One Newspaper Headline around about 1994 which reported a Crash-Landing of a plane in Lagos that lost a tyre as it landed was quite as expected. In the usual terse style common to serious journals, it stated that the plane mercifully skidded to a final stop just off the runway and the passengers were safely and speedily evacuated. What was unique about the account was that the reporter zeroed in on the reaction of one of the passengers to the terrifying incident without any sardonic commentary whatsoever, yet his focus spoke volumes. He reported that the Man of the Cloth, fully robed in a Cassock, and obviously of high status in the Theological persuasion, knelt down and kissed the earth, exclaiming piercingly to the hearing of all that, ”I must sacrifice to the gods when I reach home for delivering me!” just imagine that!
Bizarre as it was, this incident typifies the contradiction that exists between the Traditional Religions and the imported Religions of Abrahamic origin. Many Nigerians profess adherence to one religion or the other yet practice a syncretism that sees some consulting Wolis, Marabouts, Dibias and Babalawos and other potentiates of arcane practices as a backup to their professed belief. This syndrome was at that time more prevalent in the “White garment Churches” and the non-mainstream “One-Shop” Congregations. The erosion of time and the blurring of lines dividing the Orthodox Church practices from the Catholics, Pentecostals, Apostolics and most of the others have resulted in a similarity of “charismatic” worship styles across the board with the existence today of “Born-Again” Muslims who worship on Sundays and hold Revival Services. As some wit put it, the Church has become worldly and the World has become “Churcheous”! It is the same syndrome that makes everyone regardless of professed religious belief shout “Jesus”, “Jesus” when it seems their plane is about to crash!
In a risible mimicry of History, Nigerian churches are reenacting the scenario of the Colonial Era when Missionaries started up schools in Africa. Churches are now setting up high standard Schools and Universities that are quickly overshadowing the Citadels of yore. In addition, in an awakening of the Medieval and Ottoman eras when there was no separation between Religion and he State, Christians Muslims and English and traditional Secret Societies are fast realizing the importance of vying with one another for the major organs of Government – its Brain, Heart, and Voice, not to forget its mind and soul!
It is also apparent that while the older founders of large Congregations have become too old to fight in the Warfront of this Episcopal battle, there is a need for the younger Men of God to run the next leg of the Relay in a Baton-handover that will ensure there is resistance to dominance of one religion over another in Government, which interestingly, is supposed to be secular according to our Constitution. We will come back to this point later.
The main issue here is that whereas, Nigerians lived with each other in relative peace under the colonialists, the independence of the nation and the struggle for politicians of one geographic region to gain ascendancy over the other has resulted in the manipulation of ethnicity, culture and religion as tools of dominance. This separatism has resulted in the children of today perceiving themselves as being “different” and “opposite” to people of other faiths. It has also resulted in Nigeria fast becoming a Theatre for the Al Quaeda conflict that is dismembering other societies. But where did it all start? Let us trace the genesis of this “War”.
In post-Civil War Lagos, we had two influences prevailing. First was the reconstruction and expansion effort of General Yakubu “Jack” Gowon who said that our problem was not money but how to spend it. Thus the National Stadium, National Theatre, Tafawa Balewa Square Edifice and Eko Bridge were being built simultaneously. There was a Post-war Construction boom.
The second major influence was Oil - Oil money and its Politics. The major Oil Producers of the World led by Saudi Arabia had come together to form a cartel that fixed the prices of the various forms of crude Oil. It was called OPEC. This made sudden Billionaires of some countries and paupers of others. The Oil Price rose dramatically to $40 per barrel from the low single digits and suddenly, Britain was in a recession and had to cut down working days to a Three-day week in the early 1970s. The Oil Boom for us was the doom of others.
About this same period, Nigeria which was smarting from its abandonment by Britain during the Civil war began to form new alliances. She sought Technical and trading allies form those nations that had come to her succor when Britain refused to give her support. These include France, the Soviet Union and the USA. These new Alliances came with Technical, social and cultural implications. Thus we saw the formation of the French Cultural Centre, The Goethe Institut, and numerous bilateral trade associations, all struggling for the minds and Hearts of Nigerians.
With these new alliances came various forms of collaboration such as Technology transfer by way of Assembly Plants, Scholarships for young Students and Technical Aid by way of workers. Nigeria also became one of those nations that championed the non-aligned Summit which departed from the traditional East-West Cold War Alliances. As a result many Teachers and Doctors were hired from India, Sri Lanka, (Then Ceylon) and Pakistan. They also brought with them, Bhuddism, Taoism and Hinduism.
