Eat, pray, live: the Lagos megachurches building their very 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 years Holy Ghost convention at one of Nigerias 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 conventions last, three-hour sermon. Helicopters land next to the 3 sq km edifice, delivering Nigerias 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.

The congregation prays during the Redeem Christian Church of Gods annual Holy Ghost convention

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 Gods 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 churchs 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 Tantalisers 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.

A funfair located inside the Redemption Camp

The camp is becoming a city

Set up 30 years ago as a base for the churchs 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 churchs 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 others 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 pastors sermons on repeat, memorising salient lines.

Im 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 Im from, people long for tractors to farm with. Here they just use them to cut grass, exclaims one visitor, driving through Heavens Gate. It is a world away from the throng of people, fumes and rubbish outside.

One of the Nigerian commercial banks operating in the camp

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 wont 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 camps 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 camps 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 havent paid for the wristband from going into Emmanuel Park home to the aforementioned ferris wheel.

Mechanics attend to a 25-megawatt gas turbine plant that powers the camp

Comfort Oluwatuyi is a foodtrader in the Redemption Camp market. She says she pays a very low rent for her little lock-up shop and can make up to 10,000 naira a day in profit much more when a convention is on. The market formed seven years ago, when women in the camp petitioned Mummy GO Adeboyes wife, Foluke to build it so they would not have to cross the eight-lane expressway every time they needed some tomatoes.

Oluwatuyis 10-year-old daughter, Emmanuelle, helps her pour palm oil into plastic bottles and stack potatoes in tin dishes. Emmanuelle and all her siblings were born here. Its quite possible for a child to be born in this camp, grow up and be educated here, and then live here, Pastor Olubiyi says.

Outside the Holy Ghost convention, Redemption Camp has the peaceful surroundings and conveniences of a retirement village in large part because the power plant, fed by its own gas pipeline from Lagos, removes the need for the constant thrum of diesel generators.

My generator is on vacation. In the morning, I can hear the birds sing, says Kayode Olaitan, a retired engineer who moved his family here from Lekki, one of Lagos most upmarket areas, two weeks ago. He loads his pink-frocked granddaughter into the car, ready to drive to the all-night service.

Olaitans neat 78,000 bungalow has been built on what used to be a swamp. Workmen are scraping up concrete from the paving slabs, putting the finishing touches to the 75 identikit houses on Haggai Estate Nine.

Comfort Oluwatuyi selling palm oil in a grocery shop in the camp market

Haggai, the churchs property developer, is named after the prophet who commanded Jews to build the second temple of Jerusalem. Almost all the houses on Nine have been sold, and Haggai is about to move on to Estate Ten. There is no perimeter wall around Redemption Camp, so it can expand indefinitely.

Mortgages are arranged through Haggai bank, headquartered in Lagos. There has been a knock-on effect on surrounding areas: in some cases, the price of land near Redeemed Camp has increased tenfold over the past decade.

For years, people have owned houses here to stay over after conventions and the monthly services. But increasingly, families like the Oliatans find themselves wanting to live full-time with people who share their values, in a place run by people they feel they can trust. We feel were living in Gods presence all the time. A few days ago, Daddy GO took a prayer walk around here, Oliatan says.

While you have to be a Christian and a church member to buy and live on site, there is no such requirement for doing business. The FCMB bank is one such business that has set up shop here, with bright white mock-Corinthian columns installed just behind the auditorium.

A line of traffic leading to the Redeemed Christian Church of God auditorium

Outside, a young woman in elaborate sunglasses and a polo shirt with MILLIONAIRE emblazoned on the chest has persuaded Tayo Adunmo to open an account. The bank employee is normally based in Lagos, but has been at Redemption Camp for Holy Ghost week, and says she has signed up 500 people already.

Adunmo already has a bank account, but decided to open another because the minimum withdrawal amount is 200 naira (about 55p) a fifth of the minimum at her current bank. Shed love to live in the camp, she says, but cant afford it unless she finds work there.

