I want us to imagine for once, what it takes to become a General in the Army anywhere in the world. Recruits battle through the ranks and probably never make it far until retirement or some untimely death does them part from the coveted profession. Indeed, in recent days, Nigeria has been celebrating the life of one Lt. Col. Abu Ali, who is reported to have displayed exceeding gallantry in the battle to wipe Boko Haram off the face of the Nigerian political equation. His bravery and daring confrontation of the enemy in utter indifference to the risk of death that finally and painfully caught up with him was said to have been unequalled in the recent military history of Nigeria. From the rank of a Major, he was granted accelerated promotion to the rank of a Lieutenant Colonel in recognition of his selfless service to his motherland. You heard that right. Lieutenant Colonel!
Now, let us take a brief look at military insurgency in the same Nigeria. Often fighting for a cause they can hardly explain, militants are generally financed by clandestine sources, mostly politicians. They are armed. They are provided hasty combat training and made specialists in hit-and-run sabotage acts. Damn right! Sabotage acts often under the cover of darkness. This is hardly an act that qualifies for description as gallantry and exceeding bravery! But guess what: they are almost all “Generals” in their self-imposed military ranking. Not Major. Not Lieutenant-Colonel. They are Generals. Some call themselves General Togos. There are General Kokoris and there are General Kpomos, you name it.
Happily, however, the general public knows just what to make of such Generals. Namely, little or nothing at all! They are Generals of immense nuisance value.
Now let us sit back and examine the evangelical world and see the common grounds that these men of God cover with the militant Generals. The scriptures that told us the ordainment of Prophet Moses through the ages to the miraculous and non-biological conception and delivery of baby Jesus, gave us stories of exceptional circumstances.
Today, however, and all over Africa, Prophets and Apostles litter the streets like water sachets hawked on camel backs with no God to tell us any exceptional story. Gone seem to be the days, when God sent prophets to work miracles that saw the splitting of a sea down the middle to have his children march straight through the solid grounds. Gone seem to be the days, when God made prophets walk on water or make them turn water into wine.
We live in an age of taking the bull by the horns in a spate of self-elevation. Who has time to wait for God these days, to work exceptional wonders? Who has time to wait for God’s wonders when people can speak some gobbledygook jargons to qualify as speaking in tongues?
Like a General Tombo Kpomo, some fellow will simply wake up these days, and declare himself a Prophet while his congregation sings “Praise The Lord”! Like a General Gala To Go, some fellow will wake up in the dark of night and proclaim himself a General Overseer with no one knowing what he oversees. Bishops and Primates have become adorable titles for fraudulent Pastors proclaiming fake visions. Never mind though that the word Primate also stands for apes and monkeys. They assign themselves dubious titles to intimidate their unsuspecting followers in African churches that grow like mushroom in a process of self-imposition.
The growing pressure of fulfillment and proof of self-worth has been ravaging the self-styled Men of God since the start of the craze and pushing them into extreme and unconventional actions. Showcasing material wealth as signs of God’s blessing, poor members of the congregation are sweet-mouthed into providing the last of what they own in material possession, to promote “the work of God”. Never mind though, that their own poverty continues before their very eyes, while the pastors and primates live in a different world, robustly blessed by God, which is the money of the peasant folks. And the same peasant folks cheer them on, on the high grounds of material vanity and lordship.
Coming from the background of sorcerers and fortune-telling, the teeming majority of Africans – rural and urban – is used to a life of highlighting the Supernatural. They know the healing hands of the “Native Doctor” and they know the pervading fear of coven gatherings at night beneath Iroko trees and the succulent pawpaw tree around the corner of the street. The same pawpaw that Costa Rica and Nicaragua will export to Europe for useful hard currencies in foreign trade, will be left to waste away in Africa because some fortune-teller has declared the pawpaw tree a coven for nocturnal witch-gathering.
Today, the influence of native doctors, fortune tellers and self-proclaimed witches and wizards has witnessed a massive pushback. They have been ostensibly replaced by the flamboyance of flashy preachers who now communicate directly with God, often in their dreams and in the privacy of unknown intoxicants. The competition to outshine each other in the quantity of expensive designer clothes that they wear, the flashy cars that they drive and the private jets that they fly, have all been outrageous enough. They also struggle to outdo each other, in the uncontrolled contest to foretell the future and the depth of their direct contact with God.
