people of God filled in the city of Devil

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Nigeria is rated as one of the most religious countries in the world.[1] Nigerians exports priests and pastors to many parts of the world: Europe, Americas, Asia and other African countries. Despite the religiousness, Nigeria still rates as one of the poorest, most dangerous, corrupt and crime-infested places on earth.[2] With the level of poverty, criminality and danger, Nigeria could pass for the city of devil. Yet, the presence of many religious people and places of worship undeniably qualifies Nigerians as a people of God. Since Nigerians are mainly people of God, who are the people committing all those crimes in Nigeria?


To understand why there is so much crime in Nigeria despite the religiosity, we evaluate the purpose of religion in Nigeria against Nigeria’s socio-economic situation.


Nigeria was brutally formed by British colonial masters using an amalgamation of different unwilling ethnic groups, kingdoms and communities.[3] Before exiting Nigeria at independence, the colonialists installed a federal system of government to hold the different ethnic groups together.[4] These different groups of people have been held together by military force under a federal government, even against their wish. The imposed government seizes and auctions the whole mineral resources[5][6][7] of the different communities, while the people remain poor.[8] In this state of poverty, frustration and desperation, various Nigerians search for any spiritual or physical means to satisfy their needs.


Humans have several needs, but focus on some needs more than others, according to their level of enlightenment. For this reason, the purpose for being religious in Nigeria may be divided into three: material, psychological and spiritual.


Material purpose of the Nigerian religious people: money and protection

This aspect of the Nigerian religiosity is motivated by the quest for material prosperity and protection. Most people in this category are pushed to religion by fear of adversity or desire for material blessings. They see God’s blessings as health or financial breakthroughs and protection from misfortune and attacks. Their prayers are either channelled against enemies, accidents and misfortunes or channelled to money, health, protection and other material benefits.


When desperate, people in this category are ready to perform rituals, pay money, fast and do bizarre things commanded by religious leaders. Many people in this category do not mind sacrificing anything or anybody for a promise of prosperity and protection. They desperately remember being people of God when there is trouble.


More ambitious people in this category join religious-leadership-training schools to get church branches and start making money.  Religious leaders in this category never fail to emphasize the importance of tithes and offerings in the life of fellow materialistic followers. They easily link the gospel with material and individualistic prosperity, while lip-glossing the gospel of repentance, charity and social justice.


Religious leaders in this category exploit the people’s fears by threatening them with poverty, disease, death and misfortunes. They also entice and exploit the people’s appetites by prophesying health, prosperity and victory. Even when the socio-political situation of a society is intolerant of balanced social prosperity, they continue to preach prosperity. They do not need to study or address the socio-political factors of poverty in the society; they only need to proclaim miracles.


Psychological purpose of the Nigerian religious people: name (fame)

This aspect of the Nigerian religiosity is motivated by the need to build a social reputation, or to belong somewhere. The access to all the mineral resources for production in Nigeria is confiscated by the Nigerian Mineral and Mining Act.[9] Because of that, many Nigerians do not have the opportunity to grow their names using what they have produced, like Apple and Toyota. Hence, they demonstrate their social relevance by displaying religious activities, or claiming to make spiritual contributions to the society.


Some people in this category already have money, and only want to validate their moral images and profile. They join and lead choir, ushers, become deacons, pastors, priests or any other high-profile religious position. Politicians, top managers, businesspeople, civil servants and other socially-established people fit into this category. They pay the heaviest tithes and make flamboyant donations, even from corrupt sources, for applause. This category are more interested about the augmentation of their social image by the church than the gospel of social justice. They are the type of people Jesus would call Pharisees, who pray and do media-charity to be respected by men.


Religious leaders in this category attribute the people’s success stories to their powerful prayers, and all misfortunes to the people’s sins or lack of faith. Since there is no real production, any success recorded by the people is attributed to the religious leaders’ prayers. Being leaders of the people of God, they become socially influential.


The material and psychological categories may intersect from time to time. However, their common ground is that they need to obtain superficial benefits from the church.


Spiritual purpose of the Nigerian religious people: meaning of life

This aspect of religiosity is guided by a genuine search for spiritual fulfilment and the true purpose of life on earth. People in this category are constantly searching for the truth about their lives on earth: their mission in life. They are guided by the heavenly condition of “when I was poor, sick and hungry, imprisoned and dying, you cared for me”.[10] In searching for the meaning of their lives on earth, they devote themselves to solving human problems through science, charity, social justice or any other way. They believe in fulfilling the divine wish of “they kingdom come”[11] by working for social justice in Nigeria. They believe in “seeking first the kingdom of God”[12] and every other thing will be added unto you as jara.


This category of religious people might be rare in Nigeria, since the environment conditions Nigerians for personal survival. However, there are good Nigerians who do not blow their statuses as people of God, but go about silently, working for social justice. These are the hiding saints who do charity without calling the media, and fight for justice without seeking attention. These are the people who will ask: Lord, when did we see you hungry, naked, imprisoned, and came to help you.[13] And the Lord will smile at them replying: Omoluabi, when you were doing it for the least of Nigerians, you were doing it for me.[14]


In conclusion, the socio-economic situation in Nigeria conditions Nigerians to search for means of survival even through the church. The motive for being people of God in Nigeria is also affected by the socio-economic situation. And as long as people do not have access to resources to solve their problems, they will continue to search for solutions in anyway. If the tag – people of God – will bring food, money, protection and fame, Nigerians may not mind. They will gladly perform all the ‘people of God’ activities. However, searching for individual satisfaction limits the fulfilment we can get by working for social justice.


What is your purpose for joining the people of God? Money and protection, name and fame or meaning of life and heaven through social justice. We must answer this question, otherwise we will continue to claim to be people of God, while we create a city of the Devil.



[1] “Nigeria is the world’s second most religious country” in Vanguard 11th December, 2016

[2] Seun Opejobi, “Nigeria is one of the poorest people on earth with 80m people living in poverty” in DailyTrust 5-9-2016

[3] Ogban Ogban-Iyan, Re-inventing Nigeria through Pre-colonial traditions, in Issues in contemporary political economy of Nigeria, (ed.) Hassan A. Saliu. (Ilorin, Sally & Associates, 1999). P77

[4] Ogban Ogban-Iyan, Re-inventing Nigeria through Pre-colonial traditions, in Issues in contemporary political economy of Nigeria, (ed.) Hassan A. Saliu. (Ilorin, Sally & Associates, 1999). P77

[5] Nigerian minerals and mining act 2007 act no. 20, chapter 1, Part 1, Section 1, paragraph 2

[6] Nigerian minerals and mining act 2007 act no. 20, chapter 1, Part 1, Section 2, paragraph 1

[7] Nigerian minerals and mining act 2007 act no. 20, chapter 1, Part 1, Section 1, paragraph 3

[8] Seun Opejobi, op. cit.

[9] Nigerian minerals and mining act 2007 act no. 20, chapter 1, Part 1, Section 1, paragraph 2

[10] Matthew 25:35-40

[11] Matthew 6:10

[12] Matthew 6:33

[13] Matthew 25:35-40

[14] Cf. Ibid