Like all the other businesses on site, banks are attracted by the infrastructure and the sheer numbers in attendance its like having a stall at a music festival. But the tentacles of the Redeemed Christian Church of God reach much further: it says it has five million members in Nigeria, and more at its branches in 198 other countries. Its in virtually every town in Nigeria, and that means some business, Olubiyi says. Anywhere you have two million people congregating, banks are interested.

This also means business for the church, of course. Daddy GOs private jets dont appear out of thin air, though there is plenty of cash flowing in from collection plates which these days are often just card machines.

Religious institutions are tax-exempt in Nigeria. Redeemed authorities say that its income-generating arms pay tax, but it is hard to say where these end and the church begins. In any case, the church has powerful members, so it would take a brave tax-collector to look deeply into its finances.

Pastor Adeboye, the general overseer of the Redeem Christian Church of God, is projected live on big screens during the annual convention

In fact, Daddy GO is a former mathematics lecturer, and has clearly not lost his head for figures. He is constantly dreaming up new enterprises including a printing press, hundreds of holiday chalets on the site and a church-owned window manufacturer, which imports the components from China and assembles them to sell or use in camp projects.

This is our peak period. We have produced 200,000 copies of different books and magazines in the past three months, says Ben Ayanda, head of Redeemeds press, dressed in a bright yellow and green tunic and matching trousers.

He plucks Daddy GOs Gems of Wisdom Part V from a pile of papers. If you bring anything less than the tithe of all, you miss the blessings because He is very good in mathematics, one line reads.

At the convention, the last stragglers hurry past the hawkers selling Hallelujah handkerchiefs and a billboard advertising Hallelujah cooking gas, to be there when the headliner comes on.

You can usually tell when Daddy GO is about to appear he is preceded by his personal saxophonist.

Finally, the man who keeps the money coming in, who gives this entire neighbourhood its raison dtre, the de facto mayor of what is effectively an entirely new piece of city, takes his place on the vast stage and picks up the mic. The 75-year-old Daddy GO wears a grass-green short-sleeved suit, bow tie and gold watch. After praying on his knees at the lectern, he climbs to his feet.

Will somebody shout Hallelujah?

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Malala Yousafzai: notes from my Girl Power trip to Nigeria

In a few months Ill be starting at university. If only more girls around the world had this opportunity

Three days ago, I returned from my second visit to Nigeria.

Nigeria is the richest country in Africa, but it has the highest number of out-of-school girls in the world. When I first visited the country in 2014, the government spent 9% of its budget on education. This year its only 6%. (The international benchmark for spending on education is 20% of the overall budget.)

When planning where I would travel on my Girl Power Trip this summer, I knew I needed to return to Nigeria and advocate again for the millions of girls fighting to go to school.

In some states, particularly in northern Nigeria, extremism terrorises communities and makes education impossible for many children, particularly girls.

During my trip, I travelled to Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram. In a camp for people displaced by terrorism, I met girls like 15-year-old Fatima, who have faced so much violence and fear in their young lives but are still determined to go to school.

Boko Haram abducted me and wanted to marry me, Fatima told me. I later managed to escape. I was not in school until I came to the camp here.

Inadequate government spending, corruption and poverty keep girls from getting an education and pursuing their dreams. Photograph: Tess Thomas/Malala Fund

Leaders in this area, like Borno State governor Kashim Shettima, are working against extreme challenges to keep children in school. When we met, Shettima told me hes determined to rewrite history through education for children who suffer so much under Boko Haram.

In other regions of Nigeria, inadequate government spending, corruption and poverty keep girls from getting an education and pursuing their dreams.

Kehinde and Taiwo are 14-year-old twins living in Lagos. In the poor community where they live, there is no public school. When their mother contracted a serious illness and couldnt work, the family could no longer afford to pay $70 per term for their private tuition. Today, Kehinde and Taiwo work 12 hours a day grinding peppers. They earn $2 a day or less, and use the money to feed their family.

Taiwo loves mathematics and wants to be a banker. Kehinde says shed like to be a nurse and help sick people like her mother. But neither of these sisters or millions of Nigerian girls like them can achieve their dreams without education.

