Are the old Nigerian gods still powerful?
Many authorities have claimed that Paganism in Nigeria is on the decline… but is it? In this thoughtful article, ABEG-ABEG Team contends that even Christians and Muslims are turning back to the old gods surreptitiously for help and spiritual consolation.
The old gods of Nigeria, inspite of the existing pre-eminence of Christian and Muslim religions, are still doing fine. They have not been thrown into the sea, as many Christian and Muslim missionaries thought they would, one hundred and fifty years ago. Quite on the contrary, many of these gods have been managing. If somewhat furtively, at any rate very persistently to hold their own in the country.
There is a very good reason behind the gallant resistant that the old gods of Nigeria have been managing to offer to Christian and Muslim religions. Nigerians are, when they are not quite given up to gaiety, a very introspective people; and it is as a result of their introspection that they still find it difficult to believe that gods that gave all protection there was to their great-great-grandfathers, have, today, completely lost their powers of protection to the Christian and Muslim religions.
That many Nigerians publicly profess either Christian or Muslim religion is largely as a result of their fear that they cannot possibly announce that they worship one or two of the gods of their fathers, and still be accepted as civilized people by their next door neighbours.
The formation of the African National Church in Eastern Nigeria and the cold logic that led its founders to the conclusion that its founders to the conclusion that its god would not be an authentic god of Africa unless it was black, and unless it was one of the old gods that the people of Africa had worshipped, also helped greatly to clear the way for the worship of many old Nigerian gods.
The stir that the African National Church made was given a great deal of push by the fact that a man of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe’s standing allowed himself to be baptized by one of the priests of the church without any loss of face. Since the advent of the African National Church, with its emphasis on the worship of Nigeria domestic gods like Ofo, it has occurred to many Nigerians that they will lose nothing by openly worshipping the gods of their fathers.
Another thing that can be said to have given a new lease of life to many of Nigeria’s old gods was and is still the growing cult of African Personality. An avant-garde movement, African Personality has succeeded, at any rate in Nigeria, in giving sanction to the paying of respects to all the old gods of Nigeria. If Africa must have its own personality, it has been argued by many red-eyed avant-gardists, it would be unreasonable to impose a strange god on its people.
The growing resuscitation of African art also has something to do with the open come-back of the old gods. Whereas, outside the name of African art, a Christian or a Muslim will find it rather ruffling to his equanimity when called upon to explain the presence in his house of an effigy of one of the gods of his fathers, he can now, with conviction, say that the effigy is there as a work of art and not as a god.
This dualism in belief and worship is not strange in a society whose people, whether educated or not, are still looking for fresh subjects of spiritual thought and belief. The old ideas they already have often conflict, in their precepts and demands, with newly acquired cultures, and with the social, economic, political and spiritual realisms of the era into which they are born.
SOURCE: Dovi Yebovi for Drum