THE PUBLIC SPHERE with Chido Nwakanma
The intrepidity of Onitsha came to the fore on 25 October as the city inserted itself forcefully into the 3 November general elections a world away in the United States of America. Most Reverend Professor Daddy Hezekiah led his flock in a rally and march around Onitsha city, hailing and praying for a Donald Trump victory. It reverberated globally.
Their lack of what lawyers call locus standi was not a barrier to the Onitsha Trump supporters: they had no direct stake, no membership of the Republican party nor registration to vote. For their efforts, they got the acknowledgment of the Donald, a notable narcissist. He tweeted: A parade for me in Nigeria, a great honor! pic.twitter.com/EHiSQMFvSZ — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 3, 2020
The parade by the Living Christ Mission Inc was against the backdrop of anti-Nigeria words and actions by Donald Trump. He called Nigeria a shithole, reduced opportunities for immigration for settlement or study, and has fought against Nigerians seeking high profile jobs at AfDB and WTO. Many have made memes and jokes out of the Onitsha Christians and their escapade.
However, it is not a laughing matter nor for ridicule. We deal here with a context of two issues with a high toxicity quotient: religion and politics. Handle with discretion. Yet, we must break eggs to make this omelette.
The religious element has inflamed the discourse for and against. Christians of a certain persuasion have brought various narratives to bear on the matter. Touchy. Friends, family, colleagues, and classmates are falling apart over differences on the issues. Caution: please do not tear each other over Donald Trump.
The Trumpian Christians shared all manner of narratives. One was very loud and forceful in its claims and many falsehoods.
“IN CASE YOU DONT UNDERSTAND THE REASON FOR THE BATTLES AND THE UNENDING CONFRONTATIONS: Trump vs New world order; Trump vs The Abortion Law; Trump vs The Anti-Christ Agenda; Trump vs Vaccine producers; Trump vs Homosexual/ Lesbian/Gay; Trump vs Terrorists Beneficiaries; Trump vs Pope? (You won’t understand); Trump vs Mainstream media (MSN); Trump vs Social Media Owners; Trump vs Bad leadership promoters in Africa; Trump vs killers of Christians in Africa; Trump vs Injustice; Trump vs The Illuminating (Illuminati) Members); Trump vs One World Government; Trump vs The Cancellation Of Prayers; Trump vs The Haters Of Humanity; Trump vs Anti God’s Laws; Trump vs Election Riggers; Trump vs vs vs….Victory Is Sure in God Name”.
A school mate shared this on social. He took umbrage at my calling him out publicly. “We all have our perspectives at looking at things. You have yours with your reasons; I have mine. The least you can do is respect that.”
I responded: “The Christian community seeks so much drama. Even in the days of our Lord Jesus Christ. For that reason, He warned them against a fixation on signs. He said that of the hour and time no man knows. Only the Creator can tell. As an 11-year old, I was a victim of the Christian end-time hoax when Jehovah’s Witnesses frightened my young soul with their false claim that the world was ending in 1975. It was a massive deception. Many End-Time followers see all manner of spiritual significance in everything, ascribing to poor Donald Trump matters of which he has absolutely no ken”.
My friend came around, we shared the Word, and I apologised for calling him out in public. Childhood friends.
There is no surprise in Onitsha boldly stepping out on the trending topic of certain Christians for Donald Trump. My interest, however, is with the phenom called Onitsha.
Onitsha intrigues. Onitsha confounds. Onitsha excites.
Onitsha is the birth city of Christianity in Eastern Nigeria and is responsible for the growth of the faith and literacy in the land. Who can forget the images of the throngs that witnessed the visit of the Pope to Onitsha? Or the mini-wars between the Anglicans and Catholics?
It is the Onitsha Spirit. Audacious. Onitsha represents the best and worst of the Igbo. So much energy. Drive. Innovation. Onitsha is the city that gave the world a genre of literature with its name: Onitsha Market Literature. It is the main distribution point that ensured Nollywood became a global phenomenon.
Onitsha is the city of enterprise writ large. Indigenous manufacturing speaks boldly in this city by the bank of the great river. Its market draws people from all over Africa.
Onitsha has its distinctive brand of gospel music. It is high decibel, vociferous and calls down angels while lifting the spirits of men up to dance. Increasingly, women lead the most successful bands, Chinyere Udoma with Adim Well Loaded and Njideka Okeke’s Akanchawa waving the flag.
I love Onitsha. It also irritates. I love it for what it represents and for my people who live in it.
A beloved cousin has lived in Onitsha 40 years. He trained the old-fashioned way in mechanical engineering and how to fix crankshafts and engines. It was for an era when industrialisation was top priority in Nigeria and Sir Joe Nwankwu held sway with his Olympic Group.
Over the years, the economic changes have buffeted Cousin Chinedu but not his spirit. My cousin is not the tallest of men. Many years ago, when it was time, he showed the Onitsha and Igbo spirit. He went for the tallest girl in the hood, all 6.3” of her, and brought her home as wife. She had the same pluck, serving as apprentice trader in selling wrappers and stuff and graduating to an importer who regularly travelled to China to “tu ahia container”. Covid19 has only slowed but cannot stop them.
Scholars of religion in Igboland and Nigeria need to step up. I call on Chukwu Ogbajie, C.O. Okeke, F. Anyika, J.C. Nwaka, F.K. Ekechi, P.E. Nmah and T. Adamolekun.
The features of Trumpian Christianity include uncritical adulation of a leader, ascription of values to the man, and the conflation of Biblical passages to current affairs in the name of prophecy. Remember Paula White or Pat Robertson?
Is the phenomenon of Trump Christians an inflection point for Christianity in Africa and the world? Or does it just replicate what has happened over the years at times of crisis when men seek answers in end-time messaging and decode the signs for themselves with varied meanings? This story is unfolding.