After making semi-permanent alterations to his looks, investigative journalist ‘FISAYO SOYOMBO visited four churches and four mosques/Islamic centres, pretending to be gay and in need of spiritual redemption. Six out of those eight centres fed him with a litany of fake prophecies before demanding cash and material possessions from him. In the first of this seven-part series, to be published every other day for two weeks, he writes about his visit to the international headquarters of the Celestial Church of Christ (CCC), Ketu, Lagos, headed by Reverend Tosho Oshoffa, where he received 10 fake prophecies and was made to part with hundreds of thousands of naira in cash and food.
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. — 1 John 4:1 (King James Version)
It is the eleventh day of the New Year and I am welcomed to the “international headquarters” of the Celestial Church of Christ (CCC) at Ikosi-Ketu, Lagos, by the sight of two sparring ‘prophets’. The argument is quite intense. One brands the other “stupid” and “foolish”, someone who had missed his way in life and was only hopelessly spending all his days in the church.
“The end justifies the means,” the maligned prophet fires back at the first, followed by some very harsh words of his own. “It’s not your business if I spend every single day of my life in church,” he adds. “I know what I’m doing.”
At the time, I didn’t yet know they were prophets. I didn’t even catch a clear view of the first; he was backing me and ambling away as I pulled over. But the second: tall, dark, heavily-built, with a flabby neck. His eyes had been reddened by the insults from his colleague. He was visibly angry.
A third prophet walks up to us to ask whom we wanted to see. I answer that I am gay and have been directed to the church for prayers. It is a Tuesday in January — the second Tuesday of the year — and the day’s church service is still in progress. Some prophet directs us to the waiting area of the church entrance where, unbeknownst to us, a crowd of fortune seekers waits. It marks the beginning of many strange things.
As I would soon discover, over 100 people are waiting to s’ónà — literally meaning to ‘open the way’. Majority sit on white plastic chairs. I count nine rows and seven columns of chairs. A prophetess is rounding off the allocation of numbers when we arrive. The last number, 75! The rest of us are number-less. More than 100 of us, seated and standing, all scramble for candles as a dozen prophets and prophetesses file out of the church auditorium.
“Don’t worry, you will all be attended to,” a tall, dark prophet announces to nobody in particular. “We have enough prophets to go round.”
Still, ‘the Nigerian’ in the crowd prevents them from listening. People litter the two aisles on the extreme rows, hoping to pounce once anyone vacates their seat. My guide and I join them. Soon, we manage to grab a seat for ourselves even though we had no number. We didn’t hustle for danfos during rush-hour Lagos traffic in our younger days only to be out-manoeuvred in the house of God!
One by one, people file out to meet the prophets; and after each movement, we all migrate to the next seat, paving the way for those standing behind us to also grab a seat. We move in files — like US visa applicants desperate to escape the hellhole that is Nigeria.
‘YOU CANNOT MARRY HER’
“You cannot marry her!” I overhear a prophetess declare to a young man after I’d moved a few rows forward and was within an earshot of the nearest prophet to the people. “Go and write today’s date down,” she continues. “If you marry her, the consequence will be calamitous. It will be very dangerous!”
I try but do not make out the young man’s face. He and a woman whom I guess must be his mother are about to take their leave, but I am distracted by the ‘Wo-Leader’, who had come to announce he would personally hand-pick a prophet he was sure would attend to me “very well”.
Finally, it was time. The hour had come.
“Jimata eee Maleka Olorun!”
It is the voice of Prophetess Dosunmu,” the slim, dark-skinned woman to whom I was assigned. With her is Wunmi Bada, listed as the ‘Reporter’. Prophetess Dosunmu asks for my name and Bada notes it.
FAKE PROPHECY 1, 2: ‘YOU’RE TRYING TO RELOCATE ABROAD’
Prophetess Dosunmu enters a trance-like state during which she sings songs of victory, happiness and laughter.
“Listen, thou servant,” she tells me. “Write down today’s date. I see you uplifted this year, says the Lord of Host. Jimata Maleka Olorun!”
She continues: “This is the scenario. It’s like somebody working towards something, you have been trying, you have been trying, you have been trying. God is telling you that this year, you are going to achieve it.
“Listen, servant, he said ‘I, the Lord, I do not look at the flesh or the eyes; I look at the mind.’”
Prophetess Dosunmu takes a quick, furtive look at me. “Do you know that appearance can be deceptive at times? Do you know?” she asks rhetorically.
“God said I will do what I will do, and nobody can ask me why. Jimata Maleka Olorun!
