The Role of Churches In the Destruction of The Nigerian Society

The worship of the almighty mammon has led to the complete collapse of Africa’s largest economy and the clergy class are playing a leading role.

Joshua Eckstein’s image via Unsplash

hen people type Nigeria online, one of the very first thing that jumps at them, is Boko Haram and the carnage inflicted on the natives of Borno State, an area situated, in the North-East of the country. The damage done since the terrorist group came into existence has been immense; tens of thousands dead, billions of dollars spent on purchasing the state of the art equipment and yet, the war still rages, till this very day.

Despite the headlines generated by this group, the extraordinary paradox, is that, the biggest destruction done to the polity, in the last 40 years, hasn’t been by mosques and the teaching of Islam, but by churches — small, medium and large — in a country, where extreme poverty is the order of the day and a place where the clergy class unashamedly, measure their greatness, by their proximity to the leading political players.

Young Preachers on the come up

For young preachers, coming up, in the church game, watching from afar, with a degree of envy, they covet and seek to have the influence, prominence and most important of all — the money, of the older players in the game and to do that, they use unconventional methods. One of such players, was Sign Fireman.

Sign Fireman, was featured in a channel 4 documentary (a British TV station), teaching his staff, “business strategy” on how to attract new members, “performing miracles” and doing what was needed to increase market share and compete in an already crowded field. Mr. Fireman, would have been so forgettable, had the story not emerged that our protagonist, was engaged in ritual killing of a 12 year old girl, for which he never stood trial.

Sign Fireman documentary courtesy of Channel 4, UtopiaTimes and YouTube.

The Established Players

There are quite a number of players in this select category, as stated earlier, these “Pastors” have a great number of branches, in the commercial capital of Nigeria — Lagos, they often travel with a retinue of bodyguards and young proteges, they have the ear of a number of leading politicians and they lead opulent lives, in a country, where 100 million people subsist on only $1 per day.

Among the leading players, these days, are Enoch Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church of Christ, David Oyedepo of Winners chapel, Chris Oyakhilome of Christ’s embassy, T.B. Joshua of the Synagogue Church, Paul Adefarasin of House on the Rock, Mike Okonkwo of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission, usually abbreviated to TREM, William Kumuyi, of the Deeper Life Church and Tunde Bakare of the latter rain assembly.

There are also the white garment churches, whose fortunes have waned with the growth of the denominations listed in the previous paragraph. The now defunct “ Ayo ni o” ( Joy, it is, in English), alongside the Celestial Church of Christ and Cherubim and Seraphim churches, which for a time, in the 80s, ruled the roost.

As regards the Presbyterian, Methodist, Anglican, Catholic and Baptist churches, set up by the missionaries in the mid to the late nineteenth century, which served a dual purpose in introducing Nigerians to Christianity as well as educating them in their schools, have seen their membership numbers and influence decline massively. The power that these orthodox churches had on the polity, in the years past, is non-existent, today.

The inexorable rise of these churches mirror the vicissitudes of Nigeria and to a slightly lesser degree, the changing fortunes of my family, back in the 80s. When my parents relocated to Nigeria, from England, just before General Muhammadu Buhari’s coup,which overthrew the civilian government of the day. The country seemed a much different place — less congested, much less corrupt and violent — armed robbery — was an abstraction, not an everyday feature of Nigerian life.

By time General Buhari, himself, was overthrown in a palace coup on the 27th of August 1985, by Ibrahim Babangida, the quality of life of the everyday citizen had fallen; whether this was due to the fall in oil price, mismanagement of the nation’s income or the dearth of high caliber leaders, is ample material for another article or debate. But what wasn’t in dispute, was the rise in the numbers of unorthodox churches on street corners and high streets.

Military Dictatorships and The Irresistible Rise of The Unorthodox Churches

The reasons given for Babangida’s coup against Buhari were economic, social and political — the national debt had grown to $3 billion, illiberal policies — the war against indiscipline, launched by Buhari, in ’84 to tackle corruption, laxity among Nigerians, was deemed too harsh and repressive and political — the United Kingdom had broken off diplomatic relations with the Nigeria, when Buhari worked with Mossad to kidnap Umaru Dikko — a politician, who had benefited immensely from the previous civilian government.

