By Bukola AYENI
A musician-turned-preacher Chris Okotie misled Nigerians in July 2020 on the side effects of COVID-19 vaccine, saying that those who received it would acquire the blood-sucking attributes of a vampire.
In a video interview published on July 12, 2020 on YouTube, which has been viewed over 375,000 times, Okotie described COVID-19 vaccine as satanic. Okotie, a former presidential aspirant in Nigeria, has made several false claims and comments since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
He said, “What Bill Gates is doing under the auspices of the United Nations is to make sure that you receive the Food, the GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). When you eat that Genetically Modified Food that you eat and you take the vaccine, you have entered into communion with Satan, Lucifer. And that communion involves blood.
“Now, since the blood of Jesus is not what he is talking about, or what he has to offer, he will require you to seek blood somewhere else. And the only place where you can find blood is in another human being. So one of the things that the vaccine will make you do is to become a vampire who needs to drink blood for sustenance.
“But we, as Christians, we don’t drink the blood, we drink wine; which is an emblem of the blood and that sustains us spiritually. But his communion will require you drinking blood consistently so that you are a vampire for your sustenance.”
In August 2020 via WhatsApp broadcast, he instructed his members not to wear face masks, arguing thus: “When a man is standing before God in church wearing a shield or mask, he is denying the finished work of the cross.” This WhatsApp broadcast was a major news story in several newspapers. His instruction came before the COVID-19 vaccine was available in Nigeria.
More preachers peddle similar misleading ‘spiritual’ falsehood about COVID-19 vaccine
David Oyedepo, a bishop who presides over the Living Faith Church Worldwide, while delivering a sermon during the church’s 40th-anniversary service, joined in propagating conspiracy theories around COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria. He said, “Let me warn you against this deadly thing (COVID-19 vaccine) circulated around the country because it has not been duly tested. An elder of this church, who works with the World Health Organisation, confirmed this, thanking me for always speaking the truth about the authenticity of the COVID-19 vaccine. Nobody has the right to enforce vaccination on you, and anybody cannot terminate your employment because you refuse to take the vaccine, my God will show up (for you).
“They wanted Africa dead. I heard them say it. When we did not die as they proposed, they brought out this vaccination scheme. You need to hear their proclamation that Africa will lack spaces to bury corpses. But, today, the reverse is the case. Africa has the least casualty among all the other continents of the world.”
Before the vaccine was made available, the bishop had criticised the government for closing down churches in order to contain the deadly virus, saying that “the voice of darkness is influencing people at various levels, targeting the church because the growth and expansion of the church is the greatest headache of the devil. But the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. The devil and all his agents shall surely pay for this. I don’t know what hospital that records the kind of healing that the church of God records. And now hospitals, where people die every day, are open, but the church is closed because the oppression of the devil has no medical cure.”
Also, Senior Pastor of the Lagos-based LoveWorld Incorporated (also known as Christ Embassy), with an estimated 13 million followers globally, Chris Oyakhilome, has made false claims since the beginning of the pandemic in Nigeria. In a sermon streamed on YouTube with over 12,000 views, he claimed that the introduction of 5G technology was responsible for COVID-19. He also alleged that the COVID-19 vaccine would be used as a vehicle to introduce a ‘new world order’ led by the anti-Christ. This video, which was streamed on April 8th, 2020, has been deleted by YouTube.
The 5G network is a fifth-generation wireless communications technology supporting cellular data networks.
Pastor Chris Oyakhilome sanctioned by British regulator over false COVID-19 claim
The Office of Communications (OFCOM), the British broadcast regulator, sanctioned and prevented LoveWorld Television Network, a television channel founded by Oyakhilome in May 2020, from airing, as a result of the crime of spreading ‘potentially harmful statements’ about the COVID-19 pandemic. The sanction was linked to the 5G network conspiracy which was broadcasted by the LoveWorld’s Television Ministry on Satellite TV around the world.
The false claim that vaccines are linked to the introduction of 5G networks is a global conspiracy theory that is not based on any factual evidence. Indeed many of the countries which have been worst hit have no 5G network, and the idea that there is a link between phone masts and COVID-19 has been widely debunked. Associate Professor in Cellular Microbiology at the University of Reading Simon Clarke noted that 5G network conspiracy was ‘complete rubbish.’ This was reported by BBC.
Religious leaders and pandemics: two parallel lines
Religion and pandemics always go different routes. Previous pandemics have proven that to be true.
An article titled, “’17, ’18, ’19: religion and science in three pandemics, 1817, 1918, and 2019,” written by Howard Philips, published on November 6, 2020 by Cambridge University Press, gave an in-depth analysis of the history of pandemics from a religious perspective. This article addressed the first and second Cholera pandemics of between 1817 and the 1830s, the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918–19, and COVID-19 in relation to religious responses.