“He said listen, in this year, I will make you happy, I will make your joy full, I will enrich you. It’s just like someone that was an ordinary footballer, then God suddenly promotes him to become a coach. Jimata Maleka Olorun!
“I see you, ehn. Your hand was placed on something like this [gesticulation] and you grabbed it. Jimata eee Maleka! You grabbed it! You grabbed it! But do you know what God is telling me to tell you? He says my ways are not your ways. You may prefer America but God might just feel like the UK is better for you. Jimata Maleka Olorun!”
Her gaze returns to me, as though searching my heart to see if her message is sinking. Our eyes lock for a few minutes but I quickly lower mine, afraid I might burst into laughter.
“You will grab it, but not in your own way. Not in what you want but what God wants for you. Jerimoyamah,” she continues.
“Even he knows that he is not someone who will have wealth or succeed in this country (fake prophecy 1). He knows that very well, that his riches, wealth and fame are not in Nigeria but abroad. Jimata Maleka Olorun!
“He knows! And he has been working towards it, he has been working towards it (fake prophecy 2). But God is telling me to tell you, my brother, that now is his time for success, says the Lord of Host. Success, says the Lord of Host, Success, says the Lord of Host!!!”
All lies. I have never harboured the idea of relocating abroad. And there was never a time I was “working towards it”. Not today, not last year, not 10 years ago. Not tomorrow.
To say I knew I wouldn’t succeed in Nigeria? Even if there is always space for improvement, surely, someone with this profile can’t consider himself a failure. The problem, though, was that I’d shown up at the church dressed like a Nigerian hip-hop star. By physical standards, anyone trying to hazard a guess about my future plans would surely conclude I was going to jápa — street lingo for ‘escaping from Nigeria’ abroad.
FAKE PROPHECY 3: ‘YOU’RE GAY AND THIS IS YOUR ONLY SHORTCOMING’
“The Lord says I should tell you,” Prophetess Dosunmu continues, “see ehn, when we talk about friends, when we talk about companions, there are various types. If you can be patient, wherever you get to in life, you will know which friends, which companions, to be with. Jimata Maleka Olorun!
The prophetess explains that there are some friends who “open doors for us, who lift us up”, but there are others “only interested in how we become a nobody”.
“When that time comes, which is not long again, the two ways will be before you, and you will be left to decide which one to follow,” she tells me, pauses as though to confirm if the words are sinking, and then proceeds.
“I see a group of guys; they are stinkingly rich. Meanwhile, you have some talents, which is what they’re looking for. But they’re in some kind of occultic [sic] that can ruin one’s destiny. They are gays; let me hit the nail on the head. They are gays. Everything you want [from them], you will get. But the heavens told me that if you choose that path, it will lead to destruction.
“But there is another group that I am looking at, these ones are stinkingly rich as well. But they believe in their talents and gifts. It’s not yahoo [internet fraud]. I tell people, not all guys are into yahoo. I have some guys today who work for Google; they design websites and they get their dollars. The Lord said, thou servant, if you’re patient, when the time comes, you’ll know where to go. Jimata Maleka Olorun!”
Minutes later, the prophetess asks about my marital life. I tell her I’m gay and that’s why I’m before her.
“Jimata Maleka Olorun!” she responds. “You hadn’t said anything when God told me you would someday meet some gay set of people. Jimata Maleka Olorun!
“It is a spirit, and the heavens will retrieve it! Jimata eee Maleka Olorun! We call it the anus-f**king spirit. God will expunge it. The King of Kings will expunge it. I know you don’t do yahoo; this is your only shortcoming.”
Prophetess Dosunmu was spot-on in her gay predictions, but this was only because at least three prophets before her were aware a gay ‘servant’ was coming. The previous week, the head of my advance party was at the church to inform them I was coming. And on the day I finally showed up, two prophets, including the one who assured me of premium prophetic service, had been misled into believing I was gay and in need of conversion. The trick was simple: the woman prophet who had been pre-informed about my coming was the one hand-picked to attend to me!
FAKE PROPHECY 4: ‘YOUR NIGGAS WILL CATALYSE YOUR SUCCESS’
“As you are, these friends, they are the ones who will catalyse your success,” she says. “Friends, niggas. They are the ones who will trigger his success.”
Whoever she was describing wasn’t me. I’ve never been gregarious, never been fond of company, never kept a chain of friends. I could almost qualify as a recluse. And the one or two people in my life I can call friend, none of them is in the mould of a nigga.