All these various groups came with their social, cultural and most importantly, Religious Influences. To further confuse the influences Nigerians faced during that time, there was also the influence of the “Flower Power”, from the USA and Britain. It was a sudden departure from the moral and religious strictness and conformism of the Late 1940s through the early 1960s. Along with this period came Eckanckar and the Grail Message which was most popularized among Kings College boys led by the Chief Adeyemi Lawson family. Of course Fela came with Felasophy, a brand of African Free Thinking which blended the African concepts of family and discipline with the Western ideas of the anti-establishment Liberation Struggle and non-conformism. It was a heady mix!
In the Western world, it was the age of permissiveness which brought about a sexual and drug libertarianism, typified by the Woodstock Musical Festival in the USA of 1969 and the Wattstax in the UK on Glastonbury Plain in 1971. These influences on Nigeria were spread by the relatively new Television, the Radio and the “Been-Tos” who returned from their overseas trips with affectations which “wannabes” imitated. However, it was another form of Imperialism, Religious imperialism that held sway! One of the greatest influences to come out of these Western influences was Tele -Evangelism. It was most pervasive, compelling and appealing to the starving and afflicted African populace hungry for miracles. This is the particular influence on which we will focus.
Religion was something that had been understood very well by Africans before the coming of the White man. Let us ignore at this point, the actions of the Nicene Conference of AD 311 and the King James Commission of 1230, the implications of the existence of Ethiopian Jews, the ancestry of Emperor Haile Selassie from King David or even the fact that Europe was the last Continent to receive Christianity after Africa and Asia in that order.
Africans from Egyptian times as did the Druids in Europe, have always had their own religions based on superstitions, metaphysics and animism, the belief that carved images could embody the Spirit of their Ancestors and the Supreme beings they believed had the powers of Life and death, and good and evil over them. These influences also affected Society and in fact shaped the Administration of Justice in Societies. My experience has not taken me much far afield but I can name some of the Cults and Societies that influenced Africans in the area that came to be called Nigeria from the early 1900s.
Eastern Nigeria was largely Republican, but the Arochukwu Cult largely influenced the development of its immediate sphere of influence, creating and sustaining a Caste system with several shades of Freedom, Indenture-ship, Serfdom and enslavement. In the south Eastern Nigeria, there was the Ekpe Cult, which also dealt with the Peoples’ Spiritual, political and social lives. In the South-South Region, there was the Owegbe Cult, whose influence reached as far as the outer limits of the Benin Empire when it was at its height. Finally, there was the Ogboni, whose tentacles were the most manifest as it spread across the Whole of Western Nigeria and penetrated as far as the outer reaches of Eastern Nigeria and the Delta regions.
Even the Christians had their own Secret Societies, the major of which was the Freemasonry. At a time, all ministers of the Church of England were openly practicing Freemasons as were members of the Judiciary, the police, the Members of the Bar, etc. The Queen of England still holds the dual title of Head of the Church of England (Anglican Church) and of the Freemasons. All these practices were passed on to the colonized. In the Pre-independence period, due to the discrimination against Nigerian Freemasons by their colonial counterparts, a movement was formed by Nigerians to counter this, called the Reformed Ogboni Fraternity (R.O.F). This was the Christian form of the Aboriginal Ogboni Society and it did away with the arcane rituals and blood sacrifices that typify aboriginal Cults. It was founded by the late Rev. T.A.J. Ogunbiyi (CBE) in 1918.
It was out of this mix of superstitions, ancestral affinities, foreign influences, Socio-political tendencies and sworn allegiances that Pentecostal Christianity first made its tender emergence in Nigeria in the early 1970s. It all started with ArchBishop Benson Idahosa in Benin and quickly spread to other parts of Nigeria. Lagos, having taken over the political, social and Industrial ascendancy from Ibadan after the Civil War, was of course the hotbed and centre of all neo-religious activities.
The earliest Christian Churches in Nigeria were the Catholic, the Anglican, the Methodist, the Baptist and the Presbyterian. They were followed in no particular order by the Apostolic Church, Lutheran Church, ECWA, African Church, The African Bethel Church, Seventh Day Adventists, the Rosicrucians, Mormons and the Scientologists. Many of the earliest churches were not just Missionaries; they were the first to establish Schools in the country, which is why the earliest Secondary School, the CMS (Church Missionary Society) was established in Lagos in 1848. Thus it was that the Missionaries realized that they could influence the Leaders of tomorrow by capturing their hearts and teaching them doctrine through education and schooling.
