From a distance, the telltale sign that things have indeed fallen apart here is obvious. Walking down Alhaji Bashiru Itanola Drive, Ajao Estate, at the weekend, where the controversial Christian Praying Assembly is located, an unspoken sense of dread and a ghoulish silence permeated the neighbourhood. Stagnant pungent water in a discloured canal adjoining the street snaked down the back of the street with an uncanny dread, as though it was cognizant of the gloom pervading the area.
Such was the fear of the unknown that the okadaman conveying Sunday Sun reporters hurriedly allowed us to disembark in front of the gate leading to the drive. The drive yawned for human beings. A usually busy place suddenly became semi-deserted in broad daylight. People moved in trickles. Discussions took the tone of whispers. It seemed Armageddon was about to descend.
In front of the church itself, silence became loud. Hitherto, a group of menacing body guards kept sentry here. But, on this day, just one seemed bold enough to brave the odds and keep guard. Clothed in black trousers and white blazers, he looked like an archetype of the Saudi terrorist, Osama bin Ladin, with his jutting bears and a guttural voice, as he conversed in his mobile phone in a tone suggestive of an obedient servant relaying a situation report to his embattled master.
Moments later, he sat in a plastic chair in a sleeping stupour, looking like a fish out of water. When we peeped into the church, the massive warehouse that housed the church echoed with nothingness. Not even a soul stirred. Not even a miracle seeker knelt down to pray to God. Not even a brother was seen singing a chorus to woo the angels down. Not even a sister was seen reading the Bible in a maniacal way that could earn her a reverence in the heavenly dominion. It was nothing but silence, echoing with a horrendous stillness.
On Wednessday when Reverend King secured a bail from a Lagos magistrate court, jubilation reverberated across the church premises. Residents of the area reported that it was an agonizing moment for them because the congregation sang in high falsetto, disturbing the peace of the neigbourhood and capering with overzealous disdain. Worst still, they could not allow residents to move freely that night.
Soon afterwards, neigbourhood youths went on rampage to cut the jubilants down go size. Last Friday, a similar skirmish took place. Irked by the disturbing news of the mayhem in the church, the youths pulled down the imposing sign board of the church adjoining Benjamin Anorue Street, Ajoa Estate.
The move got the backs of the body guards up, and they accosted the youths. Our source, who lives in the neighbourhood, disclosed that the scene became a free-for-all. The body guards were reportedly given bloody noses. Smarting from the humiliation, they went back to the church for reinforcement. When the came back, another bout of fight ensued. Heads were broken. Blood flowed. People panicked. It was grim.
The youths were obviously disenchanted with the use of the neighbourhood as the church premises. They were also annoyed that once it is 9 p.m. daily, nobody moves freely in the drive. They have warned since that the church should quit the premises. As it seems, a looming fracas is brewing.
When Reverend Ezeugu was rearrested on Wednesday, residents who spoke to by Sunday Sun heaved a sigh of relief. "They should keep him there unless they want our trouble," they chorused.
His re-arrest, we gathered, lowered the morale of the congregation on Thursday when the church's weekly vigil took place from dusk to dawn. Our source revealed that the turnout was very discouraging. "Only twenty percent attended it. Normally, it used to be about eighty percent of the congregation," he said. The assistant pastors we learnt, presided over the vigil.
It was gathered that the depopulation of the congregation was unconnected with the death of the youths accused of fornication. "We saw one man come to the church on Thursday to take his wife away. He said to her, 'Come, with your Bible, my eyes have cleared. You must go home with me.' And she followed him home." Some others, he said, did likewise.
When we visited the place where the imposing sign board was pulled down, we saw that it had been remounted. Our enquiry revealed that it was put back by Reverend King's body guards after the fracas with neigbourhood youths.
The mystique about Reverend King, it seems, has been broken. Alhaji Bashir Itanola Drive is overcast with dread, but many people spoken to by Sunday Sun see his arrest as a good riddance. "How can one live in a place and be afraid. Make e no come back oo!" they echoed in unison.