Members of the Winners' Chapel attack Ogun State Tax officials

Members of the Winners' Chapel attack Ogun State Tax officials

On September 8, 2012, Bishop David Oyedepo, the founder of Living Faith Church Worldwide, also known as Winners' Chapel, met Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State over the latest controversy that involved Oyedepo and his church. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo facilitated the meeting. 

Two days earlier, a team of officials of the Ogun State Ministry Of Urban and Physical Planning, who had gone to the church's headquarters in Ota to serve building inspection notices, as well as two journalists attached to Ogun State Television, were attacked by the members of the church.

According to Alhaji Yusuph Olaniyonu, Ogun State Commisioner for Information and Strategy, the journalists were brutally beaten, their camera seized and damaged, the recordings deleted.

Mr. Olaniyonu also alleged that Oyedepo was present and witnessed the assault, "visibly angry" at the decision of the officials to attempt to carry out their duties in his church premises.

Two officials of the ministry were also affected in  the fight.

The victims were taken to the General Hospital in Ota, where they received medical treatment and were later discharged.

The authorities of the Living Faith Church Worldwide church have reportedly ignored the government-set meetings of the Stakeholders Forum where organisations discuss issues like physical planning and taxation regulations with the government.

Mr. Stephen Adewolu, who is the General Manager, Ogun State Urban and Physical Planning Board, and who led the team of officials, accused the church of violating laws and regulations. No organisation is above the law, he stressed, adding that there are proofs of structures being built indiscriminately without approval and necessary environmental impact assessment reports.

A day before this asssault, Oyedepo's followers attacked a number of officials of the Ogun State Internal Revenue Service (OGIRS). The team visited the church premises to effect the payment of outstanding taxes. Over a seven-year period, the Kingdom Heritage Nursery School, owned by Oyedepo's church and located within its headquarters, owed below two million naira.

According to the officials, they have sent several notices to the authorities of the church: in 2010, 2011 and in May, 2013. OGIRS Chairman, Mr. Jide Odubanjo, says his men were making some explanations when several staff members, including the church's legal officer and accountant, came out and, in the course of discussion, beat the officials "blue black," and destroyed their equipment.

A video recording, made with a mobile phone by one of the government's officials, was demonstrated at the press conference held a day after the assault, showing the attack on OGIRS officials and the detention of journalists for three hours by staff members of the school. The detained journalists were released following the intervention of the Divisional Police Officer of Onipanu in Ota Division.

Muyiwa Adejobi, Public Relations Officer of the Ogun State Police Command, stated the matter will be investigated, while Ogun State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mrs. Abimbola Akeredolu, said her ministry was studying the facts on the two incidents to impose an appropriate legal response.

Governor Amosun, before meeting Oyedepo, has reportedly seen some key officials of his government, including heads of law enforcement agencies, and took a decision to seal off the premises of the church. The decision was, however, made known to the church, and Oyedepo subsequently sought Obasanjo's assistance to reach the Governor.

According to the sources, Amosun did not conceal his disapproval of the conduct of Oyedepo's followers at the meeting. Oyedepo reportedly pleaded for leniency, but the Governor ordered to pick the hospital bills of the victims and replace all the damaged equipment. Moreover, the governor also insisted that law must take its course in the matter.

Five of the attackers are said to have been arrested by the police, and may be slammed with charges.

An insider of the church revelaled that pastor Oyedepo agreed to pay the medical bills of the victims and for the damaged equipment. The source, however, denied the claim that Oyedepo was present during the beating.

Another anonymous source suggests church officials attacked OGIRS officials believing that the church has been sensitive to the needs of its host community and is, thus, entitled to a tax-exempt status. Only OGIRS officials were unimpressed by these assumptions.

Notoriety overseas

The British authorities have also expressed interest in Oyedepo, as his church in Britain has received, in five years since 2008, an estimated £16 million in tithes from its followers.

A sum of £1 million that has been granted to the church's operation in Nigeria has provoked an interest from the Charity Commission of England and Wales. Last month, according to The Guardian, the Charity Commission was investigating allegations that charitable funds of Oyedepo's church have been misapplied.

'Exposed,' a global anti-corruption campaign aimed at churches, business and government, praises the generous spirit of congregations such as Oyedepo's church, but calls on church leaders to be more transparent. They challenge any movement, including Winners, to be open and account for its money wherever it goes because "it comes originally from hard-working, faithful people."

Last November, Paul Flynn, a member of the British Paliarment, has stated that the Winners' Chapel was cynically exploiting its members by making "clearly spurious claims."

Previous controversies

It would be recalled that two years ago, Oyedepo was filmed slapping a young girl, who claimed to be a witch during a church service. Oyedepo's followers replied to the criticisms by citing the Biblical account of Matthew 21:12, which records Jesus throwing out traders from the temple. However, there is no no evidence of Jesus being violent in the verse. In May 2012, Oyedepo was sued over the alleged assault. The case was struck out, a decision that has since been appealed.

In 2010, his alleged ill-treatment of three pastors of his church was made public.

Akah Ikenna (Benin), Ifeakwachukwu Sunday (Asaba) and Dick Abiye (Port Harcourt) were involved in auto crashes that left them disabled. The pastors, who earned N45,000 monthly, were on official assignment for Winners' Chapel.

Sunday, ordained a pastor of the church in 2001, was serving at Umunede, Delta State, when the accident occured. One of his legs broke and he also suffered severe pelvic dislocations. At a hospital in Benin, Edo State, he underwent several surgeries. He says his church abandoned him and terminated his appointment. Desperate, Sunday pleaded with Oyedepo personally, wrote to him several times asking to pay for his operations... But to no avail: he never got a response.

Sunday and Abiye, his colleague, gave up. But Ikenna, the third pastor, hired Lagos-based lawyer, Festus Keyamo and went to court. They won the case at the Ota High Court. But Oyedepo and his church headed to the Appeal Court, where the case has remained since 2009.

The church denied that the pastors were abandoned, saying they were "treated on moral ground and in demonstration of good Christian character." Also, it was stated, the Winners' Chapel has the right to review its workers' performances and release from service any staff it feels his or her services are no longer needed.

In November, 2011, Oyedepo publicly commented on the issue. "I almost cursed them [the three pastors]. If there is any case that is serious to take to the court, you go to the court and lawyers will take charge," he said.


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