A figure flashed uncannily across his mind: 0004. His heart still beating fast, Emmanuel looked breathlessly around before trying the digits in the ATM machine. It was a one-in-a-million chance. The card was stolen and the owner could literally be there in minutes. Time seemed at a stand-still, as beads of cold sweat puckered his brow. Then suddenly, the unbelievable happened – the code was accepted. Scarcely believing his fortunes, he hastily clicked the first figure flashing on the screen – N25 000. As the cash streamed out, the young teenager stared in almost disbelieving delight. The subtle voice within spoke again: run!
Emmanuel O had been stealing for as long as he could remember. It deteriorated to the point where a day would not pass without his involvement in theft. It was both inevitable and uncontrollable. From the tender age of five, Emmanuel had been plagued with a spirit that led him from police cells to prison yards, becoming a stigma to his family and snare to his community. The day after being bailed from jail for the burgling of close to 25 houses, Emmanuel’s mother resolved to bring her son to The Synagogue, Church Of All Nations where a remarkable prophecy revealed the root of his brushes with the law…
Emmanuel, the youngest of five children, was brought up in a rich family in Edo State, his father, the owner of a flourishing private school. His family was also reputable. His parents brought their offspring up under strict moral standards, mirrored in the exemplary and disciplined behaviour of their first four children. But one night, an incident occurred that was to shake the family to its very core. “One fateful night, when Emmanuel was five years old, I dreamt he was placed in the centre of a large group of people,” according to Maria, his mother. “I heard every one of them decreeing evil on him, saying that he shall be useless and not become anything in life. It looked as if they were initiating him. I woke up from sleep and started praying, cancelling it. But two days later, the nightmare became a reality.”
“When I was five years old, that was when this whole problem really started,” Emmanuel narrated in an in-depth chat with The SCOAN. “There was a particular day when my mum asked me to buy a sachet of pure water in a store opposite our school.” It was two days after her terrible dream. “I told the store keeper so she went straight to her room to get it. Before she came back, I saw an egg on top of the table there. I thought the egg was cooked, not knowing it was uncooked. Something told me to take it but in the process, the egg broke. When she came out, she saw the broken egg in my hands which I could not deny.” The livid store-keeper would not release Emmanuel until his mother’s arrival. Getting back to school, his disciplinarian father punished the small boy in a way he believed would expel all traces of stealing in him. Beaten severely, he was paraded naked in every classroom of the school. But Emmanuel’s actions were beyond physical control and mere beating. “I was thinking that was the end of the problem, because I had never done it before – not knowing that was the beginning of everything,” he stated.
Emmanuel’s first incarceration in a police cell came at the age of eight. “My parents thought I was in church, but I went to my friend’s house. His mum came in and dropped her handbag on the floor. While they were both out of the room, I went to the handbag and took the money there, N4 500, and quickly left.” Not considering the consequences, the young boy went out to feast on food and drinks, returning home to meet his furious father who had been informed of the theft by the friend’s mother. “I tried to tell him I had been in the church since, but he gave me a dirty slap and told them to take me to the police station.” For three days Emmanuel was in a cell meant for hardened criminals. “My cell-mates were telling me at this age I am not supposed to be there, that I am too small to be stealing,” he remembered the bitter experience.
Three years later, events spiralled seriously downwards, as Emmanuel was involved in a case of attempted rape. “During lecture period, I told my class-mate, a girl, that we should go to my friend’s house and come back before the next class. She was not having anything in mind, so she followed us. Inside my friend’s room, I just told her that I wanted to make love to her. Something was pushing me to do it. She said no – that she had never done it before and nothing would make her do it at her age. I told her that I had never done it before, but I wanted to start right now with her. It resulted in a fight. Something within me wanted to force her. She had to bite my hand to stop me. My friend came in and saw blood and slapped the girl. There was a glass cup there, so with annoyance, she broke it and used it to injure my friend too. Then she managed to escape and went straight to the police station to report.” The girl’s father was an Anglican Pastor who vowed vengeance on the two boys. They both ended up in a police cell and could face seven years in prison if found guilty in court, all at the age of 11. With the name of his school already in disrepute, Emmanuel’s father made every possible attempt to avert the sentence, the case eventually reaching the State CID. With intervention from an Anglican Bishop, his father ended up paying N450, 000 to the girl’s parents to resolve the case. Emmanuel spent three weeks in a dark and dingy police cell. “I was really regretting then. What pushed me to this? My mum even bought a Bible for me, and asked me to start reading. I started praying for mercy, that God should show mercy on me.”
