The incalculable damages inflicted on the nation by the continued proliferation of the prosperity doctrines remain deep and frightening. The country, though officially secular, now features religious rituals in public offices, institutions and functions. Churches and chapels compete with mosques in government houses and students’ college hostels. In western Nigeria, many traditional rulers, once famed custodians of indigenous culture, are now acquiring a new identity as “born-again” kings and chiefs (G. A Akinola, History Department, University of Ibadan). Akinola explored the impact of this Nigerian neo-Christian culture extensively. The import of the unfettered growth of evangelical arm of Pentecostalism on key areas of our national life and also the future of the country received commendable attention from Akinola.
In particular, our citadels of learning, which embraced evangelism with exposure to the extremely materialistic American televangelists and crusaders like Benny Hinn, Oral Roberts and co, have started a suicidal journey to pre-historic existence at the expense of modern advances in science. It might be relevant to know that “in the universities, for example, there is a growing pre-scientific outlook which accepts as reality the ideas and views, the legends and myths, usually associated with agricultural pastoral communities of prehistoric eras. Accordingly, Biblical stories are now widely viewed as literally true, even though this tends to reduce aspects of evangelical Christianity to the level of the anthropologist’s concept of primitive religion and magic” (G.A Akinola). In our increasingly norm-less society, the educational system has practically collapsed and those who are being trained to propel the country forward are now relegating knowledge to the background on the platform of religion. Nigeria as a nation can only be intellectually poorer for this.
It is worth examining the “waste concept” prevalent in our uncontrolled embrace of an exploitative doctrine. The negative channelling of an otherwise useful resource for impacting social changes is rather alarming. Our misguided populace in their blindness at perceiving the futility of obeying the apostles of mammon deceptively garbed as agents of a holy God, failed to appreciate the significance of people’s power which have shaped governments and democracies in other climes. In the words of Ikeogu Oke (American University of Nigeria), modern day Nigerian Pentecostalism has turned our youths into unthinking beings, so much so that they would rather pray about their grave existential problems resulting from bad leadership than seek active ways to tackle them headlong. The situation is so bad that these days, students protest against bad governments are hardly heard of. The “docility” of prayers as actively ingrained by the garrulous Pentecostal ministers now supercedes active socio-political activism on the part of Nigerian students. This has led to an actively docile student populace, not even whimpering in the presence of social discontent and injustices. The continuous brain-washing of the once vibrant Nigerian students’ populace by the gospellers of materialism portends doom now and in the future for the emancipation of our dear country.
Ikeogu Oke was also able to trace the continued surge of the cancer called Pentecostalism to the twin interests of local and foreign forces intent on keeping Nigeria perpetually underdeveloped as this serves their ulterior motives. He believed that the multitudes that often gather at typical “successful” crusades could better use their energy focused on achieving significant positive socio-political changes, if well galvanised for “mass action” (even of the peaceful type), to demand for good governance and some form of positive changes in the polity. In his words: “Wouldn’t it be a resist-and-be-swept-away tsunamic force for good, just like the populist forces that thwarted the attempt of the socialists to seize power in Russia in the aftermath of Perestroika and Glasnost? This led to the emergence of Boris Yeltsin and the consolidation of the reforms initiated by Gorbachev. The forces of the “Orange Revolution” that foiled a far less incident of election rigging in Ukraine are another example of a well utilised people’s power. We had massive electoral frauds rammed down our throats in 2003 and 2007, yet felt powerless to do anything. We keep on dissipating energies by congregating daily and weekly along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and at other notable Pentecostal sites, waiting for divine intervention to solve our myriad national and social problems.
Pentecostalism hypnotises the populace with its belaboured emphasis on demonic forces or “spiritual attacks” as the aetiology of misfortunes, accidents, barrenness, ill-luck and so on. This seems to fit in perfectly with our intrinsic paranoid psyche and hence fully embraced by us. Not only this, this rather beguiling religion similarly concentrates its vicious fangs on our tradition and customs. Ancient shrines and ancestral worship heritages have been destroyed out of fanaticism and often under the direct instructions of our material ministers of God. It is now the norm to denounce customary religious practices and even names that reflect some families ‘historical association with religious-cum-legendary figures and institutions like “Ogun, Sango, Ifa”. Such names are proclaimed as accursed and unacceptable by those who superimposed their inordinate will on our moral psyche in the name of Pentecostalism.
