The elderly woman went down on her knees, tears streaming down both corners of her eyes. Her movement was laboured, but when she opened her mouth, the words spilled out in torrents. Her elder brother had died last Friday. But the seemingly tragic incident provided a veritable platform to flaunt the efficacy of “the Jesus Christ of Dr. Fireman.”
“When they called me to inform me of my brother’s death, I took my anointing oil which was blessed by Dr. Fireman and went there. When I got there, there were pastors there, I asked everyone to leave the room. I used my anointing oil and called the God of Fireman and he answered me. I used the oil to anoint my brother and he sneezed and came back to life,” the woman declared.”The moment he stood up, he requested for food. Then he said he wants to eat apple. I told them it is the God of Dr. Fireman.”
The church erupted into claps and cheers.
The supervising pastor called on the congregation to hurry and buy a bottle of the anointing oil – selling at N500 per bottle – and bring to the altar for “Daddy” to touch for a fresh anointing.
“The one you have before will not work,” the pastor said.”If you don’t have money, borrow from your neighbour and go and buy. When you blow, you give him back.”
Such money-spinning episodes dominated Sunday’s service at the Perfect Christianity Mission’s grounds at Surulere, Lagos.
Last week was awash with news reports of the involvement of the church’s General Overseer, Ofuche Ukoha aka Dr. Sign Fireman, in an alleged rape and killing of a 12-year-old girl in Badagry.
According to Ikechukwu Egbo, 18, who allegedly carried out the dastardly act, Mr. Ukoha instructed him to strangle a female virgin, obtain the faeces she would pass out in the throes of death, and bring to him for a reward of N100,000.
Sunday’s service began with an unusual absence of Mr. Ukoha. Church members arranged themselves into groups and launched into a prayer session that lasted an hour.
“We are going to end this session with a seed. Dip your hands in your pocket and raise it up,” the voice of one of the pastors rose across the hall. “Everyone must participate. Raise up N1000, N500, N200, N100. Everybody must participate,” he repeated, and then launched into a missile against unseen enemies. “Every arrow of the enemy against my life, my progress, my family, this ministry, by this seed I cancel it.”
Mr. Ukoha, a stylish man, had been in police custody since last Tuesday; but was released on bail on Saturday.
With Fireman’s absence at the beginning of the service, the next stage, the praise and worship session, was unusually brief, lasting about five minutes.
The church has undergone a lot of physical transformation since my last visit in May, 2013. The semi-enclosed space has metamorphosed into an actual building, a spacious edifice with tiled floors replacing the sandy grounds. The walls have been tiled too.
The testimonies by church members – and the subsequent fundraising – were the only aspects that remained unchanged.
In the first testimony, a young woman narrated how her boss had fired her and employed another lady, and then turned around to beg her to return.
“I want you to pick up a seed and drop at her feet. Anybody that wants to take your husband, life, piece of your land, your vehicle, property. As you drop that seed, it shall come back to you,” the pastor enjoined the congregation.
A young man beside me unfolded his wallet. A single N500 note lay with about half a dozen N20 notes. He carefully extricated a N20 note, clenched his fist, and marched towards the altar.
In another testimony, a lady said the man of God prophesied to her in her dream and her three year job hunting came to an abrupt end last Tuesday. Her new job also came with an accommodation. A bus driver narrated how, on his way back to Lagos from his village in the east, he used ordinary rope soaked in Mr. Fireman’s anointing oil as a fan belt for his faulty vehicle. Another lady said she woke up in the middle of the night to see a bird inside her room.
“I brought out my anointing oil and said ‘In the name of Jesus of Dr. Sign Fireman.’ The bird disappeared.”
More testimonies flowed, each followed by calls by the pastor to the congregation to, with various sums of money, tap into the good fortunes of their fellow members. Members who attempted to testify about the miracle of Mr. Fireman’s ordeal and his surprising appearance in church were rushed through their testimonies.
In the middle of Sunday’s testimonies, cries rang out from the north end of the church. Mr. Fireman had made an unexpected appearance at the service.
Calmly, he made his way towards the pulpit as his bodyguards shielded him from the congregation who were threatening to mob him.
“If you are here this morning and you want God to take you to a new financial level, pick up a seed of N1,000, N2,000, and line up here. If he (Fireman) touches you, you go back to your seat quickly,” the pastor at the pulpit shouted. “If you don’t have N1,000 or N2,000, pick up N500 and join them at the back.”
I needed to get a closer look at Fireman and possibly scan him for torture marks. So, I joined them at the back.
