Africa viewpoint: Nollywood and religion

A stall in Ivory Coast with Nollywood films from Nigeria

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Sola Odunfa considers what Nigeria's movie industry reveals about the country's spirituality.

One major reason why I like Nollywood films is that I easily relate to the stories told and the morals implied.

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The average Nigerian has a strong belief in destiny”

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I do not need a fertile imagination to understand the plots - if there are any serious ones - neither do I find it difficult to connect to the spiritual impulses of the characters.

Nollywood truly reflects the innate character of the Nigerian.

On a couple of occasions some friends have asked how I could "stoop so low" to spend hours watching these films, which are filled with scenes of voodoo and are of poor technical production, rather than spend quality time watching "first-rate" films from Hollywood.

What hypocrites!

Firstly they are the ones who call for people to buy goods and services made in Nigeria - in order to keep the domestic industries in business and thereby guarantee employment for their friends and others.

But if they also want those, who can afford the prices? To only purchase products and services of proven high technical quality, they would never find any such made in Nigeria.

So why single out Nollywood for technical shortcomings?

College campus conversions

As for the traditional religious rituals, they are part of the spiritual make-up of Nigerians.

These things have been practised in all cultures in the country for centuries and they have largely withstood the assault from European and Arabic cultures.

Nigerians photographed at an Anglican church Nigerians take pride in putting on their best dresses to go to church

And however large the following of Islam and Christianity in Nigeria, traditional religions still have a strong pull - especially in times of personal trouble or tragedy.

The Yoruba people say: "Igbagbo ko pe k'a ma s'oro ile wa" meaning - Christianity does not bar us from celebrating our family (or community's) traditional religious festival.

Now that Islam and Christianity are the officially recognised and patronised religions, Nigerians take pride in putting on their best dresses on Fridays and Sundays to be seen in mosques and churches.

But, take it from this old horse, there is more to religious practice in Nigeria than meets the eye.

In the last few years Nigeria has witnessed a dramatic upsurge of apparent fundamentalism in Christian religious practice.

People are turning away from the orthodox churches and they are rushing to the Pentecostal churches in their millions.

The rush began with young people who were weaned on a new gospel of prosperity and miracles in college campuses.

When the new army of Pentecostal "born agains" graduated and were launched into society, the mainstream churches were caught napping; before they could feel the force of what had hit them, their former members were clapping and gyrating and sweating in new congregations.

Studied success

The Pentecostal church has become a movement that is sweeping across the nation, catching both Christians and Muslims.

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Rituals are no longer performed with goats and cockerels but with tithes and American dollar offerings”

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It claims to be the fastest-growing religious sect in Nigeria; all others are merely trying out strategies to halt the force.

Yet, the secret of the Pentecostal leaders' success was apparently simple enough: They studied the Nigerian.

The average Nigerian has a strong belief in destiny.

They hold it that however hard or lazily one may work, the will of the gods, as pre-destined, will come to pass in their life.

They do not take responsibility for anything - not even for the inevitable road accident when they drive drunk, nor for exam failure resulting from truancy in class.

Therefore they believe that they must appease the gods at all times.

In the past, the appeasement was to the family or communal deities.

Those rituals are now out-of-date. Enter the Pentecostal church.

The pastor or prophet in designer silk suit from Milan has taken over from the village diviner and rituals are no longer performed with goats and cockerels but with tithes and American dollar offerings.

Prophecies do not come in riddles or proverbs, but in plain language.

One does not have anything over the other except in the most important matter of bank balance.

And Nollywood reflects the two faithfully.

I hear that both Nollywood and the Halleluiahs of the Pentecostal church are doing well across Africa.

What I do not know is how strongly the brethren outside Nigeria are attached to the culture of divination.

Do you have information on this?

If you would like to comment on Sola Odunfa's latest column, please use the form below. A selection of views will be published.

About time someone wrote this piece. However hard people may try to argue otherwise this piece tells the true story especially from the religious point

Sname, Lagos, Nigeria

A very honest and thorough provoking article......Nigerians as a nation have always loved their testimonies and miracles. Nigerians love following the crowd, because A is doing it and is making a little change aka MONEY, I too must get involved and begin to do miracles. Which when thoroughly investigated all turn out to be false, Going to the Mosque or Church in Nigeria is just ceremonial 80 percent are non believers, a chance to show off what you have and what you are grossing or in a Politician case what you have stolen - The latest Cars, Latest Kaftan/Lace, and Latest Bling from Dubai!!!! When I was a young lad Pastor and Prophet was a calling!!! Now it is a multi Billionaire Dollar industry, where donations are Tith are all the rage to get a blessing… There is only one cause for the growth of all African churches and that is POVERTY & CORRUPTION!!! If Africa/Nigeria was industralised like Japan or China, the Pastors churches and their flock would so diminished. The churches would be paying for seats to be filled on a Sunday or Friday. I will leave you with a Thought - The Yoruba's having a saying "Only God Truly Know who Worships Him"

TonyO, London

This is a beautiful piece. Clearly depicts the Nigerian understanding of what Christianity encompasses prosperity and miracles, and the congregation fall over themselves for the so called "Man of God". Let us face it, the Nigerian has failed to outgrow his love for the traditional worship. The idea of a 40 days fasting to get solution does not just appeal to the Nigerian. He needs a person, he can look up to wave the magic wand and the solution or perceived solution materializes and the Pentecostal pastors understands this very well. The success of Penetecostalism is seen in the colossal wealth the Pentecostal pastors have amassed mainly from tithe and offering. Despite the Pentecostal revival, the Nigerian is a traditionalist in blood.

thompson ighalo, Lagos Nigeria

Although there are many false Pastors and Prophets in many Nigerian Churches, there are still many true Pastors and Prophets who are God fearing and who are not swerved by American dollar offerings. We should be careful not to tarr everyone with the same brush.

Bert Akpaka, Sheffield, UK

Again Sola a wonderful read. I never looked at myself as a hypocrite but after reading your article I think I need to be 'born again' in patronizing the Nigerian movies.

Naallah Bako, Abuja, Nigeria

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