Channel 4 Looks At Prosperity Gospel in Nigeria

“God is a game. And do you know the funny part of it? The game is very easy.”

Channel 4 yesterday broadcast Nigeria’s Millionaire Preachers, a short documentary in the Unreported World strand. The programme focused mainly on an up-and-coming evangelist named Sign Fireman; Fireman runs the Perfect Christianity Ministry, which has a number of branches and which is typical of hundreds of ministries in Lagos alone. Inevitably, the picture was unattractive: one service featured hobbling congregants who supposedly had been cured of illnesses, while at another service one of Fireman’s branch pastors held out promises of material prosperity that went beyond any kind of realistic expectation:

I was very poor and wretched. I wasn’t even a pastor. And he [Fireman] saw me in the gutter and picked me up. I five months I got three cars. It happened like magic. I started getting money. I wasn’t dressed like this before.

Addressing his branch pastors in a private strategy meeting, Fireman explained that:

God is a game. And do you know the funny part of it? The game is very easy… If you cannot make what you have to offer clear enough, people are not going to be enticed.

The programme also featured segments about pastors with bigger reputations than Fireman. One was Pastor Chris Okotie of  Household of God Church International Ministries, whose congregants come mainly from Nigeria’s wealthy elite; before his conversion in 1984, Okotie “had hits with records such as Secret Love and Show Me Your Backside”, and much of the service filmed by the programme consisted of Okotie singing religious songs. The other pastor discussed was Chris Oyakhilome, who has an international Christ Embassy ministry; the programme’s presenter, Seyi Rhodes, interviewed Simon Ateba, a journalist who claims to have been beaten up by Oyakhilome’s security guards in 2009.

Of course, this is far from the being the whole story of this strand of independent evangelicalism in Nigeria: while Prosperity Gospel rhetoric can be crass and reminiscent of the worst excesses of US televangelism, many pastors are much more like motivational speakers who give advice on financial and business management. That may seem excessively “this-worldly” when compared with some other forms of Christianity, but it meets a basic need in a country where many people have an understandable aspiration to escape poverty.

The programme’s website includes an article on “a sequence that didn’t make it in to our film”, concerning Reverend Mrs. Chika Oluchi:

A remarkable woman, she is in charge of The Mountain of the Lord Ministries International: Centre for Liberation. Her church is based in Ejigbo, a suburb of Lagos that is famous for having a very high concentration of churches.

She runs a widows fellowship every Thursday night… The Widows Fellowship is a chance for widows who are struggling to make ends meet to pray together and look for help.

The article tells the story of Therese, of one of the women helped by Oluchi. Therese had lost everything after becoming involved with predatory pastors at another church:

At the end of her first visit to the church the pastors told Therese that her late husband had been a member of a devil worshipping cult and persuaded Therese that God wanted her to sell everything her husband owned. The car (a Mercedes), carpets, a gas cooker, dining table and chairs, clothes, cutlery, crockery and even the curtains were all taken to the church. Therese was told that if anyone found out what had happened God would kill her and her children….

Luckily Therese met Reverend Oluchi. For over a month she slept on the floor of the church without telling anyone what had happened to her before the reverend managed to get the story out of her.

When we followed up this story during our filming we found the police just about to arrest the couple Therese accused. The police took us to the church in question. We watched as they stormed into the middle of Sunday service and arrested the couple…

One Response

  1. I watched that film as well. What those pastors are donig is terrible, and it is doubly terrible that the people they are exploiting are very poor people.

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