Friday, 21 June 2024 04:42

Nigerian youths after prosperity gospel - Abimbola Adelakun

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Abimbola Adelakun Abimbola Adelakun

Some years ago, while Nigeria had abundant money from oil revenue, the prosperity gospel and motivational speaking also reigned. The prosperity gospel is a theology that promises divine blessings of material wealth and good health to the one who sows seeds of financial contribution to the church, a sacrifice that must be worthwhile enough to move divine transcendent power on one’s behalf. Motivational speaking was a similar message, except that the transformation it promised was connected to more secular tactics.

In that era, charismatic preachers made good. Their lavish lifestyle made their message self-affirming. A lot has since changed. The validity of the prosperity gospel has been contested in various ways; prosperity preachers and motivational speakers are now treated with the same derision. We have seen instances of people demanding a return of their seeds from pastors when they did not get the expected miracle and in one instance, someone even reported their pastor to the law enforcement agents. Even before Daddy Freeze (Ifedayo Olarinde) began to publicly spar with renowned pastors on the issues of tithe as a route to prosperity, the public had begun to raise questions. Even worse, social media platforms commissioned an army of sceptics who have become the nemesis of the media-savvy pastors.

Like the oil boom of the 1970s when Nigeria could afford to spend lavishly without concomitant productivity, the boom cycles (up till 2014) that coincided with the reign of prosperity gospel lacked similar structural strength. There was still no remarkable productivity at the base of the money flowing, and becoming rich was mostly a matter of scoring the right odds. Someone once said Nigeria is a place where you can sleep poor and wake up rich, and that is very true, especially if you get in bed with the right person.

While we are mostly wiser for the message of supernatural prosperity, our society has not ceased looking for magical wealth. There was a time when the fad was the so-called “money rituals.” We were told some people—from babalawos to pastors to alfas, many of them living in dingy houses and barely getting by themselves—were privileged possessors of the occult alchemy that would make instant wealth. Similar to prosperity pastors who ask you to sacrifice your life savings to move the heavens to open on your behalf, these ones too asked for money before they could make such a charm for you. Even more, they also requested human sacrifices too.

Then there is cybercrime, also called Yahoo Yahoo. Not only did young people acquire the set of technological skills that would enable them defraud unsuspecting victims in a transnational ecosystem where people from different countries of the world are now joined by electrical wires, but they also purported to enhance their skills through supernatural means. The upgraded version, called Yahoo Plus, gave birth to youths at the most productive stages of their lives chasing the illusion of super-logical wealth with the same dedication their parents put into the prosperity gospel. The craze got to a point that parents even actively connived with their Yahoo children.

Some of those whose religious and moral values did not allow them to go into Yahoo Yahoo or money rituals bought into Ponzi schemes when those too reigned in the social space. Again, similar to prosperity gospellers and motivational speakers, a generation of smooth talkers also arose to promise people an impossible return on investment if they invested in some dubious agro-industrial or real estate projects. The reasonable ones among those investors promised returns of 20 to 30 per cent, a rather high margin under even the best circumstances. To outbid this set in the market of illogicality, other Ponzi schemers went as far as promising a 200 per cent ROI! People invested with the same faith with which they put money in prosperity preachers’ pockets.

Even though the Ponzi market has largely receded when too many unfortunate investors finally got wiser, the kalokalo economy has continued. People continue their quest for magical wealth through betting schemes. One can argue that betting, unlike Ponzi schemes, at least does not deceive anyone into believing the activity is supported by some legitimate investment. Betting is transparent enough—putting in money is hedging an uncertain future on the chances of instant transformation if the odds favoured one. Still, it is not unlike the gospel that asks you to sow your seeds and expect a miracle of multiplication that will transform your ordinary life overnight. Stories are replete of young men staking money they made from daily hustles like their school fees, Okada riding, and even stolen money into the game of betting.

Then came the era of crypto. On the surface, it was a new thing. In reality, it was a replay of the era of “Forex,” another hazy investment enterprise that cleaned out millions of people who thought it was their route to prosperity. Like Ponzi schemes, most of those who invest in crypto (or even Forex) barely understood its mechanisms but they traded in faith all the same. It is the latest fad, the bandwagon on which millions of youths currently hitch their hope of social mobility and economic maturation. As it is, Nigeria has the second-highest adoption of crypto in the world after India, another country with the same unenviable mix of poverty, a mass of youths, and a demographic of wild dreams that will probably not be realised in this lifetime. One can hardly blame them. With few opportunities and fewer prospects of economic empowerment, people will follow any merchant of dreams that wheels their wares into the marketplace.

So popular is crypto in Nigeria that even the Afrobeat singer Davido (David Adeleke) floated one, $DAVIDO. You might wonder what a singer knows about the crypto economy, but that is how the magical economy works. Anyone can claim expertise over any domain as long as they can razzle dazzle with celebrity power. Remember, at the height of the prosperity gospel, pastors too invested heavily in appearance—flashy cars, clothes, jewellery, and private jets. Every Yahoo boy rushes to buy the finest commodity to accessorise and mimic the respectability of a made man.

All these routes to magical prosperity are concurrent in Nigeria, just at varying levels. On the surface, these means look different but internally they are connected. Not only do they promise wealth without commensurate productivity, but they also promise social transformation outside the purview of politics and the government for salvation. By government, I mean the domains of national politics where the policies that can actually change our lives come from. The wealth that will supposedly transform is either going to come from a transcendental being (God, spirits, and similar forces) or outside the nation space (which is also why there also is a lot of japa), especially the magical spaces where technology connects us to some other humans (that we do not see/know) or some other foreign sources whose operations cannot be readily explained but is believed to hold the key to instant transformation.

By looking away from the government for life enhancement, it also seems that many of us have given up on the faith that Nigeria’s politics—as currently constituted—is capable of ever coming up with a political arrangement that will end our poverty. Maybe that cynicism also explains why our political actions are self-sabotaging. We abjure every good sense to vote for the very people who have paralysed us with their moral corruption and will keep doing so. Our lack of conviction in the rationality of our politics to transform keeps us looking for illogical means as a source of salvation. The faith that magical alternatives—instead of politics—are what will save us, is a big reason we have given up on the government.

 

Punch

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