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The changing phases of religious proselytization and Wike’s changing strategy for self-preservation

Even though I was watching it on the internet, I prayerfully wished for some form of, if not total resistance to the order by FCT Minister, Nysom Wike for Permanent Secretaries under his “command” to line up and bow to President Bola Tinubu, I got the feeling that rather than feel humiliated, those senior civil servants would latch onto the queer privilege to endear themselves before the former Rivers State governor.

I watched in disgust as seasoned men and women who have risen to the highest office in the Nigerian civil service lined up in servile subserience and took their turns to bow before the president. This ceremony was not an item on the programme for the day’s event, but Wike knowingly forced it in, most likely as part of his survival strategy Plan B.

The minister did not pretend to mask the disrespect he had for the Perm Secs; the disdain, so thick you could cut it with a knife, was on every word with which he summoned these men and women to that enterprise. I could not find any grace in the strides of the permanent secretaries as they marched in single file, past President Tinubu, bowing before him in the process. What I saw was a group of men and women who had been shorn of the aura of their offices in exchange for their seats.

“You are the beneficiaries. Come out! Come Out! Both men and women. Take a bow before Mr President,” Wike had bellowed to the Permanent Secretaries as they filed out like school pupils going to pass their class assignments before their head teacher.

As he issued the order, one could feel the derision in Wike tone, his lips pouting in a condescension that was accentuated by his signature guttural voice. Bible readers would say it was a recast of what King Nebuchadnezzar did in the Book of Daniel Chapter 3 where it was recorded that he summoned all the wise people in his kingdom, Babylon; the “satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up,” ordering them to “fall down and worship the image of gold” he had made.

The Permanent Secretaries represent the best of the Nigerian Civil Service and should be treated with better respect. I am not saying they should disrespect the Nigerian president, but there was no reason for that invitation to bow except for humiliation and ego-tripping. You notice this in the glint of conquest in the minister’s eyes as his order ignited full compliance. Not even the sunglasses he was wearing could effectively mask this. The smile of Mr President, as he supported his face with his right hand, was indicative of how successful the Minister was in rousing his mumu button.

It was easy to know why Wike, in addition to seeking the president’s commendations for being a good minister, also played the soft pitch game which sacrificed the permanent secretaries as the ingredients for the minister’s lobbying pepper-soup.

Nyesom Wike is in a difficult position. Having earned his seat as the FCT Minister due to his (previous) vice-grip on the political structure of Rivers State, recent developments have clearly shown that the tree branch on which he had anchored his political perch in his state is being hewn off by a feller-buncher in the hands of his successor and political godson, Governor Siminalayi Fubara.

The crises in the Rivers State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which has the godfather and his godson in a fight-to-finish now have the former governor holding the short end of the stick. From every indication, Governor Fubara does not look like he wants Wike’s grip on the stick at all, and that is why the latter’s survival instincts have kicked in, triggering the desperate subservience-by-proxy that manifested during that event in Abuja.

If he succeeds, Nyesom Wike will have another home in President Tinubu’s haven. But should he fail to impress the president whose tolerance of the former Rivers State strongman was driven by the belief that he would always deliver political and electoral proceeds from the south-south state, then it would be political nunc dimittis for the man from Ikwere.

From being the “Emperor, the conqueror, the champion, and the lion” (apologies to Flavour Nabania) of Rivers politics, Nyesom Wike is tumbling down the cliff of his political Olympian heights into possible oblivion, and like all people faced with such existential reality, his hands are flailing desperately to grab anything that might abate his descent.

Just like this very powerful and vocal governor, our religious organisations are also facing significant challenges of their own in their efforts to retain their hold on their congregation. This is happening with dizzying desperation as clerics battle to outdo one another in high-octane phantom miracles proselytization.

Leading the pack was Port Harcourt preacher, David Ibiyeomie, who claimed to have received miraculous gifts after he gave his one month’s salary as a “sacrifice.”

Ibieomie, in a viral video, said: “My wife told me she wanted to go to the market in 1997, and my salary was N5,000. She said to me upstairs, ‘My husband, we have to go to the market’, and, I said to her, ‘I am coming’. But, I heard God say to me, ‘Give me the N5,000. That’s madness!

“Nobody will give you money physically. Your wife said she wanted to go to the market, and that day, you earned your salary, with no other money elsewhere. And, God said, ‘Give me’? You need faith. You can hear God but without faith, it won’t produce.

“Then, I took the N5,000 and dropped it as a sacrifice. In less than one hour, a woman said God spoke to her, that there was a pastor in town, that she should take N25,000, pack a bag of rice, a bag of beans, a crate of eggs, everything in her kitchen, and give to that man of God. She drove down and dropped everything without even meeting me.”

Nigerians were still struggling to digest this when the founder of Dunamis Church, Paul Enenche serenaded his church members with an even more out-of-the-world story of how a bag of rice they had in the house refused to deplete even though they were taking out of it and eating. This, he claimed, happened because his wife gave out 10 percent of the rice in tithes.

Hear Pastor Enenche: “One day we had a rice that couldn’t finish, the more we fetch it, the more it continue (sic). She became afraid at the end and dash out the balance.”

Not to be outdone, Evangelist Uma Ukpai, another notable Pentecostal preacher seized the airwaves with his story of how he had gone to the bank to withdraw N5 million to continue a building project (his second in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State), even when he knew he had no money in the bank.

Confronted by the bank manager with the reality of his empty bank account, Ukpai, who claimed he does business with Heaven, boasted that he’d wait in his car for God to refloat his bank account and this was done within 40 minutes: He did not just get the N5 million he was looking for, God deposited N10 million in his account.

