Meanwhile, inside the church, thousands of the Commonwealth of Zion Assembly (COZA) followers continued chanting songs of worship.
Over the past six years, allegations of rape and sexual abuse have plagued Biodun Fatoyinbo, the charismatic clergyman and head of the COZA.
- In 2013, lawyer and media personality Ese Walter blogged about how he had manipulated her into a sexual relationship. Fatoyinbo and his church all but ignored the matter, except for a brief promise during one of his sermons about “a robust reply soon”. That reply never came.
- Similar allegations have also been ignored, and the church continued to expand. It opened a branch in Dubai. In 2016, the church threw an all-white birthday party on a yacht for the flamboyant Fatoyinbo, who often shows off his fleet of sports cars and superbikes on Instagram.
Things reached a crescendo last week when Busola Dakolo, a celebrity photographer, revealed in an emotional altar-side interview that in 2000, he had forced himself on her twice when she was a minor in the central Nigerian city of Ilorin.
The revelations led to nationwide outrage, with the #MeToo and #ChurchToo hashtags trending for hours on Twitter over the weekend. However, hundreds of COZA faithful mounted a defence for the embattled pastor.
- The church responded on social media, claiming that Dakolo and her husband, the famous gospel singer Timi, were blackmailing Fatoyinbo. It threatened to sue them, alongside YNaija, the media platform that interviewed her.
- A group of influencers committed to crowdfunding a legal defence for Dakolo, in the event that the church carried out its threat to sue.
- By Sunday, June 30, many had mobilised outside the Lagos and Abuja branches of the church, with placards. “You cannot pray rape away,” said one.
- Hooded members of the secret police and a branch of the navy engaged with the protesters, as a group of pro-Fatoyinbo protesters —who admitted later that they had been paid to appear—also showed up to proclaim the pastor’s innocence.
- Meanwhile, the Christian Association of Nigeria, said in a statement that it had “reached out to the leadership of the block which the Pastor in question belongs with a view to getting to the root of the matter”.
- Fatoyinbo, bowing to the pressure, has taken a leave of absence from his role as COZA leader. It remains unclear if he or the Dakolos will be filing a lawsuit. His announcement came just as Premium Times newspaper released a report of an imam who had repeatedly raped a 16-year old who turned down his marriage offer.
Why this matters:
Nigeria has previously been untouched by the global wave of #MeToo revelations. Then, in February, two young women from Northern Nigeria began the #ArewaMeToo campaign to expose gender-based violence mostly against young women in their part of the country.
Analysts and civil rights campaigners have stated that Nigeria has a thriving rape culture, especially within religious circles. The #ChurchToo campaign could eventually be the key that unlocks many hidden doors.
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