another occasion, my gain was N600,000."
Dike added that he had been with the gang for about three years.
"At a point, I told them I wanted to quit because I knew I was treading a wrong path, but they threatened to implicate me and I continued," he added.
For 31-year-old Emegwo, he was working as keeper of a warehouse in Beijing, China and had to leave the country due to poor payment.
He said, "I returned to Nigeria in August 2013. I was working in Beijing, China, in a warehouse. China was not easy. I was not well paid. I came back because my papers were about to expire and I did not want immigration problems.
"I followed them for this particular operation because my wife needed money. She is carrying a still born and we need to pay for an operation. Unfortunately, we had not sold the goods before we were arrested."
The police revealed that the mode of operation of the gang was to pose as security officials on the highway and flag down targeted drivers for "stop-and-search". In the process, the suspected robbers would attack their victims.
The Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Cornelius Aderanti, said nine rounds of 9mm ammunition, three locally-made pistols and 33 live cartridges were recovered from the gang. He added that the police would continue to fight crimes in the state.

He said, "When I got information about the activities of this gang, I instructed the Special Anti-Robbery Squad team, led by Abba Kyari, to go after the suspects. They have all confessed to several robberies in Lagos, Osun and Oyo states.
"The police in Lagos are going to continue to hunt down criminals and protect lives and property. The suspects will be made to face the full wrath of the law."

03 September, 2014

Jobless graduate charms employers, after applying 300 times

Tough times never last but tough people do. A young university graduate, Afred Ajani, demonstrated amazing resilience to get a job when he stood in the busy Waterloo Station in London, with a placard advertising himself as an applicant in want of job. 
ajani-job-seekerAjani, whose surname suggests possible Nigerian parentage, stood at the entrance of the railway station on Monday, August 19, during the rush hour, holding up a sign stating: ‘Marketing graduate (BA Hons 2:1 Coventry Uni). Ask for CV.’
This is happening at a time when most Nigerian young graduates struggle for visa to the United Kingdom in search of greener pastures. Others, too numerous to mention, brave death en-route Europe as they journey through the desert in search of employment opportunities.  Not minding the fact that almost half of fresh graduates in western countries are now in ‘non-graduate’ or ‘stepping stone’ roles, such as bar-tending, and other menial jobs, young Nigerians still dash for UK visa like a ticket to heaven.
Ajani, who lives in South London graduated in Second Class Upper division from Coventry University, yet, his nice grade couldn’t secure him a job. After applying for 300 positions without success, he took an unusual step by holding up a sign in his hands during the rush hour, advertising himself as a jobless graduate of Marketing to thousands of commuters buzzing around the train station.
His new approach became the charm that caught the attention of many company directors, who walked up to him to discuss potential positions and gladly picked up his CV. His radical step unlocked gates of opportunities, with prospective employers inundating him with calls and e-mails within hours. At the last count, he has been interviewed for a ‘dream’ sports marketing job in Spain, as well as other choice offers.
His unusual way of looking for a job has worked! Aside being inundated with emails and calls, Ajani had an interview with sports hospitality firm THG Sports. He said: “The response has been incredible. I’ve even had to have my family and friends help me go through all the emails and phone messages I’ve received. I’ve spoken to THG about a sales position in Barcelona, which would be a brilliant as it is in the area I want to go into and studied.Living abroad would be a great experience too, so it’s something I’m really excited about.”
Ajani said his mum, Lola, was proud of him for thinking out of the box to get the desired attention. ‘My mum, Lola, is really proud of me. She gave me a big hug when she saw the response I had got. And she had me up at 5.30am this morning following up some of the offers I have received.’
Speaking about his job prospects, he said: “One woman worked in advertising and took a CV and another guy ran back from his train and said he’d walked past but had started thinking and might have something for me. I’ve already had some phone calls and have got an interview booked for later today. The support was great, one man even bought me a cup of tea and told me ‘good luck’.
He added: “My mum is proud of me. She came down to the station and was hugging me and saying she hoped I could help support our family.”
Rather than feel ashamed of his rare act, Ajani said he had received scores of messages of support from fellow graduates and classmates. He said his expectations remain high to secure a full-time position in no distant time.
On the pressures on graduates to find a job in the current market, he said: “If everyone is saying we don’t have experience, then I do not understand how we are supposed to get that experience.”
Speaking about what motivated him to take this unusual approach to job hunting, Ajani says he was frustrated that he hadn’t found a job since May, and that the opportunities he had found weren’t areas he was interested in. He is interested in strictly marketing/advertising jobs.
“I realised that there are thousands of students out there using the same old methods of applying for jobs online and through recruitment agencies and so I thought I’d try something different.
I got up early and went to the station. At first people just looked at me but after about 10 minutes people were stopping and talking to me. They said they’d never seen anything like it before and were really impressed,” he says.
A photo of Ajani giving his CV to people at the train station made its way to Twitter, prompting many people on the social media platform to commend his efforts, and offering to assist him.
His courageous act also won the heart of the Editor of Marketing Week, Ruth Mortimer, who wrote him a letter, hailing marketers for their sense of creativity, pro-activity and thinking. She said Ajani has since received a better response rate than most people using latest email campaign.
Mortimer also urged friends to help Ajani get a job. “Alfred, get in touch with our own marketing team (just email laura.mcqueen@centaur.co.uk) and we’ll hook you up with our friends in the recruitment team, make sure you keep up to date every week with a Marketing Week subscription and throw in a ticket to the Festival of Marketing.”

