Today marks my return from my writing sabbatical leave, an exile imposed by the spurious existential tit bits of the Nigerian state, a voice suddenly stolen away by the ravaging dynamics of life where you have to make a choice across the river either to burn your boat and perish in the war front or to burn your boat and win the war. It was a classical exile of a soul grilled in the shambling nature of survival, pummeled by systemic failures. It was a sabbatical leave of courage, where I did many trade offs to get my voice back.
There are times when you feel that with all its faults and dangerous fault lines, it is a great honour to be a Nigerian. With its mystique, its mysterious allure, its great personality and combustible mix of macho and masochism, Nigeria is a great country waiting for a great leader. Under existing configurations, we may have to wait till the end of time for that mirage, that is, if somebody does not pull the fatal plug. But there are moments when something happens to remind one of the great possibilities of this nation if we get it right. Biological clocks also tick for nations.
When your president lie to your face, when your president attributes Obama’s re-election to skin colour, when jet-flying pastors damn the heavenly consequence of greed, then it is a case of either to commit dialectical oppression and drag your president and the ‘saint’ in the mud with verbal jives or stay put to your thought and call your calm. Obajeun did the latter with his sabbatical leave but it almost became a suicidal silence when Obajeun called it off.
Except one is a bastard, you cannot just keep quite in this hood where offerings and tithes from the ‘sinning’ poor are what keep jets flying in the sky for the saint. Why then do God accept tithes and offerings from the poor, when even to be poor alone is a sin, according to the jet aged mouthpieces of God? What is the business of God with the poor? Is God after the ‘ riches’ of the poor? Is this a fair play from God? Or is this God a cheat? Before you venture into your crude cause of questioning my audacity of asking these questions, you should understand where i am coming from, which is the outcome of my journey into the underworld of mad men.
What a competitive religious landscape. My discourse on Pentecostal explosion today relates to the response of a new religious movement in Nigeria to the socio-economic and political milieu from which it emerged and grew. This explosion is a post civil war development where everything is wrong with Satan and nothing is wrong with humans. Very often in their prayers, they see Satan and his cohorts of demonic spirits, ‘vampires’ and ‘blood sucking demons’ on the pot-holed and poorly maintained Nigerian roads, which they assail with ‘Holy Ghost Fire’ and the blood of Jesus.
Pastors are not ordinary men to their members. They are ‘men of God’, ‘the anointed’, ‘Papa’, ‘Daddy G.O’ and lately, ‘the Rev. Dr’, or ‘Evangelist Dr’. They are also the holy spirit-soaked demon destroyers who often take joy in worthless honorary degrees conferred by unaccredited foreign institutions. Some of them are chauffeured with bodyguards. They have achieved a kind of celebrity profile through the command of numbers, flamboyant lifestyles and they are superheroes and business executives.
Pentecostal and Charismatic churches have interesting variety. Some have fossilised without any impact, while new ones like RCCG and MFM have achieved social prominence since the 1990s through the aggressive use of the media. In fact it is rather strange to group Williams Kumuyi’s strict holiness ethos with David Oyedepo’s this-worldly concern, or associate Daniel Olukoya’s steeped in the african cosmology of evil with the politically conscious Tunde Bakare.
In the new Pentecostal spirituality, there is popular attention to prosperity. This new emphasis began to gain ground from the early 1980s, when Benson Idahosa asserted that his God drove cars bigger than the Volkswagen Beetle car, which then was a popular car for the uprising middle class. By the end of that decade, the emphasis had been popularized by David Oyedepo, whom Idahosa consecrated and enthroned in August 1988 as the Pentecsotal Bishop of Northern Nigeria.
Let’s dive into the controversy over Bakare’s prophecy on Obasanjo where, if you are not firm with your belief, you might see God as a cheat. Then, religious euphoria blinded many Nigerians including pentecostals from seeing the futility of the hope in Obasanjo or in any elected political or military ruler. In fact there were numerous media attacks against Bakare by the same pentecostal constituency. Indeed, the National Concord of May 15 carried the bold headline on its front page “SPIRITUAL WAR OVER OBASANJO…PASTOR BAKARE IN TROUBLE”
While Obasanjo’s election was seen by millions as a sign of relief and hope, Bakare’s prophecy was seen as an unexpected anti-climax. In a way, this controversy over religion and politics depicts how the saints could become sinners, and sinners become saints within the public sphere devoid of any moral standard, but whose elected or anointed officials assume that they have some moral power left that could be exercised legislatively. At the end of Obasanjo’s eight-year rule, Bakare’s punchers eventually saw the import of his prophecy. See how tides change with time and how men could force a rational mind to call God a cheat.
Kill it if you think that Pentecostal greediness started with jet gifts. Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria was by the late 1990 caught up in the web of materialism and vain glory that it sets to change at the beginning of the Charismatic revival in the early 1970s. The embarrassing crisis of how N87,000,000 provided by the American televangelist, Benny Hinn, for a poorly attended three-day crusade in Lagos in April 2005 was squandered on some frivolities by some leading figures of Pentecostal churches in Lagos depicts again, how the saints could fail on the moral scale of accountability. Today, the perpetrators are still enjoying the largesse, riding in SUV cars and flying in private jets, and becoming richer while their unsuspecting members are becoming poorer. See how men could force a curious mind to call God a cheat.
Proverbially and symbolically, a fish starts rotting from the head. It is when the elite of a nation lose the cerebral capacity for a visionary conception of a better society and the capability for moral imagination that a society begins to nosedive. If we are not at the rock bottom yet, we cannot be that far away. We are being spiritually deceived, and we are happy clapping and making holy noise in appreciation of the deception. The anger of God might be slow to come, but it would come someday and every soul would see that this same true God is not a cheat. He whom the gods will kill, will first acquire worldly riches through greed.
We are fast approaching the final end of an era; the era of SUs. Unfortunately, and as we have seen in the particular case of football, not many new great products are coming off the production line. To put it bluntly, the factory of true human greatness and genuine distinction seems to have shut down in the nation a long time ago. We now have the then SUs now riding in SUVs. To be clear, I am not against riches but I am against any questionable and crude means through which riches are acquired.
It is a dark, dismal and depressing scenario for we are now in the age of jet competition among pastors. But there is hope based on a dispassionate reading of history. It is precisely when a society reaches the end of the road when something miraculous happens. Neither in rectification or retribution will Nigeria be an exception. Obajeun is back!
It is me, @Obajeun
Jonah Ayodele Obajeun blogs @www.obajeun.com. Catch him twitter via @Obajeun