Written By Chidi Nkwopara, Owerri, Laju Arenyeka, Osa AMADI - Vanguard Nigeria
Stella Nnedum craved for all good things including good health for her fiance, Michael (surname withheld).
She wanted him to know that she cared for him. She also didn’t want anything to stand in their way to the altar and so she worked to make him strong and unwavering. But she feared that if Michael adhered to the advice of some people around him he could change his mind about their marriage. And one way to get things done was to lure him to a seer, a prophetess of some sort who would guide them and probably make sure he ignored all distractions that could threaten their planned marriage.
Michael did not believe in seers. He did not even believe in witchcraft, fetish or any voodoo phenomenon.
It was difficult to convince him to follow her to a seer. But like it was in the beginning of time with Adam and Eve, Stella succeeded in luring Michael to the seer in Olodi Apapa Area of Lagos.
"Some people would be against their marriage and they would work for it not to happen," the seer told them, warning that something bad could happen to them if they did not start praying immediately as some people were already after them. The seer also told them that only prayers could see them surmount the forces against their marriage. She even said that they were not meant for each other but prayers could change everything "as there’s nothing God cannot do".
And for the back pane that Michael was having at the time, the seer told them that it was the handiwork of his people from the village and that he needed to come regularly for prayers to be healed. Michael and Stella left and promised to return for prayers.
Did the seer succeed in creating fears into this couple so that they could always visit and sow seed during prayers?
If Stella fell for it, Michael did not.
When they got home, Michael bared his mind to Stella: "I did not give any background to the seer on my back pain and she goofed big time. My back pain is as a result of an old sports injury that comes and goes from time to time. And here was somebody telling me that my people in the village were sending pains to me? And all the story about the forces against the marriage is for us to be coming regularly for prayers after which one must make offertory. This is how these people operate. They live by creating fear into people, prophesying falsely and reaping victims off"
Michael never went back there. He was strong-willed not to fall to these so called seers who do many things in the name of God . Although he had problems with Stella after marriage he strongly believed their problem was more attitudinal than spiritual. They have all moved on.
Many Nigerians are not as strong-willed as Michael. And that may be the reason they easily fall prey to money-hungry prophets and prophetesses in the country.
Many Nigerians do terrible things in the name of God. They thrive largely because people are gullible especially when when ti comes to religion.
Only few months ago, a man wearing a vest that identifies members of a church in Lagos stormed out of Vanguard office in Apapa, Lagos, swearing against a man he called his uncle. A seer in the church had told him that his uncle, a lawmaker in the National Assembly in Abuja, was blocking his progress spiritually. He was in Vanguard wanting his story to be published. He had been so brainwashed that he appeared to be out of his mind.. He claimed that his uncle always turned into a bird and trailed him wherever he went. He was guided out of Vanguard office. Outside, as he sighted a bird perched on a tree, he screamed, pointing at the bird and claiming that his uncle was prowling after him again.
In Benin, Tina and Eyimofe were happily married until a pastor told Eyimofe that he would have been richer but for his mother in-law who through witchcraft has denied him not only riches but also the fruit of the womb, claiming that the mother of his wife was not happy at her daughter for not taking care of her. This sort of story is common in Nigeria. In market places, in offices and even in political gatherings, enmity creeps into relationships following warnings and revelations from false prophets. In all, the victims are miracle seekers.
HOW CHURCHES AND FALSE PROPHETS ESCALATED
A few churches were known to be operating before the Nigerian civil war, which lasted between 1967 and 1970. Things started changing after the war. Churches started mushrooming in all the towns. All manner of names were given to these post-civil war churches. The situation was such that in a school, all classrooms became churches on Sundays.
With the rise in the number of churches, all manner of individuals, irrespective of their level of education, started establishing churches. Midway into the life of these new churches, internal wranglings rear up. The disagreement naturally mid-wives splinter group in the once united church and soon another church is born.
Now, ownership of churches has become big business, and mostly family business for that matter. A man is usually the General Overseer (G.O), while the wife and children become members of the Board of Trustees. The church is incorporated as business empire. Most of them are people who have failed in on enterprise or the other, and then fall back to establish churches. They make it if they have the gift of oratory.
