In The Spotlight
Eerie silence shrouds the world, broken only by ambulance sirens, echoing down deserted streets in cities across nations which have virtually shut down. As covid-19 ravages the globe, more and more governments in many countries have imposed social isolation policies amid border closures and lockdowns. Hospitals across the world seem unprepared to cope with covid-19; exhausted health workers lack the most basic equipment and healthcare systems and hospitals have been overwhelmed. Then from nowhere, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, founder of LoveWorld International and Christ Embassy Ministries, emerges to peddle some of the most bizarre and insane conspiracy theories about covid-19 that has infected over 1,431,706 people worldwide, and killed at least 82,080 others and counting. Pastor Chris claims covid-19 is the “greatest deception” the world has ever seen; denying the existence of the deadly virus, saying it was a conspiracy by unnamed sinister actors to obfuscate the fact that 5G digital technology is responsible for all covid-19 deaths. The impropriety was pathetic, disgraceful and devoid of any perfunctory exaggeration. Doubtless, the insensitivity is simply mind-boggling, inexcusable and unacceptable from a man to whom much has been given, and from who much is expected.
In a video that went viral on social media, Pastor Chris, spotting an immaculate three-piece tan suit; unleashed a rambling monologue with halting grammar and syntax; spewing baseless conspiracy theories, ornamented with harmful grandiloquence and claimed the Federal Government ordered lockdown of Lagos and Ogun states including Abuja for 14 days in an act of covering the field in the war against covid-19 was intended to prevent Nigerians from mobilizing and protesting against what he said was the covid-19 hoax. By this singular act of civic callousness, dancing in mockery even as the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) announced six deaths from 254 confirmed cases, Pastor Chris advertised in dramatic fashion; a certain hollowness in morality that dragged Nigeria down to a hitherto unprecedented low in ethical degeneration. This is an unbelievable shame and Nigerians the world over, deserve full explanation for the embarrassment.
Given the decrepit state of our health services, even one confirmed case of Covid-19 in Nigeria is very bad. This is especially true given the highly contagious nature of the novel coronavirus. It may not be the deadliest of infections but the rate at which it spreads through human populations like wildfire is such as mankind has not witnessed probably since the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 and before that, the bubonic plagues of the 17ttcentury. Indeed, there is an obvious health emergency in the country as the lockdown imposed by federal and state governments translates into a stay-at-home with few exceptions including essential services and windows for provisions. Irrespective of whether its action is grounded in legal jurisprudence, the times demand some proactiveness on the part of governing authorities.
Because of the inherent fear of levels of compliance in what appears to be a life-and-death matter, law enforcement agencies are required to enforce the lockdowns. It is unfortunate that Pastor Chris will recklessly be inciting a public insurrection against measures aimed at saving lives. Whatever their limitations, covid-19 is not about obeying government shutdown orders; it is about maintaining public health. For the reason that government action involves an encroachment on the fundamental rights of the citizens apparently for the common good of all and more so that the pandemic being fought does not respect the natural right to life, it becomes obligatory to respect the stay-at-home order of the government in what might be called obligation of the citizens.
But it appears there is no limit to the odium Nigerians would endure in the hands of quack charlatans and sundry men of god like Pastor Chris who are propagating misleading spirituality over scientific facts and medicine. While no one denies the place of higher forces and efficacy of prayers in dire situations, what the world is confronting in covid-19 is more of a human and medical problem that should be dealt with accordingly. Rather than lampoon the coronavirus as a subterfuge to foist 5G on Nigerians, the expectation is that religious leaders like Pastor Chris, besides prayers, should use their pulpits to preach personal hygiene, practical safety measures like social distancing, hope and patience, as their social responsibility to the collective survival of Nigeria and the global community.