The story of Emmanuel’s rape case had spread throughout the community, forcing his parents to send him to a brother in another town to allow the backlash of rumours and reproach to settle. “When I got there, my uncle and his wife knew me to be a very good boy. I tried all ways to maintain my Christianity, but it wasn’t easy. Something soon led me to steal again. One day they asked me to go and clean up the house on Saturday and, in the process, I saw my uncle’s wife’s money. It was N3,000. The money was folded under a bed. The moment I saw it, this spirit just prompted me. I picked it. It’s not as if I was lacking anything – my parents used to send me money frequently and I had everything a child needs.” Soon Emmanuel was back to stealing on almost a daily basis, the blame always being apportioned to his uncle’s son who had a reputation of stubbornness. “All the atrocities were committed by me – but they would accuse the boy. Sometimes they would beat him up and not even give him food to eat. I will be the one to give him later in the night because I know what he was passing through was not his fault, but done by me. They would even come and meet me and ask me to talk to him about the way he was behaving. I would advise him that ‘If you are the one doing it, stop it.’ ”
After finishing his junior secondary school, Emmanuel pleaded with his parents to allow him back home; mainly for fear that his secret stealing habits would soon come to light. After he had lied that he was being maltreated, they eventually succumbed and Emmanuel returned home to start secondary school. It was there he met Samson, a figure of some notoriety in society, who introduced him further into the world of lawlessness. “It was as if the boy knew who I was; as if he knew I had that urge in me, that spirit of stealing in me. He started encouraging me – the encouragement was how to be a strong man, how to talk to people that were not my age, how to get whatever I wanted at any time, how to be moving up and down with girls. He told me there was a cult I needed to join to get whatever I wanted. He talked me into it.” Now aged 14, Emmanuel was on the verge of joining the infamous Black-Axe cult, a group almost exclusively preserved for university students. Asked to bring N25, 000 before initiation, Emmanuel was left with seemingly one option to obtain the funds. It was to be his largest ‘operation’ yet.
“In my bedroom, there is an adjoining bathroom and toilet,” Emmanuel explained. “I found I could remove the protector in my bathroom, so when it was 11pm, I jumped out of the window and went outside. I trekked down to Samson’s house and we went together to this supermarket – that was our target. His plan was that he would stay outside watching while I went inside to rob. I didn’t refuse. After lifting me up, I started breaking the ceiling until I could pass through. I marched on top, and it soon broke. I dropped down, and the very first drawer I opened contained money. I didn’t even bother to search elsewhere again because of fear.” The package contained N45, 000.
The following Friday was initiation day. “The moment my dad drove out of the house, I just took off too. There were three of us. We stayed in a beer parlour until 10pm. I didn’t know how to drink then. That was the first day I drank beer and the first day I smoked too. Then they took us to the initiation ground. It was around midnight. There were six in number, plus the old members there.” Before then, Samson had already prepared Emmanuel for the task, equipping him with answers to questions they might ask a university student. “There was a little disagreement because they said I was too small. They went elsewhere and talked, and then called me separately. They started pretending to beat me, before we then took the blood-oath. We finished around 5.00 on Saturday morning.”
The first assignment in the cult invariably involved stealing, a nemesis he couldn’t run away from. “They gave us a mission to know if we were capable of defending them,” Emmanuel solemnly narrated, his docile demeanour seeming a world away from the treacherous past he spoke so freely of. “The mission was in Benin. We were targeting a particular man who owned a pharmaceutical shop. They told me what to do, as the smallest, for the man to pay attention to me. I was watching when the man was going to come out of his shop, while others were inside the car. As the man came out towards evening, I went to him and started begging that I had not eaten since morning. He shouted on me that he didn’t have money, that I should get out. When he wanted to enter his car, I held onto his trousers. He pushed me away and I fell down. Two of our guys now came out on cue and said, ‘What did the little boy do that you should do this to him? You are wicked!’ The man started fighting – ‘Who are you to be telling me that I am wicked?’ In the process, he dropped his bag in the other side of the car. That side of the car was open. That was the luck we had. As they were arguing, one of our boys opened that door and grabbed the bag. How we got to know that this particular bag had the money is God’s grace. That was how the mission succeeded. We made N450, 000 that day, though they didn’t give me anything out of the money.”
