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February 3, 2018

The dark underbelly of Nigeria’s religiousity

The dark underbelly of Nigeria’s religiousity

Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode (middle); his wife, Bolanle (2nd right); Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Opeyemi Oke (right); General Overseer, Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) Worldwide, Pastor Enoch Adeboye (2nd left) and his wife, Pastor (Mrs) Folu (left) during the Y2018 Annual Thanksgiving Service at the Lagos House, Ikeja, on Sunday, January 7, 2018.

By Morenike Taire

On virtually every commercial street in the Southern part of Nigeria, there are at least three buildings that parade themselves as churches.

Each of these is almost a replication of the other, with infrastructure and other paraphernalia that could be shared being owned by each and every organization, purportedly as a stamp of the independence of each.

National Mass Choir singing at the ongoing 65th Annual Convention of Redeemed Christian Church of God

Each has a music team, public address system, water system and of course generator, by means of which they constitute the greatest nuisance to the peace and environmental integrity of the community. Very often, they consider themselves rivals and will do everything possible to outdo the others, particularly in the area of ‘blessings’.

Welcome to the crazy world of religious Nigeria. In Lagos State,in 2015 under the former Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola, the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) sealed a Victoria Island based  hotel belonging to former Super Eagles star Nwankwo Kanu, alongside  at least 30 other facilities in areas including Surulere, Victoria Island, Ketu, Ikorodu and Ibeju-Lekki. Several of them were churches and mosques, shut down for various contraventions, mostly constituting noise nuisance to their various communities.

If Lagos the megacity is concerned about places of worship making noise and disturbing neighbours, the rest of the country seem not the least concerned. Many places of worship are erected without proper building plans or approval all over the country. Many of them are even built on lands not belonging to the owners of the churches or mosques.

So great  and so high are the levels of impunity attending the activities of many of these religious organizations that they generally act as if the laws of society by which others are bound are not binding on them by virtue of their being religious.

For some reason, they are convinced it is their fundamental human right to disturb people by their noise, otherwise pollute the environment, as well as build wherever and however they please. In the Oyo State capital in 2012, a building under construction by the New Covenant Church in Ibadan collapsed during a downpour, claiming five lives including two women with two others seriously injured. The religious organization got away with it.

Less commonplace but equally disturbing are cases of juju (black magic charms) and even parts of dead humans being found in places of worship and the possession of their leaders. Most times there is a furore attending such discoveries, only to die down and nothing else heard about such cases and their victims.

Pastors and Imams have been known to rape, molest and otherwise abuse children and under aged girls.  Many of such pastors go on to begin other churches quietly while naturally continuing such devious activities.

Religion is far too under regulated, especially for an activity in which so many of the country’s population is involved and invested. This in turn leaves room for all kinds of unsavoury activities to thrive.

In this age of social media it is not everything that is bandied about religious leaders- popularly known as men of God- that are entirely or even at all true. Often, reported happenings are partly the figment of people’s imaginations and even vendetta against the various principals of such centers.

Unfortunately, though, truth is often stranger than fiction, and happenings in the dark underbelly of the underworld that Nigeria’s religious affairs have become can only be imagined.

Commentators such as the playful Lagos-based on-air personality, Freeze, has had and generated an immense amount of amusement poking fun at some of our Christian men of God in recent times, particularly with regards to the ubiquitous subject of ‘tithes and offerings’.

And while the debate generated is ungoing and can even be said to have become mainstream as far as conversations of such a nature are concerned; two recent happenings within the space advices that there is far more to worry about regarding the activities of our churches than private jets and other spoils of religiousity.

One of them is the uncanny happenings surrounding a Port-Harcourt based preacher and a notorious blogger and current affairs commentator. The former had been complainant in a case of criminal libel against the latter, who was then detained for a longer than usual period prior to public intervention and the intervention of legal practitioners.

While the public shouted itself hoarse in the face of the perceived injustice, Kemi Olunloyo, the accused, was already on her way to the church of her assistant accuser, David Ibiyomiye where she staged, to the consternation of all , a dramatic public apology and confession to a road-to-Damascus experience.

And while the public ruminated on this, another drama began to play out as Stephanie Otobo, a wannabe artiste, treated members of the Omega Fire Ministries Worldwide (church of one Apostle  Suleman whom she had accused of all kinds of unprintable things) to a confession. According to the former, some people in high places had paid her to accuse the man of God . And like Olunloyo before her, Otobo then went on their knees to beg forgiveness of their mummies in the Lord.

In addition, Otobo continues to grandstand about exposing the powerful politicians who paid her to cast aspersions on the famous apostle. We really cannot wait for her to do so , but the reality is that we might never know what really transpired in these two seemingly unconnected happenings with similar resolutions but two things are clear.

These religious corporates are being used more often for the purposes of public manipulation; and it is about time government seriously looks into regulating these entities