GOING by the breakneck speed with which they whiz through the mostly craggy and pothole-ridden portions of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, many motorists would seem to know very little about the Redemption Camp beyond its signboards and its modest white gate. This afternoon, however, a billboard outside the gate shows a mother smiling down at her baby. It is a picture of complete satisfaction from both. The photograph illustrates the theme of the Holy Ghost Service, ‘God Will Make You Laugh,’ which was held on September 6. Considering the decent condition of living in the Redemption Camp as The Guardian discovered during its tour, and what is obtainable in other Nigerian towns and cities, the prayers of the residents may have already been answered.
How former den of robbers, wild animals became a place of worship, A camp of many wonders
AT the entrance of the Camp, a nondescript security man looks casually at approaching vehicles before waving them in. On the right side of the gate, a neat and orderly row of tricycles painted in green with white stripes awaits commuters going into the Camp. Quietly, and without the hassles characterising life in other Nigerian settlements, passengers walk to the tricycle taxi park, take their seats, and the journey begins through a network of streets linked by tarred roads.
There is no noisy honking and blaring of horns. Drivers neither jeer nor rain curses on other roads users. And there are no trailers threatening to tip over and spill their inflammable content on hapless road users. There are also no traffic snarls and all the disorder associated with life in most of Nigeria’s chaotic cities. A number of road signs indicate a speed limit of between 15 and 25 km per hour. Wafting from loudspeakers in different parts of the camp is mellow Christian music. The soothing effect of the songs is occasionally interrupted by the deep baritone voice of the General Overseer (GO) of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Pastor E.A. Adeboye, who makes exhortations in recorded messages. Next are the Pentecostal naming of the roads and streets: Redeemer Avenue, Victory Avenue, Salvation Way, Love Road, Holiness Road, New Song Road, and the list goes on. Streets and addresses in the Redemption Camp get their names from the biblical narratives and experiences.
Unlike many Nigerian towns and cities where existence is dreary, nasty and often extremely disorganised, the Redeemed Camp is a town that works. The air is clean and fresh, the roads are free of potholes, and the general decay associated with urban living in Nigeria is almost non-existent in the Camp. Electricity supply is uninterrupted, clean water runs at the tap, environment is sanitised and decent transportation system is in place. Nonetheless, The Guardian observed during its tour of the area that, the sanity and serenity of the Redeem City might not be as a result of daily session of prayer, praise and worship. Rather authorities in the town have painstakingly made and implemented rules and regulations to ensure that the place is not turned to yet another Nigerian nightmare.
Rules and regulations governing behaviour in the Camp are clearly spelt out in one of the billboards; “no hawking and no loitering during service.” There is also a list of rules that the camp dwellers are to observe. For instance, while the government in Lagos, as well as many other states across the country is battling tooth and nail to rid its domain of the activities of motorbike (Okada) riders, the authorities at the Redemption Camp simply insisted that the place be a no-go area for motorcycle taxis. The result is that cars are free to move without the risk of colliding with bikes, while commuters are spared the ordeal of falling off speeding bikes and breaking their limbs. Instead of the reckless run of commercial motorcycles, what obtains in the Camp is the beautiful sight of families riding bicycles as a way of exercising and relaxing.
An exclusive Christian community
Those in charge of affairs at the Camp mince no words about the fact that it is a Christian community. “This is the city of Christians,” says the Senior Camp Maintenance Director, Pastor Dapo Adesina. As such, everything is arranged to give effect to the Christian message of the glory and splendour of the Almighty. The streets, especially at night, breathe in unsullied air from the surrounding foliage, giving the Redemption City a quality of celestial bliss. From the lampposts by the roads, silver glow on top casts a bright hallow upon the estates of buildings erected by Haggai Saving Loans, a community bank owned by RCCG.
According to RCCG website, Haggai has been able to develop over 66 units of houses and another 22 units in addition to 150 units of various types of bungalows. Other banks located within the Camp include Access Bank, UBA, GTB, Zenith Bank, Eco Bank. For a visitor, the residential and office areas are hardly distinguishable; the place is an open city. The estate comprises duplexes, bungalows, three and four-bedroom flats owned by members of the church. On the West side of the city are the offices that handle the bureaucracy. This includes the International Office, Camp Maintenance Department, Finance and Budget Department, Finance and Auditing Department, Pre-paid meter office, Security Unit, Redeemer Clinic, Directorate of Christian Education, Rehabilitation Centre, Electrical Department, as well as the Water Department. Right at the heart of the city is the sprawling Congress Arena measuring two-kilometer (length) by one kilometer (breadth).
