T.B. Joshua and Nigerian Money Ritualists By Abimbola Adelakun
Three interrelated reports in recent times bear some ruminations: One is the supposed “forest of horror” discovered in Ibadan. Most media reports described the activities going on in the place as connected to some “money-making” rituals. They, however, did not question the validity of the assertion of making money through some arcane rituals. It seemed taken for granted that money-making rituals truly exist and every reader could relate with it. I find the failure to probe into the actual activities going on in that forest curious. For all the noise about “money-making”, no money (plenty or little) was found in that place and there is scant evidence to prove that those who kept that house had bags of them in Swiss accounts. So, how did the money-making thing work for them?
Ok, so the argument could be that they were suppliers to some rich men and women somewhere but then again, how many rich people in Nigeria make money from these rituals? If it were possible to be rich through this way, why then do Nigerian politicians steal relentlessly? Why not simply take that option? Throughout the period the story raged on in public, there was barely any attempt to consider other possibilitiesm why such a place existed. Soon after, a man who was said to be “pretending to be mad” was caught with “human fingers”. While the traditional and New Media did not hesitate to push the pictures of severed fingers into our faces, there was no questioning the possibility of whether this man was truly crazy, was a socio-path, or serial killer; whether he killed his victims before collecting their fingers (and whatever else he did) and his obsession with collecting that particular part of the body. It seemed it was just easier to believe his case was about something mysterious. In other climes, doctors and psychiatrists would have used this man as a case study to understand mental conditions.
It is easy for the Nigerian elite/educated class to look away from these things or simply deride them as idiocies that simple-minded and poor folk believe but I find the lack of extended discussion by the society on these phenomena troubling. Even if all the deliberations about “money-making rituals” eventually achieved were to create a little doubt in the minds of superstitious folk, it would have been worthwhile. Since the days of Kolawole Olawuyi and his Irinkerindo programme, the media has been used in the propagation of falsehoods. Olawuyi used formal channels like radio to mystify phenomenon that could have been easily explained by a logical mind. His programme spawned many imitators and before you knew it, there was a social neurosis about supernatural powers and everyone was looking for devil/enemies/witches where none previously existed. Some of these idiocies have been reinforced by Nollywood over and over again. Now, I am not against popular culture exploring urban legends, but their narrative logic merely glorifies absurdities. Every happenstance is simply assigned a demon.
It is therefore unsurprising that certain practices would thrive in our society; we have fertilised the ground with enough myths. The Founder of the Synagogue Church of Nations, Temitope B. Joshua, has been in the news lately –both local and international – for his own version of Irinkerindo stories. He (and his followers) claimed he predicted the Nyanya bombing and the missing Malaysia Airline 370 flight. Prior to then, Joshua had “delivered” some Boko Haram insurgents in his church. These so-called Boko Haram members, it was claimed, travelled all the way from Northern Nigeria to Lagos. No, they did not stop at any of the crowded parts of Lagos but headed straight for Joshua’s church as if he had a bomb made in his name. I find it rather comical; the kind of jokes that make you laugh because you just don’t want to cry.
There is a video online posted by people who have tried to show the discrepancy between Joshua’s “original prophecy” and the follow-up claims after the Malaysian crash happened. The latter video, they showed, had been edited for effect. Whether Joshua is fake or not is a conclusion that I leave to those who attend his church. When it comes to preachers, what comes across as “fake” to sceptics is just the opium somebody else needs to make it through to another day. The part that concerns me is the larger society that is partly entertained and partly devalued by the exploitation of these major tragedies. Joshua has the boldness to express his triumphalism among a grieving public without a sense of embarrassment. That is what I call the Prophet Jonah psychology. You predict evil and you rejoice when it happens because your ego is tied to your prophecies. Joshua’s I-said-so should have been enough to have incurred the wrath of a grieving public but it seems it has only contributed to his mystique. Some poor souls are probably flocking to his church as you read this, seeking what is not lost.
Of course, Joshua has the right to give his audience what they want to hear but how far should a society tolerate these things? The case of Helen Ukpabio, the notorious witch hunter who was recently deported from the United Kingdom for her outlandish claims about witchcraft is instructive. She forgot that the UK is not Nigeria where you sell Irinkerido stories to a gullible public. A number of organisations and individuals petitioned the UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, for Ukpabio’s deportation saying her messages were detrimental and could put lives at risk. I salute the efforts of the individuals who made it possible for Ukpabio to be crated back to Nigeria. We need to borrow a leaf from the UK to treat the likes of Ukpabio who punish poor and helpless people for the demons they create. We have been rather too tolerant of these things because, as some people would argue, they are “cultural.” Yes, our culture legitimises beliefs in money-making rituals. People like Joshua and Ukpabio have replaced the Babalawo and witcthdoctors that our ancestors used to patronise in the past. Yes, we can blame our cultural worldview for our acceptance of these beliefs but where a number of people, especially children, have been victims, such should not be treated with levity at all.
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