Quite instinctively, Nigerians see any person who goes by the name, “man of God” as a demigod. Some of us who are familiar with societal arrangement and power-relations in the Nigerian society and are able to make comparisons with what obtains outside the shores of the country never cease to marvel at the enormous powers the “man of God” wields in Nigeria. Being a “man of God” becomes a veritable privileged position that gives one access to nearly every good thing under heaven.
Perhaps this state of affairs is not bad in itself, for what is wrong giving due respect and honor to a member of our society who received (or claims to have received) such a noble calling? However, the so-called ‘respect’ has become pretty disproportionate, having long morphed into adulation and deference, a situation which automatically places the “man of God” among the privileged/oppressive class, gives him undue advantages over other members of society he is meant to minister to, thus distancing him from the original mission of humble service and preaching he may have received from Christ. He is, consequently, estranged from the very missionary disposition of our Lord Jesus Christ, the meek Suffering Servant who always identifies with the poor and the oppressed and enjoins us to follow His example.
Worse still, it has led to unspeakable abuses, sometimes turning otherwise “humble servants” into religious despots. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, they say! Such abuses are rife in all Christian denominations, including the Catholic Church, where I belong. [For the purposes of this article, we shall focus more on Christian “men of God” and not on Muslims and people of other faiths].
Recently, David Oyedepo, the flamboyant General Overseer of the Winners Chapel and Founder of the high-class Covenant University, mercilessly slapped an innocent 12-year-old girl, in a Service for saying that she was a “witch for Jesus”. Anyone who sees the video-clip of the incident would admit that it was a childish, innocent, tongue-in-cheek claim from a harmless girl who, as a matter of fact, was no witch. In the first place, what right does David Oyedepo have to abuse an innocent girl for such a light-hearted comment? Assuming the girl was a real “witch”, is it biblical, or more accurately Christian, to use physical force to drive out “witches”? How many such ‘witches’ has he given a similar dirty slap in the London and South African branches of his church? Why does he not display such arrogance in the overseas branches, say in London, where society is very much sensitive to such abuses? Are there no ‘witches’ there also?
A few months ago, the same “man of God” reportedly expelled about 200 students from Covenant University. What was their offence? They appeared a few minutes late for the mandatory Prayer Service officiated by the Bishop just before the vacation. As usual, the Bishop-Proprietor may have actually expected a doting cheering crowd of deferring students, applauding every of his statement during the service. The lateness of about 200 students out of a possible 7000 others did not give him what he expected, and so some heads had to roll. He even threatened to place a curse on each of the students. Again I ask: Would David Oyedepo have reacted so rashly if Covenant University were situated in California, graced with Whites and people of different cultures who may not give a damn litigating a “man of God”?
Oyedepo is not alone in this. Other Church-run institutions and centers of learning are given to similar excesses. While not advocating a ‘liberal’ education, we must strongly reject the Draconian-style school administration, high-handedness, injustice, malpractices and abuses that only succeed in creating a tense environment defeating the very mission of imparting knowledge.
Pentecostal pastors are among the richest and most powerful Nigerians. They wine and dine with the high and mighty. All too frequently, President Goodluck Jonathan kneels before Pastor Adeboye for prayers, reminiscent of the medieval times when princes had to be anointed, as it were, by church authorities. While there is nothing wrong with this per se, it is however disappointing that Adeboye does not use such a privileged position to influence Mr. President into rolling out people-oriented policies and intensifying the fight against corruption. Instead, he would settle for the immediate gratification of a ‘fat brown envelop’ after the prayer session or, at most, attract some projects only for his church. Little wonder, our friend, Pastor Tunde Bakare, the Convener of the Save Nigeria Group, laments: “The Church has failed the nation. The worst oppression is going on in the churches. Today, most churches encourage corrupt leaders by collecting their money and failing to tell them the truth.”!
The flamboyant lifestyle of men of God is well known to all and, it’s a pity that this hardly generates any feelings of indignation among Nigerians, for the very fact that they are “men of God”. It is no secret that many are proud owners of private jets, and can afford any form of luxury and convenience under heaven. A few years ago, the news made the rounds that the Founder of Christ Embassy, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, spent a whooping sum of N80 million on his birthday. Of course, such extravagance wouldn’t be possible if it had not eaten deep into the pockets of the poor members of the church who, nevertheless, gave it their wildest approbation because he is a “man of God”.
I must say, without mincing words, that the hippie self-styled prophet, T.B. Joshua has committed every imaginable human right abuse against his church members, as proven from reliable sources and documentaries. He has established a complicated machinery of intimidation to deter those who may voice out their grudges. He proclaims curses on whoever may dare to expose him. The police and members of the general public are quite aware of the atrocities he is committing, but who would dare caution him? Why? He is highly-connected and, moreover, he is a “man of God”!
All this could only be possible in a culture that holds the “man of God” as a sacred cow who must enjoy a great measure of immunity. This is a country where the question of human rights is not taken seriously, least of all, when it involves a “man of God”. It is generally not considered how healthy it is to question the authority of a pastor, keeping him always on his toes so that he may be able to serve the faithful better. In stead, what we behold is a benumbing silence in the face of their excesses, for fear of not incurring the “wrath of God”. The man soon perceives the enormous powers at his disposal, powers which he sometimes finds embarrassing when he remembers his humble beginnings. The long-term consequences are mind-boggling abuses of the dimension of Rev. Kings, who burnt some of his followers for allegedly committing fornication. Soon, he also acquires a somewhat “divine” status, with the authority to judge, condemn, curse, and send some to hell and others to Paradise!
See continuation “MEN OF GOD AS DEMIGODS IN NIGERIA (2)”
__________________________________________Fr Mark-Donald Ude, C.S.Spmarkdonso@yahoo.com, +559781173676.