One of the rituals of the Christmas and New Year celebrations I have come to look forward to over the years is the gale of prophecies that emanate from Nigerian men of God. I enjoy watching the regular cycle of these divine annunciations that are supposedly channelled to this planet through the antennae of the prophet’s body get denounced by non-fulfilment. It is also worthy of note that considering how people now rip prophets and prophecies apart, clerics like Pastor Enoch Adeboye are now being cautious about what they push out. For instance, Pastor Adeboye’s 2016 prophecy about the discovery of a new Sexually Transmitted Disease never came to pass. For 2017, he re-calibrated his methods and chose to be ambiguous. He said this year there would be “surprises,” a prediction so vague it could blanket virtually any occurrence in the world. He could have stated what would be surprising about the surprises he prophesied.
Then there is Prophet T.B. Joshua – the prophet who takes the word of God from news reports – who claimed that President Muhammadu Buhari would be pressured to devalue the naira but would remain adamant. As if the absurdity they emit is not bad enough, another prophet, a certain Dr. Olagoriye Faleyimu, prophesied that Joshua himself would die! There is a noticeable trend in the prophecy galore: one, despite the non-fulfilment of previous ones, these “men of God” double down and saturate the atmosphere with weirder predictions. From prophecies about the impeachment of Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State, to foretelling bloodbaths, and to claiming that certain banks would fold up, Nigerian prophets are running amok like a chicken with severed head. Two, they are preying on individuals whose stories can create controversies for them to milk.
For instance, there is the case of the popular actress, Funke Akindele, whom Faleyimu stated might die barren unless she carried out special prayers or married a pastor. Faleyimu, aware that in an environment like Nigeria the “fruit of the womb” is an occult industry of sorts, knows how to curry attention. But did it ever occur to him that the woman he publicly targeted might not even have had prior desires to be a mother? Her reproductive choices from now on are no longer based on her personal agency, they are circumscribed between whether his prophecy will come true or not. Faleyimu evidently did not care about the ethics of his so-called profession. Instead, he assumes he has proprietary rights over other people’s personal issues and he goes ahead to confirm this with his two-for-10-kobo prophesies. Did it bother him that holding out the woman’s reproductive organs on his church altar, and passing it to the public to chew on, and also circulating it in the media, is actually an agonising violation of her body?
This Nostradamus habit of targeting public figures is not a particularly new cultural development. For decades, Nigerian prophets of various denominational extractions have claimed that certain musicians or actors would either fall sick or die, sending those who were so fingered into a frenzy when the public turns around at them and expects their reaction. This mode of using prophecies to goad people into certain action reads almost like Shakespeare’s Macbeth where the eponymous hero committed murders and was driven to madness because he was influenced by the probability of witches’ predictions coming to pass.
When you have a prophet like Apostle John Suleman loudly proclaim that forces in Aso Rock would poison Mrs. Aisha Buhari, you know even if the woman decides to discard the prophecy, there are others in Aso Rock who will get an idea even if only the goal is to test God. If these forces succeed, the pastor triumphantly holds up a poisoned First Lady as a confirmation of his unction. Subsequently, he will be patronised by other superstitious people who will not see the chain of event as a mere artificial creation. And if it happens that she was not poisoned or evades poisoning attempts, Suleman will still claim that he averted impending disasters through prayers. To facilitate the latter option, Suleman would expect the First Lady to send for him, probably make him her spiritual adviser, and also grant him unfettered access to Aso Rock along with resources that could bring him profit.
But at some point, one should ask these pastors and prophets what the point of their trade is all about?
While there is some entertainment value in the prophecies they unleash on the public annually, the sheer banality of it all is excruciating. For example, when a world famous pastor like Adeboye prophesies that there will be more weddings in 2017, one wonders what use a prophetic anointing has when it does not see beyond mundane issues? Why can they not look ahead and prophesy how science and technology will shape our lives in the years to come? Some of the technologies we – the society and its subset of the church itself – rely on are fruits of ordinary men’s visions and predictions.
A number of technocultural products that we use today were once predicted by various futurists (especially science fiction writers) who did not pretend God was speaking through them. They looked ahead, saw how the world could be reshaped and they (or some other people) committed resources to making these predictions possible. Some of the ideas that have shaped our lives were mental peregrinations of writers who were sometimes under the influence of alcohol but they foresaw ideas that have been of great use to humankind. John Bellamy, for instance, talked about credit cards as far back as in 1888; John Brunner, in 1969, wrote about electric cars in futuristic 2010; Aldous Axley wrote about consciousness-altering substances at least two decades before scientists started experimenting it; George Orwell’s Big Brother’s omnipresent eyes is a prediction that has come to pass in startling ways such that we defer to his works when we talk of the surveillance state.
Here in Nigeria, year after year, our prophets’ outlook remains pessimistic and obsessively focused on garnering cheap attention. These prophets hardly ever transcend predicting marriages, barrenness, deaths, economic and social failures, and punishment. Why is the God that rules our lives so seemingly petty? We can of course argue that our prophets and their predictions are a reflection of our society and the things that we hold dear. When a prophet can cause a ruckus by looking at a celebrity’s history and predicting whether she achieves a rudimentary goal such as birthing a child in the age when science is already creating artificial uterus, it is as telling on the rest of the society as it is on the prophet himself.
Elsewhere, scientists are thinking of meeting a burgeoning world population with ideas of food production that mimics subsistence farming of times past. They are exploring how people can grow organic food in their houses in urban centres by simulating the conditions that make plants grow in traditional farms. In Nigeria, we are largely stuck on outmodelled farming methods, barely evolving to develop sophisticated tools to manage food production for our population. The governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorochas, at some point asked civil servants to take two days off work to practise subsistence farming. The same ideas that birthed Operation Feed the Nation and Green Revolution still resurge in the new millennium because our society is neither evolving nor innovating for its own good. Everything is banal. Nothing, not even prophecies that supposedly spring from the throne of God every year, is inspiring enough to help us to push beyond our present stage of socio-cultural evolution. We are the children of Sisyphus, cursed to repeat the same mediocre task forever.
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