Aboru, Aboye: Attacks on Africa’s highly tolerant traditional religion

Ogunsakin Mustapha
9 Min Read
Owei Lakemfa

By Owei Lakemfa

The firestorm among some Christian leaders in Western Nigeria over the lyrics of a new song by Gospel artist, Tope Alabi, is in its fourth week.

She had sang in Yoruba that she is “Aboru Aboye” which translates to “I am a sacrifice which God has accepted.” This caused an uproar with some Christian leaders accusing her of introducing traditional religion idolatry into Christianity. They claimed that ‘Aboru Aboye’ is the language of Ifa priests, so she is promoting indigenous religion to the detriment of Christianity.

The charge is led by Funmi Aragabye, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Gospel Musicians Association of Nigeria, GOMAN, who in finding Alabi guilty of heresy declared: “Tope Alabi believes she is above everyone and God… She doesn’t belong to anyone; she is neither here nor there. The current state of the country is why many act the way they do. People take God for granted for being so merciful. Many people today are just worshipping God with their mouths; it doesn’t come from their hearts.”

Aragbaye, popular for her 1990’s hit: ‘Mo Gbo Ipe Olorun (Divine Call) added: “Most people preaching do not know what they are preaching about. They emerged from nowhere onto the scene.”

General Superintendent, Apostle Adeboye Ajakaiye of the Cherubim and Seraphim Church, also joined the fray: “I know the devil twists the things of God for his own use… These days, you can’t distinguish a Christian from the world in all ways, from dressing, talking, use of worldly vibes in Christian songs, dancing, etc.” Tope Alabi has in the last few days risen to her own defence that Yoruba language is used by people of all faith.

Just as Hosea said: “My people perish from lack of knowledge”(Hosea 4:6), so are those attacking Alabi lacking in the basic knowledge that all peoples have their own cultures and religions. So, when new religions come or rise, they usually borrow from the local language. For instance, the Hebrews called God Yahweh, Elohim, Adonai, Tzevaot, Shaddai, while the Romans Latinized Yahweh as Jehovah. All these have found their way into Christianity. The Izon call God Oyin, among other names. The Hausas call him Ubangiji, while the Igbo call him Chineke (Creator of the Universe), Chukwu or Olisa.

The Yorubas call the Almighty by various indigenous names but the most popular being Olorun (Owner of the universe) and Olodumare. Odu, means pot and mare means inexhaustible. Noted philosopher, Professor Sophie Oluwole explained that Olodumare, which Yorubas irrespective of religious inclinations call God, literally means: “the man who has the pot that is not exhaustible. In English, it means Almighty; everything is within it.”

So, why would the religious leaders who condemn Alabi, accept Olodumare but reject Aboru Aboye when it is the same Yoruba language?

Ironically, Evangelist Tope Alabi is no different from her traducers; she is no less a fanatic. When in 2021, rising gospel artist, Adeyinka Alaseyori, released a hit song ‘Oniduro Mi’, meaning that the Almighty is my Guarantor who never fails, Tope Alabi roundly condemned her for alleged unChristian conduct.

In claiming divine inspiration, Alabi attacked the young artist: “God is beyond being a guarantor to Man…when we receive heavenly inspiration to sing, there are some deliberations we must have with the Holy Spirit before we can bring out such a song. If we keep singing the gospel just as the Spirit-inspired, there is the possibility that we all will be singing absurdly. As gospel singers, God has given us the brain to digest, chew, and fully comprehend the inspiration given to us before we bring it to life.”

Those sitting in judgement over Tope Alabi, and she sitting in judgement over others, remind me of the admonition in the Gospel of Matthew: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the log in your own eye…You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7: 1-5)

It is instructive that while indigenous African religions have a very high level of tolerance and appreciation of other peoples’ faith, the same cannot be said of the main religions.

For instance, Yeye Ajesikemi Olokun Olatunji, who despite being a devotee of Aje Olokun, is helping to build a mosque in Ilorin, has decided to cancel the traditional Isese Festival slated from July 22 to 24, 2023 because some Muslim leaders object to holding the festival.

Although a lot of money has been spent on the preparations, guests around the country and abroad invited, and she has the constitutional and human right to practise her faith, she said: “I cancelled the celebration because I don’t want any crisis; I don’t want people to see me as a troublemaker and I don’t want people to label me as having caused a religious crisis in Ilorin.”

Explaining the tenets of her religion, she said: “God has shown each individual what they will do to succeed and enter paradise…God knows the heart of every human being and it depends on your mind and communication with your Creator. I know that God answers prayers; it depends on how you pray to Him.”

In this, she is showing a deep understanding of faith, tolerance, a high sense of civility and gumption, and a superiority of position. As the Yorubas say: your character is what portrays your religion.

While some religious adherents try to impose their faith on other people and even incinerate human beings for alleged religious infractions, others show good examples. Perhaps the most tolerant and even handed political leader in the country today is the immediate past Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola. In his eight years as Osun State Governor, he elevated the indigenous religion to the same pedestal as Islam and Christianity.

At state functions, prayers were offered in the three religions, and he attended the main indigenous religious festivals in the state, including the Osun-Oshogbo, the Iwude Ijesha and the Olojo Festival in Ile-Ife. His administration also introduced a public holiday, the ‘Isese Day’ for adherents of indigenous religion. So, we do not lack good examples. Like Chinua Achebe wrote in Things Fall Apart: “You will have what is good for you and I will have what is good for me. Let the kite perch and let the eagle perch too. If one says no to the other, let his wing break.”

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