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In this report by KAYODE OYERO, senior lawyers say Nigerian politicians lack the courage to outlaw doomsday New Year prophecies like Ghana because they seek guidance from spiritual leaders
Nigerian politicians have allegiances to spiritualists including soothsayers, prophets, diviners, herbalists and marabouts and won’t want to make any regulations that would offend them, three Senior Advocates of Nigeria have said.
The senior lawyers including Femi Falana, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, and Mike Ozekhome stated this in separate interviews with The PUNCH against the backdrop of a statement by the Ghanaian Government warning religious leaders to desist from doomsday New Year prophecies in the Year 2022.
This is as a Professor of Theology at the Lagos State University, Dapo Asaju, said politicians who run to some men of God to pray for them are wasting their time, adding that God would not be moved by any man of God’s prayer or prophecy but would allow the electorate to decide their choice of leaders in government through the ballot boxes.
Asaju, a former Vice-Chancellor of Ajayi Crowther University Oyo and Bishop Theologian of Anglican Church of Nigeria, said though false prophets now project their “imaginations and permutations” as New Year prophecies”, genuine prophecies still exist and they are vital as “guide to the future and to know the mind of God concerning the future” in order to avert disasters.
Asaju, who spoke in an interview with our correspondent, also warned religious leaders to steer clear of mundane matters like predicting winners of football matches and winners of elections.
Also, a Professor of Islamic Eschatology at the Lagos State University, Ishaq Akintola, lambasted “scam artists” whom he said “continue to smile to the bank” getting proceeds from their prophecies after deceiving gullible followers, politicians and other superstitious people who patronise them and make them their spiritual advisers following the coincidental or fateful fulfilment of their logical permutations.
Akintola, who is the director of Islamic human rights organisation, Muslim Rights Concern, hailed the Government of President Nana Akufo-Addo for barring New Year prophecies of “harm, danger and death” and others that could “create tension and panic” in the Year 2022.
The Ghana Police Service had in a statement dated December 27, 2021, issued a stern warning to religious leaders to desist from doomsday prophecies or risk up to five years in jail for causing tension in the Ghanaian society through injurious prophecies.
The statement was signed by the Ghana Police Director, Public Affairs, Supt. Alexander Obeng. It was marked, ‘My Ref: PAD/PRESS/VOL.3/1/256’, and titled, ‘Ghana Police Service statement on communication of Prophecies and their legal implications’.
It read in part, “We want to caution that under Ghanaian law, it is a crime for a person to publish or reproduce a statement, rumour or report which is likely to cause fear and alarm to the public or to disturb the public peace, where that person has no evidence to prove that the statement, rumour or report is true.
“It is also a crime for a person, by means of electronic communications service, to knowingly send a communication that is false or misleading and likely to prejudice the efficiency of life-saving service or to endanger the safety of any person.
“A person found guilty under these laws could be liable to a term of imprisonment of up to five years.
“We therefore wish to caution all Ghanaians, especially religious groups and leaders to be measured in their utterances, especially how they communicate prophecies, which may injure the right of others and the public interest.”
For some years now, the release of prophecies by men of God in Nigeria, Ghana and some overtly religious countries has become one of the rituals of the Christmas and New Year celebrations. In Nigeria especially, followers of clerics of various denominational extractions validate the unction of their respective men of God through the fulfilment of their prophecies before the end of the 12-month cycle of every year.
Some of the clerics with megachurches and millions of followers sometimes have worship centres in both Nigeria and Ghana. As an annual custom, the religious leaders reel out New Year prophecies towards the end of a preceding year or at Crossover Services on December 31st just as they usher in a New Year.
Since the declaration by Ghana barring negative New Year prophecies, some Nigerians have urged the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to follow the Ghanaian example.
Speaking with The PUNCH, Falana said the move by the Akufo-Addo government showed that “Ghana is determined to apply the law to check the spread of rumour and false prophecies that create alarm and fear on an annual basis”.
Continuing, the senior advocate said, “We have similar laws in Nigeria. For example, Section 39 of the Criminal Code applicable in Lagos State has prescribed two years imprisonment for the publication of false statements or rumours designed to cause fear and alarm in the society. Some of the prophecies credited to pastors and published by the media at the beginning of every New Year cannot be justified under the law.
“Nigerian leaders cannot afford to offend the religious leaders and parapsychologists who make such predictions. In any case, political leaders believe in prophecies. Since they are largely superstitious, they will not enforce the relevant provisions of the Criminal Code. As they do not believe in the efficacy of science and technology, the leaders patronise the purveyors of rumours and prophecies, herbalists and marabouts. Even though majority of politicians do not believe in God they hire chaplains and imams to minister unto them on a daily basis. But in Ghana, no one is allowed to use religion to deceive the people or violate the rights of other people.”
Corroborating Falana, another senior advocate, Ozekhome said, “The Ghanaian authorities have just moved against such peddlers of fake and alarmist predictions. This is therefore one area (amongst many), where the Nigerian authorities have so far abysmally failed, and where Ghana now appears to have now excelled.