Even though Babangida was far more charismatic and engaging than his predecessor, He went on to implement major austerity policies on his fellow country men, which fully exacerbated the mess left behind Buhari.

It was against the backdrop of economic precariousness, in the mid 1980s, that Nigerians began to see the proliferation of the twin phenomena of armed robbery and prosperity preaching churches.

The late Benson Idahosa, was one of the pre-eminent players, setting up shop in Benin — an area dominated by the most iconic armed robber of the age —Lawrence Anini and Monday Osunbor. Idahosa had prime time viewing on TV and he had begun to co-opt the tricks employed by his American counterparts, Billy Graham and Jimmy Swaggart in attracting huge numbers of people to his “revivals”, performing miracles — making the physically disadvantaged walk again etc.

The publicity and hype surrounding Idahosa, created a host of new players, promising miracles signs and wonders. One of them was William Kumuyi, who came into prominence, shortly after the Benin bishop. Part of Kumuyi’s stock in trade weren’t just signs and wonders, but an adroit use of eschatology — the great fear of judgement day and the prospect of spending eternity in hellfire — in recruiting great numbers of people to his church.

And for a while, Kumuyi’s approach was a huge success, but with any industry, whose potentially has yet to be fully tapped, It will have a great number of people, flocking to it and the next set of players, will help redefine the church business, in a rapidly disintegrating country.

Unlike his last few predecessors, Babangida had fully ensconced himself in power, fighting off all enemies — real or imagined, and in the process of doing so, destroying every institution that mattered in the country — universities, schools, hospitals and industries, all went from being globally competitive to being thoroughly unfit for purpose.

It certainly didn’t matter that, Nigeria was a huge beneficiary of the first gulf war, when the country’s receipts from crude sales came in at $12 billion, between 1988–1992. The monies made, still haven’t been accounted for, thirty years on.

And just as Nigeria was unraveling on a majestic scale, in the late 80s and the early 90s, so was the Adeniran family and this was exemplified at the degree to which we switched from the orthodox church to the “ white garment” sect, where my mother was instructed to take her three sons to a river, where they must bathe to ward off “evil spirits”, only to jump ship when she discovered that the leader of the church had fathered a child out of wedlock with a young female member. It was at this point in 1989 that she began to attend the Redeemed Christian Church of God.

The Redeemed Christian Church of God And The Rest.

At this point in its life, the Redeemed christian church of God was a denomination the come up. It was set up by a gentleman of limited education and erudition — Josiah Akindayomi in 1952. And for a very long time, it catered mainly to people who spoke Yoruba as a first language and this was the status quo until a university professor joined up in 1973.

In a church that was predominantly Yoruba speaking, the mathematics professor stood out like a sore thumb and it wasn’t long before he was given the task of acting as an interpreter for Reverend Akindayomi. Despite his intellectual shortcomings, the founding minister was perspicacious in recognizing his gifts, hence his final wish in nominating Enoch Adejare Adeboye, as his successor, in 1980.

Once Adeboye had overcome the conservative elements resistant to his enthronement and leadership, he set about modernizing the Redeemed Christian Church of God or RCCG, for short. He enlisted the likes of Tony Rapu, who was highly successful in setting up the model parish in Ikeja and other parts of upmarket Lagos, which attracted a fair number of the upwardly mobile university educated crowd.

Even so, RCCG remained stubbornly conservative, as the vast numbers of members were the working class, Yoruba speaking. This was evinced by the last trip that I made to the redeemed camp in 1992, a place situated on a vast space, thirty minutes away from Lagos.

By the time I left Nigeria and returned to the country of my birth as a young teenager, Sanni Abacha had just taken the reins of power and the mood had turned really dark, political agitators were locked behind bars and some were assassinated and it was at this time, that Pastor Enoch Adeboye really found his metier as the voice of opposition to the Muslim head of state. It didn’t matter that his life was in peril, he carried on regardless.