A man in Owerri, Imo State capital, narrated how a self-styled prophet and head of a church brought trouble into a once peaceful home: “My family was about the most peaceful until our father died in 1997. Not too long after, my younger brother brought in a woman he chose to call his wife. I am not worried that this woman, who from all indications, is a good example of a woman married by hire purchase, dragged my brother into one of these new testament churches.
“Before I knew what was happening, the prophet of the new church accused us of being largely responsible for his poor economic status.
My wife and I were also accused of changing the sex of the babies in his wife’s womb. They bought the prophecy totally and since then, the family has never known peace.”
There is also a general overseer of a church in Owerri who invites all manner of sick persons to his church for prayers and claims to have powers of healing. But when he took ill, he quickly rushed to South Africa for treatment.
Just recently, the timely intervention of operatives of Abia State Vigilante Service saved 20-year old Blessing Okechukwu who claimed to be a pastor. He would have been summarily lynched by angry villagers of Umudinkwa community, Ubakala, in Umuahia South local council area of Abia State.
Okechukwu, a native of Mgboko in Obingwa local government area of the state, claimed to be superintending over Divine Church located in his country home, Mgboko. He had allegedly gone to Umudinkwa on a “deliverance mission.” The trip turned sour when he tried to outwit his host family but was caught in the act.
Stories had it that the self-styled pastor went to the Agomuo family home to remove “an evil charm” he claimed was buried in one corner of the compound, but ended up trying to plant a charm in the hole he and his accomplices had dug.
In the course of digging the hole, the fake pastor smartly brought out a padlock carefully wrapped in a piece of cloth from his pocket and threw it into the hole he and his fake prayer warriors had painstakingly dug with clinical finesse. His game plan was that he would carefully bring out “the exhibit” after muttering some incantations.
Nemesis however caught up with him as unknown to the fake pastor, a member of the family, Engr. Chinedu Agomuo, was watching the “religious drama” as it unfolded, while other members of the family were engrossed in the anticipated outcome of the deliverance.
Chinedu was said to be one man that is not very pleased with the antics of new testament pastors and prophets. As soon as the fake pastor had dropped the padlock, Chinedu quickly disrupted proceedings.
The confrontation started like a slow motion picture but later gathered speed. Voices were angrily raised and when the fake pastor realized that his game was up, he capitulated and brought out the padlock he had wrapped carefully. The singing and speaking in tongues stopped abruptly.
According to Engr. Agomuo, the fake pastor would have succeeded in creating serious crisis in the family if not for his vigilance.
“The fake pastor would have possibly ended up accusing a member of the family of burying the alleged charm. This would have instigated the family members against each other and permanently created a gulf amongst brothers,” Engr. Agomuo fumed.
There was another pastor that floated a crusade in one community in Imo State.
During the event, he announced that he had seen about five women in the congregation that had fibroid, adding that he had prayed for them and would want them to come to his church after the event for more prayers.
In a crowd of more than 500 people, one hardly needs a seer to tell that there may be up to five women suffering from fibroid. Childlessness is another problem in the society and these fake preachers exploit it to the fullest.
Reacting to the antics of these fake pastors, the former Imo State Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Dr. Cosmas Ilechukwu said: “Any prophecy that tries to put asunder what God put together is an orchestration of Satan to undermine the integrity of God and His word, as well as create confusion in the society. Such prophecies must be condemned.”
Speaking also on the issue, the Parish Priest of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Akwakuma, Rev. Dr. Kevin Ugoamadi, said there is this new spirit of grabbing, which is worldly, very mundane and has filtered into the church and has in fact, almost overwhelmed the church.
“People just wake up one day and start a church."
All kinds of things have been said about these churches: They do whatever they like; They don’t care; They have no code of conduct and no creed; They pick up any chapter of the bible and begin to read; So, there is dis-orderliness, lawlessness,” Ugoamadi said.
While saying that man is a religious animal, Rev. Fr. Ugoamadi however said that “the God we serve is also a God of order and interestingly every person wants to be rich.”
He fumed that the get- rich-quick syndrome has caused a lot of problem in the world and in the church."
