Nigeria’s New President Muhammadu Buhari Hopes to Crack Down on Country’s Crooked Pastors

A church member holds up pamphlets outside the Living Faith Church, founded by Nigeria's richest priest, Bishop David OyedepoREUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye
A church member holds up pamphlets outside the Living Faith Church, founded by Nigeria’s richest priest, Bishop David OyedepoREUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

Plans by president-elect Muhammadu Buhari to crack down on Nigeria’s crooked super-pastors could spark a civil war, a leading researcher has warned.

Many Nigerians see the Muslim Buhari as a non-corrupt politician, tough on corruption and eager to regulate the “pervasive activities” of the so-called miracle healers in the volatile west African nation.

Walking down the streets of Nigeria’s South, the number of Pentecostal preachers claiming to have been present at miracle healings or cleansed their followers of evil spirits is bewildering.

In the 1980s and 1990s the few Pentecostal churches were well regulated but, claims Nigerian psychology and criminology researcher Chima Agazue, since then the proliferation of super-pastors has resulted in millions of citizens squeezing into thousands of churches to pay priests for good fortune in their lives.

“This is what you hear every minute everywhere you go, in public transport vehicles, walking down the streets. It’s not about going to church,” Agazue told IBTimes UK. “Everything is about Jesus, Jesus, Jesus and money.”

Exploiting fear

Born in Nigeria’s southern Anambra state, Agazue has investigated how the culture of superstition in Africa’s most populous country has led to a proliferation of what he describes as “religio-commercial pastors” since 2006.

Agazue, who is based at the University of Huddersfield, is calling on the Nigerian government to crack down on the corrupt Pentecostal pastors.

These preachers, he says, have built comfortable lives for themselves by putting fear into their followers, telling them they cannot succeed in life unless they hand over money or valuables to their churches.

While some specialise in witchcraft — often targeting very vulnerable people, such as widows, the very ill or women desperate to conceive — others are exploiting fears of insecurity on Nigeria’s roads, where armed robberies are rife, to create multi-million dollar corporations.

Three Nigerians are killed by HGVs every day, according to Federal Road Safety Commission statistics.

“As a result, for instance, hardly any coach goes without an evangelist pastor preaching inside the vehicle against evil spirits and without the whole bus throwing bank notes at his feet,” Agazue explains.

This national fear is also exacerbated by medical doctors referring their patients to pastors when they are unable to diagnose their patients’ illness.

“In Nigeria, the culture means that once a condition cannot be diagnosed, a number of doctors or clinical pharmacists will automatically believe in a spirit and refer their patient to those prophets, the miracle makers. They believe this man can perform miracles in the name of Jesus.”

Agazue added: “The more they put fear into people, the more they make money. People are blind to logic.”

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Elsa Buchanan

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