Signs, wonders and new popular delusions

By Casmir Igbokwe

 Published Sunday 02 December 2007

Agbor Ndoma is a farmer and a deacon. As the Executive Director of the Lagos-based Centre for Sustainable Agricultural Development, he works hard to keep his farms productive. As a deacon in the Winners Chapel, he does not joke with his religious activities. He organises regular prayer meetings in his house. And in one of those meetings, his visitors discussed how to command signs and wonders.

This is what inspired this piece. Many of us have continued to search for this signs and wonders. But the one we shall discuss here is of a different hue – the type that has just multiplied the hardship of a promising young man. The man (name withheld) had problems with his business in a popular city in Abia State. But his brother-in-law brought him to Lagos and opened a shop for him. He was doing well in this new business until recently when he decided to explore more of the supernatural world. Some days, he would close his shop and head for a prayer house. It did not take long before his business fortunes started dwindling. Now, his in-law has asked him to return the shop’s key to him.

In some other parts of the world, this phenomenon comes in different colours. Take Russia for instance. The world had viewed that country as an atheistic state. But the collapse of communism gave birth to the influx of foreign evangelists and missionaries. Recently, members of a doomsday religious group barricaded themselves inside a cave in a remote region called Penza. These doomsday believers said they would be in the cave to await the end of the world in May 2008. They threatened to blow themselves up if authorities make any attempt to force them out of the place. Recall that 11 students of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, were recently rescued from the forest where they had gone to await rapture. They had claimed receiving a message from God to rapture.

The United States had contended with similar end-time movements in the past. Such end-time preachers as Jim Jones and David Koresh had led their followers to commit mass suicide. The recent American wonder involves a polygamist sect called the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Its leader, Warren Jeffs, allegedly forced a 14-year-old girl to marry her cousin. He also purportedly encouraged the girl to have sex so that she would not go to hell. Jeffs is said to have 70 wives. And this conforms to the teaching of his church that a man must marry at least three wives in order to make heaven.

This type of delusion assumed a disturbing dimension in India recently. A man reportedly forced his 15-year-old daughter to marry him. Angry Kasiajhiora villagers in the Indian state of West Bengal almost lynched the man for committing incest. The police rescued him, but he and his wife are staying in another town for now.

In Nigeria, anybody can also claim anything and people will believe. The number of those who claim they see visions is multiplying by the day. Some of them can see anything, including the way you sleep with your wife. In a particular village in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State (name withheld), a certain seer has caused some ripples. People contributed money to invite the man to divine the cause of their predicaments. In some cases, he told some devotees that their problem was a close relative. This has caused serious strain in people’s relationships.

In some other parts of the country, juju is the reigning wonder. There is something they call pin in some parts of the east. It looks more like a piece of bicycle spoke. The general belief is that evildoers magically shoot pieces of these pins into people’s bodies. There are specialists who remove the pins. Some of them remove them with their teeth. Some remove them by merely slapping the affected area. And there are people who believe that having bitter kola in one’s pocket wards off the magical pin from one’s body.

Authorities in the Netherlands have even noticed our prowess in the use of juju. Last October, Dutch police arrested some Nigerians who trafficked children into the West as sex slaves. The traffickers allegedly cast a spell on the children before smuggling them abroad. Their voodoo, though, could not confuse the Dutch police from arresting them.

These days, you will hear people saying, “I am strong” when they are sick. To these believers, being strong is a matter of faith. But the question is, if a civil servant, for instance, says he is strong when it is obvious that he is derelict in his duties because of sickness, what will you do to that person if you are his employer? Give him a pat on the back or fire him?

This is the type of faith that defined the response I got from Mr Samuel Ajibode over my recent article entitled “Between babies and their containers”. The article made reference to one Emma Gough who died after giving birth to twins. The suspicion was that her death was because she refused blood transfusion, being a member of Jehovah’s Witness. But as Ajibode put it, “You well know that doctors say they only care but God heals. If God who heals says blood should not be used in any way, don’t you think that anybody who believes God exists should obey the one who heals? The only true God who created heaven and earth inspired the writing of the whole Bible including Acts of the Apostle, chapter 15 verses 28 and 29. Please read these verses in an undertone. Jehovah’s witnesses do not want to go into the fatality and complications that accompany blood transfusion because their only reason for refusing blood transfusion is obedience to the only true God who heals.”

People are free to believe anything. They are entitled to their opinions. But let’s draw a line between reality and delusion. If a pregnant woman is dying and all she needs to come alive is blood, I don’t see why anybody should deny her this elixir.

I don’t also see why people should abandon their businesses the whole day for Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday prayers. Self-styled evangelists, in the name of tithe, collect the little money these miracle seekers have and tell them to expect miracles, signs and wonders. When their businesses collapse, witches and wizards take the blame.

There is time for everything. Ndoma, for instance, does not sleep in a prayer house. He toils everyday to make his businesses grow. He only retires in his house in the night for his religious activities. This is the point many Nigerians seem to be missing. May God open our inner eyes to existential truths. May He give us the wisdom to decipher between reality and delusion.





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