Originally from Nigeria, Joseph Thompson is the founder of Yeshua Ministries, which focuses on city transformation, church growth and leadership development. Networking, deliverance and spiritual warfare are key components of his ministry.
A gifted teacher of the Bible, Joseph served as associate pastor to Pastor Ted Haggard at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for over four years. In addition to his extensive travel schedule, he currently serves as teaching pastor at New Life.
Joseph’s academic background includes a bachelor’s degree in graphic arts, a bachelor’s degree in Christian ministry and a master’s of divinity. He travels across the United States and to many other nations, teaching in local churches, conferences and seminars. His easy and humorous delivery style makes the demand for his ministry continuous. Joseph is the author of a book entitled I’m a Christian, So How Can I Have Demons?
Joseph has lived in the United States for over 12 years. He and Sola, his lovely wife of 15 years, have three children: a son, Demi, and two daughters, Bimi and Temi.
The streets are jammed with people, blurring the lines between pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Some people are dressed in the brightest of colors, in their traditional garb, while others are wearing the more familiar Western business attire. The traffic is bumper-to-bumper and stretches as far as the eye can see. Exhaust fumes pollute the air, adding to the very real discomfort of the humid, 96-degree weather. Horns are blaring angrily as frustrated commuters shout their displeasure at one another. Street hawkers parade their wares along the barely moving lines of traffic, trying to sell everything from cell phones and T-shirts to bootlegged videocassettes of American-made movies that have not yet been officially released in the United States.
Adding to the ever present crescendo of noise and seeming confusion, enterprising young men on mopeds take advantage of the snail-paced traffic. They weave in and out among the cars and offer to transport frustrated commuters who have given up on their taxicabs, usually keeping their promise to get them to their destinations on time. The risk on the moped, however, is being hit by an impatient driver jostling for space to maneuver his or her way out of this virtual parking lot.
In the background are the sounds of laughter and loud conversation as everyone attempts to be heard over the swell of noise. This is Lagos, Nigeria—its myriad exotic smells, its endless cacophony of sounds, its ostentatiously colorful people! This is Africa’s most populous nation. In fact, Nigeria boasts the largest concentration of black people on Earth, an estimated 140 million. At the worst of times, it would appear as if they are all out on the streets of Lagos at once!
This is what first-time observers see when they visit Nigeria. Underneath all of that activity, however, lies the real Nigeria, the Nigeria that is often referred to as the Pearl of Africa. Nigeria appears, to all intents and purposes, sleepy and unproductive—the one voted most likely to succeed but who ultimately failed.
One writer observed that “Nigeria is an oil-rich Cinderella state that never quite made it to the ball. During the 1970s, when oil prices rocketed, Nigeria looked set to become the shining example of a prosperous and democratic West African republic but perversely managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It has had the odd moment of oil-induced triumph but its history is littered with tin-pot dictators, massacres, bloody civil wars, human rights abuses, and horrific famines. It is now a country that is saddled with a soaring crime rate, massive unemployment, overpopulation; and it’s still recovering from a military government run on bribery and corruption.”1
If you close your eyes and imagine for just one moment, you could easily believe that I have just described the history of Israel as recorded in the Scriptures. Like the nation of Israel in the days of the kings, Nigeria has had its share of impotent governments and corrupt leaders, but that is Nigeria’s history. Its present and future are shaping up to be quite different. A new day has dawned and Nigeria is truly set to become Africa’s miracle, fulfilling its destiny as the Pearl of Africa. But before I get ahead of myself, let me give you some insight into Nigeria’s beginnings. The details of the following political and economic history primarily come from the study and guide on Nigeria at 1Up Info’s website. For further information please consult the guide: www.1upinfo.com/country-guide-study/nigeria/.
Nigeria officially became independent from the colonial rule of the British on October 1, 1960. The nation began as a loose amalgamation of different tribes that were formed into autonomous political regions, but the history of these tribes extends back more than 2,000 years. The country guide at the 1Up Info website records, “The earliest archeological finds were of the Nok, who inhabited the central Jos Plateau between the Niger and the Benue rivers between 300 b.c. and 200 a.d. A number of states or kingdoms with which contemporary ethnic groups can be identified existed before 1500. Of these, the three dominant regional groups were the Hausa in the northern kingdoms of the savanna, the Yoruba in the west, and the Igbo in the south.”2
The European slave trade in West Africa in the late fifteenth century significantly impacted Nigeria, as Nigeria became a major center for shipping slaves. In 1807 Britain oulawed the slave trade and sent its navy off the coast of West Africa to enforce the ban, ultimately leading to Britain’s intervention in Nigeria. During this period, European missionaries began spreading Christianity in southern Nigeria. At the same time, Islam was introduced along the caravan trade routes of northern Nigeria; a holy war waged between 1804 and 1808 was instrumental in the spreadof Islam. With Nigeria’s rich supplies of palm oil, cocoa and peanuts, commerce with the European powers soon overshadowed the slave trade. Britain established a colony in Lagos in 1861.
Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, Britain controlled Nigeria using local rulers. By the time of World War II, however, Nigerian nationalism was rising. Education and economic development opened the door for an organized labor movement to arise. Various political parties were created during World War II.
Nigeria finally became an independent republic in the early 1960s, but trouble was brewing. Following low voter participation in the 1964-65 elections, widespread violence erupted, which led to the deaths of as many as 2,000 people. After a series of coups and countercoups, Lieutenant Colonel Yakubu Gowon established a military government; and tensions began to increase between the infantry, who were primarily from the North, and the Igbo soldiers, who were from the South. In 1967 the conflict escalated into a civil war, known as the Biafran War. By the end of the war in 1970, about 2 million Nigerians had been killed.3
How did this come about?
According to research posted at the African Postcolonial Literature in English website, Nigeria began as a republic with four regional governments. This was not a comfortable political situation, especially since the ruling party that dominated the new nation was made up largely of those from only one of the four regions, the North. Explosive ethnic tensions developed between the Igbo from the southeast and the Hausa from the North. Widespread murders on both sides became the order of the day.
In 1966 the four regions unsuccessfully attempted negotiations to return to a republican form of government. The situation deteriorated even more, and in 1967, Lieutenant Colonel Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu declared the eastern region a sovereign and independent nation, the Republic of Biafra. The federal government declared a state of emergency and divided Nigeria into 12 states. Fighting broke out, and a civil war was on.
The fighting ended in 1970, by which time the federal forces, through starving the Biafran population, had forced them to surrender. Ojukwu fled Nigeria, and a delegation from Biafra formally surrendered on January 15, 1970, ending the short-lived Republic of Biafra.
With the civil war over and the country hoping to rebuild its ailing economy as well as its bruised international image, Nigeria turned to oil as its primary export and foreign exchange earner. Petroleum had been discovered in the late 1960s in commercial quantities, and in 1971, Nigeria became a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).5
Rather than strengthen the Nigerian economy, however, the discovery of oil created unforeseen problems. Foreign investors reaped most of the profits, while the local indigenous people in the oil-producing regions gained little or nothing. Policymakers demonstrated their deplorable lack of foresight by granting “Udoji awards,” bonuses for every government worker as a result of increased oil revenue. Meanwhile, they tended to neglect all other national resources that had previously undergirded the nation’s economy. Nigeria was experiencing a classic case of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.
In addition, the economy suffered dearly from a three-year drought in the early 1970s, forcing huge numbers of farm workers to relocate in the cities.
After another series of military coups, in 1976 Lieutenant General Olusegun Obasanjo came to power; and in 1979 a new constitution, calling for democratic elections, was drafted. Obasanjo focused on preparing Nigeria for the upcoming democracy.
A combination of the weak political structure, the problems associated with the discovery of oil and fraud in the 1983 elections caused the army to step in once again. Major General Muhammed Buhari, who determined to end widespread corruption, became head of state. However, he was deposed by the Armed Forces Ruling Council, which purported to prepare Nigeria for a return to civilian rule. This took the form of economic restructuring. A national economic emergency was declared in 1986, and as a result, Nigeria received aid from the World Bank.6
Along with all of these economic, tribal and political tensions were frightening increases in corruption, armed robbery and drug dealing, for which Nigerians were fast developing international notoriety. Student riots became more frequent and more violent, and outspoken dissenters would suddenly either disappear or end up in prison.
Universities would be shut down for months on end as a result of student unrest, and pretty soon both students and professors began to seek opportunities outside the country. These educational crises, coupled with massive inflation that raised the cost of living to unbearable standards, preceded what has come to be known as the Brain Drain. Many of Nigeria’s best qualified academicians began relocating to other countries where they and their families could enjoy a higher standard of living. As a result, the government embarked on a huge campaign to encourage the educated Nigerian elite to stay in the country and help rebuild the crumbled economy. A clarion call for patriotism was heard across various media.
During this period, Nigerian morale reached an all-time low. Inflation, poverty and widespread corruption became the order of the day. What was the government’s response to the cry of the people against the tyranny of injustice? “We cannot afford to complain as long as we haven’t resorted to eating out of trash cans.” This represented a sad departure from the Nigeria of old, for which the standing joke was, “Money isn’t our problem in Nigeria; it’s how to spend it that is the problem!”
