Following the rape allegation leveled against the founder of Commonwealth of Zion Assembly (COZA), Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo, by a popular musician, Timi Dakolo’s wife, Mrs. Busola Dakolo, human rights groups and other Nigerians yesterday took protest to the church headquarters in Abuja and its worship centre in Lagos to call for the resignation of the clergy man, pending the determination of the case by a competent court.
However, the Federal Capital Territory Police Command said it was yet to receive any formal complaint against Fatoyinbo.
But as early as 7a.m. yesterday, protesters had already arrived at the church premises in Abuja carrying several placards with different inscriptions to send in their messages and demands to the public.
It was gathered that before their arrival, heavy security presence including that of men from the Department of State Security Services (DSS) and men from the Nigerian Police Force, had been stationed at the front of the church premises as the church’s protocol officers in a chained hands formed a barricade around the Abuja church, to prevent the protestants from gaining entrance into the church premises.
In Lagos, only few security operatives were available as the protesters took turns to scream for the removal of Fatoyinbo through public address system.
There were altercations between the protesters and security operatives, as a result of uncivil behaviour of some of the operatives, who were accused of manhandling them.
Some of the inscriptions written on the placards are: “Rape is not a gift from God,” “Pastor step down. No to rape,” “The altar of God needs sanctification,” “I stand with Busola Dakolo.”
Tension gripped the entire Guzape Hill neighbourhood, Abuja, as different activist groups made up of youths, including the #ChurchTooMovement, laid siege to COZA as early as 8 a.m. and blocked the access road leading to the church, from the NNPC filling station.
One of the conveners of #BringBackOurGirls, Aisha Yesufu, was among the crowd of protesters, clad in white t-shirts and touting different placards outside the church premises. Their placards were inscribed with stirring messages like ‘Thou shall not rape,’ ‘No to sexual abuse in my church’ among others.
Trouble, however, ensued after they were pushed back by policemen, officers of the DSS and some thugs, allegedly hired by the church, shortly after they started to march to the church building along Nasir el-Rufai Road.
The heavily armed policemen were brought to the church in about eight patrol vehicles. They prevented the protesters from marching into the church.
While the members of the ChurchTooMovement were protesting, some church members, workers and street urchins in tattered garbs, appeared from the opposing direction with their own placards, in solidarity with the embattled pastor.
One of the #ChurchTooMovement conveners, Ms. Bukola Shonibare, told that the allegation of rape against the pastor was too strong and enough for him to step down and allow for proper inquisition.
Shonibare condemned the rising incidences of sexual abuse against women in the country.
She also vowed that they would ensure that Dakolo gets a closure against the pastor by protesting at the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, Inspector General of Police and all relevant federal authorities.
She also charged the Board and leadership of COZA to immediately investigate the allegation leveled against the pastor, who must in addition step down from the pulpit to allow a thorough investigation.
She also tasked the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) and other relevant Christian bodies to wade into the matter.
“Allegations of human rights violations, especially sexual abuses, have become prevalent in the church today. The pattern and repetitiveness of these allegations is worrisome, one that calls for urgent and immediate action. We believe that leaders in positions of authority must be subjected to scrutiny and accountability and desist from taking advantage of their positions of influence and power over their members, which often causes unquantifiable and sometimes, irredeemable damages to the victims,” Shonibare said.
The social media was likewise not spared, as the protest sparked up several debates and counter opinions on Twitter and Instagram. One of the respondents with the username,@ayosoginro said, “For all those who think the energy of #COZA should be directed to politics, this is politics. The oppression of women is a part of the systems of oppression that ultimately end in the oppression of the whole country. There will be no political change without social change. Too many educated derelicts among us who just went to school but don’t think. And there’s a growing number who didn’t but because they make money they assume they are knowledgeable.”
Another user, @donsidink said, “Seriously, I’m disappointed in most people on this case. I get to learn brain is scarce and understand the main reason why the politicians kept deceiving us every time is because we have lot of fools than the brave ones in this country. So, he’s guilty by your standards but not innocent by his members’.
Busola have her side of the story and the pastor said his. You have chosen to believe Busola’s story which is your right but COZA members can’t believe their pastor because it negates your truth. Think again.”
There was also a counter protest organised by the church in solidarity with the embattled pastor.
But while the protest was going on, the church, conducted a session of testimonies that featured some female members who attested to how they had benefited from the church under Fatoyinbo’s leadership.
They said they had witnessed dramatic improvements in their lives since they started worshipping in the church.
Fatoyinbo later addressed worshippers during which he announced the suspension of the church’s yearly programme of fasting for seven days. The programme was initially billed to start from today.
He said he had to suspend the special programme titled, ‘Seven Days of Glory’ that usually takes place from July 1 to July 7, to avoid protesters from embarrassing invited preachers.
He said: “We will have prayers for those who are interested in coming but we are not going to have the seven days of glory. It has been suspended because I don’t want all those kind of stuff.
“So, if you want to pray, come but the regular seven days of prayer, having preachers, come in, you don’t want to put your guest speakers through that. We love to host people properly.”
As he spoke, the worshippers interrupted his speech with chants of ‘We love you pastor.’
“As we start our fasting, even though we are not doing the seven days of glory (programme) as we usually do, those of you who are led to come and pray here, as you come, the Lord will lift you up,” he stated.
He also got a morale booster from his wife, Modele, who dismissed allegation of rape against her husband.
She said: “Not even as an unbeliever would my husband rape someone. Hello, let me talk, please, not even as an unbeliever.”
But her husband interrupted her speech and said: “The elders are stepping into it, please let them handle it,” in an apparent reference to the allegation.
Meanwhile, the FCT Police Command said it was yet to receive any formal complaint against the pastor.
Operatives of the Department of State Security Service (DSS) and Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) had Saturday cordoned off the church premises to a avert any breakdown of law and order.
Bukola, wife of popular musician, Timi Dakolo, had accused the COZA pastor of defiling her.
Fatoyinbo has since denied the allegations, saying he never raped anybody even as an unbeliever.
But Dakolo had alleged that the pastor raped her severally at age 16, exploiting his relationship with her parents who were members of the church.
She further alleged that the pastor had told her after the rape incident that she should be happy that “a man of God did this to you.”
Dakolo’s revelation had triggered protests by different groups asking the pastor to step down.
Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) also condemned the incident saying it was “ungodly, wicked and reprehensible.”
But in a chat with THISDAY, the Commissioner of Police, FCT Command, Mr. Bala Ciroma, said as at yesterday, he was yet to receive any formal complaint against the COZA pastor.
“I wouldn’t know if they have written. This is weekend and offices are closed. I don’t know if they have reported to any of my divisions. As at today (yesterday), we are yet to receive any formal complaint,” he said.
The CP said if a complaint is received, the command would look at “the merits and demerits” of the case.
“We should be able to tell the truth of what we have seen. It is normal; that is the routine. If there is a formal complaint, we will look into it,” he said
SERAP Condemns Arbitrary Arrest of Protesters
Meanwhile, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has strongly condemned the harassment, repression and arbitrary arrests by Nigerian law enforcement and security agents of anti-rape activists, who have been peacefully protesting today outside the Commonwealth of Zion Assembly (COZA), Abuja.
In a statement by SERAP Deputy Director, Mr. Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization 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