Heart of Arts

No Bobo! No Zobo!!  (Part II: Merchants of Salvation)

Toyin Falola


“For the love of money is the root of all evil” seems not to apply to a “man of God” who collects five offerings in one service and uses his eyes to scan who has given bountifully or not. Is it that the root of the tree that grows evil is cut off from money collected in the church? Or is it just another bobo to lure more Naira into the pockets of these merchants of salvation?

But before we delve into these contemporary bobos, are we sure that modern religions in Nigeria were not the results of different bobos and zobos in the first instance? Our people were not without religions before they were introduced to Islam and Christianity. “Power pass power,” so goes a street proverb expressed in pidgin language. Several of the practices of the traditional African religions were regarded by the missionaries of the new religions as pagan worship and, as such, evil. The Nigerian gods and goddesses collected palm oil and hens to deliver salvation. The Christian God wants a nice car and a house to save you from sin. The goat of the Babalawo is now replaced with ten percent of your monthly income. A once-and-for-all single payment to the Babalawo has now been replaced by a weekly payment of offerings and seeds. The Babalawo lives a life of wants, and the Pastor and the Imam enjoy opulence. The Satan of the Bible and the Shaitan of the Quran are conquerors who need constant money to be assuaged and pacified. Esu, mislabeled as Satan, is a god of forgiveness: his only demand is not to wish or plan evil against your fellow humans. Esu continues to live in heaven, but Azazil, also known as Iblis, the devil, was expelled from there and sent to the world, where he became the father of calamities, still sucking blood and collecting sacrifices. You have replaced a benevolent Mistress with a wicked Master. It sounds like a paradox of the highest order!

While scholars have repeatedly pointed out how bobo-laden the assertions on African religions are, there is a need to go on an imaginative voyage. Imagine that African civilization was properly advanced and taken to Europe before major civilizations were there. Imagine it was Africa that took the rest of the world into slavery, colonized countries, and spread African cultures and traditions as the standard definition of the modern world and globalization. After establishing these imaginative influences, imagine that the African Traditional Religions were spread across those areas through their respective missionary endeavors and trade. Without the bobo, who will be the pagans of today? Muslims, Christians, or still traditional worshipers? Whichever your answer, I leave you to ponder while we address contemporary bobos and zobos in Nigerian religious settings.

Religion in Nigeria forms a basic determinant of the Nigerian social construct and creates an ethical system to define people’s moral convictions. This makes religious heads powerful and influential in people’s lives, representing the vanguard of moral standards. The result is a repository of trust and respect for religious heads from everyone, for the former “see and hear” God, His Spirit and angels, and Satan and his demons faster than others. The trust and respect that are automatically attributable to them in Nigeria have made many religious leaders “men of their guts” rather than “men of God,” what Fela Anikulapo-Kuti lampooned as “Imam na enjoyment, Pope na miliky.” They dish out bobos to make you believe their lies and serve full cups of zobos to mitigate the effects of failed predictions and make you do more.

A Pastor can climb the Olumo Rock in Abeokuta, which I have done several times. On declimbing, the Pastor brings messages from God and the Angels, words that must turn into cash to enrich him. A stream at Ibadan becomes the sea Moses crossed to deliver the Israelites from the hands of the Pharaoh. An assassination attempt that killed seven members of a church leader became a message presented as the power of Pastor Sule-Zazu to escape death by his Bible and not by the power of the bulletproof car made possible by the Whiteman. Our lovely Pastor Sule-Zazu was clever enough to give the Bibles to the seven dead disciples while keeping the bulletproof car to himself, his wife and his children.

Did you get the message?

Bobo and zobo found their way into churches, mosques, and shrines through mischievous and disingenuous channels, including lies and evil acts of religious leaders. Owing to the country’s economic situation, it is understandable that people seek solutions after many failed attempts at attaining minimal survival. These “men and women of God” try to provide explanations even if they are non-existent. They make their bobos and zobos through patterns, sequence, and logic from people’s lives, the nation’s general problems, and the likelihood of events. The Yoruba would say, “It’s the wise one who professes the Ifa for us.” They also add a small amount of the words of the Most High, twisting the Bible, Quran, or Ese Ifa to bolster their assertions. The followers or “clients” gullibly gulp these zobos because, one way or the other, they are connected to their lives.

For instance, when one of the boboists, maybe zoboists, says to a 40-year-old man that there is a “woman” in his life, there is indeed a high possibility that he has a wife, a sister, or a mother. Your appearance or representation of yourself to these individuals determines the type of zobo and bobo that will be offered to you. A recent investigation by Fisayo Soyombo, “Prophets of their Pockets,” highlights several processes of spiritual bobos and zobos. Soyombo presented himself as a homosexual and dressed to create an impression. The prophecies aligned with these misrepresentations, even though none were true.