The year was 1977 and the Lagos traffic stretched the length of Western Avenue all the way to Iganmu. Eko Bridge was bumper-to-bumper in both directions and the pedestrian traffic was thick. An atmosphere of festivity filled the air as flags from every African nation adorned the streetlights running the length of Eko Bridge. All the traffic seemed to converge at one spot, the National Arts Theater. This superb edifice, a monument to Nigeria’s oil wealth, stood proudly isolated from all other structures. Costing millions of American dollars to build and designed to look like a military general’s cap, it was an ingenious feat of architecture built on swampland, which also cost millions of dollars to dredge. The occasion for all the festivity was FESTAC 77, the second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture. This event was designed to be a showcase of African cultural identity. It issued “a clarion call for all Africans throughout diasporas, to come home to invoke and celebrate the Motherland.” It was billed as a “historic Gathering of Tribes.”7
Listen to what Joseph Okpaku says in volume 8 of The Arts and Civilization of Black and African Peoples:
When a people, indeed an entire race, decide to formally define their place in history and to dramatize that demarcation by asserting their unquestionably important position and role as a primary cornerstone of mankind, such an event is significant. When that race is Africa with its colossal cultural and intellectual heritage, that occasion promises overwhelming inspiration.8
The overarching idea behind FESTAC 77 was the rediscovery of the cultural and spiritual ties which bind together all black and African people the world over. Rediscovering African traditional currents of thought and arts was paramount. Therein lay the root of Nigeria’s problems. There is where the dark doors began to open.
The colorful display of culture and the demonstration of Africa’s rich and varied heritage were not all that was celebrated during FESTAC 77. Africa has always been a continent with a strong animistic heritage. The celebration and worship of multiple gods in the form of graven images cannot be divorced from African arts and culture. Unwittingly, as we celebrated the reuniting of our cultural and artistic heritage, we were also laying out a welcome mat for all of the ominous spiritual forces embedded in the various African cultures. The celebration of an animistic heritage and consequently of idols, along with their accompanying demons, carries with it grave consequences. The Bible has made it abundantly clear that God is displeased with the worship of any other god besides Him:
However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you. The Lord will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him (Deut. 28:15,20, NIV).
The manifest fruit of this curse became evident in Nigeria post-FESTAC 77. Inflation hit an all-time high, and people literally began to scrounge and forage for food in trash cans. The self-fulfilling prophecy was being manifest before our very eyes. Unemployment, increasing widespread corruption, bribery and violence became the order of the day. People began to turn overtly to witchdoctors and fortune-tellers for answers to their problems. This introduced a spate of kidnappings and occult ritual killings that spread fear among the population. People became less and less inclined to leave their homes after dark, and many parts of the country ceased to have any kind of active nightlife. This only got worse through the civilian-ruled era of the late ’70s and early ’80s. It began to look like our beloved country was on the very brink of destruction and anarchy.
While it seemed like the demonic forces had taken over, another force was at work: the Spirit of God. He was calling His Church to rise up and pray, to become active in society and to see His presence transform it.
The intensity of prayer reached fever pitch as the crowd avidly responded to the prayer leader. There was a heightened sense of anticipation among the people as some paced back and forth in the sanctuary, while others kneeled and still others sat silently, rocking back and forth as if keeping time with the soft worship music playing in the background. Many lay sprawled flat on their faces as they cried out to God for His intervention in the affairs of their nation in order to prevent it from sliding into complete genocide. Most of these zealously patriotic Nigerians had been fasting for a week or more leading up to this final, culminating annual event.
It was the first of October, 1987, the anniversary of Nigeria’s independence day celebration. While many were at the race course taking in all the festivities displaying Nigeria’s rich and diverse heritage, these select few Christians were groaning in travail for the very soul of the nation. As the prayers became more specific, people from different tribes were called out to pray and repent on behalf of their people, for tribalism as well as for various other sins that had become associated with their people group. Mass repentance was done on behalf of one tribe toward another, and intercession was made on behalf of governmental leaders who had turned away from God and from their commitment to serve the people. The prayer meeting lasted almost six hours, into the early evening, and when it was over, there was the unspoken promise that the believers would meet at the same time, in the same place, the following year, until there is an evident transformation and a full return to God in the nation.
