Our very lucrative prayers economy

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(Please read today’s piece to the accompaniment of Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s classic song, SHUFFERIN’ AND SHMILIN’)

LAST week, former Executive Director of the NNPC, Aminu Baba-Kusa, filed a statement of witness at the High Court in Abuja. He told the court that N2.2 billion had been spent on prayers to hasten the defeat of Boko Haram. The money had been released in two tranches of N1, 450, 000, 000 and N750, 000, 000.  Not only was the huge sum of money released, the contract proposal had in fact been verbal.

Baba-Kusa said that he had “approached the former NSA and discussed Boko Haram problems and I suggested there is need for prayers and he considered and accepted… I personally sponsored many people locally and some few to Saudi Arabia. Some monies were later paid into our companies, which we paid to some of the Malams”.

Baba-Kusa added that: “I then arranged to recover my personal expense which I put into our own businesses”. And just in case Nigerians were wondering how an NNPC Executive Director became a prayer merchant, the man told detectives that he was not an expert, however, he “used some of the Malams to organise in Abuja, Zaria, Kano, Sokoto, Maiduguri, Kaduna and Saudi Arabia covering 2013 to 2015”.

This prayer business obviously consumes a lot of money, the way a worn vehicle engine guzzles fuel. Aminu Baba-Kusa was therefore very generous in the way that he financed the prayer economy: “I give them funds as required from time to time, ranging from N500, 000 to N30million, depending on their needs, travelling, sadaqat and others for local expenses and travels”.

Verbal  proposal

And it gets even more curious: “The proposal made to the former NSA was not documented by him or myself. The verbal proposal to him was for prayers to overcome Boko Haram within the shortest time. The engagement for prayers by organising some people to be praying was not formally written down. There was no amount of money agreed on.

I said to him, I will start organising, which he agreed and said he will later see what he would give at a later time. But there was an anticipatory element to the demand, because Baba-Kusa said he had already spent N700million “from our own resources before I started to ask for money from him”.

In the long run, Baba-Kusa’s “spiritual investment” made a major breakthrough and before one could spell spirit, Nigeria’s N2.2billion had disappeared into a black hole of prayers, which obviously did little to stop the rampaging Boko Haram insurgency! But the Baba-Kusa billions were only part of an elaborate spiritual economy, which led directly from the National Security Adviser’s office, into the pockets of politicians and their prayer warrior allies.

Last December, the former Sokoto state governor, Attahiru Bafarawa, had told EFCC interrogators that the N4.6 billion that he also collected from the former NSA, Colonel Sambo Dasuki, had been for “spiritual purpose”.

Let me start by accepting that Nigerians are a very religious people and some of our most passionate disputes have been located on grounds of faith. The Nigerian ruling classes are past masters at exploiting faith to retain a class project of domination and as a platform of negotiation of cuts of the national cake.

Religious  identities

And as the access to power and the sites of wealth have become ever more competitive, the exploitation of religious identities has become even more vital in the Nigerian social and political spaces.

On the other hand, the increasing alienation associated with our neocolonial and uncaring form of capitalism, has also deepened the religiosity in our society. Fundamentalist religious groups contest the spaces of spirituality in society with more mainstream religious organisations for the souls of the Nigerian faithful and in the process, a very elaborate “spiritual economy” is booming.

Richest people in Nigeria: The religious clergy have become some of the richest people in Nigeria today. And one of the expressions of the economic power of religious organisations is the way that the de-industrialisation that crept upon Nigeria from the mid-1980s, led to the closure of hundreds of factories around Nigeria. Well, many of these premises have been or are being bought up by very rich religious organisations. We closed industry owing to the disastrous economic choices that the ruling class made; we lost thousands of industrial jobs but consequently, saw the transformation of old industrial shop floors into spiritual centres manufacturing and selling healing, miracles and prayers plus their accouterments. In that process, the religious orders have not only become fabulously rich, they have also ended up wielding so much power and influence in our society. How positive their power and influence is however open to a debate.

The sinking of N6b: This is the context of existence that conditioned the very outlandish processes which led to the sinking of over N6billion into prayers and “spiritual purpose”, under the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan and his NSA, Colonel Sambo Dasuki. So far, we have not received the account of monies that went for Christian prayers and spiritual purposes in the same period.

Highlight of  the pilgrimage

How can we forget the central place occupied by Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, former President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), during the Jonathan administration; including the controversy surrounding the ferrying of millions of dollars in Pastor Oritsejafor’s private jet, ostensibly to purchase arms over the counter in South Africa, to fight the Boko Haram insurgency.

