Scores of protesters yesterday stormed the Commonwealth of Zion Assembly (COZA) in Lagos and Abuja, asking the Senior Pastor, Biodun Fatoyinbo, who is facing a rape allegation, to step down.
Celebrity photographer Mrs. Busola Dakolo has accused the pastor of raping her when she was 16 in Oyo State.
This is not the first time Fatoyinbo has been accused of alleged sexual assault by his former congregants, but Mrs. Dakolo’s horrific details in a video sparked public outrage, with many on the social media demanding that the pastor step aside for an unbiased investigation.
The protest was organised by a group, #StandToEndRape.
There were carefully orchestrated moves at the church’s headquarters in Abuja by members during an unusually brief service to celebrate the embattled pastor.
The church cancelled invitations for some popular clerics to attend its “Seven Days of Glory” fasting and prayer programme scheduled to run from July 1 to 7.
Spotting a flowery shirt and supported by his wife Modele, Fatoyinbo announced the cancellation, which was streamed live, stressing that he would not “like to put invited guests through the sort of thing that was happening outside”.
He urged members to remain prayerful, reminding them that COZA is a praying church and they just finished a month programme in May. Fatoyinbo also stopped his wife while she was clearing him of rape allegations saying “the elders were handling it”.
In Lagos, protesters carried placards with inscriptions, such as “Your … is not above the law; “Tell the rapist” “Jesus wasn’t a rapist”; “Jesus is not a rapist; Hold your pastors accountable”; “Protect your daughters”; “No to rape, arrest him”; “Step aside Biodun Fatoyinbo”; “We want justice”; “I stand with Busola Dakolo and other victims”.
They blocked the Mobolaji Bank-Anthony Way entrance to the church, booing worshippers. They also sang songs, such as “There is a rapist in COZA bring him out!! There is a rapist in COZA jail him”.
Policemen and officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA) admonished the protesters to stay peaceful and avoid assaulting passersby.
According to one of the organisers of the protest, Wurola Abulatan, they initially planned to converge at a nearby plaza before marching on the church, but the church allegedly told owners of the said plaza not to allow them.
She said she and five friends of her intiatied the idea in a closed group chat and then decided to make it public with their numbers written on the messages for people to contact them.
“We received threat calls from the church members that they were waiting for us. Maybe, they thought we will be scared but it didn’t work. By the time we shared the message on social media, a lot of people indicated interest to take part in the protest and fortunately, some NGOs were also protesting. So, what you see here is a coalition.
“We are doing this because rape victims deserve justice. They have to be heard. Gone are the days when rape victims are ashamed to speak up. I was a victim but I am now a survivor. I am not ashamed to speak out. Instead, the shame goes to the rapist and not the survivor.
“We also want the church members to know that keeping quiet is enabling rapists. They have to speak up and condemn this action. They should demand for investigation and, if the pastor is found guilty, he should pay for his crime. It doesn’t make them bad Christians to condemn a wrongdoing or to even ask critical questions. Why the senior pastor all the time?
“We are impressed at the turnout. We didn’t expect to see this massive crowd here today. It shows that Nigerians are united in condemning rape. It is a heinous crime and should never be condoned,” she said.
A blogger, Ebiwali, said she joined the protest because her eight-year-old sister was a victim.
She said she only knew about the action when she called to admonish her teenage sister after watching Mrs. Dakolo’s video, only to be told the much younger girl was serially raped by a 46-year-old family friend.
She said: “I am here specifically for my younger sister, an eight-year-old. I found out that she was raped brutally through Busola Dakolo’s story. I was having a conversation with my younger sister then she told me how our last born was having foul smell like an elderly woman.
“I called my mum and upon probing, the little girl told us how the man has been sleeping with her. She was rushed to the hospital and we were asked to go and get a police report (referral).
Once we got to the police station, they gave us and we went back and they checked her and discovered she had been raped mercilessly in about six months by the family friend … and no one knew about it.
“When they opened her private part, she was having this smell of a dead foul and it was terrible. The doctor said she was rotting from inside, that if we had brought her a little later, it would have been another thing entirely. She was always falling sick. Sometimes her stomach will be big.
“This guy was raping her everytime and he warned her not to tell anyone, else he would kill her. So, imagine if it is not for this Busola Dakolo’s story, I would not have heard about it. It was this incident that prompted me to have a discussion with my younger sisters and try to advise them.
