Nigerians are flocking to church seeking succour from harsh economic realities
In the first of a series of weekly viewpoints from African journalists, Sola Odunfa considers living legends and sleeping presidents in a letter from Lagos:
If you were requested to name the five greatest living legends in your country, who would be your choice?
This is the task given to Nigerians in a contest jointly organised by a national newspaper and a radio and television company, both based in Lagos.
The votes are still being counted but the preliminary result is interesting.
Footballer Nwankwo Kanu is trailing in second place
If the trend continues Nigeria's greatest living legend, by overwhelming popular choice in this competition, will be a Pentecostal church leader.
The choice may not be as surprising as it seems, given that Nigerians are flocking to God in huge numbers to seek succour from the very harsh economic realities of the times.
In a country where the major evidence of government is the siren which shoos people off the road to make way for officials' bullet-proof Jeeps, the only hope for survival by the common man lies in Pentecostal churches which promise instant miracles for prosperity and for healing from diseases.
Traditional institutions like the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches have long lost out in the contest for patronage by the jobless and hungry young generation.
Today Christian miracle preaching is the shortest path to wealth in Nigeria.
It is therefore no surprise that the pastor has become the most visible and, arguably, the most flamboyant person in the public eye.
'Humility and devotion'
And most of them make no pretences about their lifestyle or morality.
VANGUARD'S LIVING LEGENDS
Chinua Achebe Writer
King Sunny Ade Musician
Enoch Adeboye Pastor
Dora Akunyili Minister of Information
Chief Emeka Anyaoku Former Commonwealth Secretary General
David Dafinone Accountant
Aliko Dangote Industrialist
Philip Emeagwali Computer scientist
Anthony Enahoro Democracy activist
Gani Fawehinmi Human rights lawyer
Yakubu Gowon Former military head of state
Nwankwo Kanu Footballer
Balarabe Musa Politician
Olusegun Obasanjo Former president
Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu Biafran leader
Anthony Okogie Cardinal of Mt Carmel of Mostacciano
Hakeem Olajuwon Basketballer
Wole Soyinka Nobel Laureate
Pat Utomi Economist
Akintola Williams Accountant
A bishop in one Pentecostal church is awaiting the hangman at Lagos prison on conviction for killing a stubborn female member of his flock; another has been exposed for faking healing miracles in Nigeria and in South Africa, where he has a branch; yet another founder/pastor is embroiled in a battle with jealous Ghanaians who want to seize control of his money-spinning branch in their country.
However, the "Greatest Living Legend" chosen by readers of Vanguard newspapers and audiences of Silverbird Television and Rhythm FM radio is not like the other men of the cloth mentioned here.
He is noted for humility and devotion.
Despite its wealth, his Redeemed Christian Church of God bought for him a jet aircraft to ease his travels in the cause of evangelism only recently.
In a field of 20 nominees - which includes Nobel Laureate and rights activist Wole Soyinka, famed computer scientist Phillip Emeagwali, Super Eagles and Portsmouth of England premiership football star Nwankwo Kanu, dollar billionaire businessman Aliko Dangote and two former heads of state - Pastor Enoch Adeboye has so far drawn more than a third of all votes cast.
The closest person to him is Kanu, but he trails far behind, followed by Mr Soyinka.
Before shouts of "halleluia!" start ringing out though, some Nigerians may need to be convinced that the votes were not contrived by nudging members of the church to vote en bloc for their leader.
The black market is thriving as never before
But with their shepherd's seeming popularity rating, the Redeemed flock can now afford to ignore public protests when they block one of Nigeria's arterial highways during their monthly night vigil.
Who is travelling now, anyway?
For the past two weeks Nigeria has been in the grip of a serious fuel scarcity.
We are told it is because of a dispute over pricing between the government and major oil marketers.
There are more cars keeping endless vigils at filling stations than speeding on roads.
The black market is thriving as never before.
Artisans who operate small generators to keep their businesses afloat have closed shop because the public power supply has collapsed.
More and more Nigerians are convincing themselves that the president has gone to sleep. So, to the pastors they rush for respite!
