In the build-up to the crucial quarter-final clash between Nigeria and South Africa at the ongoing African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Egypt, a name surprisingly cropping up is that of influential Nigerian cleric T.B. Joshua.
“I am appealing to T.B. Joshua to please pray for our team before the match tomorrow,” wrote Nigerian Itunu Komolafe on social media. “We can’t afford to crash out like Ghana, Cameroon and even the host country, Egypt!”
“Prophet T.B. Joshua is a spiritual father to both Nigeria and South Africa; I know the man of God will be neutral,” posited Bongani during an opinion poll by a local radio station in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
In a confrontational spat between rival supporters on Twitter, Emma Aboyi suggested victory for the Super Eagles would avenge the spate of xenophobic killings of Nigerians in South Africa.
Kagisho retorted by singling out the ‘attack’ on Joshua’s church in 2014 which led to multiple South African fatalities.
“Dear Nigeria, our people that were killed in TB Joshua’s church are still fresh in our minds… We are dedicating our win tonight against Nigeria to them,” tweeted Mawara, another user posting a video of the infamous ‘plane’ which encircled the building before its tragic implosion.
T.B. Joshua is no stranger when it comes to the fusion of spirituality and sports in Africa.
Indeed, the controversy associated with his accurate sporting predictions – coupled with the spirited backlash from fanatic fans – led the cleric to officially ‘resign’ from public ‘football prophecies’ in 2013 after he accurately declared Nigeria would overcome Burkina Faso to take the AFCON trophy.
Perhaps the most contentious of his predictions was Nigeria’s missing out on AFCON qualification a year earlier.
“What I saw was not favourable towards Nigeria,” the cleric told congregants on Sunday 2nd October 2011, six days before the Super Eagles crucial qualifying match between Guinea, adding that he saw celebrations amongst the opposition and the team to ‘score first’ would qualify.
After Guinea secured qualification at the expense of Nigeria – following a last-gasp equaliser after their initial goal was cancelled by two goals from the Super Eagles – the public backlash against Joshua even spiralled to the point that threats of attacking his church were posted online by incensed fans.
“The prediction of Prophet TB Joshua really affected us,” the Super Eagle’s star striker Osaze Odemwengie admitted to reporters after their shock ousting.
In Nigeria’s absence, the ensuing competition was equally ‘foreseen’ as Joshua declared minutes before the final between Zambia and Ivory Coast that the Southern Africans would triumph.
“This victory is for a country you are not expecting,” he told congregants at The SCOAN on Sunday February 12th 2012, adding that an error in the 25th minute of the second half where a ball is hit over the bar would prove pivotal.
Didier Drogba’s missed penalty in the 70th minute of the closely contested match – where the ball ballooned wildly over the bar – was a decisive moment in the goalless draw, with Zambia eventually triumphing on penalties to claim a historic maiden victory.
Ghanaians will equally remember Joshua for his ‘spiritual support’ in the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2009, where the Black Satellites triumphed against the favourites Brazil to claim the title.
Coach Sellas Tetteh shocked the football world with his admission he was in regular communication with the Nigerian cleric during the final match, emphasising his prayers and spiritual guidance were instrumental to his team’s historic victory.
“He told me we would win the trophy before the tournament and on the day of the game, he again predicted it,” Tetteh told Ghanaian media afterwards, adding the cleric had mentioned specific details pertaining events that unfolded in the tense match.
When South Africa historically hosted the FIFA World Cup in 2010, Joshua is said to have prophesied the results of the opening and final match – in which Spain took the title – as well as Nigeria’s last-gasp qualification for the tournament.
On Sunday 11th October 2009, he stated Nigeria would emerge victorious in their qualifying match against Mozambique, specifying a ‘headed goal’ would earn them victory.
The prediction materialised courtesy of an Obinna Nsofor header in the dying seconds of the match, securing the Super Eagle’s qualification.
With Joshua’s repertoire of accurate predictions, the string of famous players who have visited him for counsel and the immense influence he wields in both South Africa and Nigeria – it is perhaps no surprise both teams are seeking his blessings ahead of their crucial encounter.
Ihechukwu Njoku wrote from Lagos, Nigeria