According to Fr. Ugoamadi, “the establishment of churches has become an oil refinery and as long as you can convince people with your sweet tongue, people will follow you."
“The idea in today’s world has made them to thrive, to expand, to grow. People are suffering and they want solution to their problems and these so called men of God are simply playing out the American wonder, the more you look, the less you see,” Fr. Ugoamadi said.
Continuing, the fiery priest recalled that even during the time of the prophets, there were a lot of false prophets, adding that today, the number has increased geometrically.
“They are playing on the intelligence of the people. They have divided families, communities and caused brothers to be in enmity.
One person false prophets could not play on her intelligence was Edith Adenike, a 14 years old girl attending a church service for her dead father. "A prophet came and told me in the presence of my grandma that I will run away from home soon; that I will leave my mother’s house," Edith recounted. "Immediately, I told my grandma who I was actually living with that the prophet didn’t know what he was saying. That was the beginning. We had a family friend whose family almost broke because of fake prophets. The wife was looking up to God for the conception of her second child, and she was told by a prophet that she couldn’t conceive again. Her husband believed, but she didn’t believe the prophecy. So he sought the prophet out for prayers, and he was told that unless he took another wife he would find it hard to leave any offspring behind as his little girl was asthmatic then and she might die soon. The prophet even went as far as picking out a lady for him, he would have married her if his wife hadn’t fainted one day and she was rushed to the hospital-where he was told she was some months pregnant. It was then he had a rethink as regards everything the prophet told him.''
A couple of years after her first experience, Edith followed her grandma to a church where a prophet asked to pray for her alone. "He actually made passes at me," she said, "he was even trying to quote the Bible to me, but I retorted with another verse of my own and he was really angry that he told my grandma that I was possessed.
This experience made me wary of prophets so much that from that day I countered anything said by any prophet. As I was about leaving secondary school, an elderly female prophet who sounded literate told me to tell my parents to wash my head with some concoctions just before I could gain admission to the university. I tried to justify her prophesy based on the Celestial doctrines which I had been taught earlier and I found out that the concoctions she asked me to use were to deter men from approaching me. So, I told my grandma who didn’t believe me at first, took me to an elderly prophet who knew his guns. It was he who confirmed what I said and took up the case to discipline the woman. He told us about how many fake prophets had destroyed the lives of so many ignorant people. I would have fallen victim if I hadn’t questioned her prophesy but there are so many out there who were not privy to the knowledge I had and could not question such prophesies."
Way back in time, a certain family was not so lucky in the hands of another false prophet called Muonso, which means Holy Spirit. Only God could tell the number of families he had broken before he was charged to Aba high court by the department of Public Prosecution, Ministry of Justice, Imo State. By Sunday, January 31, 1988, when the prosecution counsel, Barrister Mbonu Amadi, Director of Public Prosecution, Ministry of Justice, Imo State, narrated the story of Muonso to his children, the criminal proceedings against this Aba-based false prophet cum fraudster had been on for at least two months.
How did it happen? Well, this is how Barrister Mbonu told the story: One of the daughters of an Aba-based millionaire, simply called Mazi, was lured into Muonso's church. After prophesying for and brainwashing her, the daughter in turn brainwashed her mother who also became a member of the church. Then, the mother travelled to the United States of America where her other children were studying and brought them down to Aba and all of them became members of Muonso's church. Finally, the millionaire himself, the father and head of the family, joined the church!
Having hemmed them in like cows in a pen, the false prophet began to milk them.
The 'milking' came to a head when Muonso claimed that the Holy Spirit said the family should donate all their wealth to the church. It was then that the scales fell off Mazi's eyes and he became alarmed and decided to pull his family out of the church and from the grip of the false prophet.
To his amazement, Mazi's wife and children refused to leave Muonso, and even supported that their father donate everything they have to Muonso as the Holy Spirit had instructed. In the heat of the argument between husband and wife and children, the woman and his children left Mazi and went to live with Muonso!
Realizing that water don pass garri, as they say in a pidgin proverb, Mazi took recourse to the law. Until around March 1998 when Muonso was convicted, Mazi's wife and children who were charged along with him always bowed their heads to him at the beginning of each day's proceeding in the court.
