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Archive for July, 2008

Our Men of God Again

I really did not intend this to be the sequel to my earlier piece “Nigerian Men Of God as Con –Artists” but some thing recently happened that has prompted my raising this issue again earlier than I had planned. 

Some days ago in Umuolihe Village, Isiala-Ngwa Local Government area of Abia state, twenty two people lost their lives under questionable circumstances during a deliverance prayer session at a house that was (is) believed to be haunted. No disaster could have been more unfortunate.

Now, I don’t intend to bother myself with the exact circumstances that led to the incident. That would be appropriately the responsibility of the police forensic unit if they ever care to. What I am however bothered about is that these twenty two people whose lives was cut in its prime committed no other crime other than being very loyal followers of a Man of God and would have probably been well alive and hearty today had they stayed back at home with their families on that faithful day.

Perhaps even more dramatic and most worrying is that after the incident the people of the village deserted the area for what the papers described as “fear of the unknown” and non of them sited was willing to comment about the incident. This is unconnected with their fear that the evil spirit which allegedly inhabits the Bungalow and which must have over powered the Man of God (and his people) who came to exorcise it, was on rampage.

The Deeper life Bible Church whose members were said to have been involved in the ill fated deliverance session have in a move that smack of trying to exonerate it self from taking responsibility for the sad event, issued a press release saying that their church never authorized the said prayer session. What more?, they offered words of consolation to the affected families and prayed for the repose of the souls of the victims. Full stop…..end of discussion.

I have a feeling that such nonsense can only happen in Nigeria. People die in such number and it means nothing. By all intent and purpose, that is the last you will hear of this issue. The families will mourn their dead, the villagers will return, the church will continue its business and life will go on.

After my piece “Nigerian Men of God As Con-Artists” was published  on Nigeria Village Square some weeks ago, I got an avalanche of responses and comments which kind of opened my eyes to the extent this church issue has gone and of course to the fact that I am not the only one being nauseated by it.

 Like I said in my opening remark in that piece, I knew I was about to steer the hornets’ nest and indeed, the bees went wild. A great deal of people responding either through calls or e-mail messages fell short of calling me a ‘Satanist’ and an ‘apostle of the Devil’ right from the pit of hell just because I had the effrontery to question the moral justification for the now unbearable show of shame in the name of preaching the gospel by our men of God especially as it concerns the ripping off of poor innocent church goers of their hard earned income just to sustain these men of God and their bourgeoisie life style.

The consolation however was that for every condemnation I got, there were five passionate commendations. These included people who shared my opinion, those who had actually been victims of the many gimmicks these Men of God are known for and those who altogether did not believe that there was even a God in the first place.

This piece Is taking a slightly different angle, I want to look at the penchant for our men of God to cash in on our fears to make us prisoners of ourselves and by extension, theirs.

Nigerians are not only very corrupt and the happiest people in the world as some publications had suggested, we are also a very religious people, in my opinion, the most religious people under the sun. Religion is in itself enshrined in the polity such that we have two national religious monuments of impressive architecture located in the heart of our nation’s capital. Our people are so tied to their religious belief which in most cases has been reduced to the tenets of the dictates, not of God, but of whoever was the founder or pastor of the church they attended that they’ve become unable to break free of their limitations and conquer the world like we were called to do in Genesis.

For most people, nothing just happens. Every event from the seemingly irrelevant act of striking their feet against a stone while walking on a stony path, to having a nightmare has a spiritual undertone. So they have been taught to believe by the men of God. So many find themselves incapable of doing anything themselves except as is popularly said “by the grace of God” and a whole lot will not make any effort on their own but will rather sit back and wait for “the grace of God” to perform the miracle.

For example, our national football team the Super Eagles makes a big show of praying before and at half time (if the first half was unfavourable)during matches, yet they would report late to camp ahead of important matches and will not kick a ball unless their fat bonuses are paid up front.

Before we embark on a journey, we pray for journey mercies, this is not withstanding that our tyres are long worn out and begging to be changed and that a component in the engine has been showing repeated signs of giving way, but we have decided to just manage it.

I had a friend back in school who would rather spend the whole of his time in one fellowship programme or the other including travelling out of town into some villages on what they call outreach-evangelism not withstanding his course load as a student of Veterinary medicine. When some of us accost him, he had a ready answer for us that “Pastor” the founder of the church he attended “had prophesized that all that do the work of God will have academic breakthroughs”. After the first professional exams, he was thrown out of the programme.

