A City on the Hill

by on September 17, 2017 at 7:43 am in Economics, Law, Religion | Permalink

The Redeemed Christian Church of Nigeria has built its own private city.

A 25-megawatt power plant with gas piped in from the Nigerian capital serves the 5,000 private homes on site, 500 of them built by the church’s construction company. New housing estates are springing up every few months where thick palm forests grew just a few years ago. Education is provided, from creche to university level. The Redemption Camp health centre has an emergency unit and a maternity ward.

On Holiness Avenue, a branch of Tantaliser’s fast food chain does a brisk trade. There is an on-site post office, a supermarket, a dozen banks, furniture makers and mechanics’ workshops. An aerodrome and a polytechnic are in the works.

…“If you wait for the government, it won’t get done,” says Olubiyi. So the camp relies on the government for very little – it builds its own roads, collects its own rubbish, and organises its own sewerage systems. And being well out of Lagos, like the other megachurches’ camps, means that it has little to do with municipal authorities. Government officials can check that the church is complying with regulations, but they are expected to report to the camp’s relevant office. Sometimes, according to the head of the power plant, the government sends the technicians running its own stations to learn from them.

There is a police station on site, which occasionally deals with a death or the disappearance of a child, but the camp’s security is mostly provided by its small army of private guards in blue uniforms. They direct traffic, deal with crowd control, and stop children who haven’t paid for the wristband from going into Emmanuel Park – home to the aforementioned ferris wheel.

As in Gurgaon, India, where the government fails opportunities are opened for entrepreneurs who think big.

1 dearieme September 17, 2017 at 7:53 am

“On Holiness Avenue” is a wonderful title for a book. How, I wonder, would it suffer under the vogue for colonisation?

On Holiness Avenue: The History of the Medieval Popes and Anti-Popes.

On Holiness Avenue: The Life and Career of President Obama.

On Holiness Avenue: Town Planning in an Age of Religion.

On Holiness Avenue: A History of Religious Frauds.

2 Albert September 18, 2017 at 1:09 am

“On Holiness Avenue: In a Whore’s Wake” would be a good novel.

3 rayward September 17, 2017 at 8:19 am

Religious organizations (churches, synagogues, etc.) do similar work in the US although not on such a broad scale. One will recall that at one time churches in the US provided essentially all of hospital health care. I suppose believers are more inclined to “give” money to the church than to government for at least two reasons. One, it’s a down payment for passage to one’s great reward. Two, the church is less corrupt as compared to government, although the evidence doesn’t actually support this reason. I should point out that today’s independent evangelical Protestant churches provide a wide array of services for its members, but not typically for the community at large; they are often called “community” churches, but the “community” is limited to members, which is consistent with their highly sectarian view of Christian theology. Of course, “diversity” (in this case religious diversity) would be a significant obstacle to the type of broad scale services provided by the Redeemed Christian Church in the “community” in Nigeria.

4 Tom T. September 17, 2017 at 2:41 pm

In my experience, Protestant churches provide a tremendous amount of private charitable services to needy groups outside the church community, either locally or on mission to other countries.

5 Tom Bri September 17, 2017 at 10:23 pm

My experience as well. A big chunk of our budget is for the pastor’s salary, and building maintenance/insurance and the like. The other big chunk is charity, homeless, overseas, disaster relief etc. And individual members are very involved personally in charity on their own.

6 Captn Obvios September 17, 2017 at 9:48 am

How is this different from a dictatorship? Why call this guy an entrepreneur, scammer at best, a criminal might be more realistic. (And haven’t you seen season 6 of Game of Thrones? C mon, these guys are dangerous…) Should we start praising the cosa nostra too? Well they are entrepreneurial, and they fill the gaps in the government right?

7 Potato September 17, 2017 at 10:45 am

Main difference seems to be that it’s voluntary to be there. Dictatorships usually don’t allow exit. Sort of like regular life vs a prison. If you can leave, it’s not really a prison.

Now if there’s violence used against people who try to leave, then yeah the government needs to step in immediately.

