After several days of subtle threats and manoeuvres, the authorities of the Mountain of Fire Church has released a public statement in which it tried to justify the abuse and detention of a SaharaReporters team during its recent New Year’s eve service.
In the event, previously reported by SaharaReporters, the church task force, police and the State Security Service molested and illegally detained Saharareporters’ crew during a “cross-over” night service on December 31, 2012.
In a statement signed by Pastor Oladele Bank –Olemoh, the chairman of the church’s Publicity Committee, MFM said that it has an open door policy as regards the media, and that many journalists were accredited to cover the
cross over night.
“Sahara crew never applied and was never accredited as one of the media organizations to cover the event, nevertheless, they were allowed inside the prayer city to film the event, and the crew was only stopped when they went beyond the parameters allowed for media men.”
The statement said nothing about the harassment meted out to the reporters, the illegal detention, or the degrading treatment.
Nor did it say anything about previous contacts between SaharaReporters and MFM PR teams following the publication of our story.
MFM’s statement followed days of covert pranks by the church staff and a former journalist of The Guardian newspaper, Idowu Ajanaku, who we learnt was hurriedly assigned the role to end the bad publicity against the church.
On January 8, Mr. Ajanaku called the publisher of Saharareporters, Omoyele Sowore, to express the “shock and disappointment” of the MFM General Overseer, Daniel Olukoya regarding the conduct of the church “Prayer City Task Force” in the molestation, false arrest and detention of his team by MFM Church’s security teams.
Mr. Ajanaku promised that the General Overseer was unaware of the cruel and degrading treatment and wanted to apologize to the SR crew.
Curiously, the same Ajanaku then said he would send to SaharaReporters Dr. Olukoya’s telephone numbers so that the reporters could call him and accept his apologies on behalf of MFM, and shortly after, delivered by text message two special telephone lines for Dr. Olukoya.
But Mr. Sowore replied that he was not interested in calling the overseer when it was his people that had abused and violated the rights of the reporters on church premises. Ajanaku’s response by text was that there were many versions of the incident and that the GO would like to hear directly from Mr. Sowore and his crew.
Mr. Sowore declined the invitation, insisting that the GO carry out independent findings on his own.
While that angle was in progress, it turned out that the GO had called Lagos blogger Seyi Macaulay and threatened “no one fights MFM and survives.”
Dr. Olukoya told Macaulay that he felt SaharaReporters had taken him for granted, but Macaulay said he told the pastor that it was necessary that the church make amends as the video published by SaharaReporters clearly shows that the crew was maltreated. Dr. Olukoya would later reveal to Macaulay that he saw things playing out while he was preaching that night and asked Macaulay to let Sowore know that he would be calling to apologize.
Macaulay then called Sowore to intimate him of the developments, including a statement that the GO gave him an appointment for an interview with the blogger.
Macaulay reported later that when he arrived for the interview at the church premises in Lagos, he met young church members on Facebook and the SaharaReporters website writing anonymous comments to condemn the Saharareporters crew.
The underhanded method had been in effect on the website for several days by church members who posed as different people to post comments on the website vilifying SaharaReporters. From members of a church that professes love and tolerance, the anonymous comments delivered various threats, insults and condemnations.
But the church’s statement by Pastor Bank –Olemoh attributed MFM’s “open door” media policy to its conviction that it is in the ‘interest of the public.’
The church then sought to justify its action of harassing and molesting the journalists on security challenges in the country, presumably in the North.
“In view of the security challenges facing the nation and the body of Christ in particular, MFM has the right to monitor the movement of people in and around our church premises”, the statement said.
Trying to prove that SaharaReporters was wrong and further needlessly demonizing northern Nigerian Muslims, the statement asked: “Can Sahara barge into a Mosque to cover an event without permission?”
Answer: Our crew in the North once covered for two years covered “great treks” by Muslim sects of the Shiites denomination walking long distance from Kogi, Niger, Lagos, Nassarawa, Abuja and Lokoja to Zaria. SaharaReporters crew in the North has attended breakfast meeting with Muslims several times without molestation. Our crewmembers have attended several events at the Sultan Bello mosque in Kaduna to cover sermons given by Sheikh Gumi and reported several of them on this page.
