By Yomi Ogunsanya
About three weeks ago, there was a news report in the Nigeria media to the effect that Pastor Enoch Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God had declared war on kidnapping and hostage taking by seeking to organize a one million-man match against the twin evil. The initiative would also include securing one million signatures of Nigerians towards fighting the menace. My initial reaction was to smile in appreciation, but upon reflecting on the issue a few days later, I came to the following conclusions which I wish to share in this brief article.
There is no doubt that kidnapping and hostage taking have become very serious social anxieties in Nigeria today. They are a reflection of the terrible state of insecurity in the country as well as upshots of institutional dysfunction and lack of socially answerable state structure. What is more worrisome is the fact that these faceless kidnappers have become indiscriminating in their choice of kidnap victims—not even innocent school children and normally temperate youth corps members are spared. In fact, every Nigerian—irrespective of his/her social and economic status and present location—is potentially a kidnap victim.
But it is not only kidnapping that Nigerians are very worried about. Everyone—except, perhaps, perpetrators and sharers of the spoils—is equally worried about corruption, especially of the deep seated and gargantuan variety often associated with people in power. Everyone is worried about armed robbery—the close cousin of kidnapping and hostage-taking—increasing unemployment, political instability, threats of violence, ethno-religious riots, the inefficiency of Power Holding Company of Nigeria, and many other social problems plaguing our society. So, if an important individual in the mould of Pastor Adeboye, is mobilizing Nigerians against one of these evils, he certainly deserves to be commended, not least because the weight of his personality would give a fillip to whatever is being done to address the evil. There is, however, another side to the matter and one which may be regarded as controversial. This is what I wish to discuss here, and I am attempting to do so at the risk of drawing the ire of numerous admirers of Pastor Adeboye and adherents of Pentecostal Christianity in Nigeria. Let me begin with the following questions: Why has Pastor Adeboye elected to wage war against kidnapping and hostage-taking and not against corruption and electoral heist? Why has he been largely quiet about corruption allegations against a notable member of his church in the person of Elder Erastus Adegbola? Why has he not joined his voice and lend his total support (beyond proclamations on the pulpit) to the crusade against electoral heist? What does he think (or say) about the kleptomania and primitive consumerism of notable Pentecostal churchgoers like the incarcerated Cecilia Ibru? These questions are not directed to Pastor Adeboye alone; I am directing them to all religious leaders in Nigeria who possess the strength of character, charisma and large following capable of engineering a social change were they to take up the gauntlet. I am bothered that these people are fiddling while Rome (Nigeria) burns. Indeed, I am concerned that Nigeria has remained bogged down in corruption and instability because Pastor Adeboye and his ilk are not using their God given qualities and abilities to effect a change.
Since I cannot wait for Pastor Adeboye and others of his stripe to answer the questions I have raised, I am going to answer them myself based on what I perceive to be the issues at stake. To the first question, my guise is that Pastor Adeboye is concerned that it could soon become his turn (or the turn of some very notable personality in his church) to be the guest of some dare-devil kidnapper if nothing urgent was done about the problem. I have come to believe that in Nigeria, people who have the power to engineer a change often do not wake up to their responsibility unless or until they have become victims themselves or they have become aware of their own vulnerability. That is why I sometimes wish that a sitting Governor (or a member of his family), a commissioner, or a minister would become a kidnap victim. I am also of the considered opinion that Pastor Adeboye would not concern himself (at least overtly) with the issue of corruption—especially as it affects a member of his church—because his church has always been a beneficiary of the proceeds of illegalities. Why would he roundly criticise or condemn electoral heist (or join the Save Nigeria Group as Pastor Tunde Bakare, a fellow Pentecostal Pastor, has done) when the Redemption Camp has become a mecca for shameless election riggers and confirmed corrupt politicians (some of whom, horror of horrors, even find no qualms climbing his pulpit and addressing the same citizenry they had shamelessly raped)? I have often argued that if the Redemption Camp were truly a Holy Ground, these corrupt politicians and election riggers should not feel comfortable being there. I do not buy the excuse that both the crop and the weed would have to grow together until judgement day. If that were to be so, why did Christ proclaim the Church as a place of prayer and not a den for thieves and robbers (see Mark, 11: 17)? (After all, both the people praying and the thieving intruders could just as well have continued in the same Temple as crop and weed and Christ wouldn’t need to chase the latter out!) And who says Christ was not militant when He needed to be? He not only preached against corruption and other vices, he also demonstrated his commitment to what he preached by actually flogging and chasing out from the Temple those who had turned the place into a den for criminalities! In my view, a church ought to be a place so holy that evildoers would find it unnerving. What should make them uncomfortable should be what is being preached. The Bible records that when Jesus preached, people either repented or opposed him, because he spoke truth to them, including people in power. I wonder if the same can be said of our besuited present day Pentecostal preachers.
I believe that Pastor Adeboye would not comment on the kleptomania and unbridled consumerism of Cecilia Ibru and Elder Adegbola because, well, he knows that Pentecostal Christianity is largely to blame for their woes. After all, is the Gospel of Prosperity (or what Marijata calls Pentecostal ethics) not a leitmotif in the message of many a preacher in Nigeria today? It is there for all to see: not only are Pentecostal Christians unabashedly promoting consumerist values through their messages and lifestyles, present-day Pentecostal evangelists often convey their beliefs about the proper material manifestations of Christianity by focusing on hair, make-up, shoes, jewellery, and other forms of bodily fashion and material riches.
If Pastor Adeboye, with his large following, can throw his hat into the ring and join the fray by openly mobilizing support against corruption (both financial and political) and the struggle against forces of retrogression in Nigeria, one can only imagine what the outcome would be.