Last Friday’s Supreme Court’s affirmation of the death sentence earlier passed on Chukwuemeka Ezeugo otherwise known as Rev King, founder and leader of a church known as Christian Praying Assembly, CPA, with headquarters at Ajao Estate, in Lagos, brought the almost 10-year-old legal battle to a close. Trouble started for King on July 26, 2006, at his residence in Ajao Estate, where he was alleged to have set some members of his church ablaze for offences, which he personally classified as “acts of fornication”. Incidentally, according to the charge sheet by the Lagos State Public Prosecutor, one of them, Ann Uzoh, later died in a Lagos hospital. The Lagos State government waded into the matter and King was brought before the Lagos High Court presided over by the no-nonsense Justice Joseph Oyewole on September 26, 2006.
The case dragged on for about four months until January 11, 2007, when Oyewole passed the death sentence on King for the murder of Ann Uzoh. Since then, King has been languishing in jail while exploring legal options of quashing the death verdict pronounced on him. Though in prison all these years, King’s church members have continued to display an uncommon loyalty to a man they call their General Overseer, their idol. While the members have kept the church activities going in the absence of their leader or idol, they have also continued to express their undiluted loyalty through the avalanche of congratulatory messages and advertisements they place in newspapers for the yearly celebration of King’s birthday on February 26 every year.
The story was not different last Friday, February 26, on the occasion of yet another of his birthdays which coincided with the Supreme Court verdict which affirmed his death sentence. That day, a particular national newspaper featured at least 12 full page advertisements in commemoration of his birthday this year. In some of the advertisements, King is referred to as “His Holiness, The Most Hon. Dr. Rev. King”. What this means is that to his followers, King is widely seen as today’s messiah even above Jesus Christ as they expressed in the newspaper messages. That sounds more like pure heresy. Isn’t it?
During his trial, King admitted flogging the seven people as that was his own way of meting out justice to any recalcitrant member of his congregation. At any rate, why would any sane person take the laws into his hands by meting out corporal punishment on fellow human beings simply because they were deemed to have committed an offence? This is the same person who was said to have employed a female steward who had to mandatorily serve him while appearing stark naked every time she needed to serve him, as if she was domiciled in George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
History is replete with many people possessed by demonic influences who have presided over their congregations like demigods while their followers regarded them as next to God, their creator. About 23 years ago, David Koresh, the American leader of the Branch Davidians religious sect, branded himself as the sect’s final prophet. Koresh was accused of seducing a 13-year-old girl, apparently with her parents’ consent, a relationship that he sanctified as a ‘spiritual marriage’. An attempt to serve Koresh with arrest and search warrants by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as part of an investigation into illegal possession of firearms and explosives, provoked the subsequent siege by the FBI which ended with the burning of the centre. Koresh and 79 others were found dead after the fire on February 28, 1993.
Before that incident, there was the “Jonestown Massacre” on November 18, 1978, in which more than 900 members of an American cult group called the Peoples Temple died in a mass suicide-murder under the direction of their leader, Jim Jones. The mass suicide-murder took place at the so-called Jonestown settlement in the South American nation of Guyana when Jones ordered his followers to ingest poison-laced punch, while armed guards stood by. That tragedy marked the single largest loss of U.S. civilian lives in a non-natural disaster and only surpassed by the World Trade Centre massacre in New York, in September 2011.
Back in Nigeria, in the 1970s and 1980s, there lived a man in Lagos whose real name was Olufunmilayo Immanuel Odumosu. But he fondly called himself ‘Jesu Oyingbo’, meaning, ‘Jesus of Oyingbo’. He was highly revered, adored and venerated by his disciples and followers who believed that he loomed larger than life. He taught his adherents that he was the real Jesus Christ and his presence on earth was his second coming. Indeed, many of Odumosu’s adherents had to sell their property, forsake their families and join the religious leader to build a spiritual enclave. When ‘Jesu’ died in 1988, although the self-styled religious leader had proclaimed himself as Jesu Oyingbo, he failed to resurrect the third day as he had prophesied. After his death, a lot of shocking and disgusting things which had taken place in secret were revealed. These included sexual perversion and large-scale inbreeding that allegedly took place in the commune. It was also revealed that the late Odumosu was also a husband to more than 30 women and father of dozens. Inmates of the commune ‘slept with one another’s wives’.
Perhaps, it is the sort of commune established by ‘Jesus of Oyingbo’ that King is out to replicate in this modern day. He is not alone. There are so many of these fake pastors, evangelists and prophets who are daily misleading their followers and milking them dry in the name of religion. Even when their preaching run counter to the teachings in the Holy Bible and the Quran, nobody, not even the government, is there to raise an eyebrow. As a result of this, they go about indoctrinating their gullible followers, thereby precipitating crisis in the society.
As the Supreme Court has given its final verdict on the Ezeugo issue, many pressure groups and his multitude of followers will certainly put pressure on the Lagos State government and perhaps, the federal government, to commute his death sentence to life imprisonment. What these people believe is that Ezeugo or King is no ordinary mortal that could be sentenced to death by a panel of ‘mere human’ judges at the Supreme Court. And they believe that anything can happen that will extricate Ezeugo from the present mess. This is where the government should prove them wrong.
When Karl Marx said religion is the opium of the people, what he actually meant was that religion’s purpose is to create illusory fantasies for the poor. Since economic realities prevent them from finding true happiness in this life, religion steps in to tell them that this is okay because they will find true happiness in the next life. As a result of the downturn in global economy, poverty in many societies today is pervasive. That is probably why the Rev Kings of this world and others of his ilk will continue to ride roughshod on people who look up to them for succour. When the people ask for bread, they will give them stones; when they ask for fish, they give them live scorpions.
Now that the judiciary has drawn the curtain on this ugly episode, there is the need for the government to investigate the activities of King’s church and profile its members to ascertain who and who they are, as a prelude to banning the church all together, if found wanting. Not only this. If the government must stem the current tide of religious charlatanism that is gaining currency everywhere in the country, somebody like Rev King should not be spared the hangman’s noose. The wages of sin is death!
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