According to the Redeemed Camp authorities, the auditorium contained more than two million worshippers during the last Holy Ghost Congress. During the Congress, the Camp metamorphosed into a Mecca of sorts, accommodating about 6 million people. The congregants came from 120 countries where RCCG branches are located. But on other days, except first Friday of the month slated for the Holy Ghost Service, Redemption Camp is a somber city. When there are no big events in the Camp, the auditorium is a sanctuary for the faithful who come to pray and make supplications to God.
During The Guardian tour of the auditorium recently, scores of people were seen meditating and having their quiet time. During these periods, when there are no major events, it is easier to stand close to the altar, a section of the temple considered to be exclusive preserve for the VIPs that attend the events. Few individuals in different positions of prayer scattered around the huge hall while cleaners and technicians were getting the auditorium ready for the Congress. Across the road, the voice of the G.O. echoed from a shopping complex. “You will not die this year…”
Within the Camp, there are several other structures like the main auditorium, the Redeemer University (RUN), The Redeemed Christian Bible College, Redeemer High School, International Guest House, post office, supermarket, power station, water treatment plant among others.
History of the Redemption Camp
The first foundation of the Redemption City, according to the church authorities, was laid in April 1983. Prior to that time, Pastor Adeboye, who had just retired from the University of Ilorin as the Head, Department of Mathematics and was living in Mushin area, Lagos was said to have prayed to God for a house. In response, God promised him a city. Adeboye’s wife, Pastor Folu Adeboye, received revelation that the city must be built along the express road. But when a portion of land became available at Alagbado, the church could not afford the price. And since the church policy forbids borrowing, the authorities had to wait till the church could afford to foot the bill. Not long after, a portion of land near the Lagos-Ibadan expressway was available. The place was found out to be more accessible to members from other parts of the country. “And the rest, as they say, is history,” said Adesina.
Today, Redemption City is a tranquil home to a population of about 10,000 people. It is perhaps the largest Christian city in the world. Not even the Vatican City, established in 1929 and spread across 44 hectares of land, could boast of the population of the Redeemed City. Vatican City, according to CIA World Factsheet, is populated by 836 citizens, mostly priests. According to Pastor Adesina, though the Redeemed City is not patterned after the Vatican City, a sovereign entity within Rome, the city has aspiration to assume a political status in future. Residents of Redemption City participate in elections like other citizens in Ogun State, “but we do not allow political campaign in the city because we see ourselves as family members,” said Adesina.
A former den of men of the underworld
Though Loburo settlement in Ogun State, the spot that now hosts the Camp was a den of robbers and wild animals in the early 1980s, the coming of the Camp has changed its history forever. Until the Redeemed Christian Church of God moved its Bible College to the place in 1983, it was a place where shady characters and hardened criminals carried out their nefarious activities. The story has it that the place was so unsafe for commuters that they did all they could to avoid falling prey to the men of the underworld who prowled the area unchallenged. Through the massive construction of roads and houses, the former hideout for criminals has now been transformed into a haven that even foreigners find attractive, thereby generating foreign exchange for the country.
Importantly, the Camp has been able to shatter what is becoming a myth in Nigeria, that generating adequate electricity supply to meet the people’s need is a herculean task. As such, the darkness that envelopes many parts of the country, crippling economic activities and making life miserable for both the rich and the poor, does not exist in Redeemed Camp. With its 10 megawatts power generation plant, which provides electricity for homes, businesses, offices, and the auditorium, the Camp has come off self-sufficient in its power needs. From the main gate to the big auditorium, the light bulbs shone uninterrupted.
Pastor Taiwo Ajewole, an engineer at the Electrical Department of the Redeemed City said the community relies on the turbine powered by diesel and compressed natural gas to generate electricity. The efficiency of the turbine system ensures that the camp stays aglow all day. So constant is power supply that beverage and frozen food vendors in the area are forced to switch off their refrigerators for days, in order to defrost their products before offering them for sale. Aside this, the city also has its own independent water treatment dam that produces no fewer than six million litres of potable water daily. It is thus no surprise that many residents of Lagos and Ogun states are beginning to flock the area in order to enjoy some of these benefits, which has triggered massive development along the corridor, and has impacted on real estate business especially.
