On Bakare’s sermon on Igbos and the curse of Balewa

I have across several posts on Pastor Tunde Bakare’s recent message, apparently declaring that the Igbos cannot rule Nigeria. I have learned the important lesson that, on social media especially, it is always helpful to check and ascertain contents. Just yesterday, another video clip was making the rounds that terrorists were spotted on a drone in the forests of one southwestern Town. An investigative journalist pointed out, with evidence, that the viral video was in fact that of a terrorist camp somewhere in Kenya, and it has been circulated for years.

You can understand, however, why a clip like that can quickly go viral and pass as fact with minimal scrutiny: Nigeria is grappling with terrorism, and there are already previous credible reports of terrorist activities in the forests of southwest Nigeria, leaving destruction and death in their wake. In this circumstance, even otherwise conscientious and careful observers could be tempted to believe the fake viral video as fact.

I have now watched the part of the sermon in which Bakare made the reference to the Igbos and the curse of Balewa. Like the viral “terrorist video”, I can understand why the stories about the alleged declaration have gone viral, and the deluge of angry anti-Bakare sentiments. That is because the subject addressed is a sensitive one. It stirs memories of one of Nigeria’s cardinal, if not original, sins: the tragic campaign of genocide against Ndigbo- in the pogrom leading to the Nigerian civil war, and the harvest of death and destruction during the war. It is a sin from which Nigeria has not offered propitiation, and there is a sense in which we can speak about the more powerful curse of Ndigbo- a curse from which Nigeria can free itself through repentance and restitution.

This brings me back to Pastor Bakare’s sermon. I have now watched the part of the sermon in which he made this reference, and it is clear to me that those raining abuses on the fiery cleric have not, in fact, listened to or watched the sermon. Or they are so angry anyway that the facts of the sermon do not matter. No, Bakare did not declare that Igbos will never rule Nigeria. He did provide an anecdotal narrative of the final moments of Nigeria’s late prime Minister Tafawa Balewa. According to this narrative, Tafawa Balewa was humiliated by mutinous soldiers before he was summarily executed. In his final moments, he allegedly declared that no members of the ethnic group of his killers will ever rule Nigeria. There is an implicit assumption in this declaration that his assassins were all Igbos. You could also argue, as I would, that this narrative of Balewa’s final moments is apocryphal- that it is doubtful that the late prime minister ever said such.

Bakare himself did not affirm the “final moments” narrative as incontrovertible fact. He was addressing himself to the practical fact that there are any who apparently believe not only the narrative but the potency of a Balewa curse on the entire Ndigbo nation. His homiletical intervention was, in fact, to disabuse the mind of his hearers about the currency and potency of such “curse”. He did this with the rhetorical flourish of a preacher. If you are not a church or religious person, you may understandably struggle with his rhetorical device. Even so, it is important to critique the man on the objective merit or otherwise of what he said, not tendentious narratives that have mutilated his sermon out of recognition. In his sermon, Bakare cited several biblical examples to demonstrate, in effect, that curses are only potent to the extent that people are ignorant to submit to its power, or the extent to which they are guilty to fall under the spell. To take one example, he draws from the example of Ruben, Jacob’s first son, who was cursed for his immoral liaison with his father’s wife, but whose descendants were subsequently blessed by another patriarch, Moses.

Let me end this piece on a cautionary note. It is important that conscious citizens take seriously the business of holding public personalities to scrutiny. This is an important duty. However, it is also important that citizens undertake this important civic duty with utmost fidelity to facts and truth, and with fairness to the objects of criticisms. Truth matters. Fairness matters. And they should go hand in hand.

Seun Kolade