Joining the cult only served to fuel Emmanuel’s stealing habits, as they forcefully insisted on monthly payments. “Whether you have money or not – you must pay,” Emmanuel bemoaned. “This normally encourages boys to go and steal, because of those dues. If you don’t pay it –wherever you are, even if you are hiding in your father’s house, they can come and take you away at any time. And the more you don’t pay the more the money is increasing and the more your freedom of movement is limited. I didn’t pay mine for about three months. One day while I was walking, their hit squad met me. I tried to plead, but they collected my wristwatch, my phone and my shoes. They told me this is just the beginning.”
Shoeless, phoneless and penniless, Emmanuel dismally contemplated his return home. Sighting some slippers being sold outside a barbing salon, there was but one thought in his mind. “I went straight there, pretending that I wanted to have a haircut. I opened the door and saluted everybody, but they told me they were not working any more. Already I had sneaked a pair of slippers on from outside. As I was leaving, the owner called me and asked me where I was going. I didn’t know that inside, they had sighted me coming with empty feet, and leaving wearing slippers. They started shouting that this is how they are stealing shoes here – that I am the one. They were not ready to show mercy at all. That was how police came. Before then, the beating, the disgrace, the nakedness was already there.”
Following the completion of his secondary school, Emmanuel left home finally, the internal disputes reaching their breaking point. Going to Benin with Samson, he forged a living through petty theft, their daily bread being the product of robbery. Incredibly able to retrieve N25, 000 from a stolen credit card after Emmanuel ‘guessed’ the pin code, the dubious duo rented their own apartment. “On a very good day, I was left alone in the market square. I saw a woman who said I should help her with her luggage, that where she was going to take a taxi was very far. In the process of following her, she got mixed up in the crowd, so I ran and got a taxi back to my home. I was thinking it was just clothes that I could sell, not knowing there was money inside the luggage – N80, 000. I didn’t tell any of my friends. I kept the luggage in my room, took the money to the bank and opened an account.” The following day, Emmanuel was alone in the house. “I heard a knock. As a person who is not free, you need to always watch who is knocking. I peeped through the window and sighted the woman who came with police. I pretended no one was in the house, but they knew because it was locked from the back. The policemen now said if I didn’t open, they would shoot. I decided to open the door and face the consequences. I was beaten, thrown into their van and taken straight to the cell. After a lot of torture, I confessed that I took the money. The woman also alleged there were jewels inside, but there was none. I took them to the bank and was made to sign the cheque naked. Everyone was mocking me.”
Emmanuel shuddered while describing the torturous methods used to exact information from stubborn prisoners. “The torture was hanging. They will put handcuffs in your hands, a pole under your knees, then raise the pole up. Your head will be facing down, so all the blood will be rushing to your head and the handcuffs will be cutting your flesh away. It’s like meat about to be roasted. It still affects my hand – there is no life in my right hand again because of the punishment and torture there.” Emmanuel languished in the police cell for close to two months, his friends already on the run. “I didn’t want my parents to be told, so I bore the consequences alone. I started praying and begging God to have mercy on me. One day they called me and told me the Commissioner of Police in Edo State wanted to see me. I went straight to his office. He was thinking the person who did such thing was a hardened criminal. When he saw my appearance, he was shocked and said this little boy – how did you get involved in this kind of life? I lied to him that I was an orphan, and I was doing this just for a living. He told me that was not a reason to steal. I pleaded with him and cried in his office. He asked me to go back to the cell.”
The grim cell conditions were enough to bring anyone to despair and desperation. “It was hell in the cell. It’s not easy for you to sit in one place – eight people inside a tiny room. Nowhere to stretch your body; nowhere to lie down. Only to sit. Always in the dark. I used to sing there for the other people in the cell. Because of my singing, they bought food for me. They would buy bread for me before I sang for them. That was all I had to eat.” Some days after his meeting with the Police Commissioner, Emmanuel was inexplicably released. Malnourished and frail from his prolonged stay in the cell, he went to meet a distant cousin and asked to stay with him. “He was the one feeding me while I was trying to recover – I was lean and there was skin disease in my body because of the cell condition. My cousin didn’t even know what had happened to me.”
