Nation hostage to peddlers of hope

Teacher and Healer of Nazareth’ detested the hypocrisy and the evil intrigue that defined the essence of the temple of Jerusalem, the priests, elders, and the Pharisees of his day. He once drove out those who had converted the temple into a market for their wares. He was later to tell the murmuring self-conceited priests and elders that he could destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days.

Jesus, as a friend of sinners, insisted the temples under Judaism, was no more than a business centre ‘where sinners seeking God’s mercy only got robbed by the priests’.

And before his final betrayal, Jesus admonished his disciples saying ‘Neither in the mountain, nor in Jerusalem shall ye worship the father. God is a spirit and they that worship Him, must worship in Spirit and truth.”

The Acts of the Apostle also told us that the Hellenists in Jerusalem after Christ crucifixion rejected the temple and took the message of God’s unconditional love for sinners to the Samaritans. They also in the First Letter to Timothy warned the congregation to “shun the teacher who is morbidly keen on mere verbal questions and quibblers’ because ‘God is to be contemplated about in the silence of the heart’. They therefore laid down a tradition of “prayer amidst poverty, faithfulness amidst suffering and of heroism capable of rising to martyrdom”.

But 2000 years after the death of the Great Teacher and Healer of Nazareth, miracles seeking Nigerians and their jet age quibbling orators, like the Jews, their high priests and Pharisees have voted for temples. Massive churches of different architectural designs dot our land. The clarion call on Sundays and during special events such as burial ceremonies, by pastors is for generous donation in aid of new church buildings or for the renovation of existing ones. The fad among retiring civil servants, law makers and ex-governors is to build bigger churches for their communities. Even our president after collecting a gift of a small church for his community came to Lagos to rake in close to N7b to build a bigger church and recreation centre for his rural Otuoke fishing community. And for the multitude of jobless and poor miracle seekers, the bigger the temples, and the more loquacious their pastors, the greater the seduction their promises of hope and of miracle of ‘reaping without sowing’.

And this perhaps explains the usual chaos and anarchy that is often associated with weekly migration of miracle seekers to Bishop Oyedepo’s 50,000-capacity temple where three services are held every Sunday, or to Pastor Temitope Joshua’s 15,000-capacity Synagogue of all nations every Sunday. And of course for over a decade, it has often been an agonizing experience for motorists passing through the Third Mainland Bridge, Ikorodu road towards Berger end of the Lagos-Ibadan Express way every first Friday of the month when Pastor Adeboye celebrates his Holy Ghost night. And for motorists coming to the commercial nerve centre of the nation, from other parts of the country, it has often been share misery.

Last Friday, I spent over five hours between the University of Lagos and Berger end of the express road, a journey which will ordinarily take less than two hours in spite of the usual gridlock associated with Lagos roads. This situation which is said to be worse for other motorists coming to the nation’s economic nerve centre from other parts of the country has defied solution due to lack of political will by the federal government. It has often been lost on successive federal administrations that as a multi-religious society, Christians’ freedom of worship, must not impinge on the liberty of adherents of other religions including non believers. It is also often forgotten that even among us Christians, there are many who are not miracle seekers and that have chosen to abide by God’s injunction that man must live by his sweats.

The number of miracle seekers has grown several folds in the last 13 years in the absence of a coherent employment policy by successive PDP administrations in the country. The Pentecostal churches and their prosperity prophets have become the only beacon of light providing hope for the hopeless and jobs for the unemployed.

While ex-President Obasanjo, Vice President Atiku and other leading members of PDP and their sympathizers have built private universities charging outrageous fees, the churches and their owner pastors have also built institutions of higher learning solely as business endeavours, to cater for the needs of those that the government cannot cater for and their members that have the capacity to pay.

The exploits of our pastors as successful entrepreneurs and employers of labour were late last year celebrated by Forbes which identified those it described as the richest pastors in Nigeria with diverse businesses interests in the hospitality, aviation, media, publishing and television.

While government owned publishing outfits sold to favoured friends and sometimes crooks, have collapsed as a result of what the House Committee that probed privatization and BPE, described as ‘asset stripping,’ Oyakhilome’s publishing output is said ‘to churn out two million copies of his ‘Rhapsody of Realities,’ a monthly devotional which sells at $1 apiece.’ While Babangida, Abacha and Obasanjo sold Hamdala, NICON NUGA, Sheraton and Federal palace hotels in Kaduna, Abuja and Lagos, our pastors are running their own hotels as profitable ventures employing thousands of Nigerians.

We can therefore say the churches and their jet age pastors have only come to fill a vacuum created as a result of government failure to meet its obligations to the people. And these churches and their prosperity prophets will continue to be relevant because if ‘religion is the opium of the poor’, as Karl Marx says, our market is huge. The will to survive by the desperate unthinking poor will continue to drive them to the embrace of con artists and quibblers who promise hope. And with abundance of unearned free money at their disposal, financial/oil fraudsters as well as thieving ex-governors and law makers protected by the state will continue to buy grace. The fortunes of private jet owing prosperity prophets will continue to rise.

And today as it was in the old Jerusalem, in the last days of Jesus, some of our big churches both Pentecostals and orthodox, remain homes of intrigue where multi billion business deals are made, and havens for unapologetic vindictive ex and serving presidents.

I think all we can do apart from reminding the state actors and the powerful pastors of the warning by ‘The Teacher and the Healer of Nazareth’ to the effect that, ‘repentant prostitutes will enter the kingdom of God before the Pharisees, is an appeal that the pastors take a cue from Jesus Christ, the true friend of sinners and his disciples who chose to move around taking the message of salvation and forgiveness of sins directly to the poor. They did not stay inside the Jerusalem temple to sell grace.

Our pastors are after all better now equipped for true evangelization than Christ and his appointed apostles. They have access to technology, social media, and internet facilities. They own publishing outfits and television stations. They also have bullet proof limousines and armed security guards provided by the state. Some have even been credited with having as many as four private jets. Why must prosperity prophets, after robbing the poor, take a whole nation hostage in order to sell their invincible wares? These are after all mere promises of hope.

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