The Cholera pandemic of 1817 was also misinterpreted by preachers of that era. In the article, Philips said, “Both the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church interpreted the cholera pandemic as an instrument of divine punishment for human misconduct. Prayers and sentiments of contrition and penance were urgently required to propitiate an offended God, proclaimed a Catholic priest in England, while French bishops spoke of it as a visitation from a God ‘justly irritated by our sins.’’
One hundred and one years later, there was the great pandemic of the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919. “Most religions and a number of Africans still look up to the possibilities of offending their God,” the report further said.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has its fair share of religious interpretations and conspiracy theories as has been seen in preceding paragraphs.
Influence of Nigerian religious leaders on followers
Religious leaders hold a powerful influence on people as they shape their opinions and perspectives of life. Nigerians are heavily religious. In a survey conducted by BBC in 2004, Nigeria was touted the most religious country in the world.
Nigeria scored 100 per cent for people that were “willing to die for their God or their beliefs.”
Pew Research Centre survey titled, ‘The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050,’ showed that there were 46.9 per cent Christians, 51.1 per cent Muslims and 2 per cent adherents of religions in Nigeria. These two surveys show that Nigerians are heavily religious and these further prove that religious leaders have more influence on the people compared to political and traditional leaders, analysts say.
Many Nigerians would listen and believe the words of their religious leaders than those of political leaders due to the lack of trust between the people and politicians. It has been known for generations that both religious and traditional leaders are highly respected and are held in high regards by their followers or communities because the people hold religion in high regards.
Another reason why religious leaders hold a high amount of power and influence is that as of 2020, Nigeria had 99.05 million internet users. The internet penetration amounted to 46.6 per cent of the population in 2020. Nigeria’s population is approximately 200 million, which means over 100 million Nigerians do not have access to the internet yet to source or verify information for themselves. This balance includes all age ranges, analysts say.
The good news is that Nigeria’s internet penetration is projected to grow by 63 per cent in 2025, so people could source or verify information for themselves.
It is obvious that NGOs and government agencies recognise the power and influence that religious leaders have on the people and that explains why there are provisions for carrying them along in influencing people’s behaviour and acceptance towards the vaccine.
UN, WHO, engage religious leaders on COVID-19
The United Nations (UN) and its relevant agencies, in their effort to accelerate the containment of the COVID-19 pandemic, introduced a resource repository template for faith-based organisations and faith leaders entitled, ‘Faith and COVID-19; Resource Repository.’
The World Health Organization (WHO) also did something similar. On the 7th of April, 2020, it equally launched the global faith strategy for COVID-19 pandemic entitled, ‘Practical Considerations and Recommendation for Religious Leaders and Faith-based communities in the context of COVID-19.’ The aim of providing these practical guidelines is to carry religious leaders in the fight against the pandemic along.
The UN, WHO and other agencies make provisions to partner with religious leaders, yet some very influential religious leaders are not making the fight against COVID-19 easy for the agencies, government and, most importantly, the people. Instead, they spread misinformation, disinformation and conspiracy theories.
‘Preachers should desist from spreading false information about COVID-19 vaccine’
A former President of Nigeria Academy of Sciences, a renowned virologist and Christian adherent Professor Oyewale Tomori said claims by preachers that COVID-19 could change people into beasts were unfounded in the Bible. He said, “They should desist from spreading such rumours and lies. They should remember what the Bible says about lies and liars in John 8 verse 44: ‘You’re of your father, the devil, and all you want to do is to please him. He was a killer from the very start. He couldn’t stand the truth because there wasn’t a shred of truth in him. When the liar speaks, he makes it up out of his lying nature and fills the world with lies.
“There is also a provision for where liars shall end up in Revelation 21 verse 8: ‘But as for the cowards and unbelieving and abominable (who are devoid of character and personal integrity and practice or tolerate immorality), and murderers, and sorcerers [with intoxicating drugs], and idolaters and occultists [who practice and teach false religions], and all the liars [who knowingly deceive and twist truth], their part will be in the lake that blazes with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
He called on Nigerian Christians to check everything they heard before believing them, quoting another scripture, John 1: 4 verse 1: “Do not believe every spirit, but try the spirit if it is of God, because there are many false prophets.”
Preachers wrong, millions of Nigerians vaccinated
No Nigerian who has received COVID-19 vaccine has turned into a vampire, contrary to the unfounded spiritual alarm raised by Pastor Chris Okotie. Not heeding the false warnings, Nigerians have trooped to vaccination centres for COVID-19 vaccines.
As of June 27, 2021, “2,241,662 eligible Nigerians have been vaccinated with the first dose while 1,155,810 of Nigerians vaccinated with the first dose have collected their second dose,” according to the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA). Those that took the second dose represent 57.4 per cent of the total number of people that took the first dose.
Nigeria is awaiting a second shipment of almost 4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines by August and has plans to continue giving out first doses, which was paused to reserve its supply for second doses.
This publication was produced as part of IWPR’s Africa Resilience Network (ARN) programme in partnership with the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) and the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR), and Africa Uncensored.