This is possibly the most piercing exploration of Pentecostal Christianity in Nigeria. It illustrates how some contemporary men of God assume superstar status of the Hollywood type. Yemisi Ogbe is very familiar with this subject and narrates it in this witty and unapologetic piece.
The hardships of the Nigerian environment have undoubtedly driven Nigerians to an increasing fervour in the practice of religion. The progression from there is often downhill to the loud boisterousness of a marketplace dominated by large numbers of self-regarding and mechanical devotees. The hagglers are aggressive because they are convinced the stakes are high. Some say it’s about rescuing the souls of men from hell, and showing the way to a God-appointed prosperity here on earth, prosperity of the soul, mind and body.
Sceptics, on the other hand, say the whole business is about money. Even if this were true, it would only be so for the leadership, because the money does go up, but rarely comes down. Still, religious leadership is not only about money. It is also about influence, power, the allure of being God, or at least being idolised and made comparable to God; about having otherwise intelligent people hanging onto your every word, believing that you have the delegated power to bless and curse, to define who they are, who they will marry and if they will succeed.
Another motive is the anticipated prosperity bestowed by a Father Christmas figure, whose answer to every question and every request is a resounding ‘Yes’. Yet, this prosperity is not freely given. Father Christmas demands love, time, tithes, offerings, building funds and allegiance to the representative man of God. Most importantly, the Nigerian Christian is obliged to help build the numbers in his church. He has to obey the laws and demands tied to his well-being, good health, survival and prosperity in the precarious Nigerian environment.
Nigerian Christianity in all its aggressive insularity may be largely about money and power, but it is also about the fear of God and his representatives, about the need to understand the surreal contradictions of living in a country that imports tooth picks, Swiss lace and leg of lamb, where a good number of the citizens cannot afford N800 worth of drugs for malaria fever. It is more fundamentally about the need to make sense of Nigerian life.
- Yemisi Ogbe, culled from Chimurenga