Cars moving in different directions, commercial
motorcycles blaring horns uncontrollably in desperate
attempts to wriggle their ways through any available
opening on the narrow road and pedestrians caught in
between , the sight speaks of chaos and utmost confusion.
Even though the area is a residential quarters , finding your
way in and out of Okepopo Street , Adeniji - Adele, Lagos ,
can be one of the most frustrating exercises to embark
on, in fact . Apart from the narrowness of the road itself ,
the rough nature of the surface also contributes to making
your journey tiring.
But more than the topography of the area , the prevalence
of red - eyed young men and women cooling off in
various joints where drinks and drugs of different kinds are
experimented, catches your attention. The joints,
sandwiched between crammed buildings – mostly
bungalows and two - storey structures that had seen better
days, also serve as virile grounds where gambling and other
related activities take place unabated . Morning, afternoon,
night – these corners are never short of patronage. Male
and female – old and young, there is a place for
everyone.
However, while many of Lagos ’ residents as a result of
personal experiences had given up hope of things taking a
different turn in and around the neighbourhood , a few
others have separate ideas. Holy Flock of Christ, a religious
organisation that has operated in the area for 85 years, is
leading the line in the efforts to write a new chapter for
Okepopo and its teeming youthful population polarised by
illicit drugs and crimes.
Interestingly , while the 85-year - old cathedral tucked in
between houses, joints and ‘ coded’ corners notorious for
all sorts of social vices has been making life - changing
impacts all around the community, it is some of its unique
attributes that has in fact fascinated many, who had come
in contact with it.
For example, during a recent visit to Okepopo, our
correspondent, who spent an evening of worship with
congregants of the church, observed how throughout the
almost 80- minute service , no clapping occurred. While
singing took the form of solemn hymns hummed in a
combination of English and Yoruba languages , interaction
between members during proceedings was almost non -
existent . That is not all.
Unlike in other churches where congregants attack each
prayer point with ‘ rage’ and utmost vigour , here ,
demands to ‘ heaven’ are made solemnly – like a
conversation between two lovers. For a first time visitor
used to a different way of worship , a time in one of Holy
Flock ’ s services can leave a mix bag of feelings on the
mind.
“Many people who do not understand our mode of worship
find our services a bit strange, ” one of the church’ s
elders and Vicar General , Dr . Kole Abayomi – a senior
advocate and former Director General of Nigerian Law
School, told Saturday PUNCH. “ For instance, apart from the
fact that we do not clap during our services , we only
dance during our thanksgiving sessions which are not
usually many . In an entire year , we may have such
services maybe four or five times depending on the type
of programme we are having. For instance, we are
celebrating our 85 th Founder's Day this week and it is at
such a period that we dance while bringing our offerings to
the altar.
“ Also, while other churches and denominations believe that
once a person is consumed by the Holy Spirit, he or she
could be knocked up and down on the floor , we do not
subscribe to such. We believe that the Holy Spirit is calm
and when he comes into anybody , he or she will remain
calm and relay the message given to them. In fact , we
believe that being knocked up and down is a sign that a
person is resisting the Holy Spirit and if such happens
during our service, we simply take the person to the back
of the church for them to calm down . A lot of people
find this a bit strange but we believe this is the way it is
supposed to be.
“ Even though we have our origin in the Aladura
movement , our doctrine and way of operation is different
from the other garment wearing churches in a number of
ways. We don’ t speak in tongues in this church. The
church is a prophetic one where visions are relayed through
those who have the gift. Also , women are seated
separately from the men in all our services , ” he said.
Situated in the heart of Lagos Island, a section known for
heavy commercial activities , Okepopo , like many of its
neighbours, has earned for itself a fearsome reputation
over the years despite contributing significantly to the
growth and development of the city. Besides playing host
to some of the deadliest gang battles and political
disagreements in recent times, the street has also
witnessed other forms of unrest over the years. While the
situation has forced many residents to relocate to other
parts of the state believed to be relatively safer , others
who have remained in this part of Lagos told Saturday
PUNCH that they live every day at a time , not knowing
what the next moment will bring.
“ I always call my people at home to get a situation report
of happenings in the neighbourhood before returning from
work every day, ” Nneka Udukporo, a dealer in textiles
materials at the nearby Idumota Market, revealed. “The
fact that the area is calm in the morning when you had
left home does not mean that it would remain so till you
come back . At any moment , violence can erupt,
affecting movement in and out of Okepopo and other
streets around. On several occasions I have had to sleep at
friends and colleagues ’ houses as a result of this problem.
