How Young Nigerians Are Fighting Against Sexual Assault in the Church

Young people came out in droves calling for justice and resignation of the alleged rapist, Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo. Photo Credit: ChurchToo movement.

On a drizzling Sunday morning, Nelo Monago, a 23-year-old entrepreneur missed church service to join a pack of young Nigerians angered by a series of rape allegations levied against Biodun Fatoyinbo, a popular Nigeria pastor.

Two days earlier, celebrity photographer Busola Dakolo said in an interview that pastor Fatoyinbo raped her as a teenager. Fatoyinbo denied the allegation saying: “I have never in my life raped anybody even as an unbeliever and I am innocent of this.”

The response to the news was quick and wild. Hundreds of tweets were shared but a tweet calling for a protest against the alleged serial rapist got Monago’s attention.

“I knew I was going to join the protest the moment I saw [the tweet],” said Monago. “Something has to be done even if it’s as little as coming out to protest.”

Draped in a white round neck shirt, black jean trouser, and a pair of sneakers, Monago matched words with actions and joined other young Nigerians to protest against the accused pastor’s church auditorium, Common Wealth of Zion Assembly (COZA), located in the heart of Nigeria’s commercial city of Lagos.

Amid drizzle, the protest started featuring young Nigerians, mostly Christians dressed in a uniform white shirt like Monago’s. They spilled across both sides of a major road reducing traffic almost to a snarl. To avoid protesters from gaining entrance into the church, COZA beckoned on the Nigerian police who gated the church entrance, a common strategy mostly deployed by authorities to intimidate protesters in Nigeria. But the protesters, undeterred, defied police on standby, chanting and hoisting placards, some of which read: “Pastor Step down”; “Say no to rape in the church.” Monago’s reads: “By attending COZA you are enabling rape.”

Incessant sexual scandal

Originated from the global #MeToo movement against sexual harassment, Nigeria’s #ChurchToo moment was inspired by incessant sexual assaults perpetrated by the clergy. While the country still contends with a slow and corrupt justice system that encourage sexual predators — church leaders, have been mired in series of rape accusations.

While a few have been persecuted or jailed, many, especially the rich and powerful, have been left off the hook — courtesy of a justice system that also favors and shields powerful authorities. The delayed persecution of Rev. King, a popular Nigeria pastor sentenced to death by hanging for sexually abusing and killing church members comes to mind. Twelve years on, the pastor is still in jail and has reportedly received clemency.

In Nigeria, one in four girls experience sexual violence by age 18 and they hardly receive any form of support, UNICEF says. The perpetrators, according to UNICEF’s Nigeria Violence Against Children Survey, are typically someone the child is familiar with and the violence often takes place where the child should be safe such as their homes or at school. The vast majority of children never speak out, silenced by fear, shame, stigma and a lack of knowledge of where to seek help, the survey adds.

Dakolo’s story mirrors the reality in this survey; a teenager whose trust was betrayed by Pastor Fatoyinbo a spiritual father to the celebrity photographer 20 years ago. Dakolo claims the pastor visited her family home when her mother traveled and raped her in the living room. Known for his flamboyant lifestyle, Pastor Fatoyinbo nicknamed “ Gucci Pastor” runs COZA, one of the biggest and fastest-growing churches in Nigeria.

Ironically, the pastor has been mired in sexual controversies for the past 10 years. In 2013, a female church member, Ese Walter claims she had a week-long sexual affair with the pastor claiming she felt “abused and manipulated” by Fatoyinbo. He didn’t respond to the allegation. And his deafening silence to Walter’s confession seven years ago galvanized youth into the streets in protest.

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Source: Sojourners