For a reason yet to be known to me myself, I chose to watch The Experience 2017 on TV on Friday night. For those who didn’t know, The Experience is an annual interdenominational Christian musical concert organised by The House on The Rock, a Lagos megachurch pastored by Paul Adefarasin.
Musical renditions by local and foreign acts dominated the almost 7-hour program with short speeches from several speakers interspersed in-between. Hardly was there any one of them who didn’t pray for Nigeria. In fact, a remarkably long section of the program was dedicated to pastor after pastor coming on stage to lead the congregation in prayers for the nation. I was confused about how a Friday-night musical concert became another prayer rally for the country. They prayed to God for everything from peace in the nation and the health of the president to the exchange rate of the Naira.
That exemplifies the typical Nigerian and their zeal to pray for Nigeria. National prayer rallies both privately sponsored and government-sponsored are conducted from time to time. That’s beside the prayer that happens everyday in the different places of worship. But why? Why do Nigerians pray so hard for the country?
I would expect that they should be tired by now. If you’re doing something for so long without any sign that it’s working, shouldn’t you just stop already? There must be something I’m not getting right here.
I know you’re quick to say that it’s not only Nigerians that pray for their countries. Other people in other parts of the world do too. After all, it’s popularly said that the first thing Americans say in the morning is “God bless America.” However you need to understand the difference here. Nigerians pray for electricity and jobs. They pray against potholes, flooding, corruption, irresponsible governance, unemployment, illiteracy, ethnic bigotry, Boko Haram, their president’s sickness, and inflation rates. They gather in prayer rallies to pray for these things. Very influential personalities in the country champion these prayer decathlons: Yakubu Gowon, one of the most historic former heads of state hasn’t contributed anything meaningful to the country in the last 20 years beside being the official Prayer-Warrior-General of the nation, a portfolio that has perhaps won him more goodwill among the citizens than his role in ending the bloody civil war in the early 70’s.
That’s where the difference lies. Americans or any other citizens across the world don’t gather in prayer rallies to pray against inflation rates and unemployment. In those countries, you won’t see a former head of state occupying the position of the Prayer-Warrior-General of the Federation. So something must be special about the Nigeria’s case, don’t you think so?
To understand why Nigerians pray so hard for their country, we need to understand why humans pray at all. When you want to peel your yam, do you first of all pray that God should let the yam be successfully peeled? No. You don’t. You just pick your knife and peel the yam. Before putting your foot into your shoe, try praying that God should let your foot successfully slide into the shoe. Sounds stupid right? Exactly. When you have some certainty that something will definitely happen, you don’t pray about it.
Ok. You’re about to turn the ignition: picture praying that the car starts when you turn the ignition. Stupid? Yes. It’s stupid if the car is in a good condition but if it’s not, you might need to pray. There’s a pattern emerging here: it’s only hopeless situations that require prayer.
Some people pray when they are about to swallow antimalarial tablets. But they just pray alone for a few seconds. They don’t invite prayer warriors. Meanwhile I’ve seen people gather in large numbers in the hospital premises praying for someone critically ill in the hospital. And the more the negative news reaching them concerning the health status of their loved one, the larger the praying group grows and the more fervent the prayer becomes. Thus the more the hopelessness of a situation, the more the fervency of the prayer of its citizens.
Long story short, Nigerians praying hard for their country is not a solution as we’ve seen so far. In fact, the harder Nigerians pray, the more hopeless the country becomes making one wonder if it’s even the prayer that’s making things worse. The only pattern emerging here is that prayer is only a sign of hopelessness. You don’t pray for situations of certainty. You pray for hopeless situations and the fervency of your prayers is directly proportional to the level of the hopelessness of the situation.
So as pastor after pastor kept climbing the podium to lead the mammoth crowd in detailed prayer points about the nation, I was feeling sad for Nigeria. For me, this was the proof that Nigerians are hopeless and don’t know how to come out of this hopelessness. In other words, they’re hopeless about their hopelessness. If you knew what to do and you’re capable of doing it, you wouldn’t pray. Rather than them being a solution, fervent prayers for the country are only a sign of desperation and powerlessness.
It can be frustrating to see that people have believed a lie and propagated it but since the day I realized what praying for Nigeria is all about, my feeling changed from one of frustration to that of empathy. I began to see this habit as more of a symptom of a predicament, the scream of a helpless lot, rather than a deliberate attempt to do the wrong thing. See it as someone in anguish screaming: the screaming can seem meaningless to you because you know it won’t solve the problem but a little empathy will make you understand that the screaming is a symptom of pain and it’s impossible to suppress.
Fever is a symptom of malaria. The best way to treat the fever is to treat the underlying malaria disease. As soon as the malaria is properly treated, the fever subsides automatically. If the fervent prayer of Nigerians for their nation is a symptom (manifestation) of an illness, it’s certain that the prayer will reduce once the economy, security, corruption, infrastructural decay, etc are fixed. In the same vein, it’s the same reason why citizens of countries where they’re not grapling with the same illness don’t pray for their country at all or they don’t do this fervent praying that Nigerians do.
Here’s the point. Contrary to what you might have believed, the real reason why Nigerians are praying so hard for the country is not because prayer will save the nation. Rather it’s a sign that they no longer know what to do about their nation. It’s a sign of pain and cluelessness about how to soothe the pain. And if you’re thinking what I’m thinking, you will realize that this is playing into the hands of those inflicting the pain. It’s the reason why the oppressive political class massively support prayer in the nation. It’s the reason they use government funds and even their own private funds to support prayer rallies and even sponsor pilgrims who go to foreign lands (Mecca and Jerusalem) to pray for Nigeria.
And it’s a scary situation that’s hopeless in itself. Nigerians need to stop praying. They need to shake themselves off that hopelessness and start working. It’s a hard thing to do I must confess: praying is much, much easier than working. But what choice do they have now? Maybe just maybe, you can never say; things might turn around if they stop praying and start giving it a try.