Reading Time: 8 mins read
It seems to me, with due respect, to every party concerned, that while we are all obsessed with the contemporary, topical issues of Ministerial nominations, the likely conflict with Niger and the noted desperation of the Northern Senators and Elders Forum, as well as others across the country, to prevent same, in addition to the concerns about palliatives and the rising cost of living, or the unresolved battle with organised Labour (NLC, TUC), we may be overlooking something that may be relevant to the health and the future of Nigeria. I identify this hereunder as the menace and terror of Prophets – those self-appointed owners of direct telephone access to God and who on a daily, unrelenting basis inflict upon this community, what they claim to have heard from God. They expropriate the claim that God speaks to them alone, and that whatever they hear from God is the gospel truth. There is no mechanism to double-check. They don’t provide any data reports of their telephone conversation with God. They simply tell us this is what “my father told me”, and the rest of us are all expected to obey blindly. We are the multitude of orphans, whose Heavenly fathers, just in case everyone has a father in Heaven, may have been denied telephone access to the earthly realm and hence, the rest of us have to depend on their own God whom they covet with so much proprietorial control. The problem is the lack of accountability and the fact that nobody really knows who speaks to these so-called spiritual fathers.
I am convinced that this is one of those issues that we must begin to interrogate. To prepare the background, we do not deny the fact that Nigeria is one of the most religious countries in the world. Several studies place us amongst the top ten in the world. but compared to these other countries, anyone at all can agree that Nigeria is one country where religion has been most divisive and centrifugal. Over time, we have fought and experienced intra–religious and inter-religious wars. Religion is so ubiquitous in this country, there is hardly any street corner or community where you will not find either a mosque or a church. Many of these places of religious worship may start at a mushroom level, but they may soon grow into big oak, with adherents trooping in and out, claiming to be persons of faith, seeking the grace and eye of God. Religiosity has become so widespread, Nigerian Christians now organise services on Fridays to compete with Muslims, and on Sundays, Muslims reciprocate by holding worship services during church time. The result has been the unending conflict between Christians and Muslims who constitute on the average, on both sides of the equation, between 45% – 59% of the population, and a minority percentage of African traditional worshippers clamouring for space and recognition, as seen in the recent crisis in Osun State whereby Osun traditional worshippers were told pointedly that they could not and would not be allowed to celebrate their Isese festival in Kwara State because it is an Islamic State.
Section 10 of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution states clearly that there shall be no state religion in any part of the Federation. The law does not recognise any such thing as an Islamic state, even with the strange mongrel of the adoption of the Sharia in 12 states of the North, operationalised in those states as a criminal orthodoxy, completely against the spirit of the Constitution. Section 38 guarantees every citizen the right to freedom of thought, religion and conscience. Nigeria has Muslims and Christians almost in equal proportion, with animists constituting a small percentage of the remaining balance. If a country’s wealth were to be judged by the religiosity of its people, and their open demonstration of passion for God, Nigeria should be the wealthiest country in the world. Everywhere you turn in this country, there is religious piety on display. There is a church or a mosque in every corner. Every day, there are people proclaiming the call to prayer and the muezzin heralding the beginning of every dawn. And yet the bigger question is: why is Nigeria so religious, so prayerful and yet so poor? Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism had tried to draw a link between capitalism and religion, especially the Protestant ethic. The opposite is the case in our country. The Protestant ethic appears not to be working here. The Weberian concept of religion and prosperity has failed us, because the basic fundamentals have never been allowed to grow. And those fundamentals do not grow by accident. What we are left with is religion without the work ethic that can generate prosperity, nor the righteousness that exalts nations. What we are left with is religion as opium, superstition, a grand game of illusion and mind control, underlying Nigeria’s development crisis.
Over time, Nigerians have been co-opted into this web of delusion, whereby they blame God for everything, rather than locating our woes in the province of the failures of man. Having been failed by themselves, and by their leaders, Nigerians are quick to resolve every situation by declaring that “It is the way God wants it”. Who knows the mind of God? Who knows what God wants? The most recent demonstration of this is the humiliating rejection of Dr Mariam Shetty as the Ministerial nominee from Kano. She had woken up in the morning, dressed up gaily, looking forward to being screened by the Senate like others before her, only to be told upon arrival at the National Assembly, that her name had been replaced. Nobody had the decency, not even the President who nominated her, to make a phone call or send an emissary to stop her from being publicly embarrassed. If she had been given prior notice of the latest development, she would have stayed back. But nobody thought of her feelings as a human being. And how has she responded? She says as a person of faith, she leaves everything in the hands of God, and calls on her supporters not to despair. She is not alone.
When accidents occur, hops are dashed, and lives are lost needlessly, Nigerians are quick to blame God. There are many Nigerians who have trooped into politics, seeking even the highest offices in the land, because their shamanist had seen a vision that they would one day become the President of Nigeria. They borrow money, print posters, hire thugs to steal ballot boxes, and when they fail, they fight tooth and nail, because they are convinced that the God whose voice their spiritualists told them had sealed their fate in Heaven does not fail. While various religious denominations in the country are guilty, the biggest culprits are the Pastors of the Pentecostal variety who preach progress, prosperity and capitalism without the underlying ethics. Many of them are doing more harm than good. I use the word, “many” in order not to generalise There may well be a few true preachers of the word who speak the truth and are genuinely moved by the spirit but we are indeed genuinely in the season of religious charlatanism, in a country dominated at an alarming rate by the tribe fictionalised by Wole Soyinka in The Trials of Brother Jero (1963), and Requiem for a Futurologist (1983) as cunning liars who hold the country down. The tribe has not reduced, rather it has flourished, in Soyinka’s lifetime, before his every eyes – the agony of those who think for society.
