After making semi-permanent alterations to his looks, investigative journalist ‘FISAYO SOYOMBO visited four churches and four mosques/Islamic centres, pretending to be gay and in need of spiritual redemption. Six out of those eight centres fed him with a litany of fake prophecies/solutions before demanding cash and material possessions from him. In the fifth of this seven-part series, to be concluded on Saturday, he writes about a mosque in Oshodi, Lagos, where where the alfa consulted the tasbih like an oracle, and presented the miracle seeker with concoctions every now and then in exchange for cash and with the promise of healing.
Iretioluwa Mosque in Oshodi, Lagos, is the type of building you enter and wonder if you’re on a journey of no return. Located on the usually astir Iretioluwa Street, the doorway on the ground floor is long, narrow and dark. The stairs are slightly lighter, helped by sun rays percolating through from the aerated brick walls. Two of them lead into a fairly expansive sitting room occupied by three men, two of whom idle away. The third, holding what from afar looks like a board and a painting brush, scribbles away, taking no notice of us.
The first, sporting a yellow T-shirt and butter-coloured pair of trousers, disappears into a room; my guide tells me that is the one we’re here to see. Alfa Abdul Rasaq soon invites us into the room while the other man reclines in his sofa, spreading his dark, dry legs on the centre table. Date: Wednesday June 22, 2022.
To the right are a few shirts hung over nails driven into the wall, and to the left a door leads inwards. The floor is bare and pale, never savouring the allure of paint for years, probably decades. The brown-painted walls are peeling off. Opposite the entrance is a raised bed whose mattress is beyond its best years. When Alfa Rasaq sits on it, the circumference impacted by his buttocks sinks in a little. There is electricity but the ceiling fan isn’t spinning even though the room is hot. My hunch is that it is not functioning.
‘A PROBLEM BY THE AMERICANS’
Soon, in a low, laidback tone, Alfa Rasaq asks us why we’re here. I relay the same old story about being gay. In response, he blames it on “the Americans”.
“That is a bad habit,” he begins. “It is something God does not want, whether you’re a Christian or Muslim. A man sleeping with a man? This is a problem created by the Americans [sic]; they thought they were having fun; they didn’t see it as an anomaly. And by the time they saw it as one, it had become a problem for the rest of the world.”
He describes homosexuality as something so terrible that it must be hidden from the public. “If I had three or four girlfriends and people asked me about it, I’d admit to it,” he says. “But how can I say that I, a man, have a ‘boyfriend?’ I won’t be able to say it.”
To remedy the situation, Rasaq says he will “do some work” to find out the cause of this behaviour and how to end it all.
“Is your mum still alive?” he asks.
“Is she aware of all this?”
“Is she a Muslim or a Christian?”
“If she knew about it and was willing to help, I would have told her to wash her face, hands and feet into a big bowl,” Alfa Rasaq says. “Then she will bring the water to me, so I can mix it with some other materials for you.”
FAKE PROPHECY 1: PEOPLE ARE AVOIDING YOU
Alfa says being gay is “a thing of dirt, a thing of stench”, so people often avoid me when they see me.
“Does it happen or not?” he asks for confirmation.
“Yes, it does,” I answer, deliberately misleading him.
Alfa Rasaq promises to heal me of “this plague”. He says the steps we need to take will cost us money but him stress. Afterwards, he starts to deceive us.
ALFA RASAQ ASKS THE TASBIH TO TALK
Alfa Rasaq suspends his tasbih — a set or string of 33, 66, or 99 prayer beads used by Muslims as a counting aid in reciting the 99 titles of Allah and in meditation — into the air, and says thus: “The God that answers prayers, all the stress we will undergo for our brother, if it will yield the desired result, let us know; if not let us know as well. If it will lead to our desired result, let the tasbih continue oscillating at a faster speed; if it won’t, let it remain static.”
Of course, there’s no chance the tasbih will remain static; it (a lighter weight) has been suspended in the air by a heavier weight (Rasaq’s right hand). It is simple physics.
He continues: “God, the one who answers prayers, this our brother here, does he need sacrifice or not? If he needs sacrifice, let the tasbih continue oscillating; if he doesn’t, let it become static.”
As expected, the tasbih continues oscillating.
“God, you’re the king who answers the prayers of man, we ask you one more time, will you answer our prayers or not? If you will, please let us know; if you won’t, we want to know,” he adds.
“The God that answers prayers, will you answer our prayers for our brother or not? If you will, let us know; if you won’t, let us know as well.”
FAKE PROPHECY 2: THE ENEMY IS AT WORK
He pauses for a while and says there is “more work” for him to accomplish. “When you accompany your prayers with sacrifices, it quickens answers. God has shown us that this is maybe the handiwork of the enemy. If the enemy can’t ruin one’s joy, they can become a spirit in one’s body.”
He reiterates that the assignment will cost us money but he’ll undergo the stress. “If you want to do it yourself, though, we can write you a list of the materials so you can buy them yourselves.”
Familiar line. I tell him to write it out, which surprises him. “You mean it?”
