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This past weekend, five deaths were recorded in Adjarra, Benin, a town about 3 miles northeast of the capital of Port Novo. The deceased who were members of a religious group called the Very Holy Church of Jesus Christ of Baname died from asphyxiation as they awaited the descent of the Holy Spirit in a “prayer room” that was completely sealed off.

Survivors said they were instructed to remain in their prayer rooms until Sunday burning incense and incandescent charcoal while they await the coming of the Holy Spirit that was supposed to mark the end of the world. Yves Aboua, a survivor admitted with respiratory problems at the Port Novo hospital, told Reuters that they were told to obey the instructions or be accountable when the world ended.

Apparently, the world has ended for five of them, leaving several others like Aboua in critical conditions fighting for their lives on hospital beds. The situation is a textbook example of the saying “ignorance is expensive.” And a literal manifestation of the Bible verse that reads, “My people perish for lack of knowledge.”

Quite frankly, the recent event in Benin is both surprising and not. Surprising in the sense that – why do people continue to be victims of such religious buffoonery? These sort of stories keep being on the media as false prophets keep subjecting their followers to ridiculous practices in countries across the continent.

Late last year, South African Pastor Rabalago of the Mount Zion General Assembly, Limpopo, made headlines for spraying church members with Doom insecticide, earning him the nickname – Prophet of Doom. Several other “prophets of doom” have faced public backlashes for asking congregants to drink fuel that has allegedly been turned to pineapple juice. And to eat grass, snakes, and rats that will miraculously change to chocolates. How ignorant can people be?

On other occasions, church members are coerced to pay huge sums of money for miracles. This is commonly practised in Nigeria and Ghana. Recently, a Facebook post of a pastor in the capital city of Abuja, Nigeria, surfaced with him charging a hundred thousand naira to one hundred million pounds for issues ranging from personal liberation and compound cleansing to quick marriages and winning the 2019 presidential election. You are thinking it is ludicrous right? Yet you will find a long queue of faithful patronising such “men of God”.

These ludicrous practices have forced some African governments to clamp down on churches, calling for them to be regulated. But will this solve the problem? I think not. These false prophets are simply exploiting the desperate yearning for change that is widespread in many African countries due to harsh economic conditions and same old flawed democratic systems. As the standard of living continues to diminish, citizens seek for a way of escape from hardship, clinging to whatever promise of salvation they are offered as bizarre as they come.

The issue of religious ignorance is so widespread and profound that merely placing a ban on false prophets when they arise, and or regulating churches will only do so little if anything at all.

It is sadly also a testament to the low levels of literacy and education in general. And worse still, the miseducation of a great number of Africans who have been conditioned by society, and taught by some of these “men of God” to be mentally lazy and to rely on giving offerings to cause manna to fall from heaven. But does the Most High reward mediocrity and ignorance? One of my favourite verses in the Bible reads, “Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding.”

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