This was an annual prayer event in which I was privileged to participate. Many years back, as the debilitating attrition of inflation and corruption began to infect every stratum of Nigerian society, people began their search for something better. At this juncture, a major move of God began to sweep across our university campuses and other institutions of higher learning. For the first time, the educated elite began to consider Christianity as a viable answer to the problems we were facing as a nation. Numerous campus fellowships sprang up, and it was no longer considered uncool to be a Christian. Christ Chapel was one of the first charismatic-style churches catering to the needs of this new breed of Nigerian Christians. Thousands began flocking to this church and to similar ones to find spiritual fulfillment.
It was in the midst of all this that the annual prayer gathering developed. Led by a number of professionals who were lawyers, engineers, doctors, architects and the like, it quickly became a leading voice for the educated Christians who were seeking to make a difference in the nation through prayer. Men such as Emeka Nwakpa, Tunde Ogunnaike, Steve Okitika, Kole Akinboboye and Ntiense Inyang were the driving forces behind this powerful prayer movement. They were all leaders in an organization called Christian Students Social Movement, and they were responsible in large part for the spread of other prayer initiatives around the country. The annual prayer gathering that I chose to attend was held at a Presbyterian church in Yaba, Lagos.
Inevitably, as a result of this and numerous other prayer movements like it, God began to move. The influence and impact of Christianity began to spread across the nation at various levels of the culture.
I would be remiss, however, if I left you thinking that only the people I have mentioned spearheaded this revival movement. Men like William Kumuyi, who while teaching the philosophy of mathematics at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) had begun a Monday night fellowship in his home, mostly catering to students from UNILAG as well as the nearby Yaba College of Technology, were instrumental. Leaders like Tunde Ogunnaike, who was a student at UNILAG at the time, had been influenced by Kumuyi’s fellowship. Dr. Enoch Adeboye, at the time a professor of mathematics at UNILAG, was also a significant leader in the wave of revival that swept across the nation. Indeed, most of the contributors to this book were all significant players in the spread and influence of charismatic Christianity across Nigeria.
The melody fills the air with a heavenly sound as the crowd of thousands sing out the words to the song with gusto. The look on their faces is one of rapturous delight, and to an outsider, they appear oblivious to anything else going on around them. Neither the perspiration dripping off their faces due to the 99-degree weather nor the cramped quarters serves to deter them from the singular purpose of worship. The crowd is a mixture of young college students, apparently successful professionals and a more sedate looking middle-aged group of obviously financially well-off people. Their clothing is more befitting of a group of people at an exclusive banquet rather than the regular Sunday morning service of the House of Faith Church. And this scene is duplicated in myriad churches across the nation every Sunday. Literally millions of hope-filled Christians throng their local assemblies, secure in the knowledge that God is not finished with Nigeria. Pleas and prayers fill the heavens as voices from every tribe mingle together in an outpouring of devotion to Jesus Christ. The only notable difference from one congregation to the next is the name of the local assembly and the obvious differences in social and educational status.
“Nigeria we hail thee” has once again become an appropriate recognition for our reemerging great nation. Taken from the opening stanza of our former national anthem, the line “Nigeria we hail thee” has never rung so true. We hail thee for the resilience shown through the years of unrestrained plunder. We hail thee for never giving up when all seemed lost. But most important, we hail thee because of the faith and commitment you have shown as a people to the unfailing truth of God’s Word.
Nigeria is back on track! Nigeria is a nation that is festooned with the beauty of Christianity. It is safe to say that the Church and its effectual prayers have kept Nigeria from complete anarchy and genocide. The impact of Christianity on its hitherto beleaguered society is evident wherever you go. If you look a little deeper, listen a little more closely, you will see and hear the myriad changes that are subtly transforming Nigeria into a nation that truly fears the Lord.
Today, Nigeria is a nation that boasts a president who is a professed Christian. Significant numbers of leaders in politics and industry are coming to the awareness that Jesus is Lord and Savior. Christianity is touted from every other automobile in the form of bumper stickers and from slogans painted on trucks. There is a new sense of purpose and direction as churches are recognizing that ministry must be to the total person: spirit, soul and body.
For the first time since the colonization of Nigeria and the subsequent founding of schools and hospitals by missionaries, the Church is once again involved in establishing schools with high ethical and moral standards, schools that teach only the truths about creation and God. Many churches in Nigeria have established hospitals, banks, soup kitchens and other such institutions designed to meet the social needs of the day. The miraculous power of God is evident in the Church in Nigeria, but just as evident is His love for Nigeria and its people. There is such a radical move of God on university and college campuses in Nigeria that thousands of students are turning to the Lord on a daily basis.