Our men of God have sustained the belief in and fear for witchcrafts and demons. Just so that we keep running to them for one help or the other, they make it sound like we were living in a world where every other person was an unknown enemy. They don’t fail to tell you that the reason for your problems was a particular member of your family or the actions (or inactions) of some of your long dead ancestors.

While I am not saying that the so called forces of darkness do not exist-I sincerely wish to spare myself such argument-I am only saying that it is wrong by every form of reasoning to tie down our lives in fear of them and by extension make ourselves willing toys to be manipulated by the men of God.

Why does it seem like of all places on earth, all the forces of darkness seem most concentrated in Nigeria? And they, we are told by the men of God, are responsible for all of our problems. They’ve been blamed for our poverty, prevalence of disease, leadership woes and even for the wanton rigging of elections. To advance as individuals and as a nation therefore, the men of God make us believe we have to come down in worship to chase the demons away.

Well, I have never heard of any developed nation that attributed her advancement to religion. Tying our selves to religion keeps us from thinking out of the box and this is responsible to a large extent for our pariah state.

In the unfortunate incident in the village in Abia state mentioned earlier, a house built of cement and block, in this 21st century was said to be haunted and responsible for a series of misfortunes in the family because it was being inhabited by some kind of demon. First and foremost, such a diagnosis could only have been that of a man of God and the decision to free the House of the demon must have also been his. At the end twenty two loyal followers are no more and the church turns around to claim they never authorized the mission. Isn’t it time we began to think?

There is a new church just around my neighbourhood, name withheld. Worshippers of this church can spend the whole night shouting prayers in chorus such as “Enemy, fall down and Die” or “fire..fire..fire” their voices reaching a crescendo. They call it spiritual warfare and I often wonder that if they (the worshipers) exerted the same energy and commitment to their various jobs, academics or business, Nigeria would have long overtaken the United States in terms of development.

This business of using the existence (or not) of an evil being-the devil- to make money has gone too far. You will be surprised to hear of the amount of money that is paid for deliverance to take place or for the man of God to conduct a particular course of prayer or for him to reveal the content of one of his many visions. The higher the pay the more motivated the man of God is and thus the greater the veracity and pitch of his prayer and perhaps the faster the response from God.

I know of a church that forbids its members from owning and watching televisions. Which kind of people do they hope to breed? An uninformed, intellectually bankrupt and retrogressively minded people. How can those people advance in life? I know of others who in the bid to advertise their modern status permit such levels of immorality among her member that it become difficult to reconcile their gatherings with anything Godly. This group tells you that God likes you the way you are and so even when you dress in such a way that leaves virtually all parts of your body that should be rather covered open to public glare, it doesn’t matter to God.  

And how they love money!, just yesterday –a Sunday-(20th july), a friend of mine returned from Church visibly angry. Reason? His pastor had shared out an envelop branded “ Seed Vow” which every member was to collect and indicate the amount he/she would be giving monthly to the church as a “seed” which was supposed to be a “vow” to God. After wards, the Church workers came around to write down what every one had vowed on the envelop so that at the end of the month when you turned in the envelop, the pastor can confirm that you had really paid what you vowed to. This was in addition to the tithe and all others. My friend, an applicant who was hardly surviving had every reason to be mad.

Bottom line is that church business is big business in Nigeria and like is the standard practice, every business fashions out strategies for winning and keeping customers as well as out witting competitors. For our men of God, this includes making us prisoners of such outdated fear inducing concepts as witchcraft and blood sucking demons that we are too powerless to fight ourselves thus the need for us to always run to them for help and continue to help grow their business and sustain their expensive life styles with our offerings, free will donations, seed sowings and compulsory tithes.

What do we do with these Men of God?

Ifedigbo Nze Sylva

nzeifedigbo@yahoo.com 08063767306

www.nzesylva.wordpress.com

Ifedigbo Nze Sylva graduated from Veterinary Medicine, University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 2007. He is currently on National Youth service in Abuja.

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Excited giggles from three little kids in the bus on my way to my place of service yesterday morning was all I needed to be reminded that the Teachers strike was still on. The kids who were not in Uniform and obviously not heading to school as I was soon to confirm from their mother’s explanation to the lady sitting next to her on the bus, were being taken by their helpless mother along to work due to the strike. The kids perhaps in realization of the fact that they were at a wrong place at that particular time chose to remind themselves of where they ought to be with renditions of various nursery rhymes to the delight of both them selves and indeed all the passengers that cared to eavesdrop.

I wasn’t just eavesdropping, I was hurting seriously. The strike was now entering its third week. Two whole weeks of no academic activity in the nation’s primary and secondary schools has passed and no body seems to be beating an eye lid.  If this bothers the Government at all, they are simply not showing as they have maintained rather with impunity that they cannot meet the teachers’ demands for pay rise.

