The night of every 31st of December is a special time for Nigerian Christians. It is that time of the year when they congregate in their millions to listen to prophecies and pray for blessings that will guide them throughout the following year. These watch-night services as they are known often do not end until tithes and offerings have been collected multiple times. Nigerian pastors are ingenious when it comes to extorting money from their members - they persuade members that God will bless them abundantly, but only if the members first bless God with their tithes and offerings. These pastors claim to resurrect the dead and heal all kinds of diseases but when it comes to money they are always powerless, and must always beg for it. They never seem able to explain why an all-sufficient God needs money or why the well-being of the church member is dependent on the donations they make to the pastor.
I do not understand the point of the frenzied prayers that characterise watch-night services neither. As Christopher Hitchens said, "the man who prays is the one that thinks God has arranged matters all wrong and thinks they can instruct Him how to put it right". Praying is not a sign of faith, it indicates a lack of faith. You would not pray if you truly believed in an all-powerful God who has a perfect plan for your life. Nonetheless, Nigerian Christians say the same prayers every year at watch-night services, which begs the question - is God bothered by their prayers?
One thing is clear - the prophecies are fuzzy proclamations which lack specificity. The prophets all claim to hear from the same God but their prophecies often contradict one another. Even worse, they do not say anything that matters to the life of the Nigerian. I invite the reader to consider my analysis of Pastor Adeboye's prophecies for 2015, (http://saharareporters.com/2015/01/02/end-year-prophecies-ijabla-raymond). Since he made them 12 months ago, the Chibok girls are still missing and no one knows if they will ever be found; Boko Haram (BH) insurgency is still raging on; our national revenue is being threatened by the drop in the price of crude oil, and so on; but none of these featured in God's conversation with pastor Adeboye when He was drawing up the 2015 prophecies. On the occasion that he tried to be specific, the prophecy turned out to be inaccurate. He had prophesied that, "Daddy (referring to God) says all over the world insurgencies will be considerately weakened." I am not sure which world daddy was referring to because the terrorist activities of BH, al-Shabbab, ISIS and the many lone wolves in 2015 on planet earth do not support His claim. At the international level, it appears that God also forgot to tell pastor Adeboye and His other prophets about the Syrian war; the refugee crisis in Europe; the unprecedented floods in Britain; the terrorist attacks in France, Egypt, Algeria, America and Australia; the devastating earthquake that killed nearly 9,000 people in Nepal; the blowing up of Russian plane over Egypt by suspected ISIS jihadists. Or the fact that Russia came to the brink of a war with NATO after its fighter jet was shot down by Turkey. The reason prophets do everything they can to avoid being specific when they announce their prophecies is that it weakens them and makes them appear as charlatans.
It is usual for Nigerian Christians to respond to any criticism of their pastors with the cliché, "touch not my anointed and do my prophet no harm". But they forget that the bible also says: "If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously.” It goes even further: “But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded . . . . is to be put to death.” Deuteronomy 18:20,22. To me, this means that the prophet (pastor) is accountable.
The other common excuse Christians make for their pastors is: "the pastor did not force anyone to give money." This excuse ignores the threats of the devourer being unleashed on people's health, income, relationships, family or even eternal damnation in hell. This is a form of psychological control and explains why some members who cannot even feed their families or pay their children's school fees would borrow money and still pay tithes and offerings from it. The pastors spend the money as they like on luxury lifestyle, real estates investments, private jets, and are hardly ever held accountable. Some of them have built private schools and universities with the tithes and offering of their members but the members cannot afford the fees for their children. Yet, some of these pastors benefitted directly from the free schools built by foreign missionaries.
Nigerians are extremely gullible when it comes to religion and would believe every sentence that starts with the word, "God." Charlatans understand this vulnerability and have come up with all sorts of schemes to con them. These include prophecies and miracles. I do not believe in miracles because like gods, demons, spirits, witches and wizards, there's no evidence for their existence. Death certificates and medical reports can be forged. Deafness, blindness, paralysis, epilepsy - they can all be faked. Even death can be faked. A real miracle is watching an amputated limb grow. Real miracles stopped happening from the moment cameras and videos were invented. Christians should consider why there are no videos of pastors Kumuyi, Adeboye, Oyakhilome, Oyedepo, TB Joshua and others growing the limbs of amputees during their numerous church conventions. You would think there would be at least one considering the massive volumes of videos they have accumulated purportedly showing people who have been cured of all kinds of diseases and resurrected from death. No one who claims to resurrect dead people or heal diseases is to be trusted. Surely, if they can perform these miracles then they can magically manufacture money, and should not have to mentally coerce their members for it.
My heart bleeds every time another poor patient dies because their pastor has led them to believe that their illness has been cured and that it is okay to not take their medications. It is unconscionable to exploit the desperate situations of vulnerable people for one's gains. Personally, I feel there is need for a specific legislation to prosecute faith healers who cause demonstrable harm to others through misrepresentations.
Ijabla Raymond is a medical doctor and he writes from the UK.