I knew I needed to return to Nigeria and advocate again for the millions of girls fighting to go to school. Photograph: Tess Thomas/Malala Fund

Nigeria has the means to help these girls but the government hasnt prioritised education. Thats why I met with the acting president, Yemi Osinbajo, and asked him to declare an education state of emergency in Nigeria. I urged him, the minister of education and other leaders to triple spending on education, make budgets transparent and encourage all states in Nigeria to pass the Childs Rights Act.

Osinbajo said leaders would meet again in the next two weeks to address the education crisis and he agrees Nigeria must invest significantly in education.

Malala Fund and I will keep monitoring Nigerias progress. I hope my next visit to the country can be a celebration of many more girls going to school, learning and preparing for a brighter future.

My ambitions are high, but so are those of Fatima, Kehinde, Taiwo and all the girls I meet on my travels. I will keep speaking out until all girls can go to school. My sisters and I are fighting for a world where all girls can learn and lead without fear. I hope you will join us.

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The boy who lived: surviving the scars of Nigeria’s Boko Haram insurgency

Almost left for dead when he was injured by a discarded bomb, Jonathan Gambo faces a long road to recovery. The teenagers fate mirrors that of Nigeria itself

On the day he lost his arm, Jonathan Gambo had been sent to gather firewood in the Nigerian village of Uba, where his parents worked as farmers.

His elder brother had been curious to unearth a chunk of metal and unwittingly passed him the bomb before instructing him to throw it away.

The device blasted off Jonathans hand and right arm up to the elbow. The bone in his leg was protruding and he was bleeding from multiple flesh wounds.

It backfired and cut my hand immediately; I felt dizzy and everything became a blur, and then I fell down, remembers Jonathan.

His body was so blackened by the charcoal dust from the explosion that police who attended the scene declared him dead.

north-east Nigeria

But the barely conscious 12-year-old overheard them talking and was able to force open his eyes. He even managed a smile to show he was still alive.

A policeman tied my hand with a scarf and took me to the hospital, he recalls.

Some soldiers followed us and explained everything to the doctors. The other hand that was cut off by the bomb was buried.

It is a story repeated in conflicts the world over one of the innocent people accidentally maimed or killed by casually discarded ordnance. In this case, the culprit was a bomb left behind after a Boko Haram raid.

In north-east Nigeria, where progress to defeat the Islamist militant group is finally becoming apparent, it is a reminder that, even after the violence dissipates, the recovery process will be long and hard.

Two years on from the accident Jonathan, now 14, is back at school but it has not been an easy journey. Following the incident his family relocated from their village to the town of Yola. The move, which meant the youngster could undergo a series of major operations, came at a cost to the familys farming livelihood.

Before this incident I was very happy with my mum, we even had a farm and my mum bought a cow, Jonathan says. My elder sister got married and went to her husbands house. There are a lot of things I could do before that I cant do now, like farming.

His mother, Killu, describes how she struggled at first to secure adequate medical treatment for her son.

What happened to Jonathan was tragic, she says. He had stitches all over his body, the bone on his leg was out. I was thinking he wont make it alive. The facility in Mararaba Mubi [near Uba] is very poor. There was no bedspread on the bed, just a polythene bag.

The incident affected Jonathan a lot because there is lots he cant do, but he is trying his best. He writes with his left hand, climbs tree with one hand, hes brilliant.

Given his life-changing injury, it seems incongruous to describe Jonathan as among the more fortunate children living in north-east Nigeria.

But this is a region where youngsters are routinely snatched for use as child soldiers or suicide bombers by Boko Haram, which has killed thousands and displaced 2.3 million people since launching its violent insurgency in 2009.

The injured face a future as beggars on the street in Adamawa state, where poverty and illiteracy levels are among the highest in the country.

Jonathan, who attends a private primary school run by the church, is lucky enough to be getting an education.

His day starts at 5am, when he lifts weights with his left arm before walking to school.

He is catching up on lost time and attends classes with peers two years his junior. Doggedly determined, he has not once been late or missed a class, and has learned to write using his left hand.