However, instead of improving, Emmanuel’s health gradually deteriorated. He was wasting away. After eight long months, the young thief decided to return home, though his father had practically rejected him as a son. A few days after his arrival, a feeble Emmanuel collapsed in the house. “They had to rush me to a specialist. The injections they were giving me twice a day were N6500 for each one – all these expenses were from my dad. The doctors diagnosed meningitis. I couldn’t move at all, my whole body was stiff. I was at the point of death. When I was in the hospital, I was having terrible nightmares. If I closed my eyes, it’s always nightmares- I would be gathering with my friends, telling them I was going home. I would be trekking and trekking and never reaching where I was going.” At just 17, Emmanuel was on the precipice of passing away. Medically speaking, there was nothing more to be done. Spending both Christmas and New Year resigned to a hospital bed, it was a battle of will, a fight for survival. However, hope soon shimmered as Emmanuel began showing signs of improvement. Recovery was gradual but after a three-month struggle for his life, he was finally discharged from the hospital, doctors praising the resurgence as miraculous.
Emmanuel’s parents believed he had finally learned his lesson through the sickness, as by all outward measures there were signs of repentance. But once again, darkness superseded and stealing persisted. There was a force behind it that Emmanuel simply did not have the willpower to resist. Reunited with a childhood friend, Emmanuel was back to burglary in no time, this time operating at an even more advanced level. “I introduced him to stealing. We burgled all the houses on my street. I had a house I rented, but my parents did not know. We took girls to that place instead of booking a hotel. From there, we broke and entered all the houses on my street. I collected N150, 000 from one of them. The rest were sums of N30, 000 or N40, 000 but there were other valuables we collected like phones and laptops. Half of the money went for women, smoking and drinking, and the rest for clothes. I would also be buying Indian hemp in bulk. You see, if you don’t work for money, the way you spend it will be very lazy. If you work for it, you spend it with care.”
Emmanuel’s mother recalled an incident that shocked her to the core. “He just left one evening and not quite three hours later they came and said he was in the police station. What happened that made the police arrest him? They said ‘he went to a central hotel where these prostitutes lodge’. When he got there, after using the prostitute, he stole the handset of the prostitute as he was going. They now gathered and beat him up seriously. It was even the prostitute who saved them, and called the police who then came to arrest him. I believe those were the people he was spending the money on. He also took Indian hemp, cigarettes and drinks.”
Emmanuel’s nefarious activities took their toll on the family, as his father’s once thriving private school of over 1000 students was gradually reduced to zero and forced to close down. “I partook in the running down of his business,” Emmanuel soberly remarked. “I would go to his school, collect money from the students, take his colleagues phones, take money from people when they were in assembly – go to each class and take the money inside their bags. I used to do a lot of atrocities in my dad’s school.” Emmanuel’s mother was the headmistress. “If the students were on break and leave their phones inside the bag, he would go into the class, search their bags and remove the phone,” she explained. “If any teacher left his phone on the table – before he came back, he would no longer see the phone. That was how the students started leaving and parents started complaining. They said, ‘You cannot control your own child – why do you want to lead others.’ ”
Aside from the school, his father’s political ambitions for Local Government chairmanship were thwarted at the last minute as the community labelled him the father of a thief. “I paid for the nomination and everything,” his father Prince James solemnly explained. “When we were preparing with four days to go, from nowhere they brought in somebody else who had not contested at all, because of my son’s reputation as a thief. The family name has been dragged in the mud because of his shameful activities. It will appear as if he was purposely doing it. He could steal anything here now, and he would know he was the only one there at that time. They would pursue, catch, beat and take him to the police.”