Sporting a grey jacket atop a white shirt and black pants, Fireman, looked leaner than when I first saw him seven months ago. Seated on a white upholstered chair, he appeared withdrawn, a deviation from his usual boisterous self.
We dropped our seeds into a basket and knelt before him, he patted our shoulders without uttering a word. His black hair glistened under the altar lights. There were no signs he had been tortured.
When it was time for him to speak, he merely stood on the pulpit and allowed a smile that began at the corner of his mouth to travel across his face.
“I love you like crazy, like head over heels.”
The congregation went wild.
“We miss you like crazy,” they hurled back at him.
And then he broke into his trademark song: “Sweet sweet lover are you. Dangerous lover are you…”
The church rose to its feet and danced in ecstasy.
Before Mr. Fireman introduced the day’s guest preacher, more members came out to narrate tales of how they “sowed blindly” and then enjoyed a bountiful harvest afterwards.
One member said he, following the directive of Mr. Fireman, donated his only vehicle which doubled as a source of income for his family to the church. Four months later, he got a better vehicle.
The pastor’s voice rang out again: “If you want to buy something and your money is not enough, come out with a seed of N200 and Daddy will shake you. You will meet someone who shall sell it to you at a cheap price.”
For the next person, who said he paid N2,500 for a one year rent on a room and parlour apartment; the pastor called for a N100 seed.
When Apostle Joshua, the guest preacher, took over the pulpit, he spent 45 minutes narrating a classic grass-to-grace story of his life. He told how he once gave all the money he had – N150,000 – to the church. Later, he made N15 million and had now travelled to over 15 countries across the world.
“Do me a favour, when we dismiss, when you go out, mark out a place where you will park your car. In 2014, your flight will surely take off.”
As his preaching came to an end, Mr. Joshua launched into an ambitious fund-raising scheme that would see millions of naira
into the coffers of Mr. Fireman in the next few days.
The guest preacher walked towards one of the building’s beams at the altar, ran his fingers across it, and announced he was going to pray for some lucky people to become the pillars of their families.
“There are ten people here but only one of them will take a step of faith. With N500,000, you come and hold this pillar…. I was in Abuja some time ago and people were bringing the equivalent.”
No one stepped out.
“How I wish somebody will take that step.”
The congregation remained rooted to their seats.
“Okay. If you have N100,000 and you want to become a pillar, just come and hold this pillar.”
Mr. Fireman made the first move. He got up, walked to the pillar and held it. Then three people joined him and they placed their hands on the beam.
The preacher seemed unimpressed.
“There are five people that are supposed to join these people here. It may be your last card. It may be what remain(s) in your bank account. If I were you, I will make that move and say ‘God, I will follow these people.’ As long as the hand of my pastor is there.”
A couple of worshippers stood up and joined the people at the pillar.
Mr. Joshua moved to the next beam, again running his fingers across its length and breadth.
“Look at this pillar, there are 30 people that can do this. That will say, ‘Tomorrow I’m giving N30,000. God bless you as you are coming out. I want to become a pillar in my family.”
At the next beam, he called for 20 people with N20,000 each.
The next one was 100 people with N10,000 each.
By now four beams at the altar have people surrounding them. But there were still other beams waiting to be held. The preacher approached one.
“I saw 80 people that were holding this pillar and their lives changed automatically. A footballer is among them, businessmen, a woman looking for a child. Are you still standing there? Why can’t you rush to this place with N5,000.”
The altar swam with people stretching to place their hands on beams.
“I saw a wedding. If your hand is not reaching the pillar, touch somebody.”
He wasn’t done yet. “If you have N1,000 here, come out, don’t be ashamed. Walk fast, don’t look at any person, kneel down at the altar. Is it money for recharge card or what that you can’t come out?”
At this point, almost the entire congregation converged at the altar screaming at the top of their voices: “Go and become a pillar in your family.”
Throughout the service, there was no attempt to debunk the grave accusations against the church’s founder. Church members waved it off as a mere rumour. One said it was a way God wanted to use to advertise their church.
The preacher looked at his watch. Five hours have sped past since the service began. There was still time for one more altar call. He ordered everyone to remain standing. And he made the call: “I call this recharge card money. I do it everywhere I go. Look into your pocket, the highest denomination there, be it N5, N10, N20, N200, N1000. Bring it and drop it at my feet. I make a lot of international calls. As I use it, God will connect you internationally.”
People swam towards his direction.
The young man beside me whipped out his wallet again – the second time since the service began – and carefully scanned the contents again. The solitary N500 note was still there, along with the N20 notes.
Slowly, the young man sat on his chair and stared into space. I sat down. We began to wait for the end of the service.
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