I think the large number of unemployed youths and drug
joints is a major contributing factor to this scourge , ” she
noted.
Akeem Ogunmefun, 41, has lived in this part of Lagos for
many years. During his time here, he has seen a lot of
young men and women giving in to the pressure all around
them . According to him , the high unemployment rate in
the area is pushing many like him into embracing drugs and
other wayward paths.
“ Many of these joints and coded corners you see all
around Okepopo and environs have been there for years,
even before a lot of us were born, ” Ogunmefun told our
correspondent during a visit to the area recently. “ There
is no time of the day that you don’ t see guys and even
ladies taking one thing or the other just to calm
themselves down.
I won't lie to you, this is part of our life here , many of us
were born into drinking and smoking and we cannot just
leave it like that. Though personally I have reduced the
number of times I go to these joints because of age and
responsibility as a parent, many of our people here still
visit regularly as a result of frustration. A lot of us don’ t
have jobs, so these joints are the only consolation for us
throughout the day, ” he said before sauntering into a small
kiosk behind a car repairs workshop.
Less than 10 metres away sits another ‘coded corner’
where many of Okepopo's youths and elderly ‘recharge’ and
‘fortify' themselves with all sorts of concoctions and
narcotics for the most part of the day. With only a white,
net - like curtain shielding them from the bulging eyes of
passersby, patrons could be seen giggling and making other
gestures as thick puffs of smoke flew out of the place .
Time was 2 :30pm , and not even the venom of the
blistering sun on this afternoon could hamper proceedings
here.
“ Why you dey look my face , ” one dark - complexioned
and heavily bearded middle- aged man barked at our
correspondent in splattering pidgin. “Se you wan high ni ,
abi you wan make I brush your face for ground ? , ” the
man asked in a firmer voice , anger slowly building up in
him. “ No look this side again or else I can mess you up, ”
he added, gulping a few sips from the contents inside a
cup he was holding.
Encouraging our correspondent not to tremble or show any
sign of fear at the man ’ s threat , an elderly woman
walking behind revealed how many visitors and passersby
had faced harassment and intimidation from miscreants
whose lives now revolve around the joints in the
neighbourhood.
“ Anytime I move around this community, I am saddened
by the number of young people I see wasting away, ” she
began. “ Apart from drinking from morning till night ,
drugs and crimes have also become their specialty. On a
number of occasions, I have tried talking to the ones I
know but I realise that after some time , they go back to
partake in the activities taking place at the joints.
“ But my worry is the way these guys sometimes harass
people going about their normal businesses.
They shout at and intimidate you if you look at them too
much and if you are not bold, they can take advantage of
you . Having lived in this neighbourhood for so long ,
people like us know how to deal with the situation but not
others from outside this place, ” she said , giving her name
only as Mama Bimbo.
But through rigorous but an effective strategy , the church
, according to Abayomi , is beginning to reverse the way
young men and women think in this community.
“ It has not been easy surviving in this environment for 85
years, ” he said . “Even though when we came to this
area , it was all marshy and peaceful, development over
the years has meant that a lot has changed about the
environment and its people. Today , the Okepopo area has
a fearsome reputation in the minds of members of the
public but we are gradually changing that, ” he said.
Even though Abayomi revealed that none of their members
had been attacked and or harassed by miscreants in the
neighbourhood, getting the message of Christ across to
them over the years had not been easy.
He said that through a distinct approach , they had been
able to get many of the community’ s youths off the
streets and help them find new lives – a path free of
social vices.
“Having been here for so long and with good understanding
of the terrain, we have learnt how to approach many of
these guys on the street, ” Abayomi told Saturday PUNCH. “
By the grace of God and through consistent tracking, we
have been able to get many of them off the streets and
away from drugs and crime. A lot of them worship with us
now and have even gone on to do meaningful things with
their lives . This gives us immense happiness as a church,
” he added.
Decked in a design that speaks volume of its rich history
and heritage , the size of the church’ s premises indeed
betrays the level of impact it is making on its immediate
surroundings and community at large. Even though its
doctrine and mode of worship may be alien to many,
slowly but steadily, the Holy Flock of Christ church is
setting many of Okepopo's derailed young men and women
on the path of redemption.

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