“Yes, I answer,” before quickly adding: “Even if we’re not buying it ourselves, it’s not a bad idea to know what we’re spending money on.”
The items to be bought, he explains, are ‘Mauliweed’ sold by the Laurubawa in Agege (three of them for N7,500 each), a Lagos suburb; frankincense (N2,100) and something else I don’t quite pick (N400).
“If we wanted to cheat you,” he says, “I’d have said we’d be travelling to Kano to buy these items, but we’re buying them in Lagos.”
MONEY AND GIFTS — THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MANIPULATION
Alfa Rasaq says he won’t bill us for his services as “we are now friends”. He says if he wanted to, he could bill us N250,000. But after such a payment, we would not stay in touch with him; our next phone call to him would be whenever we need something else.
“But now that we’re friends. If your prayers get answered, you will reach out to me often and even send me occasional gifts,” he says. “Then I, in return, can call you from time to time to say ‘I’ve just developed some potent concoction; please come pick it up.’”
He continues: “I have three cars but I didn’t buy any of them with my money; it’s people like you who bought them for me — and I never asked for them.
“In fact, one person bought two cars. He first bought one, then bought the second years later: a Sienna, the ‘Big Daddy’. Not long after, someone who didn’t even pick up the concoction I prepared for him before travelling to London, bought me a Honda. He told me he didn’t want me to use the Sienna anyhow. He told me to always use the Honda within Lagos and drive the Sienna only when travelling. If I had billed him from Day 1, all this wouldn’t have happened.”
Before we disperse for the day, Alfa Rasaq asks us to pray. At the end of the prayers, he offers us some words of calm. “Let not your heart be troubled,” he says. “Everything will be okay.”
THE ‘DOSAGE’ FOR THE MATERIALS
The following day, Thursday June 23, 2022, Alfa Rasaq sensationally phones us to say the first ‘material’ is ready for pickup. Incredible, considering he had spoken of how difficult it would be to purchase the ingredients.
“This was a very stressful job to do; it was no mean feat,” he says as he invites us into his room, his potbelly effortless revealing itself from underneath his white singlet, a bead dangling about his neck. “But what matters is for God to answer our prayers.”
He retrieves a 150cl Eva bottle behind the chair he’s sitting on, and explains the usage of its contents: a slightly yellow liquid. “He will bathe with this tonight,” he says, before he is interrupted by a caller wanting to thank him for rendering a similar service to him. “Hello, sir,” he belts out. “It is God we should thank.”
His attention soon returns to me. I am to bathe with that liquid at night, slowly, from the head down to the sole of my feet. And that is after locking my bathroom door so that nobody interrupts me while at it.
NO CLOTHES, NO OUTING
“When you’re done, you won’t wear your clothes immediately,” he continues. “You will wait for the substance to properly sink into your body. You may stay in the sitting room, but you are not allowed to leave your house. You will remain indoors until bedtime.”
He explains that I am to stand inside a big, wide bucket so that the bath water can be collected into the bucket. Then, at bedtime, I am to place the bucket on the side of the bed where I place my legs overnight.
“It is possible you have some dreams,” says Rasaq. “When you wake up, let me know the dreams. As for the liquid, you will go and empty it into a beach. All the evil and burden on him will go away.”
Rasaq brings a second bottle. “You will use this to wash your body just like the first one,” he says. “However, after this second bath, you won’t talk to anybody. When the liquid dries up on your body, you will go to bed straight without talking to anybody.”
Rasaq warns me that the first bottle must be taken on that day. “You must not miss taking it today,” he says. “If you do, then the job is ruined; it can’t be used tomorrow. You will use the first one today, Thursday, and the second on Monday. Meanwhile, I will hold prayers every day from today, Thursday, till next Wednesday.”
Rasaq asks for money as we part. “Won’t you give me money? I want to send money home!”
Definitely not today!
RASAQ ASKS FOR N200,000, WELL, WITHOUT REALLY ASKING
Rasaq goes into a long whine about a jobseeker he once helped. The man had paid N5,000 for some concoction, and after his prayers were answered, returned with his friend to seek more help, asking him to name his price this time. Rasaq says he demanded N40,000 but, to his pleasant shock, he was paid N80,000 instead, because this person had landed a well-paid job at Globacom.
“When I did that work for them, they returned to give me an extra N200,000,” claims Rasaq. “They said it was just for thanksgiving. They promised they would someday buy me a car and they eventually did; it was a Volkswagen Jetta. And when the car became old, they bought me a Toyota Sienna, a big one!”
Lie exposed! Rasaq had forgotten that just one day before, he had told us someone bought him a Toyota Sienna first, followed by a second car. Here he was claiming it was a Volkswagen.
We sense the game plan — driving up the value of past payments to create a false benchmark that we would want to equal or surpass. We leave without falling for it.
‘GIVE ME MONEY NOW!’
Just after sunset on Sunday June 26, Rasaq calls. Another batch of concoctions is ready for pickup. As it would turn out, this isn’t why he is calling. “You didn’t give me money the last time,” he announces as the conversation winds to a close, as though I needed reminding.