But it is important to recall that President Goodluck Jonathan travelled to Jerusalem twice during his tenure. And as Femi Macaulay noted in his column in THE NATION newspaper of Monday, March 14, 2016, “Jonathan’s 2014 itinerary…included a visit to the Wailing Wall, where he reported prayed privately…and other spiritually significant places…The highlight of the pilgrimage was a prayer for Nigeria…with the theme ‘A Day with Jesus for Nigeria in Israel”.

A modern state is built upon some basic rational premises and the application of rational parameters in the day-to-day processes of governance. There cannot be any process more rational than the decisions that will lead hundreds of soldiers into battle for the defense of their fatherland.

Those who must provide leadership for such a life and death endeavor would be assumed to possess a most rational ability to calculate the logistics of war as well as the strategies to be employed in the theatres of operation. But clearly, the Nigerian administration of Goodluck Jonathan and his NSA, Sambo Dasuki, lived in a spiritual realm of delusions that sent thousands of our soldiers to war; refused to properly arm them but expected that what would help to defeat the enemy are very expensive prayers, bought with billions of Naira!

The prayer merchants increased their earthly wealth while hundreds of soldiers were either killed or wounded. And when they mutinied to protest their handicap, they were court-martialed and many were sentenced to death.

Not only did the prayer merchants make billions, recent revelations are showing that top military commanders too were busy stealing billions of naira that should have gone to the arming and welfare of their troops!

The remarkably candid witness statement deposed to by Aminu Baba-Kusa this week just shows how unacceptable the heights that mystification has reached at the heart of our country’s governance architecture.

Genuine  conviction

That our National Security Adviser would have the power as well as the genuine conviction to release billions of Naira for “prayers” and what Bafarawa called “spiritual purpose”, underlines the medieval content of the minds of those who rule our country. As we all now know, these sums were actually taken from monies that ordinarily should have been used to modernize and effectively arm the Nigerian armed forces, in order for them to carry out their constitutional duty of securing our country.

Underbelly of Nigerian security: While Sambo Dasuki was busy sharing billions with his friend, Baba-Kusa, who said of  Dasuki: “we grew up together with the former NSA with common friends in ABU”, the ragtag insurgency, was exposing the underbelly of Nigerian security and putting our soldiers to ridicule. One of the hitherto most highly respected armies in Africa became a shadow of its illustrious history, with hundreds of soldiers running away from battle or “tactically manoeuvring” into neighbouring countries.

Similarly, we don’t even know yet the number of Nigeria’s gallant soldiers that were killed by the Boko Haram terrorists. They were the worst of times for our country. But for those who were smart enough to exploit the spiritual realm of existence, it was an incredible opportunity to get access to billions of Naira!

Lessons learnt: The evidence from the irresponsible sharing of billions of Naira as well as the realities of the war effort, have shown that we can spend as much on prayers, but if we do not learn to organise our country and its affairs along rational parameters, we will certainly not earn the kinds of results that can assist the processes of development of our country. It does not matter the field of endeavour; either in warfare or the organisation of our economic affairs.

Prayers might have their place in our lives, but they must complement rational choices. This is in fact not a new argument. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), used to tell his followers to believe in Allah, but they must also ensure that they tie their camels! That is an admonishment to do the rational in our affairs, especially in statecraft.

Prayer  merchants

When the Jonathan administration failed to do rational things, such as properly arming the armed forces, the Nigerian state was exposed to ridicule by Boko Haram. The resulting confusion allowed prayer merchants to step into the chasm. It was a most lucrative opportunity that could not be missed. In the long run, it was Nigeria that suffered.

The disgust that Nigerians felt at the incompetent handling of the fight against the Boko Haram insurgency became one of the main reasons that Goodluck Jonathan was voted out of power.

Nigeria must learn the right lessons into the future. We cannot trust the affairs of our country to the billion Naira prayers of conmen and prayer merchants.

No country on earth in this modern age is run on the basis of entrepreneurial spiritual adventures bought with billions of Naira. It is the height of irresponsibility to even believe that it could be an option in the building of a modern country. Nigeria cannot defy this historical fact!

On a final note, I have often wondered what would have happened to our country, if President Goodluck Jonathan had been re-elected. Not a word of those scandals would have been in the public space. It would have been more of the same: the unfettered looting of Nigeria. It is a scenario that should not even be imagined now. Thank God that we got the change we now have!

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