By Owei Lakemfa
I KNEW Frederick Chiluba when he was chair of the Zambian Congress of Trade Unions. He came out to Nigeria for African trade unions meeting, and later was in Ghana for the same purpose. I still have the group photograph we took with Jerry Rawlings at the Accra meeting.
Later, riding on the crest of a popular movement for multi-party democracy, he was elected president of his country. As Zambian president, some years back, Chiluba came to Lagos on a pilgrimage to the Synagogue Church of All Nations with Temitope Joshua as pastor. The claim which Chiluba amplified was that Joshua cured HIV/AIDS sufferers.
In response, I wrote in my column that if this were true, with the huge HIV/AIDS population in Zambia, all President Chiluba needed, was to gather the sufferers at the Lusaka Stadium in batches and have Joshua pronounce them healed. I then wondered whether Joshua was actually a man of God, or his own man.
Predictably, I received angry calls and even visits from faithful who felt I was challenging the pastor. One visit to the Vanguard I will not forget was by a leading socialite and doyen of corporate public relations. She was accompanied by a former Minister of Information. I was lucky to be absent when the duo called. They were so angry that it took my colleagues time to calm them down and convince them to write rejoinders.
Their rejoinders which bled with visible anger and contempt for me, were dutifully published.
I did not know that the society lady had cancer and had stopped taking medication after being allegedly cured by Joshua through faith healing. By the time she realised that her ‘cure’ was fake, it was too late; the cancer had spread, and she spent the rest of her life in pains at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital.
I also had somebody who was close to me. She was sick and was shown on television by the Pastor Chris Oyakhilome-led Christ Embassy church as one of those who had received miracle healing and was now cured. She died of her illness a few months later; one more victim of claimed faith healing.
More than five million South Africans are HIV positive and where better, than prosperous South Africa should the Christ Embassy advertise its claims to cure HIV/AIDS. The church in its product adverts had a long list of diseases, including HIV/AIDS it claims it cures.
The advert on the e.tv told gullible audiences that that if they join the Christ Embassy, or attend its faith healing sessions, they would be cured by the pastor(s) transferring God’s healing powers to them.
A South African anti-AIDS lobby, The Treatment Action Campaign, was so alarmed that it decided to do something to stop the church taking advantage of the people. It was spurred on by the case of a woman with drug resistant tuberculosis who had been making significant recovery with her medical treatment, but who stopped her medication when the Christ Embassy claimed to have cured her.
The organisation in its petition wrote that “she consequently became ill with XDR TB again and died but only after transmitting the disease to her children”. The organisation’s conclusion is that “quackery of this nature is not merely misleading, it is life-destroying”.
After investigations, the South African Advertising Authority this month, ordered Christ Embassy to immediately withdraw the adverts and stop making claims that it cures diseases.
I am happy that here in Africa, there are governments that take the health and welfare of their citizens serious. Like the Southern African HIV Clinicians Society said of this ruling: “Organisations that offer miracle cures seek to mislead people that are sick and vulnerable down on a path that often costs them their lives, and potentially leads to the infection of others”.
This certainly is unacceptable and all governments in Africa, including the Nigerian government have the duty to protect the sick, vulnerable and weak from the onslaught of rich and powerful religious leaders who with their stupendous wealth buy air time and carry out ‘philanthropy’ to con the people.
These pastors claim to be followers of Jesus Christ, but as we know from the Bible, the miracles Jesus carried out were few and had specific purposes. Jesus did not make healing his primary purpose; the miracles were essentially to give hope to the lost sheep and to fulfil the prophesy of his coming. They were not miracles for miracles sake.
When the rich man came to him and asked how he can receive salvation, Christ told him to give out his wealth. In this era of prosperity pastors, which of them will be willing to give his wealth, including the universities and mansions acquired, in order to receive salvation? Rather, for some of these pastors, ‘miracle’ is their brand for the acquisition of wealth. They do not even care where the money donated to them comes from.
There was the middle level staff of a Lagos hotel who donated millions of Naira to Christ Embassy without the church bothering to ask how a man that was known to be poor, had such huge sums to give out to the church; as it turned out, he was merely stealing his employers money.
With prosperity and faith healing being the issue in some churches, those in search of miracles, simply move from one church, prayer camp or crusade to another in search of what is not missing in the first place. If these pastors cannot get it right, how can their followers?
It is said that heaven helps those who help themselves; patients must be encouraged to take their medication and pray to be cured, and not that they should abandon their medication for faith healing alone.
But to lure patients with life threatening ailments to shun medication and make them believe that they are cured, is to be criminally liable for murder.
Like the South African example, African governments have the basic duty to protect their citizenry from whatever scams are going on under the skies.