THE SPIRIT TELLS THE PROPHETESS TO DEMAND SNACKS, FOOD, WATER OR DRINKS FROM ME
The prophetess enters a trance once again: “Èmí naa n so fún mi lówó lówó [the spirit is telling me right now], please write it down, on Friday, he should make provision for food for the prophets. Béèni Màlékà Olórun n so fún mi lówó lówó [that is what the angel of God is currently telling me].
“The angel said on Friday, he should make provision of food and drinks for the prophets. Then there will be three candles in the hands of the servant. Then the elders will lift up their voices and pray for the servant, that all his endeavours this year become fruitful, and very quickly too. This is what the angel is telling me right now.”
Prophetess Dosunmu pauses. I ask her more questions on the “provision”: How many prophets are we talking about here? What kind of food? Can I do it on any day of the week?
She insists it can only be done on Friday. It can be anything: “snacks, water or drinks”.
“It is for ALL the prophets,” she says. “ALL of them will lift their voices and pray for you.”
“So, how many are these prophets?” I repeat.
I’d expected that the church already knew the number of its prophets, but the prophetess could not tell me. Instead, she says: “It depends on whatever you can afford.”
She would later tell me to prepare for “like 50 people”. However, another prophet says 100 and yet another says 200.
FAKE PROPHECY 5: ‘SOON, YOU WILL BE ON YOUR OWN’.
The prophetess asks to know my occupation. I tell her I’m an employee at an Ibadan-based NGO that caters to the career needs of boys and girls.
“Jimata Maleka Olorun!” she responds, before continuing: “You are still going to be on your own. For now, there is still grace for you; you can continue with what you’re doing. Very soon, you’re going to be on your own. And you’re gonna travel out; you’re not going to be in this country.
“Èmí Màlékà yén so fún mi lówó lówó. The spirit angel is currently telling me. Overseas glory is what I’m seeing. Overseas glory.”
She asks me more specific questions on my job description, and after I answer, she reiterates her initial prophecies.
“It’s a nice line, but you’re still going to be on your own. And God is telling me it’s still going to be an NGO too. But this one I’m looking at is kind of joint — not for you alone. It belongs to, like, some people. It’s like a joint NGO. You’re gonna be alone, says the Lord of hosts. But for now, please continue.”
This, like others, is a fake prophecy. I have been ‘on my own’ since June 2019 — that’s more than three years!
THE SACRIFICES: THREE CANDLES, THREE EGGS, THREE COCONUT FRUITS
To overcome the “spirit that likes to f**k anuses’, Prophetess Dosunmu tells me I will undergo some “work” in addition to the food provision for prophets.
“Please help to write it down,” she tells Reporter Bada.
“After he has made provisions for the prophets on Friday, he will return on Tuesday for the ‘work’ of God. It has to be the Tuesday after the Friday. Jimata Maleeka Olorun!
“He will kneel down in the midst of three elders. Three candles, three coconut fruits, three eggs, Jimata Maleeka Olorun! Each candle will be with three elders. The three eggs, one in front, the other two by the sides. The three coconut fruits will be positioned the same way. They will pray for him on a Tuesday. Then the servant will pray for God to remove the anus-f**king spirit. Jimata eee Maleeka Olorun!”
The prophetess spends a few more seconds in the spirit, then continues speaking about the ‘work’.
“You see the coconut and eggs, the elders will rub his body with each of them and ‘end the prayers in Michael’. The candles will be bound together by coconut leaves, and he will hold them. Jimata Maleka Olorun!
“After that, seven candles. Jimata eee Maleka Olorun! The candles will be bound by coconut leaves. You will climb a rock, you will climb a rock. Seven elders.”
FAKE PROPHECIES 6, 7, 8, 9
“Jésù aaa Olórun! The angel is telling me right now. It is the warfare of re-creation. The servant was created a man but the enemy re-created him a woman. Jimata Maleka Olórun! The power that turns man to woman, may the heavens destroy it in the life of the servant. The world views him as a man, but he is indeed a woman. Jimata Maleka Olórun!”
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Even though I was presenting myself as gay, I am indeed heterosexual. I have never been gay, never been sexually interested in a man. Yet this was a claim the prophetess was blatantly making.
“All spirits of bad dreams, may the heavens break them in the life of the servant,” she continues.
“The seven elders will fervently lift their voices up for the servant. He has bad dreams all the time (6). He sleeps with animals (7), he sleeps with women, he sleeps with men (8). But he sleeps with men more than women. On other days, he will be involved in stressful activities in his dreams (9); and when he wakes up, he will be so tired.”
All these were mere concoctions by the ‘prophetess of God’.
