Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Proliferation of Nigerian Churches in Sierra Leone: Are They Good For the Country?

Pastor Sunday Adelaja of the Wonder
Bank Scheme (accused of embezzling
100 million dollars from his flock)
Since the end of the civil war in Sierra Leone, there has been a geometric growth in the number of religious establishments in the country. The RUF war wrought immense devastation and brought untold hardship to entire towns, individuals and families in the country. For those of us who came from areas that were for years under rebel control, the shifting of our towns and villages from rebels to soldiers to rebels and again to soldiers resulted in the total destruction of almost every tangible property we owned in the country. From houses built by our grandfathers to those built by our fathers, whole settlements were wiped out by Revolutionary United Front rebels who made it a policy of burning downs they were unable to hold, especially in the later stages of the war.

As a small boy, my mum used to sometimes take me to Koidu town on business, back in the heydays of the 80s when Koidu town was at its peak, an affluent settlement that smelled of money and brimmed with desire and hope. When I had the chance to go to Koidu in 1996, such was the devastation and wanton destruction of this once great metropolis that I could not hold back the tears and for the first time in my life I wept for a town, even though my own town of Segbwema also bore the brunt of the war, both during the period of RUF ferocity and even more so during the period of AFRC retreat from Freetown.

The progression of the war coincided with a steady influx and multiplication of Nigerian influence in Sierra Leone, first through ECOMOG, later through small scale businessmen, cheap Nollywood movies and more recently the proliferation of Nigerian evangelical churches of every shade and color, all over the country.

When a society becomes as devastated as Sierra Leone was during our brutal civil war, the end of the war is usually a period of the restoration of dreams and hopes for a better future. At the end of the war in Sierra Leone, the international community poured money into the country to promote and consolidate peace, restore stability, get the economy back on track and rebuild the country's bureaucratic and economic infrastructure.

Funds were made available for the resumption of big energy projects like  the Bumbuna Hydroelectric dam and the repair of old rural power stations. NGOs flooded  the country to assist with everything from the rehabilitation of rural clinics to the cultivation of essential crops and animal husbandry. But given the endemic nature of corruption that pervades almost every aspect of Sierra Leone society, many NGOs who could not operate in such a climate simply stopped their operations in the country or reduced their operations to bare minimum. After the funders withdraw financial support, the operations of a lot of NGOs could not be sustained and they simply folded up.

Though the government in Sierra Leone is currently engaged in some admirable infrastructural projects, the administration seems to have totally lost the war on corruption. The Anti Corruption Commission became compromised the day the previous head, human rights Lawyer Abdul Tejan Cole left the agency and was replaced by a close ally of the country's current President Ernest Bai Koroma, who appointed another Koroma to head the agency, thus bastardizing the war on corruption. The Anti Corruption Commission is now more popular for losing winnable cases than for anything else. The latest debacle being the inability of the ACC to convince a close ally of the Vice President, one Momoh Conteh a man that was filmed in a sting undercover investigation soliciting bribes from journalists pretending to be investors that was broadcast for all the world to see. Yet the country's judiciary still found a way to declare him innocent based on an ACC prosecution that was like primary school students trying to explain relativity theory to Albert Einstein. Such is the sheer incompetence of the current ACC.
Pastor Chris Kwakpovwe
Impregnated his Secretary

With the loss of personal wealth and assets by the majority of people during the war, the decrease in both NGO presence and funding and with the reemergence of corruption as a prime mover of economic activity, poverty is once again on the increase in the country in spite of impressive economic growth figures that mask the terrible inequality in the distribution of income in the country. 

Sierra Leone today is trending towards the situation in Equatorial Guinea, where those close to the seat of power are extremely affluent whilst the mass of citizens in the country continue to wallow in abject poverty, with journalists in the pockets of the country's leaders paid to conceal the true nature of the terrible growing poverty by focusing on platonic superficial projects that have no appreciable longevity.

Into this mix, like bats out of hell, or heaven if they are to be believed, enter the Nigerian churches and their many apostles, pastors, bishops and prophets. 

Poverty and religion have always had a positive correlation. Nigeria, which has the potential to be the most affluent nation in Africa has through years of mismanagement, political instability and the insatiable lust for prestige and power, been transformed into one of the most corrupt nations in the history of mankind, thereby acquiring the unique distinction as one of the few countries in the world whose names are synonymous with corruption. Years of corruption in Nigeria has given rise to thousands of churches that have specialized in the religious art of promising deliverance to their congregations while still on earth.

These churches promise everything from the granting of pregnancies to barren women, to helping in the acquisition of visas to Western countries for those wanting to escape dim prospects in Africa. From helping politicians to win tight elections to helping individuals achieve domination over their enemies these churches have become huge businesses in Nigeria as millions of the country's poor flock to them and over the past decade their influence slowly seeped to other anglophone countries in West African and even to African communities in the Diaspora.

Sierra Leone with its diamonds, gullible and welcoming population and high level of illiteracy has become a magnet for all kinds of Nigerian chapels and assemblies, from Nigerian mega-churches to small time pastors just learning the ropes of the business. The influence of these churches has been facilitated greatly by low budget Nigerian movies which always end in a happy ending for the religious protagonists. In these movies, good always triumphs over evil, a situation that is impractical in real life, but with the extent of deprivation and hopelessness in most African countries, people are willing to believe anything that will promise the hope of a brighter future.
Dr. Albert Odulele
Convicted of sexual Assault

The invasion of these Churches with their eloquent, well dressed and fast talking pastors who claim to speak directly to God have almost made traditional brick and mortar churches that used to promise redemption in heaven to go out of the religion business. Traditional churches have either had to go out of business as collection plates shrank or the local pastors have had to turn away from old school religion to the new type of Christianity that promised earthly wealth and affluence and foretold promises of a great future in return for fat envelopes for the pastors and prophets that always seem to need money for one new project or the other.

In Sierra Leone today, Christianity is on steroids. Everybody is a born again of one sort of the other and the financial demands, the compulsory fasts and the propagation of the message that all others are damned have led to the break up of families and destroyed traditional scripture type of worship. Today it is very difficult to tell the difference between the Muslim marabouts, the traditional juju herbalists and the new type of fortune telling pastors that are now all over the place.

Everybody needs some sort of salvation, but future Sierra Leone governments need to seek the welfare of the people by closely monitoring some of the new religious establishments in the country. Sierra Leone has always been a very religious tolerant society in spite of all our other problems. The country's two main religious groups, Muslims and Christians, have always existed together in peace and harmony. But slowly, the religious intolerance that has blighted the landscape of Nigeria is slowly starting to rear its ugly head in Sierra Leone. Our country has too many divisions and enlightened Sierra Leoneans should not sit idly by and let our society import religious intolerance from foreign lands. What will come next after these intolerant churches, Boko Haram?

We are at a delicate point in our nation's history. After years of conflict followed by years of divisive tribal politics, what we do not need is predatory religion. Even the Bible warns of false prophets. If pastors want to come and spread  alternative religion, the test will be whether they are willing to go into the poor villages as the Christian missionaries of old did. If they are only willing to open their churches in urban areas and diamond settlements, we should seriously start to think about asking some of these prophets to go back home. There are millions of people in Nigeria who need salvation. Let them go and home and save their own people and encourage our own pastors to make church services more lively and interesting. We have many problems in Sierra Leone, but our salvation will only come through hard work, winning the war on corruption, loving our country and practicing religion with a healthy dose of sanity

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