“Religion is the Opium of the Nigerian Masses”

By Akin Ojumu

Nigerians pride themselves as deeply religious people and they hold the unshakeable view that the road that leads to heaven passes straight through their houses of worship. And they’d be right, if religiosity were measured by the number of religious establishments, attendance at religious events, lengthy prayer sessions, and fluency in religionese – that special lingo common among the religious.

Nigeria has a population of about 203.5 million people. Of that, 90 million (50 percent) are Muslims and 86.7 million (48.1 percent) Christians. Nigeria has the largest Christian population of any country in Africa (Pew Research Center). The Pentecostal denominations in Nigeria have as many as 1 million parishes, and there are as many as 10 parishes for every city block. 

The Catholic Church is the largest denomination in Nigeria with a population of 19 million. Anglican Communion comes a close second with current membership at about 17 million. On any given Sunday, as many as 4 million parishioners attend services in these two leading denominations alone.

With a population of well over 5 million people, the Redeemed Christian Church of God is one of the largest Pentecostal churches in Nigeria. According to the church website, “One of the well-known programs of the church is the Holy Ghost Service, an all-night miracle service that is held on the first Friday of every month at the Redemption Camp at Km. 46, Lagos-Ibadan expressway. The average headcount of those who attend the Service is about 500,000.”

Living Faith Church Worldwide, aka Winners’ Chapel International, is considered one of Nigeria’s most popular churches, with branches within and outside the country, including in the United States. The church boasts of more than 275,000 people in weekly attendance.

While the Muslims hold their main religious service once a week on Fridays, Christian Churches hold services every single day leading up to a climax on Sunday. As many as 100 million Nigerians attend a religious service on a single day of the week across the country; 50 million Muslims attend the Friday Jumma ‘at prayer and a similar number of Christians attend Sunday services at their various parishes.

The air in Nigeria is thick with the pungent incense of religious activities and the atmosphere buzzes with spiritual fervor. Just as the aroma of the religious offerings wafts up to the heavens from the Christian altars, the minarets likewise bellow as the muezzin call the faithful to the adhan. 

On a regular basis, major highways are turned into parking lots as columns of cars stretching several kilometers back are forced to inch their way along by the multitudes who troop to the campgrounds hauling their gallons of anointing oil and jerry cans of water, hoping and praying for a miracle.

Everyday discourse in Nigeria is characterized by repeated reference to Allah and conversations are punctuated by God’s name. Public events don’t commence until an Imam, or a Pastor, has said a prayer. 

Public office holders lace their speeches with assorted religionese and elected government officials unabashedly invoke the divine in their remarks. Employees of private businesses are made to hold praise and worship sessions before they open and close for the day, and most homes have little shrines where the families go to offer oblations to their deity. 

The market woman swears to God to show her sincerity, and the guy who sells carburetors at the auto spare parts market is quick to lend credence to his upright character by letting the buyer know he is also a pastor and the religious posters littering the wall of his shop seal the deal.

Without exerting themselves, those saddled with running the country leave everything to fate and they constantly invoke divine providence along the way for great success. Massive projects that require careful consideration and proper planning are shoddily managed and poorly executed while those in charge call on Jehovah to take control and they fatally trust God to make it turn out well.

Instead of applying themselves to studying, students in Nigeria spend their time engaged in all manners of religious activities and then come exam time, they expect God to reciprocate their religious zeal by miraculously revealing to them the answers to the questions as they sit in the exam room to take the test.

This is Nigeria for you in a nutshell. It is a place where the masses are hooked on the opium of religion.


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