TUESDAY WITH REUBEN ABATI
COZA is the acronym of a church in Abuja, Nigeria, known as the Commonwealth of Zion Assembly. It is one of those Pentecostal churches that dot every street of Nigeria where the Pastors claim to have a direct phone line to God, and are majorly regarded by the congregation as the anointed voice and representatives of God on earth. Pentecostalism in Nigeria is almost synonymous with perfection and anointment, a man only needs to claim that he has been called by God, and that he sees visions and can perform miracles, before you know it, he becomes the leader of multitudes and every day, people take their problems to him, to help them intercede with God and bring miracles into their lives. In a country where poverty is a menace, where uncertainty rules, the present is dark, the past is unreachable, and tomorrow is hellish, religion sells.
What the people do not understand, they hand over to God. They hang their lives on the neck of religion. They seek extra-terrestrial, mystical interpretations for the unknown. Pastors, clerics, and spiritualists of all kinds prosper in Nigeria because they are trusted, and they are patronized by the people with all that they have. Members of the congregation refer to them as Daddy, and their wives as Mummy. In some denominations, people subject themselves to all kinds of denigration and depersonalization in the presence of pastors and their wives. It doesn’t matter that many of these churches are either not registered or that the founder/pastor only a few weeks earlier used to be an unemployed graduate or a wandering, lost, disoriented Nigerian also looking for a way to survive the terror of being Nigerian.
Once he calls the name of God and he quotes the Holy Books and lays claims to Nostradamic distinction, a ready crowd immediately surrounds him; lost, troubled souls who are also in search of meaning, they open doors for him, fawn on him, and grant him the stature and the importance that he seeks. But these men and women of God, many of who wield more influence than the Government of Nigeria, and enjoy a celebrity status far beyond the reach of political figures, are not necessarily the saints that they claim to be. Professor Wole Soyinka in a fictive representation: The Trials of Brother Jero and Jero’s Metamorphosis, long before now offered a prophetic and grippingly realistic description of the double-facedness and the contradictory persona of these so-called men of God. The Halleluyah tradition in Nigeria, equaled on the Islamic side by Jihadist fervor, may have rescued many Nigerians from depression and suicide, to the extent that a maniacal devotion to God provides many a reason for living and becoming, relevance and hope, but it is also, whatever its colour, Christian or Muslim, a ready source of many afflictions in Nigeria.
This is an irony that is often played out, to the consternation of the community. There is a prominent church leader in Nigeria (Rev. King) who is today on the death row. He was accused of turning a woman into a sex slave and eventually being the cause of her death. The spiritual father turned killer. The assumed savior as assassin. The biggest irony is that years after his incarceration, members of the man’s church have refused to disband. They have kept the church going. They believe that their boss is going through an equivalent of “The Last Temptation” and that he will return from death’s door-post. This kind of mad devotion to so-called men of God is one of the biggest problems in Nigeria. Each time the bubble bursts, the people reel in disbelief or they resort to anger. They are shocked to discover that the man they regard as saint is not a saint. They call him daddy but he is worse than an animal. They trust him but he is most undeserving. He is at best a flawed being like every one else. In Nigeria, every man of God who falls rises again elsewhere. Religion in Nigeria is at best a scam, or so it seems, in other words a cover for the Nigerian problem and the lack of commitment to a rational solution. This is the problem that bad Christians and bad Muslims have caused.
I have said all of this to provide a thematic context for the unmasking, the “thingification” and the humiliation of the Senior Pastor of the Commonwealth of Zion Assembly (COZA), Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo in the past few days. It is the biggest story in Nigeria at the moment, having made the front pages of newspapers for two days, and the front page of every online tweet and social media in general as a trending story. Senior Pastor Biodun has been dressed in a robe worse than that of the fictive Brother Jero. He has been accused of rape by Mrs Busola Dakolo, wife of Timi Dakolo, one of the most original voices in Nigerian music. In an original and best-scoop-of-the-yearinterview with Chude Jideonwo of YNaija, a good advertisement for the positive side of social media, Mrs Dakolo disclosed that when she was 17, Pastor Fatoyinbo of COZA raped her.