“The angel is currently telling me,” says the prophetess. “He will pray. The clothes he wears on that day, he will let go of them. Jimata eee Maleka Olórun! He will come with spare clothes. The angel is currently telling me. They will rub his body with the candles and end it in Michael. Jimata Maleka Olórun! The God of Osofa said he will free the servant from his shackles. That is what the angel is currently telling me. I will set the servant free.”
FAKE PROPHECY 10: YOUR GAY FRIENDS WON’T CALL YOU AGAIN
Of the third ‘work’, she says: “Water in a white bucket. Three candles in three places. That is what the angel is currently telling me. Anointing oil, incense, scent, sponge and soap. Three elders.
“They will pray for the servant. Coconut in water. They will tell the servant to pray for all spirits of re-creation to leave him. The servant will bathe with that water and use all the ingredients to rub his body. Jimata Maleka Olórun! He said they will pour it to Michael for the servant.
“The next Sunday, anointing oil, incense, Miss Paris, three elders, one candle. That is what the angel is currently telling me. They will lift their voices and ask for God to renew the life of the servant, to give riches and glory to the servant, for his life to be renewed, for him to be launched to divine glory.
“Once you do these things, everything is gonna change. My brother, you’re gonna change your friends, because some of them will hate you. Are you getting it? If they don’t call you again, don’t call them. You’re no more in that line. The mixture will be used to bless the servant and the servant will take the rest home. He will be using it to cream his body. He will use it whenever he wants to go out. The war is won. Jimata Maleka Olórun!”
Contrary to her claims, I do not have gay friends. Not one. I do have one lesbian friend. But not a gay friend. And while, as a journalist, I have a completely open mind towards the LGBT+ community, I do not have “gay friends” who will “stop calling me” after completing Prophetess Dosunmu’s ‘work’.
When Prophetess Dosunmu finishes with us, she asks my colleague and me what we would do with the two candles we purchased for N200. She says they are useless to us and asks if we want to leave with them. We decide to drop them, knowing they would be recirculated among hordes of other servants, which is clearly a case of corrupt enrichment since the church knew beforehand that the candles would not be lit. If only 300 of us recirculated our candles that day, that was N60,000 of corruptly-earned money.
She passes me and my ‘colleague’ to another prophet who re-explains how the prayers and sacrifices would be held, and also tells me the prophets to be fed are “close to 200”, and in turn hands us over to another, ostensibly the most superior of all the prophets, who simply asks me “are you satisfied?” and immediately appends his signature to the church-branded paper containing Prophetess Dosunmu’s prophecies and sacrifice items.
TO SACRIFICE OR NOT TO SACRIFICE?
My team and I argued over the spiritual risks of turning up for the sacrifice. I wanted to go. But everyone else thought I shouldn’t.
“We need to chill,” one of them tells me. “This thing is very spiritual. We can’t go any further.”
“You won’t go to offer those sacrifices,” said another. “These things have spiritual consequences.”
After a lengthy argument, I wasn’t going to win, I announced a bet. The prophets had said the sacrifices would be done over three days — Friday, Sunday and Tuesday — so I told my team that if the prophets agreed to render all three sacrifices after receiving my ‘provision of food’, then I would proceed. However, if they insisted I could only offer the sacrifices on three different days, that would mean this was indeed a spiritually structured exercise, hence I would back down. Deal accepted.
We return to the church three days later, armed with the prescriptive paper from Prophetess Dosunmu. We rummage through a sea of heads in search of the prophetess without much luck until we run into ‘Wo-Leader’, the very prophet who’d pointed us to her three days earlier. He tells us we don’t need to see her; her job is finished; it is the church’s work from then on. A service is ongoing. He admonishes us to wait. Once it’s over in half-an-hour, we would be attended to.
Soon, the time comes to tell them we’ve come with a plate of food and a bottle of water each for 100 prophets. Someone from the church emerges with black bowls to retrieve the food and drinks from the cellophane bags.
“Uncle, we don’t let people buy things from outside,” he reveals. “You should have bought it inside.” As we would later find out, every single sacrifice item, from food to drinks and frankincense, were available for sale. A thriving religio-economic enterprise!
‘Wo-Leader’ waves the matter aside when we apologise, and tells us to buy candles. And coconut. And eggs. When the food and drinks are unloaded, some prophets motion me over to the rear of the church where the special prayers are to begin. I had bought a long-sleeve shirt and a pair of flabby trousers for the sacrifice, since they had informed me I wouldn’t leave with whatever clothes I offered the prayers in.