I was born into an Anglican home a couple of years before Independence. We were members of the Chapel of the Healing Cross Church in Idia-Araba, Surulere Lagos from its foundation in the mid-1960s. I first became Born – Again in 1971 in my second year at Igbobi College, Yaba, Lagos although it was not called that in those days. You simply became a member of the SCU (Students Christian Union) which was later shortened to SU ( Scripture Union). It was a special thing to be identified as a member of the SCU. You were well behaved and moderate in thinking, dress and appetites. Abstention and abstemiousness typified the early Born-again Christians, a mode that is generally associated and defined by the Pastor Kumuyi-led ascetic Deeper Life Ministries Church at Soluyi Gbagada.
We met regularly in the School Chapel and our worship songs were essentially still the school Hymns from the Joint Methodist and Anglican Books the School favoured. Almost automatically, we also became members of the School Choir. Our voices had not quite broken yet, so we sounded heavenly. I was also a Chapel Monitor and Altar boy and assisted in serving the Holy Communion on Communion Days. Throughout Secondary Schooling and until I left tertiary education in 1980, the Old Churches prevailed while the Pentecostals struggled to find their place. In the early 1980s a Television Programme called “The 700 Club” debuted on Nigerian Television. It was sponsored and broadcast by the Christian Broadcast Network (CBN) out of the United States, and featured pioneer American Televangelists like Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson and Jimmy Swaggart. They helped further the Pentecostal cause and laid the foundation for today’s World-famous Televangelists including Nigerian Pastors.
I cannot claim that I know the precise chronology of the ascendancy of the “Pentecostals”, or “Penterascals” as they used to be called derisively by the more Orthodox Churches before the unification factor of “Boko Haram” and its predecessors-in-violence. However, as I said earlier, the pioneer was Bishop Benson Idahosa of Benson Idahosa Ministries, based in Benin. Today, there are many Mega Churches with ministry branches all over the World. The most important point to note here is that Pentecostal Churches have a Cult of personality that is not found in Orthodox Churches, in imitation of the American Pentecostal movement which Nigeria imitated initially.
At the top of the Pyramid of great Churches in Lagos headed by greater Minsters of the Greatest God include pioneers like, Pastor Enoch Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church, Bishop Mike Okonkwo of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor of Word of Life Bible Ministries, Benin and Current President of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, Pastor W.F. Kumuyi of Deeper Life Ministries, Pastor Tunde Bakare of Latter Rain Assembly. Bishop David Oyedepo of the Living Faith Ministries International, Dr. Christopher Babatunde Joda of Christ Chapel International Churches, Reverend Chris Okotie of the Household of God Ministries, Pastor Wale Adefarasin of the Guiding Light Assembly, Pastor Paul Adefarasin of The House On the Rock, Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo of KICC Ministries, Pastor Tony Rapu of This Present House, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome of Christ Embassy, Pastor Anslem Madubuko of the Revival Assembly, Reverend Sam Adeyemi of Daystar Christian Centre to mention but a few.
With the proliferation of Churches and Mega Congregations it would be expected that a Religious and Prayerful society would be denuded of vices, crimes and corruption. That is hardly the case, and the blame has been laid squarely on two things The Syncretism - Simultaneous Worship of Traditional Religion and Christianity) that is a by-product of African penchant for Superstition. Where this is not the case, elements of traditional worship, practices and beliefs have crept into formal religious worship as is the case in most of West Africa. Secondly, the ease with which you can be a “Born Again” Christian these days, whereby you are accepted as you are into Churches with the intention that the Word will be preached into you to drive out the Worldliness has caused an admixture of the “goats” with the “sheep”.
Finally, the Call to ministry is no longer what it used to be. Rather than an Epiphany of a Special “Call” from God through Visitation or Manifestation of the Holy Spirit, these days you have People just “deciding to become a Pastor”, attending Bible Schools and investing in setting up Ministries. Ministry is now a vocation and not a Calling. Church becomes a business with attendant plots, plans, intrigues and manipulations. Common sense is used in “interpreting” the Bible and you now have Churches in Lagos for Homosexuals, Churches where Sexual Intercourse takes place in Communion and Churches that worship Satan. Are these Churches are also known as Pentecostals or should I refer to them as PENTERASCALS! But they are not even the main problem to Christendom today.
As the Nation is being thrown into a state of high insecurity by the activities of the “Boko Haramites” who have deviated from their initial cause of fighting the Government Institutions and instead bombing and shooting up Churches in northern Nigeria, it is only a matter of time before the Christians begin massive retaliation leading to Religious War. The question on everyone’s lips now is, does the Leadership of the Christian Body, the Christian Association of Nigeria, (CAN) and the Pentecostal Federation of Nigeria (PFN) respectively, have the antidote to this evil provocation? Or will the Nation be plunged into the kind of fratricidal religious war as once took place in pre-1948 Greater India? Or Lebanon, or the interminable Middle-East War which has lasted over 50 years? May God save us all!