Spirit and Power - A 10-Country Survey of Pentecostals
Historical Overview of Pentecostalism in Nigeria
Origins and Growth
- 1910s-1920s: Around 1910, an Anglican deacon launches an indigenous prophetic movement that later becomes the Christ Army Church. Following an influenza epidemic in 1918, revivals flare within the mission churches and the Christ Army Church. Spirit-filled groups also expand, including those known by the Yoruba word Aladura (“praying people”). Early Aladura churches include the Eternal Sacred Order of the Cherubim and Seraphim Society, founded in 1925, and the Church of the Lord (Aladura), founded in 1930. Around 1918, an Anglican forms a prayer group known as the Precious Stone (Diamond) Society to heal influenza victims. The group leaves the Anglican Church in the early 1920s and affiliates with Faith Tabernacle, a church based in Philadelphia (Anderson 2001: 80-82; Gaiya 2002: 5).
- 1930s-1940s: During the 1930s, Joseph Babalola of Faith Tabernacle leads a revival that converts thousands. In 1932, his movement initiates ties with the pentecostal Apostolic Church of Great Britain after coming into conflict with colonial authorities, but the association dissolves over the use of modern medicine. In 1941, Babalola founds the independent Christ Apostolic Church, which is estimated to have over a million members by 1990 (Anderson 2001: 86-87). Foreign pentecostal denominations such as the Welsh Apostolic Church (1931), the Assemblies of God (1939) and the Foursquare Gospel Church (1954) are also introduced during this period.
- 1950s: In the 1950s the Celestial Church of Christ arrives in western Nigeria from Benin. The church rapidly expands into northern Nigeria and becomes one of Africa’s largest Aladura churches. In 1952, a former member of the Cherubim and Seraphim society, Pa Josiah Akindayomi, founds the Redeemed Christian Church of God. Under Enoch Adejare Adeboye, the church becomes increasingly pentecostal in theology and practice and grows from an estimated 42 congregations in 1980 to around 7,000 in 2004, with followers in more than 90 countries, including the U.S. (Anderson 2001: 85: Murphy, March 25, 2006; Mahtani, April 26, 2005; Ojo 2004: 4).
- 1960s-1970s: Originating in evangelical student revivals, a wave of pentecostal expansion spawns new churches in the 1960s and 1970s. A leader of this expansion is Benson Idahosa, one of Africa’s most influential pentecostal preachers. Idahosa establishes the Church of God Mission International in 1972. In 1974, the pentecostal umbrella organization Grace of God ministry is founded in eastern Nigeria. The Deeper Life Bible Church is founded in 1975, and soon becomes one of Nigeria’s largest neo-pentecostal churches, with an estimated 350,000 members by 1993 (Ojo 2004: 3; Olupona 2003: 16; Gaiya 2002: 15).
- 1980s-present: New charismatic churches grow throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In 1986, David Oyedepo founds Living Faith Outreach Worldwide, popularly known as “Winners’ Chapel.” It opens a “Faith Tabernacle” in the suburbs of Lagos in 1999 that seats 50,000 people (Phillips, Nov. 30, 1999; Ojo 2004: 4).
- The Forum’s 2006 pentecostal survey suggests that renewalists – including charismatics and pentecostals – account for approximately three-in-ten Nigerians. The survey also finds that roughly six-in-ten Protestants in Nigeria are either pentecostal or charismatic, and three-in-ten Nigerian Catholics surveyed can be classified as charismatic.
Religion and Politics
- Pentecostal political activism originates with the founding of the Christian Students’ Social Movement of Nigeria in 1977. The emphasis of this early activism is on the spiritual forces that govern politics and on bringing about reform through prayer (Freston 2001: 185-86).
- In the 1980s, pentecostals become active in the Christian Association of Nigeria. Founded in 1976, the Association initially includes only Catholic and mainline Protestants, but by 1988 it incorporates churches associated with the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, a pentecostal umbrella group, and the Organization of African Instituted Churches (Freston 2001: 184).
The Period of Islamization, 1979-1999
- Under a succession of Muslim military dictators, the Association becomes increasingly political and functions almost as “an unofficial opposition to the regime” (Freston 2001:184). In 1979, the government proposes the creation of a Federal Sharia Court of Appeal, and in the 1988-89 Constituent Assembly, efforts are made to extend the jurisdiction of Sharia courts. Evangelicals and pentecostals in the Youth Wing of the Christian Association of Nigeria organize prayer sessions and pamphleteering campaigns against the Sharia proposal. By 1988, most Association publications challenging the policies of General Ibrahim Babangida’s pro-Islamic administration are produced partly by its Youth Wing (Freston 2001: 182-83; Ojo 2004: 6).
