Among many Nigerian and other African Christians, TB Joshua is a prophet, a healer and a man of God. On Thursday, however, the Nigerian televangelist is due to appear in a Lagos courtroom, alongside two engineers, charged with criminal negligence that resulted in the deaths of more than 100 people.
The case relates to a tragic incident on September 12, 2014. A Lagos guesthouse belonging to Joshua’s church, the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), collapsed, killing at least 115 people, including 84 South Africans who had traveled across the continent for one of Joshua’s renowned healing services.
The South African government reacted angrily to the event, calling on Nigeria to conduct a thorough investigation. Eventually, in July 2015—10 months after the incident—a Nigerian coroner ruled that SCOAN was culpable of criminal negligence, since the structure had more floors than the foundation could hold, and that those who built the guesthouse should be investigated. The Lagos state ministry of justice indicated its intention in November 2015 to charge the SCOAN’s trustees, of which Joshua is one.
For their part, Joshua and the SCOAN rejected the coroner’s findings as “unreasonable, one-sided and biased.” The Nigerian mega-preacher and his church maintained the collapse was connected to the presence of a mysterious aircraft, which they alleged had been circling the building prior to its collapse.
Even if Joshua is found guilty of criminal negligence, his reputation will not be damaged among his legions of devoted followers, according to Maria Frahm-Arp, an expert in Pentecostal Christianity at the University of Johannesburg. “Right from the beginning, he’s been spinning this story of this mysterious airplane and the idea that this was an attack by Satan,” says Frahm-Arp. “The court can find whatever the court finds, but it’s going to be seen [among Joshua’s followers] as an attack by Satan to try and undermine and discredit him.”
That is why they are called ‘followers’ or ‘believers’, they don’t think.