 

Now, People not conversant with the plight of teachers in this country might be giving to seeing the teachers as purely greedy and insensitive people, but those of us who are both informed and know what is on ground will attest to the fact that this is a long over due battle.

 

It is an indictment on us as a nation that in this age, our teachers, the molders of character and custodians of our much cherished Human Resources without which we can never advance as a nation are not only the least paid, but also suffer the worst working condition in the country.  I grew up to hear of an axiom that “the teachers reward is in heaven” which sort of justified the ill treatment they’ve received over the years by successive governments to such extents that teaching as a profession is to say the least almost a course in Nigeria today.

 

University students studying courses in Education are often looked at as being unfortunate, while those in the Colleges of education are considered never do wells.  How on earth could one, except by extreme divine accident be studying Education? It is simply unthinkable and in reality, no sane Nigerian parent except also as a very last option will let his child enroll in a College of Education. Yet, we give birth and send our children to schools to be taught by teachers.

 

In my opinion, Nigerian teachers are the most dedicated bloc in the nations’ work force. They don’t sit around in air conditioned offices to gossip nor do they sign out billions with the stroke of the pen. Neither do they go on paid vacations abroad. They are always there every day at 8.00am at the school. They take their classes and prepare lesson notes. Periodically the pay hosts to inspectors who come to nose around to make sure they are doing their jobs. They mark and grade heaps of notes and test scripts and see to the all round development of the children. Most times, parents hand over impossible kids to them and they bear the cross diligently.

 

In addition to all these, their offices hardly have decent furniture, the number of students per teacher is just too much and of course they live constantly in the danger of all forms of attacks by their students and even parents.

 

Having borne this all these years, all they demand today is a modest pay rise (the recommended TSS which I hear has actually been approved in the 2008 budget). What is wrong in that? We’ve witnessed the Doctors, nurses, petroleum workers, University lecturers, etc demand for various obnoxious allowances on several occasions in the past. Now that our humble long suffering teachers are asking, why should they be so ignored?

 

The way the Yar’adua government has treated this demand so far tells the tale of a government that does not in any way care about the future of her youths and by extension not sensitive in any to the needs of her people. Perhaps they-the government – are not bothered because they are not affected as their children are in choice school within and outside the country. Little wonder the first thing they did, instead of addressing the issues raised by the teachers was to issue a warning to the NUT [Nigeria Union of Teachers] not to carry out her threat of picketing  private schools. But should we leave our teachers to go through this alone?

 

I call on every Nigerian, at home and abroad who had had the privilege of sitting in a class and being taught by a teacher to rise up and support, in what ever way we can their current struggle to better their lives. That’s the least we can do to show appreciation for the role they played in seeing us to what ever current position we occupy and to tell the unperturbed government that Nigerians care.

 

For if we all keep quiet and the teachers lose this battle, we shall have all partaking in the sin and thus shall have a share in the responsibility of a continuously regressive Nigeria that can not produce man power skilled enough to keep up with the dynamics of our changing world, because, an angry teacher surely can not teach.

So Nigerian Teachers, aluta continua!!!

 

Ifedigbo Nze Sylva

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Some days ago I had course to visit a farm somewhere in Chukuku area of the Kuje Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja. Along the road I noticed a pool of women ,some with their babies loosely strapped to their backs and others with suckling babies hanging on to their body, pumping water excitedly from a bore hole. I was just about to congratulate which ever government –local, FCT administration or even the Federal government- it was that thought it wise to provide these villagers who  by the way are no less as Nigerian as President Yar’adua himself with the most basic need for life, water, when my company informed me in a tone laden with so much disappointment and disgust that the bore hole as well as a few others scattered along that route were sank by the Chinese Government.

 In his words spoken with so much bitterness, we had to wait for Chinese to fly all the way from Asia to come here to inform us that our own people do not have assess to clean drinking water and that a simple bore hole sank properly was all that was needed to bring life to these people.  Think of it, sinking a bore hole would not cost more than five hundred thousand naira but it is next to impossible for us to do, yet daily we here about Billions missing their routes and ending up in private pockets.

So had the Chinese not been so generous, these people would have been scrapping the bottom of a stream somewhere around for water.

Some days after, precisely on Tuesday 1st July 2008 virtually every news paper in Nigeria carried the front cover story of the arrest by the EFCC of two former ministers of aviation in the Obasanjo Administration.  Reason? Allegations that contracts were inflated and that some millions sorry billions (it hardly makes any difference this days) seem to have literarily grown wings and vamoosed from under their watch.