No one should forget the tale told by Pastor Enoch Adeboye about how God suspended winter while he was on a trip to Canada. It was also to Pastor Adeboye’s credit that we heard about how God expanded a narrow bridge to save him and his driver from a certain accident “somewhere in Kwara State.”

It appears that the seed of miracles testimony sown by Pastor Adeboye many years ago, just started to bear fruits. Recall the story of how the great man of God drove a car from Benin (I think) to Lagos on an empty tank. It was a tale that must arrived ahead of its time. Now, pastors and preachers have adjusted their evangelism, telling fabulous stories to keep the pews filled.

The history of the spread of Christianity across Africa, if one takes a critical backward look, happened in themed evangelical phases. When the missionaries first arrived, the message of “salvation” was initially targeted at slaves, the weak, and the oppressed. The purpose then was not the over-the-top miracles we hear of today. Churches concentrated on absorbing the rejected in society, giving them hope and assuring them of equality in heaven. By providing hope, the church also provided support systems, and when they added Western education, the unspoken idea was to turn the table by educating those hitherto disadvantaged to become the leaders of communities.

The success recorded during this early phase inspired the introduction of “elimination by substitution” into Christianity. Preachers, especially the Africans who were ordained priests paid huge attention to demonizing Africans’ belief systems and modes of worship. The deities of the people were labelled idols, and the religion was crowded into one evil basket which they called paganism. In the southeast where the concept of the devil did not exist in the people’s belief systems, one was invented for them out of one of their gods, Ekwensu, which was Igbo people’s god of war and cunning.

The next phase was the Eldorado phase during which pictures of a Paradise of abundance were presented to the people. The message was that the world was not our home and a Heaven where we would have everything we were denied in this world was waiting for us.

People thus created mental imageries of a beautiful place where all the streets and mansions were made with gold and precious stones and where there was no strife, suffering, or sorrow; people could have all they wanted just by willing them into existence.

As education appeared to provide leverage for the early adopters and colonialism spread across the continent, preachers who now had converts in their numbers changed the evangelism strategy. At this stage, fear was introduced as the instrument of conversion. Supported by verses in the Bible such as, “the soul that sinneth shall die”, “the wages of sin is death,” and “except you accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” Africans were cajoled into converting to Christianity. Everybody feared the eternal larvae of hell.

The phases of a beautiful heaven and a burning hell overlapped and lasted until the Pentecostal movement invaded the church in the late 1970s. From this period, fiery preachers began to emerge and, as the years passed, Churches began to proliferate with most of them advertising sundry miracles performed on people during church services and crusades.

Pastors during this phase advertised miracles, and with economic prosperity eluding the people, the pews filled to overflow with desperate people seeking relief and cure as the government continued to show no sign of improving their lot.

Several churches used the organ of television and radio to advertise miracles, but it got to a point when government began to question the possibility of the claims being made by these pastors, leading to the ban on the broadcast of such miracles without proof.

The advancements in digital technology provided the impetus for this phase to linger, with the social media of Facebook and YouTube enabling the continued marketing of miracles below regulatory radar.

But with an increasing number of people questioning the content shared by many of these religious organisations it appears there is a concerted attempt to replace the hook of miracles with the bait of “pastoral testimonials.” The slew of testimonies from the preachers discussed earlier in this text points to the migration from the miracle phase to a new one of pastoral testimonials.

How long this era lasts is a moot question. But while we wait for the direction this phase would take the church (and how long it would reign), we will also be taking intermittent sideways glances in the direction of Abuja to see how far Nyesom Wike’s change of survival tactics would help install a miraculous engine for his plunging political chopper.

Who knows, these pastors might come together to “deliver” him from his Rivers of troubles and into the comfort of Mr. President’s love and trust.

As the saying goes on Nigerian streets, “miracle no dey taya Jesus.”


Ikem Okuhu is a journalist, a Public Relations professional, brand strategist and teacher. With a career that traversed Print Media, Oil & Gas, Banking and entrepreneurship, Ikem is the author of wave-making book; PITCH: Debunking Marketing’s Strongest Myths, a dispassionate exposition of the dos and don’ts of successful engagement in the marketplace, especially the Nigerian marketplace. He is the founder/publisher of BRANDish, Nigeria’s first nationally circulating Brands and Marketing magazine. He has also handled the PR and reputation management consultancies for a number of brands, businesses and public figures.

  • Chidibere Francis Ezeh

    Nice analogy of Wike’s current survival strategy of paying obeisance to the president in order to remain politically relevant. The president in the program you mentioned, assured him that he will not forsake him. It’s obvious from that statement, that Wike was already suffering from defeat syndrome hiding behind the president. The same emperor that once roared from bricks house in Portharcourt, challenging president Buhari. Oh the vanity of power.

    June 7, 2024 at 5:19 pm Reply
  • Ikechukwu G. Ossai

    What goes round comes around, power, wealth, position and all mundane things will pass away, only the truth is constant. Both Wike and all these so called men of God will wane and waste away with time.

    June 8, 2024 at 8:38 am Reply
  • Uche Okafor

    Wike and his theatrics. Hopefully we’ll see the end of him and his shenanigans in the nearest future.

    June 8, 2024 at 9:11 am Reply
  • Onyekachi Kadex

    Wike’s political end is gradual. He lost the grip of Rivers. He lost the fight with the FCT indegenes. He will surely loose whatever love he thinks he has from Mr President. To our brothers on pulpit business, it will only take time, but surely their games go later cast.

    June 9, 2024 at 6:39 am Reply

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