There is no point repeating the details of the encounter, except to note that some commentators and friends of Pastor Fatoyinbo have tried to dig holes in Mrs Dakolo’s narrative. Why didn’t she put up some resistance? Why didn’t she shout? Why did she allow a second encounter? Why did she keep quiet for so long? Why is she just speaking up now after three kids? Is she seeking fame? The man gave her Krest soft drink and she took it? By the way, don’t be surprised if Krest is suddenly revived- it is the biggest marketing beneficiary of the Fatoyinbo rape saga. And is she playing games? Blackmailing a man of God? What we can hold on to however, is the fact that at the time she was allegedly raped, she was 17 years old, and that in itself makes the event a serious crime. It is unlawful to have carnal knowledge of a minor. The age of consent in Nigeria is 18. Pastor Fatoyinbo who has since issued a statement on the matter insists that he has never raped anyone in his life. He is yet to tell us however whether or not he had carnal knowledge of Busola Dakolo at a time she was a minor. That is the question he is yet to address, his wife, Modele’s spirited, I-stand-by-my-husband defence notwithstanding.
For the avoidance of doubt, rape is a serious felony in Nigeria as it is elsewhere. It is despicable. In Popoola v. State, Muntaka Coomasie JSC (as he then was), described the offence as “heinous and heartless”. Sylvester Ngwuta, JSC added that “it should rank next to capital punishment.” Sections 357 and 358 of the Nigerian Criminal Code prescribes imprisonment for life for the offence of rape. The Penal Code of Northern Nigeria is just as strong on the issue. Whereas there are decided cases which uphold the spirit of the extant law on rape in Nigeria, including Upahar v The State, Okoyomon v. The State, Ezigbo v. The State,reporting rape, proving rape and getting justice for rape is one of the most difficult tasks under Nigeria’s criminal justice system. Date rape, spousal rape and acquaintance rape are often very difficult to prove. To start with, there is the cultural stigma of identifying as a rape victim. Many families would not want their daughter to be identified as a rape victim. Who will marry a girl who has been gang raped or who was defiled by an uncle, or has had an early experience of incestuous rape? Families and victims prefer to cover up and suffer in silence.
When it comes to rape, the Nigerian Police is also useless. One of my favourite skits is that of a comedian (Okey Bakassi?) on the reaction of Nigerian policemen to reported date rape. As a rule, the average Nigerian man does not believe that a married man can rape his wife or girlfriend. Something he bought with his money and sweat? Meanwhile, the extant law is unhelpful. To prove rape in a Nigerian court, you must provide evidence. There must be witnesses and “the fact of penetration” beyond the “labia majora” must be proved. This doesn’t make sense. No adult woman will submit herself to the indignity of medical proof that is suggested. And do criminals invite witnesses to the scene of crime? The law defines rape as “Unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman or girl, without her consent, or with her consent, if the consent is obtained by force, or by means of intimidation of any kind, or by fear of harm…”. The law criminalizes male-female relationship. Is it possible for a woman to rape a man? How about lesbian rape? Or gay rape? How about violence in marital sexual relations? Curiously, advocacy on the need to revise the laws on rape and sexual assault in Nigeria has met, consistently with a brick wall.
