Though, it used to be a day filled with different kinds of activities like group meetings, rehearsals and even vigils, Friday, February 26, 2016, was supposed to be a distinct and special kind for members of the Christian Praying Assembly, a religious movement with headquarters in Lagos, Nigeria’s busiest city.
Apart from being the birthday of their spiritual head, mentor and ‘garrison commander’ – Rev. Chukwuemeka Ezeugo popularly known as Rev. King, it was also supposed to be the day of victory and big celebration for them at the Supreme Court where a ‘live or die’ verdict was to be delivered on a case involving the founder of the church – a man many of them regard as the ‘Messiah’ the Holy Bible had longed talked about.
King, a native of Umulekwe in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State, had been standing trial on a six-count charge of attempted murder and murder since September 2006 after setting alight six members of his congregation the previous month.
While five of the members sustained varying degrees of injuries, one of them, Ann Uzoh, never fully recovered from the torment – she died 11 days later, prompting the Lagos State Government to drag the self-styled clergy to court.
Four months after first appearing in court, King was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment and death by hanging for the offence by a Justice of the Lagos State High Court, Ikeja, Joseph Oyewole.
But unsatisfied with that pronouncement, Ezeugo soon approached the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal, asking it among other things, to set aside the judgment.
But after failing at the Appeal Court, King’s fate was left hanging precariously at the mercy of the Supreme Court. The apex court was his only hope of survival and so after years of waiting, Friday, February 2016, was to become the defining moment for the pastor and his dozens of followers. For them, it was a day when their shouts of jubilation and triumph would reverberate across every nook and cranny of the country, bringing down even the rock of Gibraltar in the process.
In anticipation of a positive outcome at the apex court and a victory party later in the day, members of the CPA had flooded some national dailies with congratulatory messages, eulogising their ‘enigma’ and expressing confidence of his freedom. From being described as the ‘God of impossibility’ to the ‘light of the world,’ the messages showed just how much King’s followers revered him and awaited his return.
For example, in one such newspaper advert, the family who sponsored it said without the beard-wearing prophet, their lives had become meaningless and empty.
“We heartily congratulate and rejoice with our G.O, His Holiness The Most Hon. Dr. Rev. King on this special occasion of his birthday.
“Daddy G.O, you have been a blessing to our families, without you, our lives had been meaningless, empty, without purpose and direction.
“Daddy G.O, you are indeed the God of impossibility, the great healer, the great man in battle, you are our light and salvation, you are the everlasting father, the way, the truth and the life, you are the great provider, you are the anointed one, you are the prince of peace, you are the vanquisher of demons, you are the good shepherd.
“His Holiness surely whoever that trusted upon you shall never be put to shame. Live forever for us,” the heart-rending words read.
In another advert sponsored by the Sao Paulo, Brazil, branch of the church, King was described as the man of the moment and the last preacher of the truthful gospel.
It read: “His Holiness The Most Hon. Dr. Rev. King, the man of the moment, every moment and the final moment. The last preacher of the truthful Gospel of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, our lord and saviour.
“We celebrate with you on this your wonderful, victorious birthday celebration. We thank you for your presence in our lives which has healed every disease. The fallacies, frames, conspiracy, false allegation of the wicked will never deter us from following you forever. Thank you sir for setting us free from evil bondage of all calibre. King forever.”
In another message, Ezeugo was described as the ancient of days and the comforter – an appellation used to reverence the Almighty and Holy Spirit respectively in the Bible.
“Daddy, you are our God, Lord, Father, Provider and Protector. Daddy, you made it possible for us to prevail the challenges of the wicked. You are our comforter, the eternal rest of the faithful. The great I am, the ancient of days.
“No matter what all the witches and wizards may do to put you down, your sceptre of righteousness can never be contested because you are greater than the greatest and we and our families must follow you forever and ever. Live and reign forever in Jesus Christ name, Amen,” the publication read.
In yet another advertorial sponsored by Fire Ministry, the eulogies and affection of church members flowed out the more. It described the embattled clergy as the consuming fire.
“Daddy, you are a consuming fire. You alone rekindle your fire upon our lives and we remained untouchable. You have consumed all our enemies including witches and wizards and witchcraft of all calibres with your unquenchable fire. Daddy live, reign and rule forever and ever in Jesus name, Amen.”
