ADEDAYO ADEJOBI WAS AT ONE OF THE BACK STREETS OF AJEGUNLE, LAGOS, A MARKET WHERE ALL MANNER OF RELIGIOUS BOOKS AND BIBLE ARE SOLD AND THEIR THRIVING CUSTOMERS
Baale Road in Boundary area of Ajegunle, Ajeromi-Ifelodun Local Council, Lagos is just too busy with people and activities. Beyond the buzz, it wears no spectacular appeal though it is in the centre of Lagos metropolis. An exception is the Exxon Mobil end of the long stretch, which is the popular Malu Road.
Walking down the street, there is no assertive signpost announcing the existence of a growing enterprise in the busy road. But an interesting book business, now attracting customers from far and near, booms in just one of the streets. Around Boundary and environs, the place is known as the Book and Bible Market, a name derived from it’s peculiar business – sale of Christian contemporary religious books and materials.
Daily, people besiege the market from several parts of the country. Some even come from as far as Ghana to shop for rare books. A walk into the busy market along the street is like walking into a choking embrace of books. But what marks the place out from other such ventures is the collections in the shops, if the majority on-the-floor displays can really pass as shops. The wares are all manner of prophetic literature, dooms daybooks, motivational materials as well as other hybrid publications comprising an array of apocalyptic references to Israel, Jerusalem and the Temple.
Nevertheless, it does not take long to notice that the major appeal of the area is a choking, if dopy, preoccupation in a certain anti-Christ issue. The books serve this in several thrilling guises and they sell like hot cake. Asides the actual fictional, but arguably biblical single-mindedness on the antichrist tales, there are other catchy books that dot on trendy new age preoccupations and commercial literature.
From the entrance of the street, one is greeted by a maze of these potboils. The very common titles are many. Beyond the Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins series ‘Left Behind’, there are Salim Kibran’s, and Hal Lindsay’s ‘Late Great Planet Earth’, Pastor Chris Okotie’s ‘Last Outcast’ as well as the motivational and bestsellers of Zig Zigler, Napoleon Hill, Barack Obama, Robert Green, among others. Biographies as well as do-it-yourself management and leadership titles such as Myles Munroe’s ‘In Charge,’ sell fast among an uncountable array of titles that people request daily.
But equally interesting is the content of most of the books in popular demand. For instance, the books that dwell on Israel, Jerusalem and the Temple themes dot on the Arabs vs Jews crisis in the Middle East. Believing that the rebirth of the Jewish State in 1948, and the victory of the Jews in the ‘six-day war’ of 1967, were nothing short of the fulfillment of the end time Bible prophecies, many of the literatures in the market with that thrust reason the modern state of Israel is destined to play a significant role in contemporary social, economic and political developments. Investigations by THISDAY showed that this is what makes this literature sell like fireworks. Although many of booksellers may not share the views of the books and their authors, but the fact remains; the books, which are on high demand, daily make them stock them in vast numbers.
And the approach of selling just what people want to read yields profit for the booksellers. According to one of the traders, Mr. Godwin Oko, the business is good for him. And he explains how the populist approach to stocking contributes to the good business. Asked why the overwhelming number of apocalyptic bestsellers, motivational and prophetic literary works, he replied: “Yes, a lot of people like these kind of prophetic books. They sell more than others. The reason is because they point to what is happening today.” He enthused.
The series, ‘Left Behind,’ for instance, currently fast. In context, the book begins from an imagined end-time rapture that left some people behind on earth. Picking up from the rapture, the story focuses on those who are left behind when millions of Christian around the world vanished into the air with the strike. According to the tale, those left behind are to face the rule of the anti-Christ for the next seven years. The said anti-Christ is portrayed as a brilliant Romanian named Nicolae Carpathia, a crafty politician with a very charismatic personality.
When the secret rapture occurs, Carpathian quickly seizes power by controlling the United Nations (UN). From there, he makes covenants with Israel and establishes a one-world government. His ultimate aim is to have the world worship him. Featured prominently in this book is the role of the Jews and Jerusalem which the author hints will happen when the said antichrist forms this alliance with the Zionists in Israel to accomplish his designs. Hence Jerusalem is not just mentioned, but a player in the emerging present day, but already scripted drama. However, even as the whole tale is very fictional to the level of fantasia, like most of the public-favoured bible and apocalyptic literature in shops, the fact that the books are selling in large numbers daily no doubt puts the observer in a very flummoxed mood.
Layehay’ publishers’ series, ‘Late Great Planet Earth’, written by Linsday is another hot-sell publication. Lindsay is the founder of the Moody Bible Institute, United States of America, where the late Nigerian Pentecostal clergyman, late archbishop Benson Idahosa was trained. The book also follows the same apocalyptic direction of ‘Left Behind’, while adding however that antichrist will not only make a covenant with Jews, but also take over Jerusalem for a literal seven-year period.
During the period, according to the book, the antichrist will unleash a kind of hell on the world leading many people to die as a ransom for their sins. Lindsay concludes by linking the said diabolical antichrist with the defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), dubbing the parley ”gog and magog.” Even as the book’s argument that the Soviets will one day attack Israel and kick off a war that will drag the world to a kind of Armageddon, which will end everything, appears outdated following the demise of USSR in 1991.
However, people still buy the book in large numbers Similarly, Okotie’s ‘Last Outcast,’ published 2001, still gets several orders in the market. Though unlike other books, Okotie’s version of the antichrist tale is that the said creature will be a cloned super human being born in a Banana Island in former Yugoslavia.
One of the major operators in the Bale market is Chief Zebedi Uba, CEO of Zimbest Organisation, who says he has spent over two decades in the business. He told THISDAY Arts that the book sale boom began five years ago “following the spread of gospel churches.” He offers insight on why those books sell fast among other items.
In his words, “Let me tell you. It is in line with the prophecy. When people read their bible and see what is written there they go for books with buttressing or similar information. Because people see most of such or related things happen in their time, that is why these books sell fast,” Uba rationalises.
Asked about his experiences in the business of selling Anti-Christ stock two decades down the line, he discloses that one vital thing the trade has offered him is the chance to change his life. Uba however notes that one of the biggest challenges to their business is that over-zealous members of non-Christian religions tend not to be comfortable with seeing large number of Christian books on display.
Mr. Basil Umunnakwe of Co-operative Ventures explains the attraction of their location. “What I think that makes people come here from all over the country to buy the books is because they believe that the materials contain the truth. I will not lie to you. I have been in this business for long and we have people coming here even from Ghana,” Umunnakwe said.
Basil would not be categorical on whether he believes in the content of the books as “such doesn’t matter, but to spread the books.” To both Okochi Anthony and Anthony Ogbuehi of Tonex Organisation, the business booms because it serves prophetic content, which most members of the society are easily drawn to.
“Nigerians patronise the books more especially because of the predictions they curtain. Indeed, people want the truth. But they also want it served in a thrilling manner. That is why you see that these books sell, any day,” Ogbuehi said.