29 August, 2014



  • AFGHANISTAN  see   through  caves
  • CHINA see all the  airports
  • RUSSIA/UKRAINE see troop movements and their exact numbers
  • IRAQ  used  to se Sadam Hussien in all his  tunnels
  • LIBYA  saw   Ghadeffi  even in his  toilet
  • GAZA see everyone  and rocket launching pads
  • SYRIA see all ISIS  movements
  • IRAN sees  the  Ayothalah in the mosque  every Friday
  • EGYPT can tell exactly how many  stones  are thrown in TAHRIR  square and their  trajectories.
  • NIGER REPUBLIC , see the uranium deep under the soil.
  • SOUTH AFRICA see  all the Diamonds  under  the  soil
  • NORTH KOREA.  See all missiles  before  they are launched  and  follow them till explosion
Sincerely, I do not  understand !!

23 August, 2014

BridePrice App

BridePrice App

brideprice app
It is through the changing trends and the latest technology of app development that a group in Nigeria called Anakle, came up with the BridePrice app, a web application which enables one to calculate how much in terms of cash and physical appearance you can pay for your bride.
The new app helps women know how much they are worth so they can “charge” their future husbands accordingly. It can also be used by men and prospective husbands to gauge how much their in-laws will expect in terms of bride price ones a person requests for their daughter’s hand in marriage.
The Brideprice app enables a lady to find the true value of her worth or bride price as well as gauge or calculate that of friends and enemies alike.
Users are taken through various questions which come with multiple answers, each with a corresponding value in Naira.
The questions range from the bride’s physical appearance to education level. Once the final question has been answered, the elders go into consultation (the app calculates the lady’s worth in monetary terms), and just like that, the worth of your future bride is revealed.
On the first page the user is given an option to either check the bride price for one’s self or to check the bride price for a friend or an enemy.
The categories that describe the brides include, height, weight, leg shape, facial beauty, skin colour, facial quality, teeth colour, residency, nationality, highest education level attained, cooking skills, employment, body art, accent and a bonus question. In each category, you are given a few options which have a quoted virtual amount in Naira.
For instance, under the height category, the app user is asked to choose if your bride is tall, short, medium or aki and paw paw. If your bride is tall, the elders will ask for  N20000; if she is short,  N4500; medium attracts N14500 while Aki and PawPaw come with a price tag of N50,000
Once you are done, and you submit the end results , the elders go into consultation and eventually give the answers. The app gives you an option to share the final results on facebook and twitter platforms.
The app itself is an aggregation of jokes and stereotypes regarding Brice price in Nigeria. These stereotypes are all jokingly used in various Nigerian cultures and on social media every day.
What the app does is aggregate these collections of jokes in one place, and this is for the purpose of fun and humour only. Admittedly, the comic strips are the popular Bride Price concept popular in Nigeria, and most African countries. It should not be perceived as a platform to objectify a woman of any tribe, race or color.
The developers of the app caution everyone on the disclaimer page stating: ‘We are responsible for optimal performance of this app, but we are not responsible for what you do with it. This app is a joke, and all there is to it…”
This is an interesting app that one should try out using. Go ahead,calculate your brideprice and don’t forget to share it!