When in Zaria we attended event by Shiites, led by El Zazzaky, inside the sect’s Mosque without molestation or harassment–without prior accreditation.
Members of the sect even offered us water and food, but the same cannot be said for out detention at MFM, where we were denied water even when we offered to buy.
At the cross-over event, the MFM members were hostile, bestial and intolerant, not only to us but petty ware sellers that converged on the church to make a living. We repeat that some of those poor traders were being openly whipped and that one man was chained to a door close to the dirty toilets at the church’s security post.
Members of MFM may also like to hear that two days after our nightmarish experience at their church, we “barged” into a Masquerade festival in Erekiti, Ondo State. As a forthcoming footage on Youtube will show, the masquerades and their handlers were nice and warm to us in broad daylight, in complete contrast to our experience in the church.
MFM asked: “Is Sahara which is based in The United State of America saying it does not know the normal procedure for covering an event?”
Answer: In the United States we can “barge” into churches and shoot videotape as long as the church invites the public to their crusade or service. Television stations routinely enter churches uninvited to carry out their journalistic duties.
But above all, it is important to state that these contradictory and childish questions has already been answered by the MFM church by stating in its release that we duly asked permission and was granted permission by church officials after declaring our intention to film the “Cross Over” service, in fact, three times during our sojourn in the church auditorium we had our identity cards checked by church officials after fully disclosing that we wanted to get to film Dr. Olukoya up close.
SaharaReporters would like to state that there was no way its crew could have gone beyond the spot allowed them by the church who showed them the way to their location in the massive auditorium because Dr. Olukoya operated exclusively from a heavily guarded fenced perimeter where his podium was located. At no time did our crew go beyond the perimeter before the church task force attacked us.
MFM asked: “Can Sahara barge into an event in USA to cover without an accreditation?”
Answer: Yes. The US maintains an open society, as restated recently by President Barack Obama when a public petition drive targeted a British national, Piers Morgan of CNN, because he “barged” into internal American politics by asking for gun control.
It should be noted that most Nigerian journalists who apply for accreditation to cover events do so to collect honorarium, otherwise known as ‘brown envelopes,’ at events. The practice of accreditation has imposed strong limitations on the ability of most Nigerian journalists to perform their duties independently, conduct investigations, and work without fear or favor. It is the reason that over 25 Nigerian journalists accredited by MFM for the cross-over missed one of the most important events of that night or failed to report it even though they saw it: the arrest and abuse of the SaharaReporters crew.
Finally, the church deliberately left out from its statement, two key questions. The first is the illegal imprisonment and roughening -up of the reporters for four hours.
The second is that SaharaReporters also wrote about the brutal treatment, seizure of equipment, and illegal detention of some teenagers within the church premises for selling Christian literature, praise and worship song notes, handkerchiefs and petty items. MFM, self-absorbed, also ignored this.
The Statement by Pastor Oladele Bank-Olemoh:
The attention of Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries has been drawn to a story on SaharaReporters, alleging how Mr. Omowole Sowore and his crew were mishandled at the cross over night at prayer city on January 1st 2013.
In as much as we don’t want to join issues with the media organization, we hereby state our position as regards the issue for the benefit of the public.
MFM has an open door policy as regards the media, as many journalists were accredited to cover the cross over night.
Besides, the event was live on social media. Sahara crew never applied and was never accredited as one of the media organizations to cover the event, nevertheless, they were allowed inside the prayer city to film the event, and the crew was only stopped when they went beyond the parameters allowed for media men.
In view of the security challenges facing the nation and the body of Christ in particular, MFM has the right to monitor the movement of people in and around our church premises.
Can Sahara barge into a Mosque to cover an event without permission?
Is Sahara which is based in The United State of America saying it does not know the normal procedure for covering an event?
Can Sahara barge into an event in USA to cover without an accreditation? Therefore, we appeal to the media to respect the authority of the church just as our doors are open to media organizations in the discharge of duties.
God bless you all.
Pastor Oladele Bank – Olemoh.
Chair Mfm Publicity committee