One of Mazi's houseboys, Anayo, told a heart-breaking story of something that happened to Mazi on one of those days on a street in Aba. Mazi was driving one morning and saw his little daughter who was about 8 years old walking down the street. She was among his children who had relocated to Muonso's house with their mother.
When Mazi saw the little girl he asked his driver to stop. The driver stopped and parked the car. Mazi came down and hurried down to his daughter, calling her name. Immediately the girl turned and sighted her father, she ran off, screaming. Mazi pursued her and caught up with her and held her hand, repeatedly calling her name and pleading with her to hear him out. But the girl would not stop the struggle and creaming.
Soon, people gathered and seized Mazi, accusing him of attempting to kidnap the little girl. "If Mazi had been an ordinary person,” Anayo said, “they would have lynched him that day. What saved him was that someone in the crowd recognized him and confirmed that the little girl was his daughter." As soon as the little girl was set free, she ran away, no doubt back to Muonso's house, while Mazi shuffled back to his car, slumped into the seat and wept as he had not wept before in his life.
Today, false prophets in the caste of Muonso have multiplied and are in every corner of every street where they have either built churches or rented lockup shops as worship places. They manufacture prophesies for a gullible mass of miracle seekers. Their false prophesies aimed at profit making have been known to tear families apart as it did to Mazi's.
A certain young man and woman in Lagos were married for 5 years without having any child. Then the woman went to her village in the east and begged her elder sister to give her one of her female children to live with her in Lagos since she had no children of her own. Her elder sister gave her youngest daughter who was 7 years old to her on the condition that her daughter must attend school. The sister returned to Lagos with the 7 years old girl and registered her into a public school.
According to Pastor Praise Ehiemere, who narrated this story, the man of the house, a trader at Alaba International Market, was loose at morals and the wife was unemployed. The man kept late at night, drinking and going to bed with different kinds of women every night. Within a space of 2 years, the man's business crumbled - there was no more money to buy goods. Hunger came. Things in the family went from bad to worse and the woman began to look for solution to their problem and ended up in a church of which her friends told her that the man of God in charge "na'hu'zo" (a seer).
And indeed, the man of God saw. But unfortunately, what the man of God saw not in the interest of the 7- year old girl (who was by then 9). The prophet told the woman that the little girl living with her was the source of both her bareness and the crash of her husband's business. The woman told her husband and they believed the prophet.
First, they withdrew the little girl from school and locked her up in the house for several months before the prophet advised them to bring the girl to the church for deliverance. In the church, the little girl was tortured by the prophet and the woman in an effort to get her to confess that she was a witch.
Eventually, words of what was happening to her little daughter got to the mother of the little girl in the village. She travelled to Lagos and found her flesh and blood battered by her own younger sister. She took her daughter away with deep sorrow in her heart and swore that her relationship with her younger sister had been broken forever. False prophets have been known to put a knife on the cord binding husband and wife, wife and mother in-law, brother and sister, and things have fallen apart between these people. They have advised pregnant women, of whom several scans and medical examinations had shown that normal delivery will not be possible, to disregard the doctor's advice; that the Holy Spirit has told them that they would have normal delivery. At the end, those pregnant women had either lost their babies or their lives entirely.
Pastor Edward Olumese, the Senior Pastor of Amazing Grace Church in Kano said:
In the New Testament, God never designed us to be guided by prophecy of man. That is why he put his spirit in us. We are supposed to be guided by the spirit of God. Today's prophets are supposed to confirm something God has put in our spirit, not to put something contrary. The issue is that a lot of believers don't grow themselves to the point where they can hear God for themselves; they are too lazy to pray and study their bibles, and they need someone else to do the work for them. What will bring an end to this will be for people to take out the time and discipline to strengthen their own personal relationship with God.
These prophets capitalize on the ignorance of people. I have come in contact with a number of people who fell victim of false prophets. By the time we got together, sat and talked, we realized that there was no way what the so called prophets said could have been true. This is a time where there are so many challenges facing the average Nigerian today: terrorism, kidnapping, sickness, as a result people are just looking for anything that looks like a solution. We need to have knowledgeable about God and His word. The bible says that those who know their God will be strong.