By Osmund Agbo
The founder of LoveWorld Incorporated, also known as Christ Embassy, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome has never hidden his disdain for anything about Covid-19 and the science of it. The “man of God” started by telling the world that the virus was nothing but a dangerous weapon called the 5G network and that all the alarm being raised about its fatality was just another brouhaha. Along the line, however, he received his baptism and started touting hydroxychloroquine as the wonder drug that could cure a disease he believed never existed. Recall that in May last year, the mega pastor’s Loveworld Television Network based in the United Kingdom was sanctioned by the Office of communication for spreading misinformation about the pandemic.
Well today, Chris is not just back but with a vengeance. In a new video being shared across social media platforms, he was seen forcefully doubling down on his claim about the Covid vaccine, talking about the new world order and using such fancy scientific terms like spike protein, gene therapy and everything in between to dazzle whoever cares to listen. Even fellow pastors who dared to support the use of vaccines have come on his firing line. He does not believe that such congregation leaders are worthy of being called Christians since, in his words, they neither know God nor the scripture.
People like Pastor Chris are rich, powerful and dangerous. They dress up ignorance in elegant prose and Nigeria is home to many of them. I met one some time ago, in a flight from Houston to Atlanta.
Each time I find myself flying in an aeroplane, I almost always engage total strangers. As much as I try to convince myself that such moves help to broaden my horizon, there is the motivation that comes with the offer of an escape from the inconvenience of being huddled up in a space barely enough to contain my modest frame. Of course, I envy those spoilt business class brats with their entitlement to huge legroom and a seat that comfortably retracts. Well, this time, I too got lucky.
Good day sir! How you dey? I said, with my best attempt yet at a friendly smile.
The man cocked his head right to my side, even as he gathers the rest of his suit, making sure it’s well tucked in within his allotted space.
Not minding the balmy weather, he sported a purple-coloured 3-piece suit, oversized and burdened with excessive details. He came complete with a big cross festooned on his neck. Looking at the whole ensemble, you get the impression he must have insisted his designer not do away with any piece of fabric. Being a Nigerian, it didn’t take long for me to decode this paraphernalia.
Casting one more glimpse at me as if to convince himself he heard right,
“Are you Nigerian? “he asked and I answered in the affirmative. Can’t you tell? I retorted.
“Omo Ibo right?” I nodded
“Ah! I no fit o” he said, smiling as he surveyed back and forth as if to make sure that no one was eavesdropping in the conversation. Two minutes in and I was still struggling to understand this fellow. A hybrid of Nigerian, American and British accents made his English almost impossible to comprehend.
Sir, it seems like you didn’t grow up in Nigeria? I asked
“I did “he replied. “But why do you ask?”
Well… It’s just that you sound very different. The moment I saw you, I could tell you are Nigerian. But I couldn’t have been able to, just listening to you speak.
Then he continued!
“I actually did. But you see I have spent a lot of time outside and made lots of Oyibo friends”, he explained, with a deep sense of pride while suppressing a smile.” Our ministry has taken us to different countries and cultures and perhaps that’s the reason why. “
As I listened, he reminded me of this man that was the butt of my village jokes. Back from China and speaking in what he believed to be an American accent, he sounded like a moron. But anyway, my new friend quickly introduced himself and his church and made me choose from two options on how to address him. The GO (short for General Overseer) which apparently speaks to his position or Bishop which is less favoured by him.
Apparently, my pastor friend is well known among the Nigerian evangelical circles. He commands a huge following of faithful and his church has a presence in most of Nigeria’s big cities. Needless to say, he is a man of means and has at his disposal, a fleet of luxury automobiles with custom license plates. In fact, the main reason for his sojourn in North America was to seal the deal in his latest acquisition: A single-engine, high wing Cessna 172 Skyhawk that set him back a couple of million dollars. I knew because my friend was not shy telling me he doesn’t worship a poor God. He came across as an unpolished version of the highballing African-American televangelist, Creflo Dollars.
A simple Google search later turned up a controversial pastor well known for touting supernatural healing. He claims to cure such deadly ailments as cancer and is known to discourage patronage of Orthodox medicine. He markets this healing balm that can be combined with seven days of fasting and prayer to achieve a cure for all kinds of disease. But there was also another chilling revelation. Prior to his conversion, he was once a dare-devil, hardened criminal with a penchant for the most bizarre crime.
Though a Roman Catholic, I do not subscribe to the church’s claim that ours is superior to other Christian denominations simply because the Pope is a successor of Peter’s (upon this rock I will build my church). The same way I find it difficult to believe that a good Muslim, a Hindu or even a Buddhist will go to hell simply because they have not accepted Jesus Christ as their lord and personal savior. That said, I have often wondered about certain practices from different religious groups. I am still trying to come to term with a church whose line of succession begins and ends with the founder and his families. One has to wonder if the pastor and his lineage are the only one worthy of receiving the anointing. Or is all about protecting other non-spiritual interests?
I have long held the view that organized religion as mostly practiced today especially in Africa is antithetical to spirituality and the service of God. Whether it be ISIS and Boko Haram fundamentalist killing in the name of Allah or Christian fanatics not wanting anything to do with the rest of us who are moderates, it’s all about making claims about serving God while leading ungodly life.
We have seen charlatans masquerading as Men of God (MOG). They come in various hues and trade in deceit. From good old motivational speaking to diabolic magicians engaged in deadly stunts. All intended to line their pockets. The biggest problem arising from this is not just about defrauding the poor and downtrodden but those countless times faithfuls have paid with their life’s consequent upon these stunts. We are all familiar with the South African pastor that commanded his flock to rummage on grass like herbivores while invoking the spirit of God.
Listening to my Nigerian pastor, I was convinced he genuinely is intellectually handicapped to even understand the ramifications or depth of his action to our society. What is most surprising, however, is how even with his limited intellect, he was able to build up such a large following and able to convince them to finance his very extravagant lifestyle. What he lacked in intellect, he compensated handsomely in his charisma. The type that enables him to find a passage in the scripture to explain away whatever action he takes. Whether it be asking a widow to sow a seed with her last penny so he could finance his latest luxury item or pay a monthly subscription for anointing oil that will help you build wealth, attain status and privilege, the story is the same.
Bogus lies peppered with bible quotes. But I understand how far we have all been enslaved using the instrument of religion. Concepts that simple common sense will remind us of their impracticality are packaged in faith and sold to us at a price that is prohibitive by these” anointed” ones. Prayer and sowing seeds replace hard work and dedication as a path to building sustainable wealth. Is it by any coincidence that nations with most churches and pastors are always the most crime infested and rank poorest in developmental index?
These pastorpreneurs are simply white-collar criminals masquerading as MOG. They operate surreptitiously since they don’t carry guns. And yet, the effect of their actions is so pervasive and pose an existential challenge to our collective progress and long held societal values. Nowhere is the ripple effect felt more than in under-developed world. It’s high time we rise up to this malignant cancer and curb this menace before we lose our chance of moving our people and economy to joining the league of developed nations.
Like everything else, African governments have been very complacent about addressing the menace of these criminals in cassock. The reason is not far-fetched since some of these pastors superintend megachurches with a following that can make or mar a political candidate. In protecting their own nebulous agenda, they lacked the political will necessary to rein in on this impunity.
In Nigeria, cringeworthy tales and exploits of these fraudsters abound. We do not have to wait for it to descend to the level of Jonestown before we act.
Dr. Agbo, a Public Affairs analyst is the coordinator of African Center for Transparency and Convener of Save Nigeria Project. He can be reached via email: [email protected]