Now, stories of embezzled billions no more shock me, if anything, it has come to help me better appreciate the reason why we are where we are as a nation, so reading about this one made little difference but some thing touched me about this. My thought went back to the borehole issue of the other day. I couldn’t help but imagine the number of bore holes the Aviation Ministry scam money would have been able to sink in various needy communities all over Nigeria, the number of mothers and their children that would have been saved long trips to fetch water from streams, the number of typhoid and Guinea worm cases that would not have been and the number of Nigerian lives we would have saved if only a quarter of the amount Minister Borishade and Fani Kayode simply cannot account for was devoted to sinking bore holes. My thought almost got me to tears.

What kind of a nation is this? Is there any thing intrinsic in us that seem to make it certain that we never get any thing right? When shall this nonsense stop? Only Last week we were treated to the Nyako thievery allegations in Adamawa. Today as I write, it’s in the news that all the- ‘not so weighty’ by PDP standards- impeachment allegations against the man have been dropped.  I stopped to ask myself ,was it that Governor Nyako never stole money or that his children are no more special appointees of Government?  Or was it just that our country was now so synonymous with corruption that brazen cases of it should be handled as normal legitimate occurrences?

A witch cries at night and the baby dies in the Morning, do we need to engage the services of a diviner to know the cause of the death? When first of all Ogbulafor the PDP Commander with a vault face and I dare say impunity dismissed the allegations as shallow I immediately knew where this was leading. Then the meeting sessions began at the villa. Agenda?  To negotiate fraud, with our integrity preaching ultra-slow President presiding.  When perhaps the Honourable members were proving stubborn, the Inspector general of Police summoned their ring leaders to Abuja on a God knows where it came from allegation of having bought a stolen property. The next thing we are hearing is that all allegations have been dropped and that in Adamawa its now business as usual again. Who is fooling who?

It would amount to approbating and reprobating if we claim we are fighting corruption and we not only allow such allegations to be swept under the carpet, but actually supervise the sweeping. If Governor Nyako is innocent, what does it take him to come forward and defend himself? Does the millions of Adamawa indigenes and indeed the rest of Nigeria not reserve the right to know the facts of the issue? How and why should fraud in government office be so easy to erase, as easily as visiting a confessional and asking a Priest to forgive your sins?

Ours is perhaps one of the few countries where the leaders are perpetually in a hurry to create and promote a bad impression about them and give no hoot about what those they lead feel about them. In the first place, they were never elected by the people so they naturally do not feel answerable to the people and by extension, the people’s opinion does not matter. How else do you explain the insistence of Aso Rock that Prof Gambari must head the proposed Niger Delta summit even when inanimate objects have joined in saying no. What do we have in place here, a democracy or what?

While the argument for or against Prof Gambari continues, the gas flaring, oil pollution, militancy and confusion continues in the Niger Delta. The common people remain  the biggest victims which erver way we look at it.

Currently primary and secondary education is grounded in the country because the teachers have downed tools.  If this bothers the Government, they are simply not showing because they have maintained that they cannot meet the teachers’ demands for pay rise. People not conversant with the plight of teachers in  this country might begin to see the teachers as purely greedy and insensitive people, but those of us who are both informed and know what is on ground will attest to the fact that this is a long over due battle. It is an indictment on us as a nation that in this age, our teachers, the molders of character and custodians of our much cherished Human Resources without which we can never advance as a nation are not only the least paid in the country, but also suffer the worst working condition in the country. All they demand is a modest pay rise (the approved TSS which I hear has actually been approved in the budget) just like the Doctors, nurses and University lecturers have demanded and succeeded on several occasions in the past. The way Government has treated this demand so far tells the tale of a government that does not in any way care about the future of her youths and by extension not sensitive in any to the needs of her people.

We have no money to pay teachers a modest pay yet every day we hear of figures that read like telephone numbers being discovered to have been stolen or shared around among a few people who are perhaps more Nigerian than the rest of us.  Our leaders are too busy grabbing that we have to rely on Chinese to travel great distances to our own villages right in the heart of Abuja , to provide the people with water. What manner of nation is this?

Ifedigbo Nze Sylva

www.nzesylva.wordpress.com

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EXPENSIVE FUNERALS

 

Author: Ifedigbo Nze Sylva | June 30, 2008

In Nigeria, when there is a death, there is bucket full of tears and drinks. People from various parts of the world mourn their dead in different ways, but in Nigeria, we celebrate death and make a whole big party of it.