The amazing growth of the Church in Nigeria is spawning a rather intriguing phenomenon. Muslims, who traditionally meet on Friday afternoon for their large prayer meetings, have resorted to imitating Christian all-night prayer vigils as well as Sunday services in an effort to stem the tide of young people converting from Islam to Christianity. They are establishing prayer camps just like the ones they see in the Christian Church, in the hope that they will discover some formula to stem the dramatic surge of Christianity in Nigeria.
This powerful move of God is not limited to Nigerians in Nigeria alone. As you will read in chapter 2, some of the largest churches around the world were planted by Nigerians. Unarguably, Nigerians pastor the largest churches found in Europe, in the United Kingdom, in Ghana, in Jamaica and in Italy, as well as in many other countries. In the United States alone, the Redeemed Christian Church of God has over 20 branch churches, and the average attendance at most of them exceeds 500. Many of these churches do not cater exclusively to Nigerians but have as diverse a membership as can be imagined. In Denver, Colorado, my good friend, Ade Ajala, is senior pastor of Hands On Christian Church, which has 17 different nations represented in its membership. Most of the members are new converts, and they are aggressively reaching out to other foreign nationals resident in their community. For example, they have recently had to add a Spanish service in order to meet the needs of the many Spanish-speaking people who have come to Christ and joined their church.
What could be responsible for this sudden and powerful move of God both in Nigeria and among Nigerians living outside of their nation? Well, I can tell you what is not responsible, and that is a bottled formula. There is not some special dispensation of revelation that came upon the Nigerian Church, causing its suddenly to prosper. No. This is simply a sovereign move of God in response to the fervent prayers of a spiritually, physically and emotionally tortured nation. Hear what the prophet Isaiah had to say about the fervent prayers (travail) of a nation:
Who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children (Isa. 66:8, KJV, emphasis added).
What an honor! What a privilege! We are witnessing a true miracle of biblical proportions right before our eyes: the rebirth of a nation. Nigeria is being stretched and squeezed, forged in the fires of God’s plans and purposes, and slowly but surely is emerging as a pearl of inestimable value, a priceless jewel of great worth. Or in the inimitable words of the apostle Paul, an epistle to be read by all (see 1 Thess. 5:27).
The greatest injustice we Nigerian Christian leaders could do to the next generation of leaders is to fail to leave a lasting legacy of the divine visitation that our nation is currently experiencing. I am reminded of a story I read about a woodworker in Germany named Stefan. Stefan produces wood for various purposes. He does this by harvesting trees that were planted by his great-grandfather, whom he never knew. This line of work has been in Stefan’s family for 400 years. Stefan knows that if this family legacy is to continue, he must plant trees that he will never harvest. His grandchildren or great-grandchildren will probably harvest them. Stefan is reliant on the past but also responsible for the future.9
If we leaders are to bequeath a godly legacy to our great nation, then we must steward the revival that God is granting today so that it produces true and permanent reformation. We must recognize that the fruit we are now harvesting has come from seeds sown with the blood of many missionaries who invested their lives in our people while we were predominantly animistic. It is therefore incumbent on us, like Stefan, to plant “trees” for future generations to harvest.
I am well aware that this is easier said than done. Because Nigeria is such a tribally influenced nation, it is sometimes harder for us to free ourselves from that paradigm and be willing to take people from different tribes under our tutelage for the purpose of investing in the future. We must begin to recognize that the anointing is not necessarily transferred down a bloodline in a family or, for that matter, through ethnic or tribal lines, but it is distributed according to the sovereign will of the Holy Spirit. When we recognize this, we will begin to realize that experiencing the visitation of God upon our nation is not a tribal or family heritage but a national treasure to be preserved and stewarded for the next generation.
Many foreign observers of the move of God in Nigeria have remarked that the Church may be a mile wide but only an inch deep. They draw this conclusion based on the huge number of churches they see spread across the country, prospering right beside teeming masses of poverty, corruption and illiteracy. My response to this is simply to state that it is unfair to expect an immediately evident and dramatic change in a nation that has been so plundered. Nigeria has emerged from its turmoil landing on its feet, primarily because of the grace of God in response to the cry of the Church.
Slowly but surely, change is becoming evident to all through the work of the Church. For example, as you will read in more detail in chapter 11, the church City of David is feeding no fewer than 30,000 people every Sunday. Bishop David Oyedepo’s Canaan Land provides subsidized bus transportation in a fleet of over 200 buses and vans that operate at the church’s expense. Many Nigerian churches are building hospitals, schools and banks that provide affordable and good health care, decent academic training and loans to help Christian entrepreneurs who otherwise would be unable to establish businesses. These, in turn, provide employment. These, I believe, are several ways that we can effectively steward this move of God, which we are privileged to be a part of, so that future generations will reap the legacy we leave them.