“So, I am here because rape is wrong. If the pastor of COZA knows he is not guilty he should go to court and prove himself. He is supposed to be preaching for people to be saints but here you are a suspect.
I cannot stay at home.
“Biodun Fatoyinbo should stepdown. Jesus did not rape, so we have every right to judge him because he has raped.”
Another woman, Lola Shoneye, said the demand of the protesters that the allegation against Fatoyinbo be investigated and that he should step aside should not be taken lightly, urging COZA members to demand that the right thing is done.
“The police have been wonderful here. We have not in any way been mistreated or manhandled. What they have insisted on is that we are peaceful and that the members of the church going in and out are not harrased or physically assaulted, which we all agree with.
“We use our voices to talk to them. All protesters are saying is that Biodun Fatoyinbo should step down and not be a pastor of COZA, at least until this whole thing clears. I think that is a recognition of the fact that Biodun Fatoyinbo is an alleged rapist does not mean the entire congregration are rapists.
“It is true that many of them might be unaware of this scandal, but with the protest they now know and there is an expectation that something so horrible should be condemned. I came here on my own after reading about the protest on social media.
“I know that people are really angry and there is a way in which if you are aware that something like this has happened and keep quiet, then, you are an enabler. I am here to add my voice to speak to the members of the church. I am telling them to be cautious, to protect themselves, their children and their wives.”
The protest, which began at about 8:30am, ended around 12:30pm with participants chorusing a loud “amen” to prayers that all rapists become impotent.
In Abuja, there were skirmishes during a protest tagged #ChruchToo and #PastorStepDown after security operatives wearing military camouflages and Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) uniforms, Department of State Services (DSS) and a few hooded men with Strike Force Jackets prevented protesters from advancing closer to the church.
There was also a group protesting in support of the pastor and the church.
Videos posted on social media by protesters on the incident attracted further conversations on the issue with Nigerians condemning the human barricade by COZA members in Abuja as well as the assault.
An unusual church service
Church service began with songs of victory, with the choir singing: “I see it, I feel it, testimony’s all around, I’m in the middle of it” with loud support by congregants.
At 10:21, Pastor Omodele Fatoyinbo walked up to the altar, welcomed with tumultuous shouts of joy and clapping.
“Right in the middle of what God is doing, that is where we are!” she said, telling worshippers not to give any thought to the “enemy”.
“You better be sensitive. Some will receive their testimony today, an exquisitely dressed Pastor Omodele stated before leading the entire church in recital of 2 Samuel chapter 22, verses 1- 7.
At exactly 10:34, an extremely rapturous welcome ushered Pastor Fatoyinbo to the altar. He spoke for six minutes, following which he blessed the church and twice moved to stop his wife from making further comments as service ended.
Just before then, his wife said: “Not even as an unbeliever would my husband rape anyone.”
Several testimonies, including that of Mr. Sodipo Jacob whose fees were miraculously paid at the University of Abuja; Alford Mapeyo, who miraculously got healing and sweated out a disease after attending a COZA service featured.
Then, as if in direct response to Mrs. Dakolo, who made rape allegations against Pastor Fatoyinbo, eight women in their 30s, mostly clad in tight jeans, came one after another, to speak on the ‘COZA TESTIMONY’.
Using various perspectives, all off them narrated how the singular experience of starting to attend COZA between 2003 and 2013 catapulted them from obscurity to directorship of companies, ownership of businesses and having a great marital life.
SERAP condemns arbitrary arrest of protesters
A right group, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has condemned the harassment, repression and arbitrary arrests by law enforcement and security agents of anti-rape activists protesting outside COZA in Abuja.
A statement by SERAP Deputy Director Kolawole Oluwadare said: “The Nigerian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release all those detained and allow them to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
“It’s ridiculous and unfair that the Nigerian authorities are arresting peaceful protesters demanding justice for alleged rape rather than going after the suspected perpetrator.
“The Nigerian authorities should immediately establish an independent commission to investigate alleged excessive use of force by law enforcement and security agents at COZA headquarters and bring to justice anyone found to be responsible.
“While law enforcement and security agents have a responsibility to provide public security, they need to abide by human rights standards on the use of force. The allegation of use of excessive force against peaceful protesters demanding justice for alleged rape against a popular pastor urgently demands a fully independent investigation.”