Canaanland: Megachurches in Lagos, Nigeria, Are Building Their Own Cities
Redemption Camp has 5,000 houses, roads, rubbish collection, police, supermarkets, banks, a fun fair, a post office – even a 25 megawatt power plant. In Nigeria, the line between church and city is rapidly vanishing
“Ha-lleluuuu-jah,” booms the distinctive voice of Pastor Enoch Adeboye, also known as the general overseer.
The sound comes out through thousands of loudspeakers planted in every corner of Redemption Camp. Market shoppers pause their haggling, and worshippers – some of whom have been sleeping on mats in this giant auditorium for days – stop brushing their teeth to join in the reply.
Hallelujah is the theme for this year’s Holy Ghost convention at one of Nigeria’s biggest megachurches, and all week the word echoes among the millions of people attending.
As evening falls on Friday, Adeboye, a church celebrity, is soon to take the stage at his vast new auditorium to give the convention’s last, three-hour sermon. Helicopters land next to the 3 sq km edifice, delivering Nigeria’s rich and powerful to what promises to be the night of the year.
Thousands of worshippers surge up the hill towards the gleaming warehouse. Shiny SUVs, shabby Toyota Corollas and packed yellow buses choke the expressway all the way from Lagos, 30 miles away.
But not everyone has to brave the traffic. Many of those making their way to the auditorium now live just around the corner. The Redeemed Christian Church of God’s international headquarters in Ogun state has been transformed from a mere megachurch to an entire neighbourhood, with departments anticipating its members’ every practical as well as spiritual need.
A 25-megawatt power plant with gas piped in from the Nigerian capital serves the 5,000 private homes on site, 500 of them built by the church’s construction company. New housing estates are springing up every few months where thick palm forests grew just a few years ago. Education is provided, from creche to university level. The Redemption Camp health centre has an emergency unit and a maternity ward.
On Holiness Avenue, a branch of Tantaliser’s fast food chain does a brisk trade. There is an on-site post office, a supermarket, a dozen banks, furniture makers and mechanics’ workshops. An aerodrome and a polytechnic are in the works.
And in case the children get bored, there is a funfair with a ferris wheel.
‘The camp is becoming a city’
Set up 30 years ago as a base for the church’s annual mass meets, as well as their monthly gatherings, Redemption Camp has become a permanent home for many of its followers. “The camp is becoming a city,” says Olaitan Olubiyi, one of the church’s pastors in whose offices Dove TV, the church television channel, is permanently playing.
Throughout southern Nigeria, the landscape is permeated by Christianity of one kind or another. Billboards showing couples staring lovingly into each other’s eyes, which appear at first glance to be advertising clothes or condoms, turn out to be for a pentecostal church. Taxi drivers play knock-off CDs of their favourite pastor’s sermons on repeat, memorising salient lines.
“I’m a Winner,” read the bumper stickers that adorn the fancier cars, declaring their owners’ allegiance to Winners’ Chapel, a grand white megachurch whose base, Canaanland in the Ota region, is all neat fences and manicured lawns.
“Where I’m from, people long for tractors to farm with. Here they just use them to cut grass,” exclaims one visitor, driving through Heaven’s Gate. It is a world away from the throng of people, fumes and rubbish outside.
Canaanland has banks, businesses, a university and a petrol station – one of a number of churches beginning to offer these services.
But none can match Redemption Camp for scale. Daddy GO – as the charismatic Adeboye is affectionately known by his followers – has been perfecting the package for the past decade.
“If you wait for the government, it won’t get done,” says Olubiyi. So the camp relies on the government for very little – it builds its own roads, collects its own rubbish, and organises its own sewerage systems. And being well out of Lagos, like the other megachurches’ camps, means that it has little to do with municipal authorities. Government officials can check that the church is complying with regulations, but they are expected to report to the camp’s relevant office. Sometimes, according to the head of the power plant, the government sends the technicians running its own stations to learn from them.
There is a police station on site, which occasionally deals with a death or the disappearance of a child, but the camp’s security is mostly provided by its small army of private guards in blue uniforms. They direct traffic, deal with crowd control, and stop children who haven’t paid for the wristband from going into Emmanuel Park – home to the aforementioned ferris wheel.
SOURCE: Ruth Maclean