Over the years, there has been subtle argument as to what the Synagogue Church of Nations [SCOAN] based in the Ikotun area of Lagos State contributes to the state economy.
Just like the National Bureau of Statistics [NBS], the Lagos State Statistics office too has not been able to provide any information as to the number of visitors or pilgrims that visit Lagos State and end up at the Synagogue Church.
As absurd as that may sound, there are however, independent survey and other sources that provide stratified information for writers, students and industry practitioners.
African Travel Times Magazine recent discussions with relevant Lagos State tourism officials revealed deep lack of knowledge of how tourism arrivals are trapped, spending calculated and who qualified to be called a tourist are a new language in our administrative lexicon.
Like the National Bureau of Statistics of Nigeria [NBS] was accused by this same publication of doing much harm to the tourism industry, by undermining the contribution of the sector to the Gross Domestic Product [GDP] that ultimately led to the scrapping of the federal ministry of tourism and culture.
A state like Lagos State with a full fledge Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture could also be accused of complaisance of undermining travel and tourism contribution to the economy of the state.
Both NBS and Lagos State relevant statistics agency’s inability to use modern and internationally-prescribed standards for measuring Nigeria and Lagos State’s travel and tourism contribution to national GDP and Lagos State, have failed the sector over the years for limiting its tracking to mere accommodation and food services/arts, entertainment, and recreation.
These failures by both the federal and state agencies have denied an industry that is today the largest employer of labour in Nigeria and Lagos State respectively, a well-earned pride of place.
Till date, the two levels of governments have failed to capture international conventions and agreements of the United Nations Statistical Commission approved in 2000, neither have they used the Tourism Satellite Account [TSA] conceptual framework as a new international standard in measuring the sector’s contribution to the GDP.
The TSA takes the form of a basic system of concepts, classifications, definitions, tables, and aggregates linked [“satellite”] to the standard tables of 1993 System of National Accounts [SNA] from a functional perspective.
The TSA aggregates [such as tourism GDP and related indicators] are comparable with other internationally-recognized macroeconomic aggregates and compilations.
The method is a physical indicator associated to the flow of visitors [number of tourism displacements – trips by overnight and same day visitors and their characteristics – as well as overnights] and continues to be a basis of the measurement of tourism from the demand side, but it is no less true that countries now need additional information and indicators to improve the measurement of the economic contribution of tourism.
Without doubt, the estimation of the expenditure associated to the different forms of tourism [inbound, domestic, and outbound] is the main priority.
In the case of inbound and outbound tourism, the measurement and characterization of flows of visitors is usually based on that of non-residents entering the country for a duration of less than a year, and is performed at the borders, either using entry/departure cards, or using surveys at the borders, which at the moment the non-residents usually leave the country. Although few countries, combine in an integrated manner, both instruments [administrative controls and surveys].
Assumed that the federal government and Lagos State officials lack the scientific knowledge of capturing tourist traffic, spending and earning patterns in general, the old-school-way of physical capturing suffices here.
Not too long ago, The Guardian Newspaper of United Kingdom published an article with a headline “Lagos Businesses Cash in on Lure of Super Pastor T.B Joshua” with a rider ‘Hotels, Shops, and Touts in district of Ikotun are doing a roaring trade as church draws visitors from around the world’.
The newspaper correspondent in West Africa, Monica Mark, who was in Lagos in her opening paragraphs wrote; “In Africa’s largest metropolis, the district of Ikotun Egbe has turned into a boom town; the draw? Temitope Balogun Joshua, one of pastors”, whose church attracts 50,000 worshipers weekly – more than the combined number of visitors to Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London.
According to her, people seeking promises of prosperity and life-changing spiritual experiences, flock from around the globe and enterprising Lagos residents – those not evicted by landlords turning their properties into hotels – have transformed the rundown area into a hot bed of business.
Besides The Guardian of London report, the its known all over the world and described The SCOAN as a positive ‘brand’ for Nigeria. The SCOAN is a big brand for Nigeria, and a lot of revenues are generated by those involved in the tourism chain, especially members of ACHAN, who provide nothing less than 35 buses and equally a large number of small vehicles to move these visitors on a daily basis.
All over the world be it religion, man-made attractions or monuments, governments of those countries take pride in marketing and promoting such to tourists around the globe.
Therefore, SCOAN must be supported by all and sundry, rather than malicious campaigns of calumny founded on unsubstantiated information about it and the founder.
Also recently, the hoteliers in the Ikotun-Egbe axis area of Lagos State bemoaned their losses due to low occupancy rate in most of the hotels.
The hoteliers blamed the situation on the SCOAN building collapse, which in turn affected influx of worshippers and miracle seekers to the church.
They noted that before the accident, thousands of Nigerians and foreigners alike thronged the church in search of miracle healings for various afflictions.
The miracle-seekers, all of whom could not see Pastor Joshua in one day, took accommodation in hotels in the area. Thus, the presence of the church and its activities is a major spur for the hospitality industry in the area, as many hotels opened shop mostly to provide accommodation for Synagogue worshippers coming from afar.
But since the collapse of a six-storey structure in the church’s complex, the throngs have thinned out to a trickle, while the hotels have lost revenue running into billions of naira.
Speaking to journalists, the hoteliers, under the aegis of Pilgrims Hotels Association of Nigeria, said the total number of bed spaces of different categories for all the hotels in the Ikotun area was about 3,500.
Before the accident, the hotels as gathered, record 100 per cent occupancy rate due to the church programmes which hold three times a week. Sadly, the occupancy rates now fluctuate between 10 per cent and zero all week long.
Speaking further on the issue, one of the hoteliers, Chief Jerry Omorodion said: “We have been crying for a long time and government does not seem to understand our plight. It is a serious issue for us because our means of sustenance is being wiped out.
“Think about the multiplier effect on the economy of the area. You can understand why we are shouting loudly. No area in Nigeria has a steady inflow of inbound tourists like Ikotun in Lagos.
“We insist that government should understand that being a destination, all over the world, when there is accident, they should put in machineries to get to the root of the accident, take action where necessary without portraying the destination as unsafe and also overtly discouraging people from visiting there. If I may ask, how did other nations manage accident at destinations? This is something we should learn to do”.
Without doubt, there are several mega churches across Nigeria, the fact remains that none of them come close to SCOAN in attracting foreign visitors to Nigeria; the dream of every destination around the world.
What Lagos State fails to understand is that they are lucky to have SCOAN in their state and its high time they valued it or they lose.