Because of Emmanuel’s criminal conduct, the once thriving family were brought to the brink of financial devastation. “If he brings a case, whether a police case or stealing case, sickness or anything – it must take plenty of money,” his father said angrily. “As a result of that, the money was no longer coming in. He would bring problems, we would spend a hell of money to get him out of it, but he would not rest. He has never rested for three months without bringing more trouble to the house. The finances have been seriously touched. The business is nowhere. The family is gone. Nobody is happy the way we have been dragged in the mud.” “The whole of our community is shaken because of what I’ve done,” Emmanuel added. “What they are expecting to hear now is that I am dead, because I have done a lot of evil in my town.” His case also resulted in social rejection of the family. “The whole community no longer wants to see our face – it has become a shame and disgrace,” his mother lamented. “We are living the life of isolation there. Nobody comes to our house any more. We are just there – no friends. You know what it is for all your friends to be running away from you. If we are in any gathering, nobody will sit where we are sitting – because of the hatred.”
His parents had literally tried everything to deliver their son, going to extreme length in corporal punishment. “When he was very small, I would put a heavy stone mortar on his head and leave him kneeling down for hours,” recalled Prince. “I have beaten him, disgraced him, caned him – we tried those ones from that age up to this time, but nothing changed. The habit refused to succumb to all the torture and discipline.” After all human efforts failed, they started taking him to various ministries for prayer. “I still remember a large crusade my parents took me to for deliverance. They called me out and after praying for me, I went back to my seat, picked a purse and phone from the person in front of me and left the church,” Emmanuel stated, once again stressing that there was a force behind his actions that he couldn’t defy. Each time he sought to change, something would propel him to commit another crime. “Immediately I am caught in stealing, my mind would be judging me of what I did at that particular time. Then I really started praying to God, I made promises that if He could save me from this, I would serve Him the rest of my life. But after some time, after the case was finished, I would still find myself doing the same thing.”
A day did not pass without Emmanuel stealing one thing or the other. “If I wanted to share all my experiences, it would be too long. If I saw clothes hanging on a wire, I would just take them and replace my own. One day I was caught in a party wearing someone’s jeans, even though I used a blade to make some marks so that the person wouldn’t recognise it. It was a terrible fight that day.” Maria added: “If he went to where they washed clothes and hung them, if he saw any shirt or jeans he liked, he would steal it. Even if he had that type of clothes in the house, he would still take that one he saw. He would even take his own sandals off and wear another person’s own. His own might be the best, but he would not consider that one.” Emmanuel was also in the business of stealing and then illegally selling phones. “Stealing of phones was almost every day. If I found myself with nothing in my pocket, the next thing to do was to steal a phone. In fact, I stole something every day, whether small or big. Even if it’s N100 that fell from your pocket now, I would draw it up. I can’t resist it. I must always take it. What went through my mind straight was, ‘Let me take that thing’. There are always negative thoughts and positive thoughts in my mind – but the negative thoughts always overcome because of the spirit in me. I tried to stop, but I couldn’t.”
Reinforcing the fact that there was a spiritual dimension to his problem, Emmanuel seemed to have a sixth sense that told him where money was once he entered a location to steal. “It was still that same spirit that directed me. There was no place I went where I couldn’t realise there was money. If I got inside a room, it’s just for me to take a look around and the first place I would look – if it was a drawer, wardrobe or a bag that I opened – it must be money that I would find. Something would just tell me to go there. Even in my house, there was no place my mum would hide money and I would not know, even if it was in an obscure place under a rug or carpet.” His parents confirmed this uncanny discernment. “If I came from outside now with money and I put my trousers somewhere, he would go to the wardrobe and remove all the money,” his father said. “In my house, I hid money in many secret places but when I came for it, I would not see it,” Maria added. “Anywhere you thought he would not suspect, he would go there and take it. There was a day N100, 000 was missing, then N80, 000. Because of him, we stopped keeping money at home.”
Emmanuel nearly lost his life on numerous occasions, recalling a specific incident where his eyes were burned by hoodlums and he was almost blinded. “When it was 4.00, I didn’t know what woke me up, as if I had an important place to go. I took some canned stouts from the fridge and left the house. As I was walking down the street, a car came down the road and pulled up close to me – there were four boys inside. I didn’t know the people inside, so I began to run away. They began to chase me. As my pockets were loaded with drink, I wasn’t able to run very fast. They caught up with me. The people in the vicinity knew the boys were holding guns, so they were afraid to come close. They dragged me inside the boot of the car and drove off. They drove me to an uncompleted building faraway from my town. When we got there, they told me that they had heard a lot of the atrocities I had been doing, that they wanted me to join their gang. They stripped me naked and threw me inside an uncompleted tank. There was water but it was not full. I pleaded with them, but they beat me up and started using their cigarette to burn all my body, including my eyes. I nearly lost my sight that day.”