What I find perplexing is the manner in which these prophets expropriate and openly claim the omnipotence and the omniscience of God, who they claim to represent on earth. What stupefies is how they try to run a government of the world with their spiritual pronouncements, something not even the United Nations has been able to do, and which the free range of globalisation has not made possible. Every day, I am astounded by the unending deluge of Pastors, Prophets, Prophetesses, men and women of God, some of them with churches small like the Lord’s manger or big like the Wembley stadium who claim to know the future and determine the fate of men. The more annoying part is that they have in their grips, at their fingers, a captive audience of believers who propagate their propaganda, and this sadly, includes a number of local media outlets who seem to base their profit margin on the reportage of prophecies by their favourite Pastors. They not only report the prophecies, they authenticate them subsequently and some of these publications have been turned into the PR wings of prophets and prophetesses. One of my favorite books on journalism is Francis S. Merrill’s Responsible Journalism. The manner in which some media outlets feed and water the propaganda machinery of end-time, Pentecostal churches is nothing short of irresponsible journalism. When a Pastor makes a so-called prediction, how does that amount to a statement of fact? Who verifies it? Which media house has a phone call to God? And yet, daily, we are inundated with reports of how this Prophet or Prophetess made this prediction two months ago and how it had come to pass. Where is the audit or regulatory body to determine that? The propaganda is often based on a press release by an aide to the Prophet.
Many of these Prophets and Prophetesses are taking us for a ride, more so as they are not subjected to any form of integrity test, not even by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). In the world of faith, anybody can just claim that he or she has heard the “Word” or has been called by the “Heavenly Father” and in a moment of self-induced epiphany start speaking in “tongues”. People have the freedom to worship their God the way they want, but they have no right to force others to go to Heaven in their own prescribed manner. In fact, there are people in this country, shocking as this may sound, who would rather go to Hell, if Hell exists hereafter and is not just a city in Europe and the US. The temerity of the shamanists/futurologists, hiding under the banner of God is what we deplore. Since the 2023 general election process in Nigeria began, there has been a plethora of predictions by men and women of faith. Many of them have constituted themselves into an alternative electorate. Hence, during the elections, they launched a trade in determining who would win or not. And after the elections, they have created their own spiritual election petition tribunals, from where they dictate to lawyers what to do and what not to do, with jejune, often commonsensical predictions about what the tribunals may come up with. They claim to have embarked on weeks of fasting or gone on a retreat to a Mountain and that “their Father” has spoken to them about everything from Ukraine to the Maghreb and the Ascension Island, and on the basis of their grand imaginings, their media allies ask us to believe, even when clear facts dictate otherwise.
I have seen, for example, cases of some Pastors predicting what would happen to election petition judges in the Presidential election if they do not rule out Tinubu because of a civil forfeiture and certificate issue in the United States. Obviously, some silks may be relying on the shamanists in their moves in this particular case, and thus disregarding basic principles of international civil litigation. It is elementary knowledge that as a general rule, Forum court does not apply foreign criminal law when it is not pleaded or proven directly or indirectly. Whatever conviction was done abroad has no relevance here. Our Constitution does not have a foreign court in mind. Matters that may be relevant would include marriage, divorce, or monetary awards in a foreign land, but even then, such cases must be registered in our laws, that is lex fori. Criminal offences are local offences, except where another country initiates a fresh trial within its own jurisdiction but even that could raise questions of status, subject, characterisation forum, capacity, double jeopardy and/or public policy. Our prophets, sitting down in their ecclesiastical shrines, after a few days of self-imposed fasting and having no firm knowledge of the facts, beaten black and blue by hunger, simply make divine, legal pronouncements based on metaphysical illusions. In their courts, there is no right of appeal once their God has spoken!
They have done enough damage already at private levels misleading many, breaking up homes, destroying lives, fouling up Nigerian politics with their unverifiable visions. On the positive side, they have done almost equal good, giving hope to the hopeless, and the millions of troubled souls in the land. Nonetheless, they must be restrained from taking over the governance process. Their expanding influence in the public space through the abuse of traditional and social media spaces, and unfettered access to the corridors of power, must be curtailed. This is without prejudice to their rights under Sections 38 and 39 of the Constitution, but is it possible to restrict them to the private value of religion, their denominations and the communities they relate with? These merchants of illusion are gradually usurping the functions of state institutions. Many of them give court rulings without regard to either the law or the facts of the case. They say they are moved by the spirit and they have a captive audience. No country should subject itself to being ruled by the capricious movement of unseen spirits and their earthly mouthpieces!
It is all the more disturbing because many of these Pentecostal pastors and prophetesses do not even base their pronouncements on the Scriptures. They sound more like motivational speakers, common sense maestros and closet newspaper editorialists. They have large followings. They must be told to stay within their areas of concern and avoid politics. Quite a surprise, none of them could offer a clear prediction on yesterday’s defeat of the Super Falcons by the Lionesses of England in what could have been a historic and extraordinary upset in the on-going Women’s World Cup. I won’t be surprised though if one of their media allies shows up, before weekend, to report that Prophet XYZ had predicted the outcome of the match since January 2000! When will the Church of Nigeria self-regulate and check the influence of the fortune tellers in cassock? Not even Friedrich Nietzsche’s Zarathustra was this ambitious.
Reuben Abati, a former presidential spokesperson, writes from Lagos.
Support PREMIUM TIMES’ journalism of integrity and credibility
Our Digital Network
Projects & Partnerships