One prophet tells me to wait till the changing room becomes unoccupied, but I tell him it’s unnecessary; I’m a man, after all. Right there in the open, I change into my new clothes, ready to start. I ask ‘Wo-Leader’ if I can compress three days of sacrifice into one, as I would be travelling the following day; he answers an emphatic yes but adds he first needs to take me to his “boss” — the man who had asked days earlier if I was satisfied.
Though unpainted from outside, the room that passes for his office is small and sparsely ornamented, but it is quite cozy, with comfortable cushion seats occupied by the boss and his guest. Wo-Leader explains to him that I’d come with provisions for 100 prophets, and presents my request. He asks for the boss’s “endorsement” of the provisions. Apparently a man of few words, the boss asks for my name, expresses shock that I’m Yoruba, asks for my hometown, before curtly submitting: “God bless you; you’re highly welcome.”
SECOND SACRIFICE: COCONUT LEAVES, EGGS, CANDLES AND BOWING DOWN
Back outside, one ‘elder’ hands me seven candles bound together by coconut leaves. He tells me to stand on a “rock” and pray against the “evil spirit” haunting me. I look at what they called a “rock” — it’s a small piece of stone, smaller than the grinding stone with which my mum made me grate pepper as a child. I look towards the sandy ground behind me and I see someone carefully place a coconut and an egg in threes. To the right is an inflamed clay structure inside which some unknown matter is burning. I pray as instructed by the elder, but not against any evil spirit. Instead, I ask God to nullify any potential spiritual consequence of the sacrifice.
After some five minutes of mumbling what no one could catch, the elder returns, this time with two more elders, to bring the prayers to a close. Each of the three elders stands by one egg and coconut on each edge of the triangle; they ask me to kneel down inside it.
The first elder asks me to raise my head and use it to touch the ground thrice in a manner emblematic of idol worship. I comply. After that, they pray for me. They tell God to chase the gay spirit far away from me. Then they hand me a bowl of water and light the septet of candles in my hands. Their instruction is that I hold the burning candles over the bowl, allowing the wax to drip into the water as I say amen. Then they take turns to rub my body with the egg and coconut — man, man, woman, in that order. The woman’s session is the longest. When they finish, they each smash their egg and coconut inside the burning clay fire in quick succession, thus drawing the curtain on that round of ‘work’. It lasted an approximate 20 minutes.
THIRD SACRIFICE: THE BATH OF SHAME
Up next, I am told to fetch a bucket of water inside which I must empty the bowl of water containing water and candle wax and my “answered prayers”! They hand me a local sponge with a diced blue soap with a nondescript smell. The instructions are clear: Place one egg and coconut into the bucket of water and, at the end of the bath, rub my body with the items while saying some prayers.
I follow the instructions to the letter until I reach the bathroom, after which I rebel. First, I dispense with the soap, then the sponge. I get rid of the water too, though I smear my face and head with some of it, to give my body some semblance of wetness. Egg or coconut, I refrain from rubbing my body with any. I change into my new clothes, ready to discard the one I wore during the prayers.
To test the integrity of the process, I deliberately decide to dump the clothes in the bucket of water rather than return them to the elders as instructed. I expect them to rule that I have ruined the sacrifice, and provide me a remedy or compel me to repeat the process. Instead, they only scream in disgust and disbelief that I mixed up their instructions. After that, they wave me on to where to empty the water in the bucket. As instructed, I throw the clothes into the clay fire and smash the egg and coconut against the ‘rock’.
A CHARADE ALL ALONG
Meanwhile, during my sacrifices, a crowd of prophets and prophetesses had gathered for prayers for the food and drinks. ‘Wo-Leader’ summons me into their presence. He tells me to kneel down for prayers and bow my head three times. I comply.
During the prayers, a prophet sprays some liquid substance I didn’t find too sweet-smelling. Then ‘Wo-Leader’ tells me to open a plate and taste the food I brought. The sharing begins as soon I do this, and I am told the job for the day is done. With focus shifting to the food and drinks, nobody remembers the business end of the sacrifices requiring me to buy olive oil, frankincense, Miss Paris perfume and a piece of candle, with three elders praying for me and mixing these items into something I should take home and continue rubbing my body with.
I remind one of the prophets just as they disperse one after the other after fetching a plate of rice and drinks. “Ah, it is true,” he tells me. “But don’t worry, we will do those ones later. Or you can buy the items yourself and start using them.”
His reply confirms what I always told my team: the entire idea of prayers and food and purchases and sacrifice was a charade all along.
This republished investigation from FIJ was published with support from The Initiative for Equal RIghts (TIERS)