I want to become a lawyer, he says. My favourite subjects are mathematics and English. I want to complete my education and stay with my mother. I want to study, because education is good and anybody that studies will find it easy to get employment.

His story is representative of the region he calls home: there is light at the end of the tunnel, but still a long way to go.

Last year Boko Haram began fracturing into two splinter groups, with one faction moving away from the Islamists established figurehead Abubakar Shekau.

The group led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi broke off after Shekaus refusal to adhere to guidance from Islamic State, to which the militant group pledged allegiance in 2015.

The division has left the warring factions weakened and Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari has boasted that recent progress has left the militant group technically defeated.

But the Nigerian army has a history of embellishing its victories over the terrorist organisation while underestimating its own losses.

Elizabeth Donnelly, deputy head of the Africa programme at Londons Chatham House, says it is not yet clear how the dynamics between the two factions will play out.

The Al-Barnawi faction at the moment is less deadly but that is because it is newer, she says. We dont yet know what that faction will evolve into.

In many respects Boko Haram is a known quantity in terms of tactics and the pressures it is under evidenced by the forced recruitment and deployment of women and girls as suicide bombers.

However, she adds: This is an embattled group that is trying to survive and because of that it certainly remains vicious.

Amid the uncertainty, one thing is clear: big questions remain about how to recover and make progress in a region that, in common with Jonathan and many others like him, will always carry the scars of conflict.

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The girls learning science in defiance of Boko Haram

(CNN)Stella Uzochukwu, a former electronics engineer, is doing something profound. She is teaching girls how to code in defiance of Boko Haram, whose brutal crusade against western-style education — among other things — has robbed children of education in northern Nigeria.

School girls in the Odyssey Educational Foundation‘s after school STEM program are being encouraged to pursue careers in science and technology, and have built a robot to tackle the country’s waste problem.
    The girl’s efforts were part of the First Lego League competition which has seen 233,000 children across 80 countries enroll.
    For this year’s competition, students had to build and program robots that could pick up and drop off pieces of garbage on a play area. Unused plastic bags have also been turned into play marbles by the girls.
    Odyssey founder Stella Uzochukwu left her well paid job at an engineering firm to set up the charity in 2013, but increasing attacks on schools mainly in northeastern Nigeria and its capital Abuja by Islamist militant group Boko Haram has had an impact. More than 670,000 children have been kept out of school for more than a year due to security fears.

    Making learning safer

    Last year, a series of bombings in Abuja — where Odyssey Educational Foundation operates — killed at least 18 people and injured 41.
    “There was a particular incident last year where we wanted to engage kids in coding during the school holidays”, explains Uzochukwu, “but none of the kids were allowed to come into school because of these attacks”.
    “Their parents wanted to keep them at home so we had to cancel it”, she adds, “it was very sad because we wanted to teach them how to write apps”.
    The mentality amongst parents in Nigeria is “they’d rather die with their children at home than send them to school to die on their own”.
    Despite these challenges, Uzochukwu has persevered. Last year, the charity moved into a dedicated center so kids would not have to come into their school after hours, alleviating security concerns.

    Encouraging girls

    Although the school is co-ed, it has focused its efforts on teaching girls science and tech, deliberately arranging a ratio of three girls to one boy in its clubs: “Most of the boys are already doing maths and science and they love it, but we wanted to encourage it amongst girls as well.”
    When traveling to India to complete a masters degree in telecoms management, Uzochukwu discovered school clubs in India gave extra STEM tuition to children.
    She also noticed that in her masters class of ’42 there were just three women, including herself. Upon returning to Nigeria, she set up the charity.
    “In Nigeria, fewer girls are finishing high school than boys“, she explains. Parents tell us “they cannot afford to pay school fees for both so they choose to pay for the boys”.
    Her seven strong staff go into communities and encourage parents to send their girls to school. Mothers are taught to make soap, creams and other ointments to supplement their income in order to pay for school fees.
    The goal is to ensure kids can learn how to repair computers, laptops, and phones, “so when they get out of school they will not be roaming the streets”.
    “Learning programming, coding and mathematics is what I think marks the difference between underdeveloped and developed nations.”

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