Series 2011 | Episode 14 | Nigeria's Millionaire Preachers
Miracles, expensive cars, exorcisms and bodyguards: religion is big business in Nigeria. Reporter Seyi Rhodes and director Matt Haan travel to Lagos to reveal the extraordinary world of the millionaire preachers.
By promoting a dream of escaping poverty, they have turned their churches into corporations, which are changing the face of Christianity.
Every Sunday millions of Nigerians crowd into thousands of competing churches. The team visits one church in Lagos run by Dr Sign Fireman, an up-and-coming preacher who is attempting to break into the big time.
They find 2000 people at an event billed as the Burial of Satan. After a rock-star entrance, Dr Fireman begins his service by exorcising the demons in his congregation.
Many Nigerian Pentecostal Christians believe that demons are the root cause of their problems in life and come to people like Dr Fireman to get rid of them. Over 20 men and women, including some who worked for Dr Fireman, have the evil spirits inside them expelled.
Sick members of the congregation come forward for miracle healing. Dr Fireman claims to have God-given powers that can change people's lives, from raising people from the dead to curing earache. One man tells the crowd he is crippled and blind. Dr Fireman then channels his powers to help the man walk and see again. Yet, earlier the team has seen the man walking unaided.
At the close of the event the crowd swarms forward and throws money at Dr Fireman's feet. There is so much cash it has to be collected in dustbins. Rhodes talks to one worshipper who says that those who give money are repaid by God with good fortune.
Some Nigerian Pentecostal Christians believe giving 10% of their income will bring God's blessing into their lives, their families and their businesses. With the service over, Dr Fireman leaves in his yellow 4x4 Hummer.
Through the marketing of his talents, Dr Fireman has expanded his Perfect Christianity Ministry to 40 branches. Key to this growth is the emphasis on prosperity preaching: teaching that prosperity is a sign of spiritual blessing. The idea is that to become rich, you should give money to the church.
Pentecostal and independent churches in Nigeria tap into the Nigerian dream: the aspiration of having and being seen to have cars, houses, money and power. To get more people to join his church, Dr Fireman believes portraying the right image is essential and shows the trappings of wealth his church has brought him. He travels everywhere with his bodyguards in one of his three yellow luxury cars, which have a combined worth of more than £150,000.
Dr Fireman's business model is not a new one. Most of the richest pastors in Nigeria use similar methods of expansion. The team meets Pastor Chris Okotie, the fifth richest pastor in the country, who had hits in the 80s with records such as Secret Love and Show Me Your Backside.
His church, House of God, attracts Nigerian film stars, celebrities and musicians. Pastor Okotie has used his power base to run for the last three presidential elections, believing the principles of prosperity preaching will provide a better future for Nigeria.
Local journalist Simon Ateba says it's almost impossible to establish their true wealth. Simon takes the team to the headquarters of Christ Embassy. He claims that two years ago when he tried to take photographs of the building, security guards dragged him inside and beat him until he fainted. Soon after he tells this story, security guards drag Rhodes into the building by his belt. He escapes unscathed.
The team visits Dr Fireman. He's busy in a music studio recording a new song as he expands his business into the music industry. Rhodes asks him how he can square his wealth and celebrity status with the teachings and life of Jesus.
Dr Fireman says that God wants him to be rich and denies that Jesus had a humble life. 'Jesus was rich and had an accountant who followed him around,' he tells Rhodes.
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