However, nothing stopped the teenager from stealing and soon nemesis caught up with him again, as Emmanuel and his friend burgled the house of a wealthy professor and were sighted by a woman in the process. “The woman mentioned the name of my family and took the police to my house. When I learned they arrested my parents, we both came and surrendered ourselves. Because we had enough record there, they sent us straight to prison.” Emmanuel’s experiences in jail would remain forever ingrained in his conscience. “Immediately after we went inside, they took our measurements and a tailor would sow you a uniform very fast. They would give it to you to wear, write a number at the back and your name. It’s as if the people in our cell had heard of what we’d done. They treated us roughly. They beat us, punished us and collected our clothes. We remained inside naked – no clothes, and they tortured us. I never expected to be an ex-convict.”
The day after his release from jail on bail, Emmanuel came down to The Synagogue, Church Of All Nations with his mother. “My mum asked me to fast, that this is our last bus stop. Within me I was praying that God would use the man of God to set me free.” As the service progressed, Prophet T.B. Joshua released a word of prophecy that pinpointed Emmanuel’s exact situation. “There is a boy here afflicted with the spirit of stealing. In your last operation, you went through the roof to steal and you were caught. You are just out of prison, and the marks of the handcuffs are still on your hands. You have fasted and prayed to stop this – but no way. You need deliverance. Come out.” Emmanuel’s father was watching the service live on Emmanuel TV when the prophecy was revealed. “When the man of God prophesied there is a boy there, my heart said, ‘This must be my son.’ He did not stop there. He said that the boy jumped into a compound through the ceiling to steal. When he said there are the marks of handcuffs in his hands and he had just been released from prison, I took out my phone to call them and say ‘That is your prophecy!’ I then saw Emmanuel coming out from the crowd and I said yes! I was having relief for the first time in 14 years; I was finally looking at the end of the problem.”
“When he called me, I was shocked,” Emmanuel reminisced. “Something that nobody knows except my mum – I was really surprised to hear it from the man of God. It was when he mentioned the marks on my hands that I was totally shocked.” After coming out, Emmanuel was prayed for in the power of the Holy Spirit by Prophet TB Joshua, falling uncontrollably to the floor as the spirit that had tormented his life for the past 14 years fled. “Something went out of my body that made me light. There was no longer this heaviness in me again – I became light. It was when I forced myself up, I found out there was a wonderful change in me.”
Since his deliverance, time and circumstances have proved its genuineness. “There are many changes in me. If there weren’t changes in me, those phones near me would be missing by now. I know what I was capable of doing. If I wasn’t delivered, there were supposed to be many cases reported of stealing. The other day I saw somebody’s money fall down, so I called the person and showed him. There is nothing like stealing any more. And before, I couldn’t eat unless I smoked Indian Hemp. But since the deliverance, I have been eating – that was what motivated me to know that I am free indeed.”
Now delivered, Emmanuel’s advice after 14 years of torment and torture is revelatory, especially for those in positions of authority who have to deal with common criminals: “For those in authority today, the thieves and criminals that we kill – you can kill their body but the spirit will leave and go into someone else, and the problems will only continue. So instead of killing them, it’s better for you to take them to a living church for deliverance. Because today people don’t want to see or hear about anybody that is a thief – that is what is happening outside now. As Christians, you should have that compassionate feeling for them, that you can save them from that situation. Try – take them to a nearby church for deliverance. There’s nothing any human being can do to stop them if there is a spirit behind it – it’s only the grace of God. Only prayer can save them, not killing them.” He added that the greatest battle is the one within, and Christians must learn from his experience not to give in to the negative thoughts that will always come to tempt us. “Though there are always negative thoughts in our minds as human beings, you should allow the positive thoughts to supersede the negative thoughts by dedicating your heart and life to God. I want to marry my Bible now. It’s no longer mere signs of repentance; I know there is genuine repentance within me now. I thank God.”