This culture of waste which I find most nauseating is a common practice among my people the Igbos of the South East and I am sure is also the order among other tribes in the country. Here we’ve made funerals such a huge feast that families who have lost their own seem to cry more due to the kind of expense they are sure to make than out of the pains of loosing someone.

It has become such an entrenched practice-to break bank for a funeral- that idlers actually sit around and grade various funerals that have occurred in the village within a particular time in terms of which was more grand and families who are unable to meet up with the expectations are often treated with some level of scorn such that, it is better to just bury a dead relative and perform the compulsory funeral cum feast five years after when you are buoyant enough to stage a great feast than to have a shabby unremembered outing.

The rich cease the opportunity of a death to show the whole world that they’ve arrived. For them, it doest really matter. I am however bothered about the many poor families who are forced to do the same even when they can’t afford it.

Sometimes, the person might have died due to lack of funds to secure prompt and effective medical care, yet at death, so much more is spent. Such are the families that weep more out of the financial scare than out of the loss. Most of such families go borrowing, sale choice pieces of family land or even give their underage daughters out in marriage just to raise funds with all its attendant consequences.

The paraphernalia for a funeral is simply endless. The corpse is placed in the mortuary at a mind burgling cost until all other arrangements are finalized or until such a time all the concerned parties which may include all the deceased children both at home and abroad, his/her siblings and close relations or the entire extended family, are able to based on their individual conveniences agree on a date for the funeral.

Before the funeral proper, the religious institution the deceased belonged to (either Christianity of Traditional religion) is specially induced/ motivated so as to anchor the funeral like they should. In the case of the church, all the deceased’s unpaid dues have to be paid before the priest would show up to perform the funeral rites no matter how active a member he/she had been while alive.

The house has to be repainted so as to satisfy the esthetic appeals of the expected guests. In fact in some cases, an entirely new structure (or the long uncompleted one) has to be raised. The guest must leave with a good impression as most of them are not coming because they find it so necessary to come and commiserate with you, but are coming to assess you and gossip about it later.

Then we print coloured posters and flood every nuke and cranny with it. The whole world must be aware that “ a rare gem” has been lost. There are also radio and television announcements and if for example it was a top political figure say a governor that lost say a father, sycophancy will assume a new name with every one who needs a favour from the governor taking up pages of advert in national dailies just to show how sorry and sympathetic they were.

There is always a uniform-the mourning cloth-which every member of the family (or any one with a certain degree of relationship with the deceased) must wear. The fashion statements people often make with mourning cloths often leaves one wondering if they are actually mourning.

There is often a wake keep preceding the funeral during which the most obscene things happen especially among young men and ladies. A whole lot of unwanted pregnancies have arisen from such nights with people who came supposedly to mourn, stealing away to dark corners and having fun. Of course alcohol and music is in unlimited supply and you can imagine the trio of alcohol, music and gaily dressed girls.

The coffin has to be the costliest, preferably imported as though it wouldn’t end up being feasted on by termites. Then we get coffin bearers (a fast growing business in Nigeria) to in their black apparels bear and perform all sorts of show with the coffin amidst loud trumpeting and dancing. There is a printed brochure for the funeral which contains biographies of the deceased, a few old obscure pictures and an avalanche of “goodwill messages”.

After the burial, the real feasting starts. Guests or rather mourners who continue to turn out in numbers for the three (in my village) days the funeral lasts are served in groups, some with specially designated canopies viz In-laws, age grade mates, club associates, friends, business associates, near and distant relations etc, and believe me, what is served and subsequently gathered as waste would go a long way is solving the humanitarian crises in Sudan.

The food and drink has to be in excess. It was un heard of that any one left a funereal hungry, in fact such would amount to an anathema.

Then like we do in weddings, we give souvenirs at funerals which sort of says” thank you for joining us in our feast”. There is so much music and so much wild dancing that you might need to be reminded that this was actually a funeral not an owambe party. Except for the mound of the freshly dug grave at a corner of the compound, there is usually hardly anything to show that some one had just died.

Now, what justification is there for this extreme show of excitement and happiness at the death of some one? What sense did it make to spend a fortune just to bury the dead? Why should the living be so deprived just so as to satisfy the dead?

It really makes no sense and I consider it one of the greatest failures of reasoning for us to still be engaged in such acts in this age. I think the dead require our respect not our feasting. This respect should come in the way of quiet reflection on the person’s life and prayer (if you believe in that) for the person’s soul.

Funerals should be solemn occasions. We should use what we have to secure a better life for the living and if there is any good we ought to do to any man, do it while the person is still alive, don’t wait till he/she is dead before remembering how wonderful the person had been to you.

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