Manipulating scriptures to hold a people hostage: A review of AI Akhigbe’s ‘God for Sale’ — Sylva Nze Ifedigbo
God For Sale | Origami – An imprint of Parresia Publishers, 2021 | 254
“Still, religious leadership is not only about money. It is also about influence, power, the allure of being God, or at least being idolised and made comparable to God; about having otherwise intelligent people hanging onto your every word, believing that you have the delegated power to bless and curse, to define who they are, who they will marry and if they will succeed”.
The above quote from Yemisi Aribisala’s evergreen essay, Nigeria’s Superstar Men Of God, came to mind as I read AI Akhigbe’s daring and no holds barred memoir, God for Sale which captures in the main, his personal journey through Nigerian prosperity gospel, not as an observing congregant but as a key player with the juicy inner gist to some of what the rest of us have seen in the media over the years.
Akhigbe was for fifteen years, a pastor of Christ Embassy and is married to the younger sister of the erstwhile wife of the Church’s general overseer, Pastor Chris.
This allows him to give an authoritative account of happenings in the church which he does in a bold way in the book. He starts out tracing his early childhood, elementary education and being sent to Lagos to live with his uncle. Then progresses to his struggles for survival as a young adult, the effort to return to school, the challenges of gaining admission to the university of Lagos despite his good grades and how he settled for a place in Yabatech for an OND.
Going to Yabatech seem to have been the defining move that will shape the rest of his life and shape most of the revelations in this book. An error in the computation of his results in Yabatech prevented him from pursuing an HND and in the intervening period, left him largely desolate. This was when he found Christ, became born again and joined Christ embassy, He would rise through the ranks to become a pastor, establishing new churches in Lagos and Abuja, and even going on foreign evangelism in Philippines.
Akhigbe captures succinctly the kind of power the church has over her pastors and congregation. He describes in a way only an insider can manage, the command-and-control structure of the churches leadership, the hierarchical structure and the doctrine of unquestionable loyalty to the infallible President/Pastor who soon assumes the status of God for members of his congregation.
It is a detailed tale of hypocrisy, power play and the shameless drive for money which soon becomes the core focus of the ministry and not any pretenses to evangelize and win souls for God. The book describes a situation where congregants have essentially been taken hostage by the church who directs their actions especially how they use their finances which they’ve been made to believe, must go to God.
The church uses its pastors as the foot soldiers for operationalizing this massive money drive. They are like Bank marketers with targets they must meet. “Pastors had to justify the anointing upon their lives by the amount of income they were able to acquire during services and remit to the headquarters….Money was the standard unit for measuring spirituality” Akhigbe writes on Page 95.
The pressure is so much that local church pastors eager to prove their anointing and grow in the ranks use their personal finances to help them quench the thirst of a church that kept demanding and demanding for Money, with new unrealistic targets sets.
Perhaps it is the way the church moderates even the most personal decisions of her members that jars the most. Like when the writer expressed his desire to marry the younger half sister of the wife of Pastor Chris. It is difficult to understand how the personal decision of two consenting adults became an issue for the church’s hierarchy who determined that he was not worthy of entering a household where their President had entered being someone who didn’t even have a degree.
How the members allowed the church such control over them speaks of a great deal of naivety. This seeming naivety comes through in several other instances, like when he was cajoled to join a delegation of the church in Philippines for which he had to sell his car to fund a trip that he knew was designed to package someone else to reap from where he had sown over the years.
The book gets even more interesting when he delves into the breakdown of the marriage between Pastor Chris and his wife Anita which eventually ended in a bitter divorce. Indeed, Akhigbe establishes that there was really no marriage all the while or better put, that it was a contraption that existed only for the cameras. When the long-suffering wife, whose influential father had played a key role in providing the ministry the legs to stand on in its early days, decided to walk away from the charade, the church brought down the weight of its powers to humiliate and impoverish her through its well-oiled propaganda machinery and deep pockets which essentially swayed public opinion (even those of her children) against her.
Akhigbe who had increasingly become frustrated by the lies, hypocrisy and inordinate quest for money by the church soon begins to question her teachings, some of which he had propagated over the years. He quits and unlike others, refuses to keep quiet or be cowed by the threats and emotional blackmail of the church. A boldness that births the memoir in which he names people, cites instances and makes far reaching claims.
As one who recently published a novel which is critical of Nigerian Pentecostal Christianity, reading God For Sale was both a revealing experience and a validation of my fiction. If anything, maybe it wasn’t far reaching enough as the depth of the sleaze and ungodliness revealed by Akhigbe, which is a common theme across many of these churches is simply mind boggling and indeed very worrying.
Though there is quite a bit of repetition of certain points in succeeding chapters which could become rather boring in some places, this book is one I recommend to everyone who wishes to better appreciate the inner workings of prosperity preaching ministries, the inside gist of Pastor Chris and Anita’s divorce and just how deep the gospel has been manipulated to hold scores of people hostage and tied to the strings of one man.
–Sylva Nze Ifedigbo, creative writer and social commentator, is the author of Believers and Hustlers. He is available on social media at @nzesylva.