There is a recent viral video starring Bishop David Oyedepo, founder of the Living Faith Church Worldwide, also known as Winners Chapel.
And I have to confess that Oyedepo has done himself no favours with his lead role in the clip.
I crave your indulgence to summarize details of the video in this piece, for readers who may not have seen it. In the footage, Oyedepo is seen reading from a prepared speech neatly spread on the rostrum. He cites an opinion piece published on the back page of The Nation newspaper by Olatunji Dare, with characteristic fervour.
The crux of Oyedepo’s Sunday Sermon is that a national daily has “assertively” and “authoritatively” disclosed that the man carrying on as President Muhammadu Buhari in Aso Rock, is actually a clone called Jubril from Sudan.
With an almost deadpan expression which looked as serious and stern as the midday sun, Bishop Oyedepo proceeds to copiously quote Dare’s article to his audience of over 200,000 people (if you factor in those worshipping from the internet at the time):
"This disturbing information came from The Nation Newspaper of November 27, 2018, written by one Olatunji Dare ,exploded with authoritative assertions, he said, claiming among others that the president had died in the UK in 2017 where he was undergoing medical treatment. How?", Oyedepo asked.
Dare’s article, which Oyedepo is now reading to his audience with barely concealed glee, contains some of the following: "I can report authoritatively that representatives of the Jubril family, having discovered the gigantic swindle, suddenly showed up in Abuja the other day and demanded to be compensated with a power-sharing arrangement at the federal level in perpetuity, plus 50 percent of Nigeria's oil revenues for ten years in the first instance. Failing this, they warned, they would tell their story to the whole world.
"I can also reveal that the Nigerian authorities have entered into frantic negotiations with Jubril's family to head off what is sure to earn a double entry in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's Dirtiest and Worst-kept Secret. The UK authorities are mediating."
The presidency, Oyedepo declares, should go ahead and deny the story in The Nation, on a “subject as sensitive as this..." If it doesn't, he warns, "it must have been proved, beyond any iota of doubt, that maybe he is not our president", (Buhari has since denied the rumour that he is one taciturn, languid clone).
And then the man of God asks his congregation to rise and pray against “devastation”, “slavery”, "shame and reproach” and “evil men” wreaking havoc on our nation.
The congregation breaks into loud chants, rigorous shaking of the heads, pumping of fists, gyrating themselves into a frenzy; and Oyedepo doubles down on his ‘Jubril from Sudan’ theory toward the end of the footage. He is bellowing into the microphone the entire time.
You could see that he believed every word he was feeding his audience and you could see that this audience was literally eating from his palms. When a man of God embarks on this kind of journey to nowhere, every member of the congregation usually jumps aboard the ship with him, no questions asked.
In that frenzy and atmosphere of the Winners Chapel that Sunday, it was easy to miss the fact that Dare’s opinion piece on whose premise Oyedepo had asked his congregation to pray and chant, was a satire. Meaning that it was no “authoritative” or “assertive” source on the whole ‘Jubril from Sudan’ conspiracy theory—certainly nothing to base an entire sermon on. But Oyedepo went on and on and on…
How did Oyedepo miss the part where Dare writes that “Nnamdi Kanu, or whoever began the tale, and those who have been peddling it, should update their material”?
Dare rounds up the Jubril part of his column with the following words: “Meanwhile, dependable sources tell me that Abuja is close to unraveling the true identity of the fake Jew parading himself on faked foreign soil as Nnamdi Kanu”.
Here was a writer making light of the whole ‘Buhari-is-a-clone’ saga and making fun of those who have gone to town with what is apparently fake news. He was poking fun at society as the famed satirist he is. He was laughing at himself and society. Because that’s what Dare has been doing with his columns since his days at The Guardian. Everyone who has been reading The Nation should know this. How did Oyedepo not know this? How did he miss the humour in a piece that had humour written all over it? How does a preacher who inspires millions worldwide, who owns two universities, not know the difference between a satirical piece and a news story?
How could Oyedepo even believe that a 75-year-old could be cloned? How did he buy the body double storyso easily? How many members of Oyedepo’s impressionable audience would have gone home to tell others that their president is a clone, look-alike or doppelganger, just because their Pastor says he is?
It’s political season and fake news is usually the staple at times like this. Religious leaders like Oyedepo should be careful and discerning enough about what they jump at or share with their audiences during election season. The fake news battle is one every section of the society must wage—the government, the public, the media and the church.
Oyedepo fell for a satirical piece and fake news staple. Whatever his grouse with the presidency and the president, he really should have asked himself a few questions before ferociously calling for prayers that should have been channeled elsewhere. He really should do better. He should be better.