Just a couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column about religion in Nigeria. My intention was to deliver a measured, even-handed take on Nigeria’s unique national scourge before retreating into the cool relief of my economic and political analysis comfort zone. Discussing religion in Nigeria is like trying to smoke a cigarette inside the vault of a TNT depot – only the brave do it, and why must I be the brave one?
Busola Dakolo had other ideas though, and so here we are a few days after that issue burst into public consciousness discussing COZA-gate. Rapist-Gate-oyinbo. El violación por la Gucci pastor. Whatever you call it. We are back to this topic of religion and the way we practise it in Nigeria. Last time out, I was intentionally tame and conciliatory, but the circumstances have changed. If facts upset you, then this is your last chance to stop reading this article and save yourself the fume, because prisoners will not be taken.
Different Bins, Same Garbage
That terrible pastor eh?
So many women he has assaulted and taken advantage of right? Horrible man.
String him up by his nether regions.
He should never step on a pulpit again.
The reaction to what was perhaps the least surprising sexual assault scandal in Nigerian church history has fixated on a certain high-flying, Gucci-wearing pastorpreneur as an individual human being. The entire story of his myriad rape accusations and general sexual malfeasance with members of his congregation has been presented as the story of a single flawed individual who did something unexpected. To an extent, this is accurate because rape is a very personal crime and rapists are objectively terrible human beings.
In the context of Nigerian Pentecostal Christianity and the country’s wider religious environment however, it is unhelpful because it creates a single hate figure to take the flak for what is not an individual failure but a systemic problem. Instead of examining why a slimy, greasy individual who dresses like a caricature of a Bond villain has enough power to rape people serially over more than a decade and get away with it, the narrative is reduced to a mere Twitter hashtag urging him to step down.
The real problem that none of us will dare to admit is that the Nigerian religious system turns worshippers into serfs and religious leaders into demi-gods. This is across board. COZA is not so much the tip of the iceberg as a small block of ice chipped off the buried iceberg and brought to the surface by one very brave woman. Nobody knows how deep the rot goes, and I suspect nobody wants to know. If the full story of Nigerian religious anyhowness comes out, exactly none of our Prophets, Apostles, Evangelists and Daddy GO’s will be exonerated.
It does not have to be rape, though I suspect it very often will be. It will also be profiteering, money laundering, fraud and sexual harassment to name just a few, and it won’t be just the guys at the top. From top to bottom, the entire edifice of organized Nigerian religion succeeds at protecting and prospering some of the very worst people in this part of the world.
Even when a scandal like this comes out occasionally, it very quickly fizzles out because the worshippers show up in full force to defend their self-appointed masters. It happened when Reverend King killed a member of his church by setting her ablaze. His church is still full to date. It happened when Busola Dakolo exposed Abuja’s greasiest character as a rapist. His church was full on Sunday. It will keep on happening because deep inside, most of us hold on to our faiths and denominations for the wrong reasons.
At heart, we are all Boko Haram.
Your Mind Exists to Learn – Most Of Us Are Scared to Use It
Growing up as a Jehovah Witness, we used to have something called a “family study” every Wednesday night, where we would gather and take turns to read a weekly assigned bible portion while dozing off behind our glasses. Apart from the mind-numbing tedium of it all, what sticks out in my memory is the awkwardness in the room when we would read a scripture that just did not sit right with everyone present.
Sometimes it would be some verse in Numbers or Leviticus where the Israelite god would prescribe a death sentence for the most trivial and arbitrary things, like wearing garments made of two different types of cloth, or a woman coming out in public during her monthly period without shouting “Unclean! Unclean!” Other times it would be when said god would encourage the Israelite army to commit the sort of genocide, rape and other war crimes that would make even Boko Haram blush. On one notable occasion, it was somewhere in the New Testament where Paul said something incredibly misogynistic to the effect of “Women should remain silent in the church.”
Being the troublemaker I have always been, I noticed that during the discussion afterward, we would always try to avoid such verses, so I would always be the one to bring it up. I would ask all the uncomfortable questions you can imagine, and after failing to bamboozle me with English, my folks would eventually shut down the conversation with a veiled threat to the effect of “Jehovah is never wrong and you need to stop interrogating him.”
Of course all this did was make it clear to me that they did not particularly understand or even deeply believe in what they so fiercely held on to – what really mattered was being seen to believe in this thing. The same way it was so important for other church members to see us at the Kingdom Hall every Sunday whether we wanted to be there or not, they seemed to think that their refusal to think about their faith at more than a cursory depth would somehow earn their god’s approval.
The Fatoyinbo cult phenomenon is a first cousin to that situation. The Nigerian approach to spirituality has created millions of indoctrinated, programmed people who think that pursuing a line of questioning beyond their regular comfort zone will result in a bolt of lightning from heaven striking them dead on the spot. In the absence of real spirituality stemming from actual knowledge, empathy and wisdom, what we have is a nation of lousy performance-believers whose faith is based on belonging to a group.
