Heaven must be reserved for Nigerians

 Published in THE PUNCH on 14 January 2007

Casmir Igbokwe

For ladies, entering most churches in Nigeria in see-my-breast blouses is a good way of attracting harassment from church officials. As a woman, you must not also enter some churches in trousers. Or move in without covering your hair.  This, presumably, is to prevent the seduction of the opposite sex and the consequent inclination to commit the original sin.

With this type of orientation, a Nigerian woman who just visited the UK, went to church in Cardiff last Sunday. She had earlier bought a beautiful long skirt and a big hat to cover her hair for the Sunday service. Even when I told her that that was not necessary, she ignored me. And so, when she got to the Catholic chaplaincy at the Cardiff University, she looked odd. Every other woman in the church wore trousers – the type that reveals the underwear at the slightest stoop. And none covered her hair.

In Cardiff and elsewhere in the Western world, such things don’t matter. One can receive the Holy Communion in one’s palms instead of the tongue that we are used to in Nigeria. Priests can overindulge in smoking and drinking without anybody raising an eyebrow.

Last December, the Anglican Bishop of Southwark in the UK, Right Reverend Tom Butler, was reported to have suffered head injuries and lost his mobile handset and briefcase after he allegedly got drunk at a drinks reception at Hyde Park Corner in Britain. Although the bishop who reportedly said he had amnesia believed he might have been mugged, an eye-witness, Paul Sumpter, was said to have claimed that Butler fell and hit his head on the pavement after trying to get into his (Sumpter) car.

In the chaplaincy where I worship, the chaplain is a chain smoker. Not that smoking is a sin per se, but I can’t remember ever seeing any Catholic priest in Nigeria indulging in such an act. His parishioners would have reported him straight to the bishop.

When I first attended a church service in Cardiff, the dual character of some churches  here stared me in the face. I entered St. Martin’s Parish, believing that I was in a Catholic Church. The mode of worship was Catholic. The parish priest was addressed as a reverend father. And he administered the sacrament of reconciliation (confession). They even prayed the rosary, which is peculiar to Catholics.

But, when I glanced through the bulletin for the service, the first thing I saw was, “Welcome to Saint Martin’s Church. An Anglican Church in the Diocese of Llandaff celebrating and teaching the Christian faith in the Catholic tradition.” When I sought an explanation from the parish priest, Fr. Irving Hamer, after the mass, he simply said theirs was a Catholic Church, but that they owed no allegiance to Rome.

Elsewhere in the Christian world, ordination of gay priests is the issue at stake. One wonders how these gays could mount the pulpit to preach after an amorous night out with their same sex partners. This is why Archbishop Peter Akinola of the Anglican Communion in Nigeria is battling with the church in the West.

The irony of all this is that Europe brought Christianity to Nigeria and some other third world countries. But it is increasingly becoming obvious that these developing countries are the ones now teaching the West how to practice the religion. In the UK for instance, Nigerian dominated churches such as the Redeemed Christian Church of God try to win lost British souls back to God.

Recently, some Nigerians went round some houses in Cardiff, dropping some free copies of the June 2006 edition of Rhapsody of Realities – a devotional and Bible study guide by Chris and Anita Oyakhilome. In the publication, the Oyakhilomes claimed to have distributed many million copies around the world and expanded its translations to 24 different languages. The charismatic pastor had also exported his “atmosphere for miracles” to such countries as the UK and South Africa.

This belief in miracles also shapes the worldview of most Nigerians in the UK. In churches here, Nigerians are known for their frequent recourse to testimonies. Even in the classrooms, some little success is attributed to prayers and miracles. The other day, Godwin, a Nigerian student in Cardiff, was looking for somebody to teach him how to use Microsoft excel worksheet. When I saw him again last week using the worksheet, I wanted to know who eventually taught him how to use it. “It’s God,” he replied. “How do you mean?” I asked further. “I prayed and God revealed it all to me,” he enthused. After a brief argument with him about his claim, I left, knowing that when it comes to faith, some people can be so emotional, dogmatic, fanatical and sometimes irrational.

That is why such people as His Holiness, Rev. Dr. Prof. King will continue to hold sway in Nigeria. Although a Lagos High Court sentenced him to death on Thursday, people will not likely learn any lesson from the way he deceived gullible miracle seekers in the name of God. In the West, people don’t go all out looking for miracles. They also pray and worship God, but they don’t wait for God to send down manna from heaven. They dig for that manna themselves because they know that God, who created them, gave them some powers to handle certain situations in life.

As Rev. King’s case has shown, the judiciary may well be the hope of the people against fake pastors. Just recently in America, four children of an accomplished songwriter, Darrell Perry, sued their aunt and tele-evangelist, Darlene Bishop, for claiming that God healed their dead father of throat cancer. Their claim was that Bishop contributed in the “wrongful death” of their father by persuading him to stop chemotherapy and rely on God’s healing. They alleged that even when their father and Bishop, who also claimed to have been healed of breast cancer, were moving around, preaching about his miraculous recovery, doctors had advised that his illness was terminal.

Meanwhile, a recent poll conducted by Guardian Newspapers of London and ICM indicates that non-believers outnumber believers in Britain. According to the report, 82 per cent of those questioned see religion as a cause of division and tension between people. 

In Nigeria, religious tensions and conflicts exist. But they do not reduce the growing number of believers. A text message from Wande, a Nigerian student in Cardiff, sums it up: “If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it. Happy moments, praise God; difficult moments, seek God; quiet moments, worship God; painful moments, trust God; every moment, thank God. Pass this to seven people and you will receive miracle tomorrow. Please do it now, put your trust in God.”

May this miracle be a reduction in crime rate, wisdom to pursue more substance than shadows and the banishment of abject poverty from the Nigerian soil!



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