A few years ago, I came across a magazine my father bought in the 80s. The cover of this now-dogeared magazine had a cartoon showing a flamboyant pastor wearing a big cross necklace. Unmistakenly, you could tell the cartoon caricatured so-called men of god who have built wealth from what I call their spiritual snake oil salesmanship. The cover headline fittingly read Hustling in God’s Name. That headline has stuck with me and it comes to mind every time I think of the sleaze that goes on in religious gatherings in Nigeria today. At the end of the day, it’s a hustle for these guys.
But let me insert a caveat. I am not exactly whom you’ll call an atheist. I’m not one to have a condescending view of religious folks. What anyone chooses to believe is none of my business. But then, religion, in my books, does not enjoy any special privileges. It isn’t beyond critique and criticism. If religion criticizes sinners and condemns them to hell, I believe sinners should have the right to criticize religion also. In this regard, I am a free-speech absolutist. In a video I did sometime last year, I argued that religion is only sacred to its adherents. To non-believers, it’s just another body of ideology some people subscribe to. And as long as we are free to have opinions, religion cannot enjoy the immunity its worshippers try to ascribe to it.
That’s why I laugh when someone like Chris Oyakhilome of Christ Embassy says there are curses for those who criticise men of god or when David Oyedepo of Living Faith Church says criticising men of god can cause leprosy. David Ibiyeomie, a self-styled spiritual son to Oyedepo has repeatedly come to the defence of his spiritual father gun-blazing. For instance, while dunking on Daddy Freeze for criticising Oyedepo and other popular pastors a few years ago, Ibiyeomie said he would kill anyone who insulted his father. Obviously, he was being tongue-in-cheek. But you get the point.
I needed to give this context to show how religion has been used to create an atmosphere of fear in Nigeria. Religion means so much to most Nigerians. And if you are charismatic enough, you can get a Nigerian to do anything for you in the name of god. Given these sociocultural contexts, there is a possibility that my arguments in this article would be met with the same rhetoric they throw at anyone who critiques pastors or religious tenets or dogma. When you turn religion from worship to discourse with a Nigerian, it almost always never ends well. I’ve been there before myself and I understand that nothing is more motivating than swearing fealty to a higher power. Nothing hurts more than seeing your god get disrespected.
Prophesy as snake oil
On the eve of every new year, in cosmopolitan cities like New York, it’s common to see people gather at Times Square to count down to the new year. In Nigeria, we count down to the new year in church praying in stentorian pitches. New year’s eve is the day the church records its highest attendance throughout the year. It’s a time to commit the new year into god’s hands. But more importantly, it is a time to claim prophecies about financial success, sound health, and other generic “blessings” from the pastor. Some churches customarily invent a slogan for the new year which will be printed and sold as merch.
The thing about these prophecies is they often lack specificity and they play on the cognitive biases of Christians. If any good thing happens to you, it’s easy to assume it was because of Adeboye’s prophesy about 2023 being a year of financial breakthrough or something. Speaking of Adeboye, his prophecies for this year were patterned in the same generic style his previous prophecies were delivered.
The following are his prophecies for 2023 (I culled them from rccgonline.org, his church’s official website):
- The biggest challenge of 2022 will lead to your biggest testimony in 2023.
- In 2023, the Lord will speak peace to some troubled homes.
- In 2023, for quite a few people, there would be restoration of lost glories.
- Daddy said this is his favourite prophecy for 2023: Many troublemakers will lose the ability to make trouble this year.
- Few balloons will be deflated this year.
- Daddy said this is also his favourite: There will be a bit of wealth transfer. Generally, 2023 is a year of many opportunities.
If you objectively read through, you can’t find anything specific in these prophecies. They are so generic that anyone can think of ways to apply them to their lives because they centre on universal experiences human beings go through. Everyone had a big challenge last year and definitely, some people who work hard will achieve some success this year. People have had challenges and succeeded in spite of said challenges throughout all of human history. But Adeboye has presented a common human experience as a prophecy to his church members. What did he mean by troublemakers losing the ability to make trouble this year? And the thing he said about wealth transfer? Certainly, in this cashless economy Godwin Emefelie’s Central Bank has forced on us, all thanks to the scarcity of the Naira, there definitely will be a lot of seamless wealth transfer this year. But how’s that a prophecy?
Interestingly, in recent years, pastors have enlarged the scope of their prophecies to include political punditry and predictions. I can’t think of any pastor who has more politics-related prophecies than one Primate Ayodele of INRI Evangelical Spiritual Church. In the business of prophecy, he is a superstar. He is a darling of the media and hardly a week goes by he doesn’t make the pages of the papers for either being sought for his opinion on political trends or for his prophecies. In all fairness to him, most of the things he says are mere conjectures and punditry which the media often mischaracterises as prophecies.
Unlike generic new year prophecies, most of these prophets have been exposed for their failed election-related prophecies. In an article published in the Nation on March 2, 2019, titled Seers who goofed, pastors like Primate Ayodele, Prophet Wale Olagunju of Divine Seed of God Chapel; Primate E.O. Akeju and Prophet Okechukwu Daniel Udoka were outed for their wrong prophecies concerning the 2019 general elections. In two screenshots posted on Twitter by @OnikoyiBankole in 2019, Ayodele predicted that Dino Melaye would become the next Kogi state governor and Saraki would win the 2019 presidential election. He was wrong. There are countless other examples of his failed prophecies.
Primate Ayodele and the other pastors previously mentioned are barely known in Nigeria. They do not have the level of notoriety of say Apostle Johnson Suleiman. But fame does not always mean credibility. Apostle Johnson Suleiman gave a failed prophecy regarding the 2018 governorship election in Ekiti state. It was a contest between APC’s Kayode Fayemi, then Minister of Solid Minerals Development and the outgoing deputy governor of Ekiti state, Kolapo Olushola Eleka of the PDP. Suleiman prophesied that PDP was going to win. While delivering the prophecy, he admitted how reputation-damaging it would be if his prophecy failed. He was cocksure. He bragged he had given prophecies in the past on national elections and there was no reason for any of his members to fret. If anyone should fret, that should be him, he said, rather perspicaciously.
But Fayemi would end up winning the Ekiti polls. And instead of Suleiman walking with his tails between his legs, he said the outcome of the election changed because after he gave the prophecy, some people gathered themselves to pray against it. When it comes to these spiritual things, there’s always an escape route. If anyone attempts to hold you accountable for something you said, like Suleiman, you can always contrive a vision you saw or narrate a Bible story.
On the 25th of this month, Nigerians will head to the polls to vote for their preferred presidential candidates. There have been a lot of prophecies given by Primate Ayodele and his ilk. These are people trying to snake oil their way into relevance through mere conjectures and permutations disguised as prophecies. Interestingly, these prophecies are so different from each other. It appears to me they are all serving different gods. But we don’t need prophecies. I’m old enough to know that prophecies don’t win elections in Nigeria. Vote buying, rigging, and other electoral misdemeanours win elections in Nigeria. Elections are up for grabs for the highest spenders. If god were really interested in Nigerian politics, he would reveal to these seers the rigging plans of our political parties so INEC could take preemptive actions. Otherwise, I don’t see how predicting a particular candidate will win helps anybody.
Olayemi is the publisher of The Disaffected Magazine. He also hosts the Disaffected Nigerian Podcast. He enjoys everything from Evolutionary Psychology to the syncopations of Apala music to Fela’s discography. He fancies himself as an Amala enthusiast. His dream is to be a travel writer someday.