There is a new game in town. It involves- no garlands for guessing- the Redeemed Christian Church of God. But I err. Actually, it’s not a new game. What is going on is a rejuvenation of a scam that began ten years ago, and its chief perpetrator is no other than Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye, the General Overseer of the RCCG; Daddy G.O. for short.
It goes like this: for a specified amount of cash (hard currency preferred), you could enlist as one of the Redeemed Church’s coveted “Covenant Partners”. The first round of recruitment took place ten years ago, as a result of which, according to Pastor Adeboye, many jaw-dropping miracles took place in the lives of the “partners.” That agreement is now up for renewal. But wait a minute. The terms must be renegotiated. The duration, for a start. Apparently, God has suddenly grown weary of protecting his covenantees for ten years. Instead, according to pastor Adeboye (I am quoting verbatim from the announcement on the RCCG website), ‘When I asked God, He said there will be a new set and it will not be for ten years. He said “because those people were in covenant with you for ten years, I had no choice but to keep them alive for ten years” He said “You tied my hands”. And I remembered all the miracles that happened in the life of my partners, and I thank God for all the miracles, I thank God for all my partners and I say, thank you for the past ten years. Now, the Lord says to me, the new set of partners will be for only three years. He said after three years, we can review.’
As an observer of African Pentecostalism in general and the dynamics of mega-churches in Nigeria specifically, I am no stranger to the outrageous and the bizarre. But even for me, the absurdity on display here is simply stunning. First, the content of what pastor is pawning here as a one-on-one between himself and God is a basic negation of one of the essential properties of the Christian God, i.e. his omniscience. The God Adeboye is reporting here is not just utterly capricious; he is also cack-handed. After initially resolving to bless a chosen cohort for a ten-year period, he seems, in the strangest manner, to have had a change of mind. This time, he will only lavish his special blessings on these new partners for only three years. And why? “Because those people were in covenant with you (Adeboye) for ten years, I had no choice but to keep them alive for ten years.” And why, you wonder, is wrong with that? Why would a good God not be motivated to keep his children alive for ten years? Why reduce ten to three? Has God mysteriously lost his powers to do all things? Suppose, for instance, that a former covenantee resolves not to renew his/her lease, what happens? Does he or she then forfeit God’s blessings? And what happens in the interim, the time between the expiration of the former lease and the activation of a new one? Would God leave his sheep in limbo?
Questions like these are bound to boggle the critical mind, and make one wonder what God’s actual motives are. But the RCCG announcement furnishes us with probable answers, and this is the second theme I take up here. It transpires that membership of this elect list is not gratis. Potentially, you could, on an ascending scale, join one of ten groups. Group one is obviously the lowest, and the requirement is a monthly contribution of N100, or, as the announcement briskly- and inaccurately- notes, “USD Equivalent $1.00.” Top of the list is group ten. Members of this elite group will contribute a princely “N2,000,000 (two million Naira) and above” or circa $20,000 every month into the coffers of the RCCG. So, you have it right there. You will be the recipient of untold- and conveniently unspecified- “blessings,” but only for a fee. Gone are the days when God would bless you for merely obeying his commandments. No more. He is not only tired of keeping people alive for so long; the terms for securing God’s blessings have changed. You’ve gotta make a deposit, man!
As it is at the RCCG, so it is at majority of the countless houses of worship (sic) that currently combine to make the Nigerian society easily the world’s most churched. In these abominable places, any thief can be a pastor. Indeed, most are. What varies is the degree of brazenness with which such religious leaders (sic) go about their nefarious acts, and the sophistication involved in the ruthless evisceration of their congregations. Majority of such congregations are of course there to be taken. They are either too poor or too illiterate to understand the sociology of their own disemboweling, or too rich and ensconced to give up what they regard, literally speaking, as their investments. It is in this sense that a description of Nigerian churches as mere casinos gains special resonance. You know what goes on in those. In a casino, no one is interested in the pedigree of your money. In fact, the dodgier, the better. Why else do we call it a casino?
In perhaps the most astonishing example of moral bankruptcy in the history of spiritual leadership in the country, Pastor Adeboye and the RCCG, against a social backdrop of chronic underemployment and material deprivation of the most humanly degrading sort, have refused to ask their congregation the most basic and most important question of all: What is the source of your money? The question is not trite. Neither is Adeboye and RCCG’s highest echelons’ refusal to pose it. Were they to pose it, they would rend the very principle that holds the church together, and that has catapulted it to its current status as one of the most prosperous private investments in modern Africa. This is what every Nigerian should understand. RCCG is enriched when money is collected, no questions asked. This is the simple explanation for the spineless silence of pastor Adeboye himself in the face of the social tragedy that confronts Nigerians everywhere today.
Obadare (Obadare@ku.edu) teaches sociology at the University of Kansas, USA.