It is perhaps partly for these reasons that Busola Dakolo’s delay in crying out is understandable and also why her revelations may revive the debate on a necessary review of the extant laws and procedures on rape in Nigeria. Her public outcry has already spawned a #ChurchToo movement in Nigeria, almost exactly after the fashion of the #MeToo movement in the United States. On Sunday, a group of aggrieved Nigerians stormed the Abuja headquarters of the COZA church. They set up barricades and a sit-in. They asked that Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo should be prosecuted. Their minimum demand was that he should step down as Senior Pastor of the Church. The Pastor was protected we are told, by a contingent of church members, the police and the military. Senior Pastor Fatoyinbo reportedly got to the church late and everything was hush-hush, rush-rush on Sunday. His wife took the microphone and defended her husband. The Pastor also defended himself, even if he didn’t offer an apology or an explanation on the relationship between him and the lady in question. He postponed a seven-day church programme and we are told he has stepped aside as Senior Pastor.
This same Pastor was accused of sexual harassment and deceitful sexual encounter in 2013. He responded in the same manner then. He stepped aside briefly and allowed the dust to settle, and he stepped back and life continued. In the saner societies that Nigerians love to reference and emulate, the COZA church would have been empty last Sunday or this Sunday perhaps. But no, that won’t happen. Religion in Nigeria is a special form of mass hypnotism. Most Nigerians worship the cleric, not God. I suspect that Pastor Fatoyinbo and his fans believe that this too will pass. They will find a passage in the Bible to justify it and that will be the end of the matter, with no effect whatsoever on the balance sheet of the COZA enterprise.
As it is, if Busola Dakolo is looking for justice, she won’t get it. The security agencies won’t arrest Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo. They will rather protect him as they did on Sunday. Even if they investigate him, nothing will come out of it. There will be no legal trial. Forget it, Pastor Biodun won’t sue anybody. In any case, Busola Dakolo herself unwittingly revealed that the evidence was destroyed shortly after the felony was committed and note this: there are no witnesses. But Mrs Dakolo has the moral high ground. By speaking out, she has put the issue of rape back on the front burner in Nigeria. Our country is known for its toleration of child abuse, human rights violations and the depersonalization of vulnerable persons. Adults rape minors including babies, kidnapping is rife, women are treated as objects. Before now, the big scandal had been about sex-for-marks in our higher institutions, but now, there are more stories about incestuous rape, gang rape and date rape, and rape in the church.
Ms. Dakolo may not get justice but she may have started a revolution. Since her public outcry, more Nigerian women have come forward to tell harrowing stories of rape. All of a sudden, it is no longer a thing of shame for a known Nigerian woman to talk about having been raped. My only concern here is that everything in Nigeria tends to become an opportunistic industry. Not all the stories that are now being told may be true; some copy-cats will use the opportunity to malign prominent persons, and seek to share a part of the limelight. Besides, the story is incomplete: how about men who were raped by women in positions of power, authority and influence? Will they also tell?
However, this is what the Busola Dakolo story is all about: power relations, sexual negotiation, misogyny, the abuse of privilege and the moral stature of religious leaders. This is not just about Senior Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo and his private life, it should be a wake up call for the body of Christ in Nigeria, that is the Church. Whatever may be the denomination, the Church exercises such powers over the mind of the congregation that should not be abused. The Catholic Church understands this dilemma better than any other congregation, given the many reported cases of abuse of the cassock by Catholic priests across the world. Pentecostal pastors offer themselves as some kind of modernist alternative, but to see them behaving badly diminishes the very idea of the church itself.
In the end, families and individuals must learn the right lessons and take appropriate steps to protect themselves. Clerics of whatever hue are human beings too. There are thieves, rapists, fraudsters, con-artists and all sorts of criminals among them, just as there are good ones too. It is true: the garment does not make a monk. The fact that a man can quote passages of the Holy Book, without missing a line, does not make him Holy. Pastors claim that they know the mind of God, and that he speaks to them and directs them. Does anyone really know the mind of God? What exactly is the mind of God? What we call anointing is at best a myth, and the biggest excuse for the formation of a cult of personality. Busola Dakolo and YNaija have helped to shape a critical aspect of the Nigerian conversation. Both parties deserve our commendation for their courage. But until concrete evidence surfaces, Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo can comfortably insist on his innocence.