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Church arrest, detain SaharaReporters’ publisher, Sowore, crew, in Nigeria

Church arrest, detain SaharaReporters’ publisher, Sowore, crew, in Nigeria

Security and Task Force team at the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries, MFM, harassed, molested and detained illegally a renowned citizen journalist who attempted to report a New Year’s Eve crossover night service at the church headquarters along the popular Lagos-Ibadan express road.

Omoyele Mr. Sowore, publisher of Saharareporters, accompanied by Lagos-based citizen journalist, Segun O’Law another journalist, who report for the site from Lagos, stopped over at the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Church to cover the said crossover night service, but a joint task force of the church made up of personal church security, armed police and the State Security Service turned the church into a rights violation ground.

The journalists did a stopover at MFM, as they were hinted that the church has one of the largest gatherings within the city that night.

The crossover night event is one of numerous church services in which every church establishment gets its largest congregations in the night preceding the New Year, seeing the congregants waiting ecstatically with prayers for a new year of blessing and miracles.

But authorities of the church declined to respond to the allegations. A man who answered our reporter’s call declined comments, saying we should come physically to the church’s headquarters in Lagos for any enquiries. He insisted that the telephone number listed on the church’s website was meant for those interested in prayer consultation. He also declined to give his name.

“I can’t make any comment,” the official said. “Just come to our office and that is the only way we can respond to your enquiries.”Mr. Sowore arrived the church bearing a 5D Canon Camera, with a frame holder on his shoulder. The accompanying citizen journalist, Mr. O’Law, held a dual purpose shots and video-taping mini Panasonic Camera.

Upon entering the church’s main gate, which outlooks the busy Lagos end of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, the crew moved into the auditorium and identified themselves to the security officers and ushers they encountered every inch of their way, and telling their mission.

The crew’s mission was to take photos and cover the crossover night service. Ushers and protocol officers allowed them in and motioned them towards the altar after scrutinizing their identity cards. But as Mr. Sowore reached the front of the General Overseer, Pastor D.K. Olukoya, who at that moment was giving his sermon, he was mobbed by several church Task Force officers guarding the altar, some of them wearing aprons with inscription ‘Prayer City Army’.

Mr. Sowore was then dragged to the back of the altar by a mob that threatened at first to smash his camera. The mob later handed him over to the police and the SSS operatives attached to the church.

Accompanying citizen journalist, Segun O’Law, rushed to the scene to identify Mr. Mr. Sowore as a journalist and explain the team’s mission to the church. By this time, a larger crowd had gathered behind the altar minutes as Mr. Sowore argued that he was only doing his job. The mob was unimpressed.

The argument attracted more church members, one of who ranted that he would wear down the Jesus in him and transform into Satan to kill Mr. Sowore.

For wearing neck beads designed of cowry shells (which he wears to showcase his ‘Africanness’), some of the church security operatives described Mr. Sowore as a ‘sinner’, ‘satan incarnate’, among other vilifying christening.Moments later, the crew were pushed into a security van and whisked to a detention post within the church’s expansive premises. The Task Force, who had demanded Mr. Sowore’s identity card had also seized it, forcefully detained the crew and invited the Division Police Officer of Ibafo Police station, which oversees security in the area.

The D.P.O., upon arrival, inspected Mr. Sowore’s local identity card, which he uses as a special correspondent for one of the numerous Nigerian media he collaborates with. The D.P.O. confirmed it was genuine after making some calls through to the media office. The D.P.O. however disappeared after confirming who Mr. Sowore was, declared he would rather not get involved and advised the church to allow for amicable settlement to avoid possibly blowing the issue beyond reasonable proportion.

The church task force however adamantly refused. Instead, they repeatedly requested to delete the photos and video recordings in the cameras before releasing the devices and the journalists. The crew remained in the church detention for four hours.

Within the period of the journalists’ illegal detention, one of the MFM pastors in the task force emerged with a cane and attempted to flog Mr. Sowore, but he was cautioned. The pastor and his task force team members had to the sight of the two journalists, flogged, slapped and humiliated some teenage boys and girls who were arrested within the church premises for selling bible literatures, prayer books, printed praises and worship songs and sachet water.

The online advocacy and anti-corruption whistle-blowing website publisher was shocked when he realized that MFM maintains an illegal detention security post.

Mr. Sowore said his intention was to maintain a low profile all through, so as to experience what an ordinary journalist would go through, while fighting against authoritarian attitude of established local African institutions towards journalists.

The low profile style of Mr. Mr. Sowore however ended when one of the senior ministers in the church, who had spotted Mr. Sowore among the crowd behind the altar before they were whisked away to the detention post, waded in and enlightened the task force that Mr. Sowore was the publisher of the international advocacy site, Saharareporters.com.

The mobs, security and task force men quickly opened the website and googled Mr. Sowore’s name. They were weakened and pleaded that all footages taken in the church be deleted, but Mr. Sowore turned down their request.

The church had a crowd of about one million people at the service and series offerings, including ‘last offering for the year 2012’ and ‘first offering for the year 2013’ among others were obtained from the over one million crowd praying away their emotions in the night heralding the New Year.

On January 2nd, the crew also stopped by a festival of Masquerades while travelling through Ondo State to cover a traditional African masquerade dance in Erekiti. This time also,Mr. Mr. Sowore and his crew introduced themselves and presented same identity cards they showed the church security. The masquerades welcomed and warmed up to them. After their coverage, the crew contrasted between the attitudes of the MFM church and the masquerade practitioners in the same circumstances of filming an event of public interest.

The MFM church sits on massive hectares of land along the popular Lagos-Ibadan expressway. It also runs an expensive private university attached to it.

The church’s university, Mountain Top, is unaffordable to most of the offering-paying members of the MFM church, members say.Some members of the Redeemed Christian Church of God and the Living Faith Church, otherwise known as Winners’ Chapel, also complained they cannot afford tuitions in the Redeemers’ University for Nations [RUN] and Covenant University [CU] respectively.

Universities founded by Islamic organisations are also believed to be too expensive than members can afford.

Before the emergence of the prosperity pentecostal churches, schools created by early churches were more affordable than most of the public schools, those who attended those schools said.

But there is now a reverse in the trend with schools owned by religious organisations now imposing overwhelming tuitions on students, encouraging state-owned institutions to increase their tuition by up to 200 percent to compete with expensive faith-based schools.

 

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