Within 30 years, the area has become so transformed that the vision, according to church sources is now to continue the expansion and consolidate on the achievements recorded thus far.
According to Pastor Adesina, the GO’s modest request for a house was granted by God in form of a city that has now become the cynosure of eyes within Nigeria, and internationally.
The camp in the eyes of residents
A 46-year-old businesswoman in the city told The Guardian she enjoys life in the Camp because of the constant and uninterrupted power supply. “The only time the light goes off is when technicians are doing maintenance of the turbine. And if it happens, it is only for an hour or thereabout. And they usually inform us before they switch off light. As I speak now, I have switched off my freezer for the past three days because everything in the fridge is frozen.”
Similarly, a former electricity metre-billing officer in Lagos enthused that life is different in the camp compared to what obtains in Lagos city where she once lived. “People move around here 24 hours and people come in to pray anytime of the day. It is a safe haven because you can move anytime. The security here is better than in the main Lagos city. In fact there was a time I forgot my shop key here for three days and I came back just to meet my things safe and intact.” She continued: “It may also interest you to know that all the roads in this city are constructed by the church. There is even a tarred road that leads to Ikorodu from the back of our own auditorium.”
Before deciding to go into the sale of Christian books, bibles and soft drinks in the Camp, another resident said she had worked for 21 years in one hospital in Lagos. Despite the number of hours she put in the job, her earnings at the hospital was never commensurate to her input. But the little profit she makes from doing business in the Camp now is enough for her family upkeep. “I closed my eyes to the salary and the free medical service I was receiving together with my family from my former office, and relocated here, and I am enjoying my life here in Redemption City. Though I may not be making millions, I am contented with my stress-free business in the city.” She further revealed that she used to spend an average of N16,000 weekly for fuelling her generator when she was living at Alagbado. In the camp, however, she says the fuel inside her generator has dried up because there was no need to use it for a period of time.
“We also have primary school, secondary school and tertiary institution and there are banks here too. Everything is well organised here. You must, however, not operate any business on Sunday morning because everybody is expected to be in church. You may come after church service to open, but certainly not during worship hour.”
Likewise, Olayinka Olayiwola, a plumber working with the Dam Department in the
city is also a resident of the Redeemed Camp. According to him, the Camp produces about six million litres of potable water for drinking. “Anytime my department needs power supply, we get it. I enjoy living and working here and I don’t think I intend to leave here for now because there is security, regular power supply and good road network.”
Engineer Taiwo Ajewole, who works in the Electrical Department echoed
Olayiwola’s position. He said although he spends an average of N4,000 per month on electricity, he is happy to pay because light is available. “I have light in my house 24 hours a day, seven days per week. Before I moved here I used to iron (sic) as many of my clothes as possible whenever PHCN light comes, now I iron my cloth only when I want to go out,” he said.
The power of planning and transparency
So how does this model city get things right? How are the administrators able to carry on with their duties without lining their pockets with funds meant for the public good? Pastor Adesina, the maintenance helmsman at the camp spoke about the fear of God as the driving force behind the altruistic disposition of the people to serve in God’s vineyard. He said officials are conscious that they are carrying out their duties, not just because they must be responsible to an earthly boss, but also because they will all stand before the Creator someday. He implied that the mind-boggling corruption being witnessed in government at local, state, and federal level is the result of the lack of the fear of God. “If you put money meant for church work in your pocket, one day, you will face your creator, and you will account for it,” he said.
According to him, the church does not do anything based on human plan. Everything is based on the divine inspiration of the Almighty.
“As the Lord directs the authority of the church, they give us the guidelines and we implement. The project office maintains the existing roads. They are to make sure they fix all the potholes and regularly maintain the roads, so that there will not be traffic congestion, either during major or off major events period. So the roads are maintained regularly,” he explained.
Indeed, the story of Redeemed City is like a bright star on a dark firmament, but more than anything else, it is a good account of triumph of human determination to create his own heaven right here on earth.
Aurthor: Pastor Folahan Ayeni LLB, BL, LLM, Dip. Th, MBA, MPA