They died expecting the Holy Spirit who never descended to rescue them. They died seeking spiritual help that they never received. Five persons reportedly suffocated to death and several others were hospitalized for respiratory problems after a prayer ritual went awry in Benin in West Africa. A religious cult that opposed the local voodoo tradition, known as “Very Holy Church of Jesus Christ of Baname,” staged this prayer session for its members. A young woman, Vicentia Chanvoukini, whom the followers call “Lady Perfect” is the leader of the group.
This cult has thousands of members across the country and is on course to becoming another religion because ‘Lady Perfect’ is said to have ‘proclaimed herself a god’. Yes, a god incarnate! Trouble started after followers locked themselves up in a room and started burning incense and charcoal. In the course of the prayer, people started suffocating because they could no longer breathe well. The ritual was organized to prepare for ‘the descent of the Holy Spirit’ and to ensure that the members were not held accountable when the world ended. The organisers used pieces of cloth to block exits and spaces from where air could enter the room.
Pervasive poverty, unemployment and economic difficulties have created a situation of despair among Africans. The inability of governments to provide for the governed has led many to seek miraculous solutions and divine interventions in their lives. They go to prayer camps, holy mountains, and occult centers for special rituals that could change their fortunes. But at the end of the day, these rituals have amounted to nothing because they never provide effective solutions to the problems facing the people.
In fact, some of the miracle seekers end up meeting their untimely death in these prayer sessions and healing centers as was the case in Lagos in which over a hundred people died after a church hostel that belonged to tele-evangelist T.B Joshua collapsed. Men and women who claim to have been called and anointed by God have set up several places and schemes to mine popular misery, desperation and despair. They claim to be prophets, exorcists and healers. In fact, some of these cult leaders as in the case Lady Perfect claim to be gods and get their followers to revere them.
Unfortunately, these religious groups do not deliver on their promised miracles, healings and breakthroughs. Instead, they use their cult platforms to manipulate, extort money and abuse people. Cult leaders compel their members to engage in all sorts of bizarre acts including eating grass and drinking petrol. Some religious leaders spray their members with insecticide or some killer substance, subject them to starvation -in the name of fasting. They make their members go through all forms of torture, inhuman and degrading treatments. Sadly, these abuses take place behind closed doors, and behind a wall of silence that is difficult to break.
The silent wall of abuse and exploitation has been difficult to break because the victims are often poor and ignorant members of the communities who are too afraid and traumatized to disclose the maltreatment which they receive. Educated members of the population are also victims as well. Sadly the literate ones hardly speak out due to fear and blind faith. Many educated Africans fear supernatural repercussions from the gods and the occult forces if they criticize the cult leaders and their dubious practices. They take seriously the scriptural verse (1 Chronicles 16:22) that says, “Touch not my anointed and do my prophet no harm”, and do not know that this is an empty threat and directive.
Many educated Africans think that these religious and cult leaders have divine powers, when actually they do not. Africans should start asking themselves the following questions: if actually there were a god and prayer was effective, why are millions of Africans still poor, miserable and suffering despite all the prayers that go on every day in private and public religious centers across the region? Does god hate Africans? Has god abandoned Africans? Why should people suffocate or be shot to death during prayers in churches, mosques and other places of worship? Why?
Was the god whom they were praying to sleeping or dead? By the way, these religious folks believe their leaders are gods or god’s messengers. So what kind of god or divine messengers are they? Africans should begin to question aloud the claim that there is god and that prayer ritual is a worthwhile undertaking. They should begin to interrogate the notion that some people possess divine powers to heal in a region with the highest mortality rate in the worse.
Africans should begin to speak out against these religious abuses and exploitations; against these self-acclaimed god men and women who perpetrate them. There are already many causes of death which Africans grapple with in their everyday life including hunger, curable and incurable diseases, and accidents. We should not add to the growing list of things that kill us. Africans should not worsen their already dismal situation, and further, shorten their lives by submitting to bizarre religious rituals.
Wake up, Africans, Wake up.
Leo is a blogger, human-rights advocate and a Humanist from Nigeria.