Their freehold on our moral and social life sometimes transcends the very mundane. It is so bad that some sects have perpetual injunctions on the intake of proprietary medications. The Christ Apostolic Church is a good example of those sects laying the seeds of early and sudden deaths of their members through this unwholesome practice. The Deeper Life with its rigid and extremely conservative outlook was a notorious advocate of this stance at one point. The spiritual and physical exploitation of the people is so strong and thorough that often times, details only emerge after the demise of the founders of these Pentecostal sects. “Jesu Oyingbo” remained a pace setter in this shameful practice, aptly glorified and massively mimicked by the Rev Emeka King who is currently awaiting the execution of a death sentence in a maximum security prison. He was unlucky (and the society lucky) to have been caught. So many are still perpetuating nefarious activities under the guise of this our modern day burden called Pentecostalism.
Once again, in the words of the respected scholar from Ibadan (G.A Akinola), the neo-Christian unabashed identification of God with mammon has reduced the teaching of Jesus to a hankering after material success, including the acquisition of power and influence, often at the expense of the lives and happiness of others. Since a quasi-blind faith in the new doctrines is guaranteed to produce a solution to all problems, many evangelical outfits cultivate or affect a bland optimism, whose effect is comparable to that of a narcotic. Karl Marx got it right when he alluded to religion as being the opium of the masses. Merely “believing” and declaring that all is well, without a reinforcing and pragmatic ethic, is yet to produce lasting results, especially in the tragic mess that pervades life in the country today. Commercialised evangelism gas only served to keep a lid on popular discontent, to the advantage of reprobate rulers. The latter, perhaps in appreciation, neither tax the churches, nor inquire into the fortunes they make in the enterprise of commercialised evangelisation.
We have been taken for a ride for so long in this country that in our attempts to identify our numerous social ills, the roles of Pentecostalism would only be relegated to the background at our peril. This is a social monster actively fed by corrupt and mightily rich ministers. The task of confronting this monster is herculean and calls for awareness and vigilance on our parts. In the unbridled struggle of the Pentecostals for dominion over our spiritual existence, they designate themselves as heaven-designate, castigating the Orthodox arms of Christianity as merely professing religion but lacking the powers that come from prayers. This is a gimmick that goes down well with the masses. A good number of their teachings, when not targeted at the bank accounts of their members (in the name of a God that abhors poverty) are often focused on the battle with the orthodox arm. Painfully, among the brain-washed congregation of this scourge are professionals in the molds of doctors, lawyers, engineers and what have you. People who should know better. Those who should be in the vanguard of the battle to emancipate the people from the clutches of the evil machinations of the preachers of materialism.
The fact that Pentecostalism and democracy are not at par was realized as far back as the seventies in the United States. The average hitherto Christian American realizes that the bible was discouraging young Americans from fighting for temporal rights on Earth because they were supposed to be “citizens of Heaven”. This sort of rhetoric was realized to have benefitted only the people in corporate organizations and politicians in government, hence Pentecostalism was massively rejected. Their cause was not helped further by religious sex scandals. Remember Pentecostal ministers such as Jim Baker and Jimmy Hahn and the synonymous nature of their names and sex scandals in America. Rev Emeka King competed for this infamy in Nigeria with his noted voracious sexual appetite before the long arm of the law caught up with him. Having lost its foothold in the United States, the televangelists turned their greedy eyes to Africa with Nigeria embracing them unreservedly.
The battle would not be any easier, no doubt. But the journey for the social, economic, political and even spiritual emancipation of Nigeria would have to start from somewhere. So many Nigerians have written on this evil scourge in our midst and many more will still put pen to paper. We owe it to prosperity not to keep quite in the face of social and spiritual bondage. May God help us!