A selection of your comments:
I am not a member of his Pentecostal church and did not cast any vote but I think Pastor Enoch Adeboye deserve to be the or among the three greatest living legends in Nigeria. I watch and listen to his programs and will testify that he has touched and saved so many souls through his messages. I am telling you the truth, if not for divine messages from pastors like him (Not the abracadabra miracle pastors) many Nigerians would have gone to the beyond as a result of high blood pressure and heart attack resulting from joblessness, imposition of political office holders against the wish of the masses, looting of public funds by those we are looking up to. Have you heard, they no longer loot millions again rather billions or in foreign currency dollars, pounds and euros. Erratic power supply, the list so much. I did not mention the fuel scarcity monster. In fact let me go see where I can get PMS or fuel for my generator.Uzoma Nkem Nwachkwu, Abuja Nigeria
I agree 100% with your last paragraph. It Sums it all about Nigeria MR.PRESIDENT HAS GONE TO SLEEP or better still, was never awake.Its the clear truth. Thanks
Is Sola Odunfa a man that believes in God, or just trying to do is job? I think the people of Nigeria has the right to vote for whom they think is a real Legend. And i believe they made the right choice by voting a Man of God. We Africans should change our attitude for each others, instead of always finding excuses to our pathetic and molested economy.
Ishmaila Bangura, Freetown, Sierra Leone
I agree totally with the votes so far cast. Baba Adeboye deserve No:1. He is the Moses of our generation helping to lead Nigerans out of a depression that would have caused millions to commit suicide. Other spiritual leaders and motivational speakers who have helped keep up the spirit of Nigerians to have courage also deserve commendation.
Odusote Oluwakayode Adeleke, Abuja, Nigeria
A man of God indeed. The fact of the matter is that most SELF ANOINTED Pastors in Nigeria are no better than the incompetent politicians they cry about. Religion is important but many Nigerians deceive themselves in thinking that God will some how suddenly say "let there be light and prosperity in Nigeria" and like 1 2 3 everything becomes great. What errant nonsens!!!! The real heroes are unsung Nigerian men and women home and abroad who give themselves selflessly to help fellow Nigerians. Governor Fahsola of Lagos is also a living legend. The Pentecostal cancer in Nigeria needs to be eradicated in my view.Nigeria will get better one day.
Simon stevens, Asaba,Nigeria
I have to agree with the last comment; while I do contend that religion is wrong, I am very uneasy with the rise of pentecostalism in Nigeria which seems to have made people blind and numb to the real problem. Instead of holding the government to task for poor economic management, children are abused and abandoned because they are the 'witches' and 'wizards' in the way of their parent's prosperity. Instead of voicing discontent against governmental largess, we look for the devil in common man. And instead of helping ourselves, we wait for God to do every thing while we spend our lives and energy in church screaming "there shall be miracles! holy ghost fire." This in stark contrast to active protests of the labor movement, makes it evident that political apathy only perpetuates tyranny. In short, to recompose Karl Marx's assertion: pentecostalism is the opium of the people!
Adedayo Bolaji-Adio, Washington DC, USA
My question is if Nigerians don't turn to God who then should they turn to? I did not cast a vote and sincerely speaking the five greatest legends is a waste of time and resources just like the ongoing "rebranding". The image of our nation can only be improved if the "rebranding" starts in our homes. Where parents instill lasting values such as honesty, love, dignity of labour and above all the fear of God in their homes. On Pastor Adeboye, I do not go to Redeem but I believe I know enough to say he is a man of God who really is not interested in wether he is Nigeria's top living legend or not. The orientation and general attitude to life of each Nigerian is what needs to be changed.
Enitan Beckley, Lagos, Nigeria
The Nigerian legends are the common man who has endure mismanagements, maladministration, corruption and economic Tsunami that has plagued Nigeria since independence.
Adekunle Adeniran, Dallas, TX
I agree with Simon Stevens writing in from Asaba. The real legends in Nigeria today are those millions who on a daily basis carry out their duties without fail. I will like to mention one traffic warden in Ikeja, along Mobolaji Bank-Anthony way by Toyin street junction. Come rain or shine, he stands at hhis duty post. Even after losing his entire family in a fire outbreak, he still continued to mount his duty post. That man,to me is a legend. We should stop glorifying public figures with enough money to manipulate the media. Let us celebrate the REAL legends.
Patrick Thorpe, Lagos, Nigeria