“Yes, I know. The plan was always to pay you at the end of everything…”
“No, I can’t wait till the end,” he cuts in. “Give me the money now. What is important is to have money to spend right now!”
The next day, Monday June 27, we return to Iretioluwa Mosque, where Alfa Rasaq is waiting for us, his hands clasping a tasbih, legs bestriding a black pot from which flames of frankincense filter into the air, his lips moving to and fro in almost imperceptible fits. No one can tell for sure if he is praying or lip-synching.
THERE SHALL BE SHOWERS OF BOTTLES
Suddenly, from a corner, he pulls out two bottles with contents similar to the two bottles he gave us days back. However, the bottles are 75cl this time. And they are not ‘Eva’; they are Mr. V. Then he retrieves two more bottles, one Eva, another ‘Shower’, both of them are 75cl. The liquid inside is brownish, supported by a thick, white substance. Once out of sight, I dip my index finger into a bottle to feel the white substance; it feels like paper.
The ‘Shower Table Water’ has dates of manufacture and consumption as follows: MFD: 18/06/22; EXP: 17/00/23; BN: 11:18. I wonder if the dates are for the concoction being handed to us by Rasaq or for the original contents of the bottle. I wonder as well what date is ‘17/0023’.
Rasaq interrupts my thoughts: “The two bottles with papers, you will pour them into your bath water for two consecutive nights,” he says. “As for the other bottles, you will drink them.”
Having given us a Day 1 impression that his work was all about the sacrifice materials we paid for, it surprises me to hear Rasaq talk about another round of prayers at Bulala Beach, Ajah, Lagos. It at once comes off as a careful plot to unnecessarily prolong our interactions for exploitative reasons. Notwithstanding, my guide and I show up at the beach on Saturday July 2 just at the break of dawn, to be joined by Rasaq and a much darker but similarly middle-aged fellow who would later claim to have had a dream about me. Apparently, a known face in the area, he shakes hands with a slim, dark fellow — ostenbily the keeper of the beach — who crouches in obeisance to greet him before leading us in, his tasbih and a small booklet, probably a Quran, stuck in his hands.
The two men walk forward towards the sea, their all-white native attires offering a resplendent view of the rising seawaves and the interfering, distantly-spaced trees. They fiddle with their tasbih and mumble for 10 odd minutes, then invite me to unlace my shoes and join them. I try to stand by their right but they re-position themselves, placing me in the middle. “Start saying all the things you want,” Rasaq tells me.
After a while, we retire to a blue mat placed some 50 metres behind us by the gatekeeper. Rasaq hands me a piece of white clothing tied around a piece of granite, all bound by a white wool. Again, he tells me to say what I want while the duo murmur and fiddle with their tasbihs and ripping their lips without saying anything in particular. After the prayers, Rasaq asks me to fling the stone-cloth into the sea. “Can you do it yourself or should I help you?” he asks. I answer “yes”, and I do it.
THE PLACE OF POWER
Next, he loosens the four sachets of sugar and salt, two each, that he had told us to come with, and tells me to empty them into the rising seawaves. “Start asking for all you want,” he says again. “We’re in a place of power. Anything you say here will come to pass. Nobody knows how the sea came to be; it’s God’s doing. Therefore, nobody knows the limits of the powers available here.”
While I pull on my shoes, a Toyota Highlander pulls over. From it emerge two men and a woman who exchange pleasantries with Rasaq before the woman, fair in complexion and heavily made up, proceeds to the seaside bearing a bucket of soya beans, accompanied by a man holding a nylon of four coconuts. One after the other, the man throws the coconuts into the water, while the woman sprinkles the soybeans into the sea at the rush of every wave, muttering some aggressive words in a manner showing her prayer was against someone rather than for herself. How lucky the sea is; how many food items have been thrown here today already! I murmur to myself.
Rasaq’s accomplice motions me over as I make to leave — to tell me a long story about how he had been praying for me, how five of them in all work with Rasaq, how he was brought in because he dreamed that a Christian was the subject of Rasaq’s recent commitment, and how I needed to show gratitude with cash. He tells me that Rasaq, being a senior Imam, would not want to personally make the request; however, once Rasaq spots me counting the money, he steps forward uninvited to receive it himself: N10,000.
THE CYCLE CONTINUES
Two days later, Alfa Rasaq summons us to come pick up two more bottles “specially made” for me. Just like the beach trip, these two new concoction bottles weren’t part of the treatment plan he outlined during our first interaction. All the same, I return to the mosque to pick them up.
The contents of the bottles smell like something he once gave us: pungent but not entirely odorous. From the looks of it, it wasn’t laboriously-prepared as he wanted us to believe. This felt like a mixture of water, some unnamed plant and a scent to introduce a fine feel to the senses.
Rasaq says we should expect to hear from him soon on a concoction he is currently processing, but we leave no room for further exploitation. We block his number on all communication channels, seeing that future concoctions would be a rehash of current ones. We know it’s all a cycle, and we sense it’s the right time to bring it to a close.
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