“Besides such fake predictions are also criminal. Sections 114, 392, 399, 417, 418, et al, of the Penal Code which operate in the northern parts of Nigeria, deal with the publication of false news that may constitute offences against public peace; or excite hatred between classes of people; insult, annoyance, criminal intimidation; or breach of the peace. There are equivalent provisions in the Criminal Code that operates in the southern parts of Nigeria.”
On why the Buhari government lacked the willpower to follow the Ghanaian example, Ozekhome said, “It is widely known that many people in government actually patronise marabouts and fake prophets. Reuben Abati, former Special Adviser on Media to former President Goodluck Jonathan wrote extensively on Aso Villa and the types of spirits and apparitions that inhabit it. Some of these people knowing that they have failed God and man also decide to patronise these people so as to have some medium-term protection and redemption.
‘Regulating prophecies illegal, means restricting free speech’
Also, a senior advocate, Adegboruwa agreed with his colleagues that many people in government have allegiances to spiritual leaders whom they consult and won’t want to offend them through stringent regulations. He, however, stressed that faith is a personal affair, adding that it would be illegal for the government to get involved in it.
The senior lawyer explained that the Ghanaian example is not practicable in Nigeria because “our laws do not permit the government to interfere in religious affairs”.
Adegboruwa said, “Faith is purely personal. Under and by virtue of Section 10 of the Constitution, the government should not get involved in or regulate religion. Prophesies are given voluntarily and no one can be compelled to accept them.
“It is only where there is fraud as a motive that law can intervene to protect innocent citizens but so long as there is freedom of expression, association and religion, anybody is free to say what he likes. We have heard a lot of these prophecies in times past and all of us are witnesses to how many of them have been fulfilled. Government cannot leave the business of protecting lives and property to get involved in mundane things to chase after those who specialise in guesswork and mind-bending tactics.
“Secondly, most people in authority have allegiances to these spiritual leaders who they consult and because of the fact that they are not ruling in accordance with the will of the people, there is always guilt following them (political leaders) which now forces them to patronise religious leaders for cleansing, healing and for such other powers.”
Supporting Adegboruwa, another senior advocate, Lekan Ojo, told The PUNCH that predictions or prophecies are nothing but expressions of the views of the persons making the prophecies and barring it would mean restricting the exercise of freedom of expression.
On his part, Akintola lauded the Ghanaian authorities. “It’s a good move in Ghana. That country is still under control. They should instil discipline early enough before things get out of hand,” he said.
Why some prophecies fail – Anglican Bishop
However, Asaju described the Ghanaian regulation as a “bad example”, adding that prophecies are not limited to Christianity alone.
He said, “Prophecies are very necessary. The fact that you have fake currency does not mean there is no genuine one. There are genuine prophets and they do it because of what God says not because of their own mechanical prophecy oracle. The government does not have the responsibility or mandate to legislate on supernatural issues; these are supernatural issues.
“In all religions, there are diviners and there are people who tried to see into the future. You do not now send them to jail because of the exercise of their gift; all the government can do is to ensure that they do not say anything that can bring about social unrest.
“If anybody gives any negative prophecy and there is a direct link or connection with any occurrence physically like an uprising, then the person can be sued on the basis of his utterance that provoked the reaction but you do not judge prophecies; prophecies belong to the supernatural and it is a spiritual gift.”
The former Bishop Theologian of Anglican Church of Nigeria urged regulatory bodies like the Christian Association of Nigeria, the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria to educate genuine prophets on the need to be very careful on what they say in public so that they won’t say things that would cause disequilibrium in the society.
Asaju also said no prophet should be denigrated because his or her prophecies did not come to pass, pointing out that some negative prophecies can be averted through prayers.
He said, “We will not condemn everybody because their prophecies do not come to pass. In Theology, we do know that sometimes prophecies are when you perceive events, you want to gear people to pray about them. With prayers, some prophecies can be averted. In the Bible, a number of prophecies were averted. That was the reason Jonah was very angry when he refused to go to Nineveh. He said, ‘When I prophesy, and now they plead with You (God) and You change Your mind, they call me a false prophet’. There are some prophecies that can be prayed out and they may be averted.”
FG keeps mum
Efforts to get the comments of the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, proved abortive as calls to his line rang out. He had also yet to reply to a text message sent to his line by our correspondent. Similarly, calls to the lines of the minister’s Spokesman, Segun Adeyemi; and the minister’s Chief Press Secretary, Williams Adeleye, rang out. Both aides were also yet to reply to text messages sent to their lines by our correspondent as of press time.
Efforts to get the comments of CAN General Secretary, Joseph Daramola, were unsuccessful as of the time of filing this report.
When contacted, Kayode Oladeji, the Media Officer to the PFN President, Bishop Wale Oke, promised to get back to our correspondent but he was yet to do so as of press time.
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