FIVE Nigerian clergymen were reportedly deported by Zimbabwean immigration officials at Harare International Airport under unclear circumstances late Saturday amid reports that some local church leaders had engineered the move to fend off competition for the “spiritual space”, NewsDay has learnt.

Harare lawyer Jonathan Samukange confirmed that his clients made of two groups of up to seven Nigerians who had come as advance party for pentecostal cleric and self-styled prophet Chris Okafor were detained at Harare International Airport before five of them were sent packing.

“Prophet Okafor was invited into the country by a local church led by Pastor Joseph Billy Paul Magorimbo (of Glory to All Nations Ministries aka Fire) for a convention, but his advance party has been denied entry into the country for unclear reasons,” Samkange said.

“Five of the seven who came aboard a Kenyan Airlines flight were deported in the dead of night before we obtained a High Court order. The other two have been allowed through though.”

Magorimbo said he had not been advised of the reasons for the deportations and declarations that Okafor of the Liberation City Church of Nigeria was a persona nan-grata.

“They have not said any reasons just that they take orders from above and that Okafor is not wanted in Zimbabwe,” Magorimbo said.

A senior immigration official identified as Francis Mabika, however, denied reports of the deportations.

“I do not know about anyone who has been deported, but I am aware of a few people who had a bit of a problem, but have since been allowed in,” Mabika said without elaborating.

But Samkange insisted that immigration officials had made it “very clear” that Okafor who is expected into the country on Wednesday “is not welcome”.

“Our understanding is that there are certain so-called men of God in Zimbabwe and religious leaders calling themselves prophets who are working in cahoots with their political connections to block foreign preachers from coming. It is a clear religious war that has been turned into a political game-show,” an irate Samkange said.

“We obtained a court order from Justice (November) Mtshiya and even in chambers, immigration officials who attended and identified themselves as Kambarami and Mabika could not give reasons for their actions. But they have made it clear Okafor will not set foot in Zimbabwe on orders from the top.”

Samkange said Justice Mtshiya, “even remarked why the department of immigration was soiling the country’s reputation”.

The two Nigerians remaining in the country are Joel Nwamaka Janet and Enyinnaya Joel Obinna.

Part of Mtshiya’s provisional order issued in the early hours of yesterday read: “Respondent (chief immigration officer) is interdicted from interfering with the applicant’s stay in the country until October 10.”

Mtshiya challenged the State to “show cause why a final order should not be granted”.

In their application, the two Nigerians said they had “suffered inhuman treatment for no justifiable cause as they have not committed any offence in Zimbabwe”.

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