- In 1986, under General Babangida, Nigeria becomes a member of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, triggering numerous pentecostal protests. Benson Idahosa, the popular pentecostal preacher, threatens to call for a Christian boycott of newspapers favoring Islamization. In 1987, Sheikh Abubakar Gumi, a leading Muslim cleric, stokes further controversy by publicly declaring that Muslims will never allow non-Muslims to assume political leadership in Nigeria. In response, pentecostal leaders ally with other Christians in Kaduna state and launch a campaign to field candidates in the 1988 local government elections (Ojo 2004: 6; Amadi 2004: 3).
- In 1993, both government-sanctioned parties field Muslim candidates for the presidency. Christians vote mostly for M. K. O. Abiola, the candidate of the Social Democratic Party, the southern, Christian-leaning party. When it becomes clear that Abiola will win, the government cancels the result and Christians appeal to the military to relinquish power (Freston 2001: 188).
- Pentecostals and other evangelicals compete at various levels in the 1993 elections, with “priests, deacons, prophets, apostles and evangelists emerg[ing] as governors, deputy governors, local government chairmen and councilors.” In the 1990s, Benson Idahosa encourages Christians to push for political reform (Freston 2001: 185-88).
The Presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo, 1999-present
- In the 1999 elections, pentecostals support Olusegun Obasanjo of the People’s Democratic Party. For many Protestant leaders, he symbolizes the restoration of Christian control over government. A Baptist, Obasanjo had served as military ruler from 1976-79. In 1995, while in prison, Obasanjo claims that he is “born again.” Once elected, Obasanjo calls for national prayer and fasting to assure a successful transition. In 1999, pentecostal leaders conduct an all-night prayer meeting for the new president (Freston 2001: 188-89; Ojo 2004: 2, 9).
- Also in the 1999 elections, Assemblies of God member Anyim Pius Anyim of the People’s Democratic Party is elected to the Senate and later becomes Senate president, Nigeria’s most powerful political position after the president and vice-president. After falling out with Obasanjo, he steps down as Senate president in 2003 (Imo forthcoming: 73).
- On Sept. 7, 2001, precipitated in part by the declaration of Sharia in the northern states, violence breaks out in northern Plateau state, which results in the destruction of mosques and churches, including the church of the president of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria’s Plateau chapter, Reverend Bright O. Ndu. Reverend Ndu, along with the president and superintendent of a Winners’ Chapel congregation, calls for retaliation and self-defense, a departure from an earlier, more passive stance (Imo forthcoming: 96-98).
- In 2002, with presidential elections approaching, Obasanjo claims a divine mandate to win a second term. One of his opponents, Chris Okotie of the Justice Party, also claims a divine mandate to lead Nigeria. Okotie first enters the national limelight in the 1980s as a pop star but later becomes a pentecostal preacher. He seeks the nomination of the National Democratic Party but loses, then switches to the Justice Party, which nominates him. Okotie has announced he will compete in the 2007 elections under the banner of the newly registered Fresh Democratic Party, which he chairs (Ojo 2004: 2; IRINnews.org 2003).
- In the 2003 elections, Obasanjo wins an overwhelming but nevertheless controversial victory, beating his main opponent, Muhammadu Buhari, by two-to-one. EU observers pronounce the elections flawed, and opposition parties reject the results. Before the election, the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria encourages all Nigerians to vote, and its national president, Mike Okonkwo, supports Obasanjo, as does the Christian Association of Nigeria’s president and primate of the Methodist Church of God, Sunday Mbang. At the thanksgiving service closing the inauguration ceremonies, Enoch Adeboye, head of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, likens Obasanjo to the prophet Elisha (Nwachukwu, June 10, 2002; Akinsuyi, Nov. 26, 2001; Olobondiyan and Ohadoma, June 2, 2003).
- In 2005, the Christian Association of Nigeria threatens to boycott the national census scheduled for November if religion is not included in census forms. In a January 2006 meeting with Association leaders, President Obasanjo asks the organization to support the national census, insisting that citizens of all religions are equal under Nigeria’s secular constitution (Okafor and Shiklam, July 5, 2005; Lohor, Jan. 20, 2006).
- In February 2006, the Danish cartoon controversy sparks religious riots. Churches, including pentecostal ones, are destroyed in Borno State, and some pentecostal pastors are killed. Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria president Ayo Oristejafor demands that the federal government guarantee the safety and property of Christians (Eyoboka, Feb. 27, 2006).
- In April 2006, pentecostal evangelist Uma Ukpai expresses dismay over the absence of credible opposition to Obasanjo’s bid for a third term. However, Fellowship president Ayo Oritsejafor argues in May 2006 that a third term in office is not a crime and is a matter for all Nigerians to decide (Isiguzo, April 18, 2006; Ehiremen, May 8, 2006).
- In July 2006, pentecostal layperson Jerry Gana, former information minister for Obasanjo, announces he will compete in the May 2007 presidential elections. Gana, who hails from northern Nigeria, immediately attracts the support of some pentecostal leaders, but he also attracts criticism because he was an adviser in both the Babangida and Abacha military governments (Haruna, July 12, 2006; Ologbondiyan and Okocha, July 5, 2006).