Recently, the Daily Mail, UK, had a feature on Bishop David Oyedepo. He was accused (alongside his son who ‘manages’ the UK branch) of fleecing worshippers by making “spurious claims” and “cynical exploitation of the gullible”.
The undercover journalist who visited the British church and the British MP who condemned him acted ignorant of the antithesis of faith and logicality when they expressed surprise about how people were urged to give more money in return for blessings that were neither guaranteed nor cognisant of the realities on ground.
The feature also talked about how much of the money creamed off these worshippers are being repatriated to Nigeria (which, in a perverse sense, is a positive development!)
The same Daily Mail, weeks before, ran a feature on another Nigerian pastor in the same UK, Alex Omokodu, (who claims on his website to have raised the dead twice) and another Pastor Mbenga of the Victorious Pentecostal Assembly who scam worshippers by selling olive oil and black currant drink at double the market rate as “miracle cures”, capable of curing terminal diseases.
Like Oyedepo, Omokodu lives large, far removed from the mess he makes of peoples’ lives.
My visceral reaction at those articles was to defend my countrymen against a searchlight that might have been beamed with a racist undertone. I mean, Daily Mail suddenly woke up and realised religion is exploitative? Wow!
Isn’t that what religion has been all about for many centuries? How can we say that what Oyedepo and Mbenga are accused of peddling different from the Pope’s selling of Indulgences in the 16th Century? Religion plays on fear to rip-off poor and miserable people in the name of God. And the irony is, the more people are deceived, the more devoted they become. So, what’s new? From appropriating people’s money to shoplifting condoms to forcing youths to Be Intimate, what have church leaders not done?
If people have refused to read History books that teach us that religion came to us riding on the back of exploitation and politics, why, with the celebrated cases of Jim Bakker, Eddie Long and Benny Hinn among others, do people still throng churches and sponsor their pastors’ excesses out of their poverty? Why has the case of financial scandals involving the creators of TBN Channel -some of which are so disgusting- not caused a mass boycott of these hawkers of falsehood? Why does it spur people to defensiveness instead?
Why did somebody like Jesu Oyingbo have followership in the first place and why didn’t people walk out on Pastor Chris Oyakhilome when he charged gate fees before one could attend service? Seriously, who should take the blame? The person who sells snake oil or the one who finds a psychic relief (however temporary) from buying?
Take the case of Pastor Enoch Adeboye: On his church website, Adeboye claims God told him He had no choice but to keep Covenant Partners alive for 10 years because they were giving to Him within that period. This takes ideas of bizarre and outlandish to another height entirely.
One, a god is meant to earn his keep but Adeboye’s is one whose services people have to pay for, never mind that billions who are not his covenant partners are not only alive, but live considerably better lives elsewhere. Two, can Adeboye, personally, account for every single one of his covenant partners and that in those last 10 years, not a single one died? Can he? We are used to Nigerian judges and politicians saying that their hands are tied, but God? That sounds like something from the mind of a freakish Nollywood screen-writer.
Since the news broke that Pastor Ayo Oritsejeafor has joined the league of Private Jet-Owning Pastors, there has been, thankfully, a sense of outrage at the excesses of Nigerian pastors.
For the record, let me state that Pastor Oritsejeafor is not a good poster boy for Christianity (never mind the various caps he wears, anyone can be anything in Nigeria’s Pentecostalism). I make this point – debatable, of course- not just because of his Bling Bling jewellery like 50 Cents or even his bond with the present occupant of Aso Rock Villa; there is something about him –and I came to this conclusion after watching him raise an offering on Cable TV- that doesn’t seem to me would wait for God to supply all his ‘greeds’ according to his riches and glory.
His private jet was presented while he was sandwiched, like Jesus between two thieves, in the presence of a President who bizarrely declared he couldn’t see how corruption and road accidents are interlinked and, a governor whose public morals fall below average. Rev. Fr. Matthew Kukah could not have put it better: Oritsejeafor’s moral authority is undermined by these dalliances.
The issue is, religion, exploitation and subsequent scandals will not go away. Not in this generation. Not even in this world. As long as there is that primitive instinct in man to seek the supernatural, to seek God and the fear of death is constantly shaken before our eyes, people will continue to subject themselves to exploitative pastors to use as they like.
But the good thing Oritsejeafor has done for us is that he created a conversation; Oyedepo, Omokodu and other sellers of 21st Century Indulgences keep exposing the underbelly of these merchant-pastors; but whether this will translate into a rationality that will cause Nigerians to slow down on the ill-logic of tolerating these pastors’ shenanigans remains to be seen.
It takes more than throwing pastors in jail for their followers to be set free from the mind-prison they are ensconced in. Religion and political power are intertwined in many ways that make this impossible to begin with at all. History shows that, for instance, with an Industrial Revolution, the process creates a ripple effect that bleaches people of primitiveness to transcend religious superstitions while forging a better society that is not predicated on dogmatic concepts of theodicy which religion propagates. When that day comes in Nigeria, and even Africa, these pastors will wilfully choose jail as rescue from irrelevance the times would banish them.
But here’s the problem: These pastors know that with Nigeria’s developmental progress comes their end. And they are actively complicit in the dysfunctionality of Nigeria to extend their own longevity.