This creates a situation where people are unable to think critically, having outsourced all thought and decision making to a herd. Whoever is in control of that herd effectively has an army of zombies at their beck and call. Both leader and led believe that whatever is done in the name of their faith is unquestionable, which leads to fanaticism. It also feeds narcissism on the part of both leaders and followers. All it takes is for a story like Busola Dakolo’s to emerge and show up everybody’s self-immersion in stark relief.
“I’m sure she tempted him.”
“Useless woman trying to bring down my pastor!”
“I’m very sad about this but Pastor Biodun preaches so well.”
Perhaps if we could take the time to learn more about the faiths we profess, this might not be such a problem. Maybe we could learn for instance that there are over 80 known books of the Christian Gospel, and the bible we are familiar with today is a noticeably different document to that which existed in the early days of Christianity. Maybe knowing that we are part of only a small subset of Christian diversity would make us less dogmatic about how and where we profess the faith in Nigeria.
Maybe we could learn that Islam was heavily influenced by Persian Zoroastrianism, even borrowing its term for ‘Paradise’ (‘Pirdaus’, now ‘al-Firdaus’ because Arabic has no ‘P’ sound). Maybe this might make us have less of a superiority complex about being part of an essentially borrowed religious faith. Maybe we could acknowledge that books written thousands of years ago in a different historical context do not function as talismans and amulets in the 21st century, shielding everybody from murderers to rapists from the consequences of their actions.
Maybe we could get over our damn selves.
Get. Over. Yourself.
I have mentioned previously that Nigerian deists could benefit from observing how their respective faiths are practised outside of this small space we grew up in. I will take this a step further today and say that Nigerians who profess any kind of faith need to understand that foaming-at-the-mouth fanatic behaviour benefits neither us nor the god on whose behalf we think we are acting out a real-life revival stage drama. If the god we believe in also created Chinese atheists, South Korean Budhists and Brazilian Orişa faithful (all of whom enjoy better lives than we do), then our cruelty, nonsensical babbling and assorted displays of fealty intended to impress said god are unlikely to have much of an effect.
If you believe that billions of human beings are worshipping the wrong god, or worshipping in an inferior way to your specific choice, then you should also be humble enough to recognise that it could in fact be you who is making the wrong choice. If for example, a COZA member believes the status quo must persist because one Biodun Fatoyinbo supposedly has “the word” (whatever that means), they should also be lucid and honest enough to admit that the Christian god has literally millions of alternate churches, pastors and methods for delivering “the word.”
If the supreme entity that apparently created the solar system, the Milky Way Galaxy and the rest of the unknown universe beyond our current scope of comprehension needs our worship, he or she certainly can do better than communicating with us through a serial rapist and sex pest. Is there a shortage of religious leaders who have the most basic human decency? Biodun Fatoyinbo is not so important to the Christian god that he can literally rape a bunch of women and then god will be like:
“Yeah, I know rape is bad, but how else will I get through to 180 million Nigerian humans without his Gucci bags and hyperactive penis? I, the omniscient and omnipotent being who is apparently capable of raising stones to speak on my behalf cannot find anyone better than a serial sex offender.”
If you insist on enabling a rapist, then admit that it’s not because of “god.” It’s really just you.
You are a one-man civilian Boko Haram sleeper cell.
Own it with your chest.
The entire concept of people not being held accountable for terrible behaviour on account of their position within a religious organisation is prime Boko Haram behaviour after all. Enabling people’s narcissism by using religious personality cults to insulate them from the consequences of their actions is literally how that group began. As at 2002, “Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad” (People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad) was simply an Islamic group led by a charismatic narcissist called Mohammed Yusuf, which wanted to ‘Muslim’ the heck out of Borno State.
They did not start out kidnapping hundreds of schoolgirls or overrunning military bases, but the signs were certainly there that these guys would become a dangerous cult. Instead of treating Yusuf as the dangerous, deranged man with delusions of grandeur that he was, the Borno state government installed a Boko Haram representative as Commissioner of Religious Affairs in a 2007 political deal that went horribly wrong two years later. We all know how that ended.
Incidentally, the mistake is being repeated all over again, as the presence of elite soldiers and DSS agents at Sunday’s protest told a story about El Gucci Pastor’s political connections. Just like in 2007, a charismatic leader of a budding religious cult is being feted and cosseted by the government instead of being prosecuted for a litany of criminal offenses.
Nigerian governments after all, are nothing if not consistent.
And so in conclusion, it is up to you to audit yourself and determine whether you are different from Abubakar Shekau. If your pastor can rape someone and get you to side with him, what else can he get you to do? If your faith is so fragile that it cannot exist without external elements like charismatic religious leaders and an Olamide-Live-In-Concert-style worship atmosphere, then do you really have faith? Or are you just part of a religious identity that you cannot see beyond even in the face of overwhelming evidence?
If it is the latter, then you have just wasted your time reading this article. What you really need to do is travel to Chad and purchase a few black market AK-47s like Mohammed Yusuf did between 2007 and 2009. Then you can set off to the front lines at Konduga.
Your people are waiting for you there.