Following these bobos and zobos are the usual prolific offerings, items, and other financial or physical commitments. It is the house of the Lord; how can you not obey the directives of the man of God? They rely on these established speculations to have their way with those needing spiritual guidance. On June 16, 2022, a Pastor, Ayodeji Olorunfemi, was reported to have allegedly scammed an 88-year-old Tawakalitu Ilumoka of N36.5 million. Ilumoka approached the Pastor to pray for the healing of her sick 64-year-old son, having faith in the Pastor whose prayer she believed had caused her to sell a piece of land for a large sum of 100 million Naira. The Pastor took advantage of this opportunity to dupe her, and her son died from the same sickness. This is the same bobo the supposed religious heads use to deceive people into raping young girls and women. There have been several reports of Babalawo, Alfa, and pastors sleeping with married women looking for the fruit of the womb to “clear the path” for their husbands and the baby. Children as young as five months are raped or injured in the name of deliverance and other spiritual activities. There is no end to the litany of woes inflicted by those “priests” in the name of religion, where the shepherd derives satisfaction not in leading but in eating the sheep and desecrating the “temple!”

When those who should be the moral guardians of society have become bobo Pastors or Imams, having a good conscience that prevents social vices becomes a herculean task. Unfortunately, religious centers have become the comfort zones for “children of the dark” as long as they have enough money to tender. Rather than using whatever is left of their bobos to prevent crimes, these spiritual heads use it to help and attract criminals like Yahoo boys. Internet fraudsters engage religious leaders as spiritual backups to progress from Yahoo-Yahoo to Yahoo Plus. They prepare soaps and do spiritual cleansing and head washing to attract fortune or enchant their victims. Ironically, what should be a forte of morality is fast becoming the pillar of immorality. To whom do the thieves, fraudsters, and kidnappers who find spiritual refuge pray? God, Allah, or Orunmila, who represents everything but evil? Every prayer or iṣẹ́ for a Yahoo boy is bobo, nothing less, nothing more.

Depicting some religious institutions as the backbones of societal vices will not exhaustively express the level of decadence in those institutions. Today, social vices live in churches, mosques, and shrines. Religious leaders who wear bobo appearances in the day to cause evil in the night have changed the face of religion in the country. On July 2, 2022, a pastor was reported to have been responsible for the kidnapping of 77 members in Akure. The Pastor allegedly confined 26 children and other adults in his church’s dungeon, hypnotized them, and boboed them into believing that Jesus Christ was coming in September 2022. This is November 2022, which proves that the Pastor is either delusional or serving some unexplainable zobos to the people in “the name of the lord.” The bobo men at the altar have also become frequent ritual killers, putting price tags on the souls they are supposed to convert.

Nigerians have grown too religious to discern spiritual bobo from the truth; they easily idolize any cleric without pausing for critical thinking. This automatically attracts victims to these wolves in sheep’s clothing waiting to pounce on their next victims. The fear of religious heads is implanted in the minds of Nigerians from childhood, making divinity, no matter how and from whom it comes, more important than commonsense.

The background of this bobo loving attitude extends to tertiary institutions where there is supposed to be enlightenment. Students become “Brothers” and “Sisters,” falling into the traps of some “Papa,” “Mama,” “Ameer,” and “Ameera” who have carefully established their influence and control over the lives of fellow students. With their bobo lifestyle, fellow students, possibly from senior classes, run after them and take their bags with respect.

Bobo! Zobo!! Gullibility!!!

Do not get me wrong; I do not mean that the Spirit does not work on campus, but it does not erase common sense and would not ask you to sacrifice your primary goal in school to follow the bobo of another student who you might be doing better than. This social arrangement and orientation extend to other stages of life and workplaces, obscuring people’s reasonability and making them potential victims of spiritual fraud.

We must not forget how a man sits over thousands and millions of followers who work their sweats out, only for that man to enjoy the fruit of others’ labor. They say, “the Lord wants to bless the first 100 people that run to the altar to donate N100,000 each.” People who need solutions to different problems rush out to give away their money. What about the Alfa, who turns Nikkai and naming ceremonies into personal crowdfunding? Everyone pays for the childbirth thanksgiving—for each name given to the child, for the ceramic bowl the parents gave him to use, for every verse of the Quran he reads, for the good health of the parents, the child, and each guest, for every prayer said, for every song and everything possible that he wishes. When owo adua has not filled the bowl during a ceremony, the bobo-Alfa may decide not to proceed until everyone pays double. Trust me, there is nothing spiritual about these but clear-cut bobos and zobos!

How about the billionaire pastors who have created mega businesses their members cannot afford, even though they are funded from church members’ offerings? The bobos of those “led by the spirit” to build high schools and tertiary institutions, whether for the benefit of humanity or the spirit and 90 percent of their members cannot afford the school fees, must not be excused. It may be hard to accept, but this is cold, diabolically calculated, and undiluted bobo and zobo. Importantly, the effect of spiritual bobos and zobos on society cannot be underestimated. The nation’s biggest challenge is insecurity, sometimes caused by individuals boboed into fanaticism who now terrorize the nation, including those who give bobo-laden spiritual justifications for social vices like ritual killings. This piece is not to question the credibility of religions in Nigeria but to point out how vulnerable their dogmatic adherents have been.

There is a need for the government and the umbrella bodies of the different religions in the nation to wake up to curb the dangerous bobolization and instrumentalization of religion in Nigeria. It has become critical to sensitize Nigerians to discern and be extra careful so they can stop being victims of their supposed spiritual fathers and mothers. Government, religious organizations, and the nation as a whole must come together to say:

No Bobo! No Zobo!

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