Otherwise it’s more of a HOA than a cult.

The mafia uses violence to intimidate and corrupt the government. I’m not seeing the connection.

8 JFA September 17, 2017 at 12:50 pm

Haha… “how is this different from a dictatorship?”… haha… hahaha… and sobs… because this would be funny if this were a parody rather than a real question. Seriously, have you read any history? Potato gives a more considerate answer, and I praise him for giving a respectful answer to an “obvios”ly stupid question… I’m not even a small-state/anarcho kinda guy… I’m more of a medium kinda dude… but I would never be caught dead looking so ignorant.

9 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ September 17, 2017 at 10:26 am

Jonestown, Guyana still sticks in my mind as the cautionary tale. Perhaps it is best not just to have church and state separated, but a bit at odds, for further safety.

10 freethinker September 17, 2017 at 10:42 am

While a Jonestown may not be in the making … after all, being located near a city the church’s private township is not cut off from the public gaze as that notorious place was … there is one sentence in the piece which is rather ominous: “the church has powerful members, so it would take a brave tax-collector to look deeply into its finances.” I wonder, how far does that power extend?

11 Tom T. September 17, 2017 at 2:42 pm

I suspect that tax-collection powers are weak across the entire Nigerian polity.

12 prior_test3 September 17, 2017 at 10:44 am
13 Borjigid September 17, 2017 at 3:51 pm

If you have a government that is incapable or detrimental to public good provision, than yeah, having “entrepeneurs who think big” step in is good.

However, I think the gains from improving governance are greater than the gains from encouraging the private sector to reinvent the wheel.

14 Adrian Ratnapala September 17, 2017 at 4:37 pm

I think the lesson here is that the distinction between government and private organisations can get fuzzy.

In large churches, people funnel money and power into some sort of organized hierarchy in order hope that the organization uses its authority to look after general good of the flock. In that sense you could think of it as a partial and voluntary government. On the other hand it is probably not a coincidence that city governments have, like private companies are called “corporations”: both kinds of charter emerged out of different historical stages where government decided to give a bunch of capitalists a legal means to organise themselves.

15 Borjigid September 17, 2017 at 6:40 pm

Good points. I’d never given much thought to the etymology of municipal corporations.

16 Alistair September 18, 2017 at 5:02 am

+1. Exactly this. Much local governance evolved bottom-up and not top-down; it met state power in it’s ascent and was chartered.

17 The Anti-Gnostic September 18, 2017 at 9:23 am

How to get improved governance? If you can’t vote it in you don’t have a lot of pleasant alternatives.

18 Deek September 18, 2017 at 7:29 am

If they’re only thirty miles from Lagos, why are they getting their gas piped all the way from Abuja?

19 Misha September 18, 2017 at 8:17 am

If you dig in a bit, this in Australia isn’t too different:


An astonishing feat and will to power by a remarkable immigrant. Vastly underappreciated in Australia

20 Tarrou September 18, 2017 at 8:54 am

I read a study once on boxed communities like this, communes, religious compounds and the like. Basically, they found that these communities can work (not always, but can) if they are religiously based, but not if they are politically based. Something about needing the religious impulse to maintain social stability and dedication to the cause.

21 Traveller September 18, 2017 at 11:41 am

How would we feel if these were compounds of Islamic supremacists bent on colonizing the area?

22 Nate M September 20, 2017 at 2:30 pm

Probably the same way we would feel if it was Christian “supremacists bent on colonizing the area.”

> supremacists

“While you have to be a Christian and a church member to buy and live on site, there is no such requirement for doing business.”

> bent on colonizing

“New housing estates are springing up every few months where thick palm forests grew just a few years ago.”

23 ohwilleke September 18, 2017 at 7:20 pm

Despite the fact that national legislatures and state legislatures garner all of the attention of political scientists and the media, it is the work done by local governments that most powerfully distinguishes the first world from the third. Water and sewage service, local road maintenance, local school districts, local police and fire and EMT services are among the things that really distinguish nations with functional government from those that are dysfunctional.

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