I never knew the rot in the church was that deep and stinking until a few days ago when a social media user spotted fraudulent acts perpetrated by some 'god of men'.
The woman, Mrs Bose Ola during a 'deliverance' exercise
There are two sets of people in Nigeria who have sworn never to tell the truth even if the heavens will fall. They are the clerics and the politicians. I say this with all sense of responsibility. Although, there are still very few decent figures among the clerics but as for the latter, the judicial system in heaven might skip their trial procedures and condemn them to hell fire without fair hearing because they don't deserve it.
When I moved to Lagos State in 2015, it didn't take much time to realize that majority of the churches here are just mere social gatherings and business centres. They are mere beautiful and well-structured buildings with a set of people organized for 'meet and greet' purposes. Some churches had more problems than their members and these challenges were largely financial. The implication of this is that you stand a good chance of leaving the church services poorer than you came after being cajoled by some motivational speakers in suits posing as pastors to sow seeds like farmers. Due to my personal experiences and other people's accounts, I didn't expect much from the churches anymore.
I just enjoyed some selected teachings, prayers, praise and worship sessions and went home quietly. I was very much wary of prophecies because they are mostly the imaginations or mere wishes of the speakers. Specifically, I stay alert with suspicion the moment I hear the phrase; 'And the Lord said to me'
Well this doesn't totally mean God doesn't speak to some people but that phrase has been abused by several pastors. We don't know who actually heard from God anymore.
I never knew the rot in the church was that deep and stinking until a few days ago when a social media user spotted fraudulent acts perpetrated by some 'god of men' parading themselves as shepherds across the country. A middle-aged woman suffering from a medical condition known as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) - a group of genetic connective tissue disorders with symptoms which may include loose joints, joint pain, stretchy skin, and abnormal scar formation is being paraded around by pastors to display their spiritual healing powers.
So far, 5 pastors in Nigeria have employed the services of this unnamed woman who has mastered the theatrics of stretching her bulgy hands thin during organized prayer sessions. In a well-choreographed manner synonymous to Nollywood productions, the woman stretches her hand as the pastors intensified prayers and their audience cheered as they experienced 'signs and wonders' to prove that their leader has a connection with God.
The pastors are very smart; they are aware that Nigerians are not interested in the genuine gospel of holiness and salvation anymore. They crave more for shortcuts to wealth and unmerited favours. Most people are brainwashed to believe that one elderly woman from their paternal or maternal families with brown teeth and tattered clothes in a remote village is monitoring their progresses in life through one mystic bowl of water. The pastors stage miracles to prove that they could subdue those spiritual forces and afflictions which might not even exist. The congregation follows these pastors sheepishly and their pockets suffer consequently. The pastors get richer and graduate from riding the best cars to flying in private jets around the world while the contributing members wait for their rewards in heaven.
From time immemorial, fear has been a potent measure of controlling humans. It works better on Africans who generally lack critical and analytical skills. The best way to ensure the cooperation of a Nigerian is by telling him you have spiritual powers. Even if he doubts you, he wouldn't want to take chances with you. He gives you this sort of instant respect and needed space. This is psychological tool used by most pastors to control their members. For example, specifically in April 2018, when Daddy Freeze intensified his campaign against the payment of tithes, Pastor E.A Adeboye, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God didn't bother to counter his claims with scriptural references, he only said those who fail to pay tithes will go to hell fire.
“Make it clear to them. Anyone who is not paying his tithe is not going to heaven. Full stop.” he said.
Politicians also use the fear factor to control the people. Most people wish to revolt against the President Muhammadu Buhari government due to the untold economic hardship but they are scared of sustaining bodily harm or having their freedoms denied like Omoyele Sowore. This is the same way most members lack the courage to question the decisions of their clerics as they fear the wrath of God. It's clear that both politicians and clerics use the same playbook. Even in the face of sex scandals and brazen corruption, some members still find it hard to take concrete decisions as regards their membership of certain churches.
2 of the pastors who hired the services of the 'miracle vixen' of a woman have been identified as Prophet Abbey Godswill, who is reportedly the founder of Ambassadors of Christ Assembly and the popular Dr Chris Okafor, a leader and founder of Mountain Of Liberation and Miracle Ministry, also known as Liberation City who is a 'good friend' of the media for publicity purposes.
While most of the indicted pastors have buried their heads in shame and kept silent, a church official of Pastor Chris Okafor kicked with an explanation that could make the Guinness Book of Records as the lamest and dumbest of all time. He reportedly said:
“The woman was in our church really. But you know in this issue of deliverance, some people could be delivered here and then go back to where they stayed before and the attack would return. That was what happened to the woman,”
My major grouse is not about the fake miracle per see, it's more about the fact that the woman isn't well paid for her services. She has been wearing the same clothes multiple times and this shows that these pastors might be underpaying her while they rip their members like Shylock.
Staged miracles are not new in Nigeria. The only issue is that they come in different dimensions with very creative scripts. It's still fresh in our memories how actor Jim Iyke was in year 2013 'delivered' at the Synagogue of All Nations of a demon that delayed him from getting married. He rolled on the floor with the kind of energy and skills he puts into his movies. He is 43 years old and not married till date. Prophet T.B Joshua who conducted the miracle later predicted the outcome of the 2016 U.S election wrongly. In 2017, he also healed the notorious 'Snake Pastor’ Penuel Mnguni of End Times Disciples Ministries in South Africa which turned out to be false.
Pastor Alph Lukau of the Alleluia Ministries International in South Africa also released a video of how he raised a man from dead. Less than 24hrs later, the Zimbabwean man named man, Brighton ‘Elliot’ Moyo was discovered to have been his cameraman. He allegedly died of HIV, kidney failure and tuberculosis days after the exposure.
Unemployment and poverty are prevalent in Nigeria coupled with illiteracy which has made people vulnerable. The inadequacy of regulatory bodies like the Christian Association of Nigeria and the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN has made it easy for the people to be exploited. There is no quality control in Christendom. Every Tom, Dick and Harry can just wake up and set up a church and start to look for members to extort tithes and offerings from after threatening them with the hell fire experience. The religious entrepreneur makes so much profit from the religious venture without remitting tax to the government. The fact that there is mostly no transparency in the church finances makes the heist easier for those corporate con artists. The government needs to wade in like President Paul Kagame did in Rwanda. All pastors should obtain credible and verifiable certificates in theology. They should be registered and issued licenses before allowing them preach the gospel. This sounds awkward but it will help screen out some religious investors and opportunists.
CAN and PFN should also be empowered to take disciplinary actions against erring pastors and their churches. We should stop leaving them to God for judgement because they don't fear God. Most of them will leave the ministry for other viable jobs if the collection of tithes and offerings is banned.
Osayimwen Osahon George
is a journalist and a PhD student at the University of Ibadan. He can be reached via email; [email protected]