But by the time the repugnant Abacha died years later and a Yoruba christian became the civilian elected president in 1999, Adeboye’s fortunes were transformed, almost overnight. Now he had the ear of President Obasanjo and exercised an outsize influence on the country’s most powerful man. This influence meant that he was able to secure a huge amount of land, beside the vast space that the church already owned at a minimal cost and expand his “empire” beyond anything that his old mentor, Akindayomi could have imagined or fathomed.

It was also at this time that Adeboye attracted the new generation of Oligarchs, empowered and enriched by Obasanjo. The influx of these new plutocrats further widened the chasm between the haves and have nots in what was always a predominantly working class denomination. And what was happening at RCCG was by no means an isolated case.

The other denominations followed suit in courting the big players in expanding their base, by having branches in every neighbourhood, high street, disused industrial estates — a relic from the 1970s and 1980s, when the country had something resembling a manufacturing industry.

The ferociously aggressive expansionist instincts of these church leaders certainly wouldn’t be out of place in a fortune 500 company. What’s interesting here is that the elevation of the Nigerian poor out of their desperate poverty has never been at the forefront of their thinking, if anything, dispossessing them of every Naira was all that mattered.

So it came as no surprise to Nigerians when their compatriots featured quite prominently in the top 10 of the wealthiest pastors in the world. T.B Joshua ($10 million) Enoch Adejare Adeboye ($39 million), Chris Oyakhilome ($60 million)Ayo Oritsejafor ($120 million)David Oyedepo($150 million). Four men with a collective worth of nearly $400 million dollars, in a nation, whose gross domestic product is $400 billion and without being too tautological, a place where more than a hundred million people subsist on a dollar a day.

The sheer scale of the crushing poverty of Adeboye’s church members was brought home to me in 2019, when I went to my mother’s ordination as a full pastor at the redeemed camp. The tens of thousands who went to the summer convention, as these annual global meetings are called, couldn’t afford to rent a place, built by the church itself and had to sleep in the church auditorium on benches, bathe, urinate and defecate in the open parking space; Contrast this to the opulence enjoyed by Pastor Adeboye, whose grotesquely painted edifice — in the national colours of green and white — stood out like a sore thumb.

David Oyedepo, who is by far the wealthiest of the entire lot, has a private university that the vast majority of his members cannot afford, has been banned from entering the United Kingdom for well over ten years for physically assaulting a young child, who was alleged to be a witch.

Video courtesy of Alex Ayo Alao and YouTube

The Corona Virus Era, January-December 2020.

The pandemic which swept through the world did more than regenerate wild life, wipe several points off the stock market and bring the global economy to its knees.

It also did help expose the moral bankruptcy of these prosperity pastors and cast a much critical eye on their stock in trade of peddling of eschatological myth (fear of hell fire) and perverted religion( use of false prophecies).

I state this because at the end of December 2019, not one of these famous pastors — T.B Joshua, Adeboye, Oyedepo, Oyakhilome, Kumuyi, Oritsejafor, Okotie and Bakare foresaw the Corona virus shutting down the global economy and wreaking havoc on humanity.

And yet, by September 2020, six months into lockdown, These pastors were openly clamoring for the reopening of their churches, voicing their displeasure with government’s policy regarding its policy on public gatherings, evidently due to the precipitous drop in their daily, weekly and monthly revenue.

It is also worth pointing out that some of the names that I have written about are the biggest anti vaxxers and spreaders of conspiracy theories about 5G and corona virus.

Despite the wretchedness of their material condition and the worsening of the nation’s economy, the Nigerian poor ascribe great powers to these fraudsters and would take great umbrage at anyone who dares to question the authenticity of these preachers.

The ubiquity of these Pentecostal sects hasn’t in anyway shape or form been a deterrent to the national malaise — corruption. If anything, the corruption at the very top of these religious establishments have helped set the tone for the state of affairs in the country.

And it is the major reason why the country is to all intents and purposes a failed state.

Thanks very much for reading.

A lifelong bibliophile, who seeks to unleash his energy on as many subjects as possible

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