- CAN wades in, ‘condemns any case of rape in strong terms’
A coalition of women rights activists campaigning under the hashtag #ChurchToo Movement, have disclosed a plan to peacefully march today in Abuja and Lagos to call for the prosecution of the Founder of Commonwealth of Zion Assembly (COZA), Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo, for alleged rape. The movement also expressed disappointment at the failure of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) to promptly speak up against the serial rape allegations different victims had levelled against the COZA pastor.
But CAN last night vowed to get to the root of the trending allegation of rape made by wife of a popular artist, Bisola Dakolo, against Fatoyinbo of the Abuja-based COZA. In a statement issued by the Special Assistant to the CAN President on Media and Communication, Pastor Adebayo Oladeji, the umbrella Christian association said it condemned cases of rape, no matter who was involved.
Mrs. Dakolo had alleged in a video interview that went viral that the pastor serially raped her when she was attending his church as a teenage in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital.
A popular photographer, Mrs. Dakolo had narrated how the COZA pastor allegedly abused and raped her first in her parents’ residence at the age of 16, shortly after she repented of her sins and surrendered her life to Jesus Christ. After surrendering her life to the lordship of Jesus Christ in his Ilorin church, Mrs. Dakolo, now wife of music star, Timi Dakolo, alleged that Fatoyinbo had hidden under the guise of being her pastor, which gave him unfettered access to her parents’ house. She shared her experience in a 25-minute interview with RED Media Group, where she disclosed that the pastor, who was visiting her regularly to counsel her, took advantage of her when her parents and siblings were not at home.
The scandal has attracted public outrage, especially on social media, with many calling for the arrest and prosecution of the pastor.
However, the COZA pastor has in a statement denied the allegation, claiming that he never had any private interaction with the victim and threatening to institute a lawsuit against his accusers.
But in separate telephone interviews with THISDAY yesterday, two of the conveners of #ChurchToo Movement, Mrs. Bukola Shonibare and Mrs. Jennifer Okojie, confirmed the planned protest, which they said was designed “to say enough is enough.”
Shonibare lamented that members and former members of COZA had accused the pastor of sexual abuse.
Apart from the protest scheduled to hold in Abuja and Lagos today, the convener also disclosed that the movement had resolved “to march to the National Christian Centre (NCC) because that is where the headquarters of CAN is.”
She said CAN and PFN ought to have constituted a disciplinary committee to curb people like Fatoyinbo.
Shonibare equally said the movement would march “to the Force Headquarters because that is the executive arm that should ensure prosecution of the rape suspect.
“We then march to the Ministry of Justice to ensure that justice is done and that this issue must not be swept under the carpet. If we deem it necessary, we go to the National Assembly. These are steps we have slated for the next one week.”
Shonibare, who is also the founder of Girl Child Africa, explained that the mission of the movement was tied to the recent allegation of sexual abuse the popular photographer and other victims brought against the senior pastor of the church. She said in 2013, another member of the church had come up with a similar allegation against Fatoyinbo, adding that there “have been a lot of stories where members or former members of the church have come out and accused the pastor of sexual abuse.”
She, however, said it “is not just in COZA that this is happening. There are several churches, where men placed in position of authority have taken advantage of their subjects. For us, we are saying one key thing that enough is enough.
“From the stories that have been coming out, it shows a particular pattern of abuse of one taking advantage of position. If we allow this to continue without ensuring that Fatoyinbo and other pastors involved in this act are held accountable, that means we are setting up our children, girls and women for abuse.
“We believe that responsibility must be placed where it belongs. We want to raise awareness about this act of Pastor Fatoyinbo and other pastors involved to know that Nigerians are now watching. We will not keep quiet. We also want the Church to take a decision regarding the fact that there have been allegations.”
Shonibare called for accountability in the church, challenging the church “to do the necessary things to protect the vulnerable. If you listen to Busola Dakolo’s account, she was a minor when this alleged rape happened.
“There are several stories that are coming out. People placed in the position of authority, especially the leadership of the Church, must be held accountable.
“The church leadership must make sure such people steps down until proper investigation is down so that the victims can be protected, and we can ensure that such thing does not repeat itself.”
In a similar vein, Okojie confirmed the planned protest in Abuja and Lagos, saying there “are other victims, who are willing to share their own stories.”
She said, “What we are doing is to fight for people, who have been abused by religious leaders over the country. Because we have a lot stories about Fatoyinbo, we decided to talk about it because the church has not addressed the issue.
“We are tired of hearing cases of religious leaders abusing and harassing their members. We have formally informed the Nigeria Police about the protest that we have slated for Sunday. Our protest is majorly about the COZA pastor. But pastors in other churches are committing this sacrilegious crime against minor.”
But CAN said last night, “CAN, as a body, condemns any case of rape in strong terms, it doesn’t matter who is involved. It is ungodly, wicked and reprehensible.
“However, on the allegations against Pastor Tolu Fatoyinbo, we have no details about the matter other than what we are reading and hearing from the social media, and this is not reliable and credible evidence.”
The statement said the CAN leadership had reached out to the leadership of the bloc, which the pastor in question belongs to with a view to getting to the root of the matter.
“This will help us to make the right decision on the issue,” it said.