In the crucible of Nigeria, a nation traversing the aftermath of a tumultuous history, its populace grapples with what may be one of the most formidable periods in contemporary memory. Beyond the reverberations of the 30-month civil war that claimed over three million lives, the present landscape is marked by an overarching sense of insecurity, economic precarity, and a milieu depicted by some as an expansive crime scene.
Daily headlines paint a stark tableau, portraying a collage of criminal activities ranging from kidnappings to ritual killings and political assassinations. What was once a vibrant and resilient nation appears to be navigating through a crisis that challenges the very essence of its societal fabric. As articulated by a US-based commentator, Nigeria has metamorphosed into an extensive crime scene, with citizens grappling with the harsh realities of a society seemingly unraveling.
Economically, the panorama is bleak. To categorise Nigeria as a mere “basket case” would be a gross understatement; it is a nation deeply entrenched in challenges that transcend conventional descriptors. With a populace of approximately 200 million, Nigeria harbours nearly as many people classified as multi-dimensionally poor as India, a nation boasting a population of 1.3 billion. Economic tribulations have driven citizens to desperate measures, with some resorting to unspeakable acts, such as the kidnapping and sale of infants for meager sums, for survival.
Nigeria, renowned for its profound religiosity, boasts an expansive network of churches and religious leaders. Paradoxically, the proliferation of churches seems to be directly proportional to the surge in criminal activities. This deviation from anticipated norms prompts contemplation regarding the nation’s relationship with faith and the palpable disjunction between fervent prayers and tangible outcomes.
It is a paradoxical scenario where a nation renowned for its religious zeal feels forsaken by the divine. The multitudes of prayers ascending daily from churches and mosques resonate into a void, leaving many to question the efficacy of their spiritual endeavours. Conversely, the regions of Asia with less emphasis on religious tenets and increasingly secular European nations, revel in unprecedented economic prosperity.
In the face of economic tumult, a distinctive segment of the informal sector burgeons—the purveyors of hope. These individuals, often perceived as traffickers of dreams, assume various forms, challenging the conventional image of prosperity preachers. While there are the familiar figures bedecked in sharp attire, preaching from the pulpit, a novel wave of hope merchants is surfacing. They wield a different breed of influence, dwelling in opulent mansions and driving around in luxury automobiles, complete with police and military escorts.
These contemporary merchants of hope, bearing monikers like “Man-pass-man,” “Akwa okuko tiwara aki” (an egg so strong that it can break a coconut), and “Alusi n’eje uka” (a church-going deity), defy the conventional imagery of the tattered “Dibias” and “Babalawos” of yore. Instead, they inhabit urban landscapes, embrace technology, and amass wealth that allows them to nonchalantly shower Naira bills.
Social media platforms, particularly Facebook, serve as a stage for the ostentatious display of lavish lifestyles and grandiose shrines by individuals. These images, at times featuring half-dressed spiritualists engaging in ritualistic practices, captivate a burgeoning audience. The allure lies in the promise of supernatural powers capable of transforming lives and rescuing individuals from poverty.
The services of these modern hope merchants come at a price, with beneficiaries given a list of sacrificial items to present to the deity, along with a cash alternative. Even more disconcerting is the degradation of our value system, if any remnants still exist. A whole generation of young people are growing up, placing faith not in the dignity of labour but in the allure of shortcuts to wealth and status. This cannot bode well for any society.
The resurgence of such practices, while not unprecedented in Nigeria’s cultural tapestry, has witnessed a notable uptick. Many young people, disillusioned by the harsh economic climate, now proudly embrace these alternatives in the hope of attaining success. The prevalence of these activities, transcending cultural boundaries, has burgeoned into an epidemic gripping various parts of the nation.
Amidst the desperation, and the rise of alternative avenues for hope, questions linger about why Nigeria finds itself in a position where citizens are turning to deities other than their own. Is God to blame for the nation’s woes? While it may be tempting to assign responsibility to a higher power, a closer examination reveals a more intricate narrative.
Blaming God for Nigeria’s challenges overlooks the notion that “Heaven helps those who help themselves.” In a nation swift to point fingers at external entities, from political figures to foreign nations, there is a reluctance to engage in introspection. The scapegoating extends even to the United States and its president, Joe Biden, with some Nigerians holding them accountable for not intervening to halt the daily carnage.
However, this externalisation of blame fails to acknowledge the agency of Nigerians in shaping their own destiny.
The comparison drawn with wealthy nations of Asia, Europe and America who may not devote as much time to religious activities but actively work towards their nation’s betterment, underscores the importance of self-help. While Nigeria is a profoundly religious country, the efficacy of prayers alone in driving tangible change is increasingly questioned.
Nigeria’s tumultuous odyssey reflects a nation at a crossroads, grappling with existential challenges. The emergence of alternative hope merchants, economic strife, and the apparent disconnection between religious fervour and tangible outcomes paint a complex tableau of society in a flux.
While the pursuit of hope endures, the nation’s resilience and the potential for self-driven change remain pivotal in shaping its destiny.