Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Pentecostalism in Nigeria: Exploiting or Edifying the Masses?

What began as an innocuous charismatic fervour in African Churches in the early 1980s had its humble origins in the university Christian study groups of the preceding decade. The growth of Pentecostalism in Nigeria was bred by the critical perception of young Christian students in most Southern Nigerian universities that the
main-line churches such as Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, etc., which had had tremendous influence on their upbringing had become too cold, docile, and devoid of the resurrection power that the Apostles of old received in the upper room in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. Thus, the new age Pentecostalism which was initially confined to campuses began to grow in leaps and bounds, first in the consciousness of their converts or proselytes on campuses, and later extended beyond the limited confines of the country to other parts of the world.

The expansion of the reach of Pentecostalism was facilitated by the economic and political crises of the 1980s, which naturally and psychologically created adherents who were drawn from the pool of frustrated and marginalised people in the larger Nigerian society. The claim to ‘power’ by Pentecostal outreaches across the country was attested to by the numerous reports of instant miracles and wonder turnarounds experienced by several attendees, devotees and testifiers. It was indeed the harvest of miracles that served as the trump card of evangelisation which attracted large followings to the pentecostalists of different hues.

The veracity or otherwise of the miraculous feats of healing and restoration in some Pentecostal churches in Nigeria has remained a sore point in the discourse on the phenomenon over time. There had been instances when exposés were published by journalists on some fake Pentecostal pastors who utilised magical powers and cultic mediums to manipulate and cajole their credulous adherents. As many were exposed, and became obscure and cast into oblivion, several others often emerged to fill the gap.

Today, Pentecostalism has become a booming trade mark of a Christian evangelistic crusade in Nigeria. The messages of healing, miracles and prosperity have often received wider acceptance among the populace that had seen the hope of the oil boom collapse into the spiral of economic decline, social and political decadence. Pentecostal churches in the country have continued to feast on the psychology of the masses who genuinely are desirous of relief from their sordid existential realities. True, while there may be some faithful Pentecostal pastors who are committed to the course of promoting God’s kingdom on earth, several others have continued to pursue their preoccupation as a commercial venture, and utilise any means to accumulate profits.

The onslaught by the Nigerian State against the menacing phenomenon of advance fee fraud and allied crimes seems not to have impacted on the new age ‘Hollywood Pastors’ in Nigeria, who in their haven of least resistance –religion, with all its emotive appeals – utilise extortionate and immoral means to milk or exploit their unsuspecting adherents. Recently, the National Broad -casting Commission in Nigeria (NBC) clamped down on the broadcast of unverified miracle claims by some Tele-Evangelists, in an effort to sanitise the airing of Christian religious programmes on the country’s numerous television stations. The action, NBC explained, was to protect innocent Nigerians against extortion by some notorious evangelists whose deception may have become public knowledge.

From the foregoing, it is clear that putting the phenomenon of Pentecostalism in Nigeria under the search light would be a worthwhile exercise. This necessitated this article for us to analyse the genesis of Pentecostalism and its interface with the socio-economic and political conditions in the country, drawing inferences from historical accounts of the conduct, crises and collapse of some Pentecostal churches and the growth and expansion of some others, with the overall objective of establishing the prospects of the widening pool of Pentecostal churches in contemporary Nigeria.

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