It has gone so bad, that a most notorious and very prominent Nigerian con artist with a reputation for slapping purported witches before running cameras and thousands of followers in his own church declares publicly that he intervened to rescue a man from the wrath of God. He warns the public against criticizing the unaffordable and outrageous fees that he charges in a Church university that was built by the sweat and contribution of his congregation. He does not attempt to find ways of making the university affordable, precisely, to those peasant folks, upon whose sweat the university was built. No. He threatens critics with the wrath of God for criticizing outrageous fees that were fixed by God. Yet his followers adore him and hold him high like he was Jesus in his second coming.
In the usual competitive mood, the second notorious Nigerian character, who never wishes to be left behind, engages in dubious predictions, often, of incidents that have come and gone. T. B. Joshua (or the “The Blasphemous” as some sharp-tongued critics have now translated T. B. to mean), has gained notoriety for often foretelling the obvious and stressing that he predicted events after they occur. After reportedly seeing bizarre visions of fighter jets flying over his synagogue in the year 2014, when observers saw the collapse of his synagogue as a consequence of substandard construction, T. B. Joshua has gained special notoriety in public perception ever since. For one, fighter jets are owned only by the state and no one knew any reason the state would have to throw bombs on T. B. Joshua’s synagogue. He ended up either being ridiculed or spiritually elevated by adoring supporters.
Indeed, it did not come as a surprise to many when the same T. B. Joshua came up only a few days ahead of the presidential election in America, to prophesy what public opinion polls have largely publicized through local and international mainstream media outlets. The self-styled prophet announced a direct message from God to him in his private visionary adventure that a woman would be the next President of America. Even more interesting, however, is his reaction to the devastating disgrace handed his prophecy and the scientific opinion polling of the mainstream media. As we now know, the President-elect is not a woman as everyone expected, who did not have the gift of receiving inbox messages from God. All of a sudden, T. B. Joshua now says that his misadventure of trying to sell the results of opinion polls as prophecy was deep spirituality that only spiritual persons can understand. After all, Hillary Clinton won a majority of popular votes. Never mind though that he foresaw a female President and not popular votes.
Sometime in early 2016, Nigerians were also thrilled to the circus show of another self-styled Prophet or was it an Apostle of God, who goes by the name Suleyman. Moving round the circles of his preaching podium in the fluency of an average and pedestrian school dropout, with the slight protrusion of a stomach that seemed filled with palmwine and snacks, he prophesied the imminent death of a Governor. It was the Governor of his State, who announced moves to regulate the actions of fake pastors and prophets. But the Governor has remained hale and hearty ever since and till the present moment. His congregation cheered him on while the intelligentsia condemned this wayward act of wishful assassination.
This is the state of worship in Africa today that has strongly served to discredit the Christian religion. State of the art hospitals, quality orphanages, old peoples’ homes are never on the to-do-list of church leaders, when they ask their congregations for special donations to launch a project. They build massive church edifices while progressive nations improve infrastructural edifices. The scientific community of intellectuals in progressive societies discovers new feats year-in, year-out. They invent new vaccines. They invent weapon systems for the defense of fatherland. They sponsor progress in scientific research works.
Unfortunately, many Africans excel in holding vigils and fasting and deceiving themselves that they are spiritually superior to advanced nations. They shut out their brains in the belief that the exceptionality of spirituality, which no one else but they alone, understand, will catapult them to the laps of the most-high God. They are comparable to suicide bombers, who dream of countless model virgin brides in their imaginary paradise. They willfully permit exploitation by preachers, who enjoy their heaven on earth and promise the suffering congregation, heaven after death.
This is nothing but the pathetic story of the prophecies and fake prophets of the folks that ask for them and the end is not in sight.
Frisky Larr is the author of “Africa’s Diabolical Entrapment” that explores the negative impact of religious commitment, on the progress of Africa. Watch out for the upcoming book “Lost in Democracy.