In their own message, The Daughters of the Kingdom of God, a female group in the church, said no amount of conspiracy would stop them from following Ezeugo. According to them, regardless of the persecution, he would come out victorious.
“Daddy, you are the light of the world. A nation without you is in total darkness. Life without you is miserable, bored and of no value. Your birth had brought salvation to mankind. You are our shield and buckler, a home of refuge in times of trouble. You are he that the Father had sent in our time to lead us to the promiseland.
“You are our King and must continue to remain our king forever. No amount of conspiracy, gossips, scandals levelled against you can change our heart from following you because we know that you are 100% innocent of the false allegation levelled against you,” the message read.
It is not the first time members of King’s church would show such open and unflinching support for him. During a Sunday service held on February 3, 2013, for example, members of the church warned the country to be prepared for dire consequences if King was indeed killed by hanging.
“It will be absolute tragedy in this country if they touch our Holiness, they are just ignorant of this,” acting leader of the church, Reverend Elijah King, had threatened at the time.
But exactly three years after that threat, the Supreme Court had finally delivered its judgement: King is to be killed by hanging. The man who had indeed lived like a royal before his legal battle in 2006, was handed the most unsavoury of birthday presents – a prize that delivered the deadliest of blows and now threatens the future of his ministry
Even though members of his CPA had remained resolute throughout his 10-year ordeal, Friday’s ruling must have come as a spanner in their works and perhaps driven a hard, fiesty punch down their spines.
Indeed on Friday a bigger inferno swallowed the ‘consuming fire’ and sent a shade of darkness across the face of a man described by his own as the ‘light of the world’.
- ••worshippers disappointed, celebration party scuttled
A large image of “His Holiness, The Most Honourable Rev. King” on a big banner in front of the Christian Praying Assembly, at Ajao Estate, Lagos, encapsulates the spirit the members of the church had been carrying on since 2007 when its founder was condemned by a Lagos High Court over the murder of one of his church members, Ann Uzoh.
But hours after the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence passed on Rev. Chukwuemeka Ezeugo, a.k.a Rev. King, by the Lagos High Court, no activities in and around the church had a semblance of reaction to what would have been a sad news for the members.
The quiet of the neighbourhood was only betrayed by the sound of clapping of about 10 children and women singing praise and worship songs inside the church auditorium.
The lack of activities at the church was in contrast to the anticipation with which the church’s neighbours said the members had been worshipping in the church since Rev. King was first convicted.
“They (church members) tell whoever cares to listen that he would win at the Supreme Court and be back. I did not even know the Supreme Court has given its verdict today,” a resident told our correspondent.
While our correspondent was speaking with residents of the area, an SUV bearing a sticker of Rev. King’s image stopped briefly in front of the church. The occupants were playing loud secular music as they passed by. They seemed to be engrossed in a conversation and laughing heartily.
Another resident, who identified himself simply as Mr. Victor, also said he had not heard of the Supreme Court verdict.
“I don’t think much would change in the church activities now that their founder does not have any hope of coming out of prison alive. But I think they will lose some members because even though he was convicted, all this while, many of them still believed that he would come back and that is why they stayed in the church,” he said.
Our correspondent was told that the church members regularly mentioned Rev. King’s name during church services and prayers, evoking the “power of his holiness.”
“I don’t think they would stop mentioning his name in prayers just because he has been condemned to death. He is like a god to them,” a resident who declined mentioning his name, said.
When our correspondent entered the church auditorium, a young man sitting in a tricycle outside the gate approached. When asked if a pastor was around, the guard said, “Sorry, there is no pastor around” and stood by the gate watching suspiciously.
On the large banner in front of the church was inscribed promises of healing like, “HIV/AIDS is 100 per cent curable.”
When our correspondent pointed to these and asked the guard which pastor to see for such healings, he simply walked away.
According to a devout church member who refused to give her name, Friday’s ruling came as a big disappointment for many of them as it automatically spoilt a birthday/victory party they had planned for their G.O.
She told PUNCH that many of their members after hearing of the judgement on Friday morning, became too heartbroken to even show up at the church where the celebration was expected to kick off.
“We were all disappointed with the ruling. It was heartbreaking for many of our members because we had really hoped for a positive result and looked forward to today with great expectations.
“The most painful part is that it disorganised all the plans we had for a big celebration. It is a very sad day for us,” she said.