By Olukorede Yishau
This time last year, birds no longer sounded like birds. Rats sounded like some other rodents. A thief called Coronavirus sneaked in on the world through China and found its way into our shores through an Italian. We first thought it was a joke when China, Italy, Singapore and others started recording fatalities. Even Almighty America did not think much of it. By the time our eyes became open, the Kabah was empty, the ever-busy Times Square was deserted, Miami beaches were roaring with no one to dash in and out of them, the Pope had started avoiding the crowd, and the Umrah regularly performed by Muslims had been cancelled. Even the Olympics were postponed. Hajj was closed to people from outside of Saudi Arabia. Mosques and Churches were closed, services were held online, and Jumat prayers said at home. The oil price crashed to an all-time low.
This time last year, the world knew it was in trouble. All countries were on lockdown. Airlines had to cancel thousands of flights. Our love for parties was killed. Our clubs were shut and the era of virtual wedding parties set in. The general confusion added to the extreme poverty, enhanced low literacy level and catapulted child mortality.
Some men of God also saw in the chaos the opportunity to confuse us the more. One of them, who described himself as Pastor TalkNaDo, lied to his congregants that Coronavirus could not survive in Nigeria. He said there was no way Coronavirus could survive in the face of what he described as corrosive anointing. He added that anytime Coronavirus genuinely entered Nigeria, it would die all over the world. His basis for doubting the presence of Coronavirus in Nigeria was that he was not shown the face of the Italian index case. The women in the church were screaming and concurring with him.
Later last year, our dear Apostle Johnson Suleman of the I-acquired-a-third-jet-during-COVID fame, and Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, adopted positions that trivialised the seriousness of the trouble we were in. Apostle Suleman said he could heal COVID-19 patients.
His words: “Please permit us to go and pray for COVID-19 patients. Allow us to go there; that is why there are men of God. If you are really anointed to pray for the sick, this is the time because what is holding the world is sickness. So, we’re begging the government to permit us into isolation centres; that is the only way we can reduce this nonsense because it will improve every day.
“There are people with the gift of healing. God has gifted them to pray for the sick. It is not fake, gimmick or arranged. It is there in them. Permit us so that we can prove there are prophets in Nigeria.
“Permit us so that the ridicule and all that can reduce. We’re not telling you we can heal all of them, but by the time we are through with them, you’ll see a significant difference. If they are 20 before, at least 18 will be cleared because that is what God can do.”
Pastor Oyakhilome told us there was a link between COVID-19 and 5G technology. This was at a time the United States recorded its biggest one-day cases with 45,242 infections. The country had had 2.5 million cases and, at that time globally, some 10 million cases had been recorded with no less than 500,000 deaths documented. Pastor Oyakhilome, in a live broadcast on his Love Word television, linked the 5G with COVID-19 and, of course, the Anti-Christ— that dreaded monster Christians like me have been prepared to look out for. With his smooth delivery, Oyakhilome laid bare the facts as his researches showed. In another video, he claimed the Federal Government ordered the closure of Abuja and Lagos so that 5G antennas could be mounted. He added clinchers: ‘Social distancing was introduced as a way of stopping people from protesting the 5G take-off, deaths are high where 5G has been installed and 5G is behind deaths in Wuhan’.
Other conspiracy theorists joined the fray. The Anti-Christ and such other arguments were dragged in. They came up with all kinds of videos, one showed birds dead near an antenna and another showed trees with dead leaves. The birds were said to have died as a result of the radiation from the 5G mast or antenna. We were also told the leaves on the trees withered because of the fifth generation antennae installed near them. The blame was taken away from the fact that most trees were like that during winter and spring; they only regain their bloom in summer.
Another theorist did an audio note in Yoruba in which he sounded so brilliant, but the only snag was that what he had to say reeked of senselessness. Like the theorists in the videos, he was out to make us believe there was a link between the 5G technology and COVID-19. He claimed that the new technology was launched in Wuhan, where COVID-19 started. According to his warped logic, the Chinese knew the technology would lead to so much radiation that would kill people and so decided to introduce COVID-19 using the bat. This, the self-acclaimed expert, argued was to confuse people about what was killing them. He also put forward this false claim that many people in Wuhan were suddenly shaky and subsequently fall and die before help could come.
Trust our dear Dino Melaye. He joined the theorist and was posting videos after videos to prove a non-existent conspiracy. Days after he began the ridiculous campaign, he claimed he had received international calls threatening him to back down on his ill-advised propaganda against 5G. He claimed the callers said 5G was bigger than him and he should desist from trying to stop it. He added that he was not afraid and would keep up his foolishness.
Amid the confusion, Pastor Mathew Ashimolowo of the Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC) released a video on those he described as foolish theorists. He did not mention names, but the allusions showed us unambiguously where the fingers of guilt were pointed. America, he said, will not destroy its 20 trillion dollar economy to put a chip on your body, and neither will Britain destroy its own.
“How come it (Coronavirus) got to my village where there is no 5G?”Ashimolowo wondered. He added that the Church has always suspected the Anti-Christ anytime the world is faced with a pandemic. He gave the examples of Napoleon Bonaparte, Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, and how their actions made the Church assume the Anti-Christ was finally here.
My final take: I was disappointed in pastors who became conspiracy theorists when they knew the situation had nothing to do with the Anti-Christ. The problem was a disease, but they chose to confuse their followers. It was saddening that ill-informed, badly-informed and fake videos were patched together to misinform the body of Christ and other unsuspecting members of the public.
We are not out of the COVID-19 woods, but it is cheering news that vaccines have been manufactured and being administered to people all over the world. The lesson in this is that we should always be vigilant in times of health crisis so that men masquerading as facts custodians will not worsen our challenges with outright fabrication.
• YISHAU is the author of IN THE NAME OF OUR FATHER and VAULTS OF SECRETS