By Korede Abdullah
The word “ritualist” conjures up palpable fear and terror in the minds of Nigerians. In fact, referring to someone as a ritualist sends jitters down the spines of anyone around. The reason is not far-fetched, those who are called ritualists in this part of the world are pure criminals who perpetrate all manners of criminal activities like murdering innocent people, using religious subterfuge to hoodwink the gullible ones and so on and so forth. Surprisingly, it appears that perhaps Nigeria is the only country in the whole world where the word “ritualist” is used negatively or where it connotes a derogatory meaning.
What’s the meaning of “ritualist”? The word is formed from “ritual” which in itself does not connote a negative term. According to the dictionary meaning, ritual may either be used as an adjective or a noun. If it is used as a noun, then it is synonymous with ‘rite’. Rite or ritual is a religious or solemn ceremony or practice consisting of a series of actions performed repetitively or at intervals according to a prescribed rule, form or order.
As defined above, does the word “ritual” suggest anything negative or sinister? No! Therefore, a ritualist is someone skilled in rituals, that is, someone who is excessively concerned with religious repetitive solemn ceremonies. It will Interest the readers to know that it’s not only traditional religious adherents in Nigeria that are engaged in rituals. Muslims and Christians also do rituals. Muslim five daily prayers is a ritual. Performing ablution before going to mosque for prayers is a ritual. Going to Hajj and and performing all the other pilgrimage obligations is a ritual. Christians also have their own rituals which they carry out on members of the faith, just like Muslims.
From the above, it is safe to conclude that how the word “ritualist” evolved as a derogatory term is of Nigerian coinage, especially from the media (both mass media and social media). A criminal who kills an innocent person whether albino or hunchback with the belief that it would fetch him some spiritual easy money is known as a ritualist here in Nigeria contrary to its positive meaning. Any man who utters or mumbles some esoteric language or is engaged in some metaphysical practice to gain an undue advantage for himself is called a ritualist in Nigeria. Whether we like it or not, ritualist, just like many other English words coined by Nigerians has come stay.
*Korede Abdullah is a lawyer, writer and public affairs analyst