Residents are cashing in on thousands of tourists who attend Temitope Balogun Joshua's church in Nigeria.
In Lagos, Africa’s largest metro-polis, the district of Ikotun Egbe has turned into a boom town. The draw? Temitope Balogun Joshua, one of Nigeria’s richest “super-pastors”, whose church attracts 50nbsp;000 worshippers weekly – more than the combined number of visitors to Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London.
Seeking promises of prosperity and life-changing spiritual experiences, visitors flock from around the globe. Enterprising Lagos residents have transformed the run-down area into a hotbed of business.
On a Saturday afternoon, traffic swirls around the four-storey, giant-columned Synagogue Church of All Nations. Congregants are pouring in for the next day’s service.
“They should really build a branch in South Africa – it’s a long way to come and the hotels here are so-so,” says Mark, a sunburnt businessman from Johannesburg, accompanied by two friends from Botswana.
As the church’s palm tree-lined entrance gives way to a maze of narrow, unpaved roads, knots of touts materialise. “In one year I made enough money to buy my first car,” says Chris, using a tattered hotel brochure to mop his brow. He is paid 100 naira (about R6.30) for each client he brings in.
Sparkling new hotels rise incongruously among the shacks. At one, with a logo suspiciously similar to the Sheraton’s, a new chef has recently been employed. “He can cook food from Singapore, because we were having a lot of guests from there who struggle with Nigerian food,” says the manager, Ruky, at a reception desk framed by pictures of Joshua.
Tony Makinwa says most of his laundromat profits come from tourists. “God has favoured my business. People come here and fall in love with the place and overstay their visits,” he says.
Also doing a roaring trade are the international calling centres with foreign visitor discounts, clothes shops offering outfits to celebrate miracles, and the plastic chair rental shops that cater for church overspill.
The area’s dirt streets are punctured by unfinished, barn-like buildings as dozens of other churches offer all-day worship services. Almost as many mosques dot the area. Islam and Christianity are growing at a blistering pace across Africa, and Nigeria is home to the continent’s most populous mix of both faiths.
Money-changer Sidi Bah has travelled thousands of miles from Mali to continue his trade here. “I came because I heard many people from many countries visit. In one day I can change six or seven different types of currency,” he says. “There are more mosques here than in my village in [Muslim] Mali.”
Miracle-promising Pentecostal churches took root across the continent in the 1980s, as African economies were battered by falling world commodity prices. Migrants poured into slums in search of jobs and dreams.
Ruky has converted her cramped home into a 20-bed lodge where mainly rural workers stay for 800 naira a night. Mattresses are half price.
“If you are sick like me, you have no job, so you are used to sleeping on the floor anyhow,” says Andrew Olagbele, lying on a mattress in a crammed room. His spine was crushed in a car accident. “I pray the Lord will touch me tomorrow so I can walk again.” – © Guardian News & Media 2013