Looking back at the incident, I still laugh out loud. I however didn’t find it particularly funny at the time, as I suspect very few 22 year olds would have. It was about 10pm and we were on a secluded part of the Bar Beach. I had managed to convince her that it was a good idea to go take a walk along the beach at that time of the night. She was a bit of a romantic and I needed to show that I was not the hard man she believed I was. I could also have a romantic side if encouraged. So we sneaked out of the party and drove down to the Beach which was just a 5-minute drive away. Now, this was in the days before the Bar Beach was repossessed by nature due to man’s misuse, thank you very much. The sand was white and the water was pristine. You could look across and see the lights from the ships anchored at the Apapa Wharf. During the day, families brought the children for picnics, lovers hung out there without fear of molestation from Area Boys or their fathers, Area Men, A.K.A. Nigeria Police. It was indeed another lifetime. And yes, there was also the perennial presence of the prophets in their flowing white gowns, bells, and dreadlocks.
So we got to the Beach and walked, hand in hand to the most secluded part of the wide expanse of sand I could navigate to without arousing any suspicions. We passed by a Prophet and a nearly naked woman standing in knee-high water. The Prophet was washing her head with a native sponge, while chanting what I assumed was a hybrid of Bible passages and Ifa odu. He would then cast the sponge into the water and pick a new one for a fresh round of incantations. The woman kept turning to face the ocean while Prophet kept turning her the other way. It seemed neither of them wanted to have their backs to the sea. Anyway, my friend and I decided to set up camp within sight of them. It meant we could have privacy while we were not entirely alone. After about 10 minutes (more or less. You lose track of time at moments like that), a big wave rather loud rumbled in, rather loudly. My friend disconnected her face from mine and looked anxiously towards the water. I assured her there was nothing to worry about and resumed my attentions to her dentition. A couple of minutes later, there was a really loud whooshing sound as a massive wave came charging towards land like it was being chased by some unseen forces. It was the kind of thing you saw on television with one crazy white man standing on a piece of wood, doing styles, and you wondered what was wrong with him. Before I could react, I saw a blur of white go flying over me, being seriously pursued by the undressed woman screaming “Woli! Woli! E duro de mi!” (Prophet, wait for me). I looked down to discover that I was alone. My friend had somehow overtaken the Woli and his patient and was streaking towards where we had parked.
Last week, I came upon a video which reminded me of that day. Some Prophet that calls himself Jesus of somewhere (couldn’t really make out what he was saying as he spoke in Igbo) was conducting what was apparently some rituals (he probably calls it prayers) over a line of stark naked men and a couple of women in some dirty river. He was chanting stuff and throwing N50 notes over the initiates. They squatted in the dirty water which they scooped in their hands with the money and poured over their heads. Now, maybe I am not ambitious but I’ve never been poor enough to experience the kind of desperation that would make me go squat naked in a body of opaque water. What if…? And the women? I don’t even want to think about it. The truth though is that the ritual was even mild compared to some of the other stuff I have heard of or seen videos of what people do in order to make some miraculous wealth. In the same post, I saw a video of a group of young men tearing into the entrails of live chickens with their teeth as part of some money-making ritual and I was saddened. And afraid. People that could do this are capable of much more. They would not think twice before eating parts of a human being (I have also seen reports of that happening). How did we get to be this way? It is not exactly like ‘money rituals’ are a completely new phenomenon. I remember that as a child in the 70s, one of the most traumatic plays I ever saw on TV involved someone kidnapping a child and putting him in a cupboard with a calabash on his head. Every time he needed money, he would go into the cupboard, call the child’s name 3 times, and it would begin to rain money. There were other stories. It was however never this bad.
The introduction of internet scams significantly increased the popularity of ‘money rituals’. Nollywood also played a significant part in popularizing and glamorizing this insanity. As the fame of Nollywood grew across the African continent, so did our notoriety for the use of ‘juju’ for making money. From Kenya to Cameroun to Zambia, the question was always the same: “Wale, is money-making juju so popular in Nigeria?” By the mid and late nineties, there were as many young men and women with unexplained and inexplicable wealth as there were stories of occultic means of ‘making it’. Different versions for different seasons. I remember there was something called ‘Yahoo plus’ not too long ago. I think it had to do with the harvesting of ladies underwear. All sorts of ridiculousness. But the people believed it and the desperate risked their lives to steal ladies underwear from clothes lines. For God’s sake, people even did rituals to start churches! How unbelievable is that. And the politicians are another story altogether. It has been a mad craze for wealth all round and the mantra seems to be like the title of the film says: “Get rich or die trying”. Anything goes, so long as it got you money.
We desperately need to rejig our moral compass. The culture we have bred where the acquisition of material wealth is the apotheosis of the value of a person in our society needs to begin to change. The sermons have to change from “Your family will not be able to start meeting until you get there”. These are the types of exhortations that put young men and women under undue pressure. We have been led to believe that a good name, character, and integrity are secondary virtues that we can dispense with, as long as we have money. Children in primary schools now decide a particular vehicle is not good enough to take them to school. A society that elevates such base values over virtue is primed for destruction. I pray it is not too late for us.
– Bakare is a public commentator