The video of Pastor Chris parodying renowned global scientists, medical doctors and WHO experts, exposed in spectacular fashion; the amateurish, senseless, unimaginable, buffoonery of a self-seeking moron who chose to plumb the abyss of self-degradation by insulting the collective intelligence of Nigerians. This impropriety was a great disservice to the courageous doctors and nurses who are on the frontlines of battle against covid-19; it is an unbelievable shame and the nadir of gracelessness. It is even more grievous, that the whimsical, disdainful and mundane craving by the self-aggrandizing charlatan who dropped out of Ambrose Alli University, Edo state, where he had enrolled to study architecture, would have the temerity to challenge virologists, epidemiologists and infectious diseases experts on an issue with such grave consequences as a global health pandemic. It illustrates another poor dimension of the stature of these so-called men of god and the amplification of the absence of good personal leadership example, exemplified by the life of Jesus Christ; in whose name they hoodwink and exploit gullible followers seeking spiritual gratification.
Certainly, no modicum of morality or decorum supports Pastor Chris’ reckless display of ignorance and insensitivity, but some pertinent points need to be made. One is that the character and greed of these traffickers-in-faith has been exposed, in spectacular fashion, to the whole world. At this most critical time of unprecedented but clear danger, the common feature is religious leaders debriefing their followers, and like true commanders-in-chief, they are encouraging first-line responders and preaching hope in speech and conducts, cooperate with authorities, be our brothers’ keeper and have faith. That is real leadership from behind, not pestilential perfidy from a pastor who commands a global following and wields enormous power.
With over one million followers on Twitter and almost two million on Facebook, Pastor Chris is one of the most famous figures in Africa. His ministry’s LoveWorld TV is the first 24-hour Christian satellite television network to broadcast from Africa to the rest of the world. The LoveWorld Convocation Arena in Lagos has a 17,000-capacity and is one of the largest churches in Africa. His daily devotional Bible called Rhapsody of Realities has been translated into 950 different languages. Pastor Chris also has two international Healing Schools in South Africa and Canada through which he rakes in millions, holding seasonal sessions that offer divine healing experiences to thousands. Pastor Chris has a flamboyant imaginary self-concept with a very luxurious lifestyle for an international man of god. He owns two private jets and a conspicuous fleet of cars and a million-dollar mansion in Nigeria.
While some will dismiss the odious act of Pastor Chris’covid-19 denial as simply bizarre, desultory and even comical, the brazenness, callousness and audacity of the act, is a bad joke taken too far. It is surprising that this indiscretion escaped the attention Nigerian government officials who are employing unorthodox means to force Nigerians to stay home in order to contain the spread of the deadly virus. The hubris oozing out of Pastor Chris and his twisted logic, even after telecommunications operators globally, including the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), have denied any link between covid-19 and the evolving 5G technology is reason enough for the Buhari administration to throw the book and ensure that this act of brigandage by Pastor Chris should not go unpunished. And the reprehensible action has no redeeming value, as it is neither edifying to his ministry, nor to Biya’s image as a religious leader. A majority of his followers with a conscience have been left to wonder how such a man like Pastor Chris can be so imprudent.
Whatever the case, this debauchment is a clear demonstration of how low the image and reputation of Pastor Chris has now gravitated. Indeed, more sinister motives can be inferred from this buffoonery given that the shutdown has hit the global economy and the bottom line of religious establishments; but far more than anger or anything else it engendered, questions must be asked: what manner of man indulges in such despicable and irresponsible conduct? What goes on in the mind of such a person? Pray, how could Pastor Chris indulge in such high level rascality and imprudent display of leadership? How can anyone justify such a willfully unscrupulous and vainglorious desire to raise your nuisance value by propagating baseless lies over such a life and death issue as covid-19? What did Pastor Chris smoke?
The motive aside, this sad episode advertises a certain pettiness by someone who, by moral authority and public trust is saddled with the responsibility of leading by example; but decided to do the improbable. This is a tragedy. By his perfunctory action, Pastor Chris impoverished and diminished his credibility and personal integrity in ways that ridiculed not only his image, but his entire ministry; he embroiled in spiritual anomie. This was an affront to the international community and Pastor Chris must retract his statement, apologize, own up to his ignorance and hide his head in shame. Finally, Nigerians may have borne the insult with equanimity, but let Pastor Chris not be in any doubt that his followers at home and abroad have been mightily and contemptuously insulted. And never again should it happen.