Multiple rape allegations levelled against the founder and senior pastor of the Commonwealth of Zion Assembly (COZA), Biodun Fatoyinbo, has opened a Pandora Box on the alleged sexual misconducts perpetrated by clergymen on young girls, who flock around them. Although, Mr. Fatoyinbo has since stepped down, the ripples generated by the COZA gate has continued to unsettle the Nigerian Christian community.
By Chinelo Nwangene
A new twist
Lifestyle of Nigerian clergymen beyond the pulpit has come under spotlight since allegations of sexual misconducts against COZA pastor sparked off nationwide discussion and protest two weeks ago. Since Mrs. Busola Dakolo went public with graphic details of how Pastor Fatoyinbo allegedly raped her when she was 16 years of age in Ilorin, Kwara state, in late June, the country has witnessed a wave of sex scandals against pastors.
As protesters marched to the COZA church in Lagos on June 30, demanding prosecution of the embattled pastor, Bisola Hephzibah Johnson, an activist, stirred another controversy when she accused another prominent clergyman, Prophet Temitope Balogun (TB) Joshua of the Synagogue Church of All Nations of rapping her as a teenager.
Johnson, in a dramatic public confession that has since gone viral on the social media, claimed that she was trapped in Joshua’s expansive church complex for 14 years and sexually abused by the pastor before “the Lord set me free”.
“I was sexually molested by T.B Joshua. I was trapped in the synagogue for 14-years of my life. I spent my youth in the synagogue until God set me free. If not for God, I will not be here today and I have documented it in book form,” she shouted, while brandishing a book.
“This is not the time for making up (stories), this is the time to address. I am talking on behalf of other girls that are still in the captivity of TB Joshua. 8 years old, 14 years old and 11 years old, they are still there. I can say it, because, they have money, connections, they can put people down. Enough is enough, if he thinks I am lying, he can contest it in court,” she added.
Days after the dramatised incident took place, the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) issued an official statement, absolving its founder of all allegations of rape and released a series of old videos to portray an accuser, Ms Johnson as dishonest and unstable person; and urged the public to disregard her claims because, they lacked credibility.
A series of videos released by the church showed how Ms Johnson had been accusing Mr. Joshua of rape for more than a decade, and how she always returned after each allegation to ‘confess’ and recant.
“My name is Bisola. I have acted as an enemy of God rather than a friend. And today, I am coming back as a prodigal daughter, so that God will forgive me; so that the Man of God will forgive me and the church, Synagogue, will forgive me,” she said in a video.
“I have been rebellious. When I left the SCOAN, nobody asked me to leave. I am asking God (kneels) to forgive me.”
In another video, Ms Johnson knelt down, sobbing and seemingly sorry about the controversies she had courted. She later blamed her rape accusations against TB Joshua on migraines, which she had suffered for so many years, and promised to get treatments for it.
“I will never come to this place in this form again,” she said to a gathering of church members.
During the dramatic repentance scene, the famous prophet had remarked that Ms Johnson’s habitual allegations and apologies had made it difficult to take her ‘confessions’ seriously, but she insisted that she would never accuse him of rape, molestation and other grievous abuses again.
Johnson, who wrote a book in 2015 that catalogued her allegations against the SCOAN leader, had admitted that she was the one in the videos released by the church, but claimed that she was under supernatural influence each time.
“I was manipulated to do all the videos. I was under bewitchment. I was under hypnotism as T.B. Joshua is known to do,” Ms Johnson said.
She, however, debunked the church’s claim that she was unstable, saying the church was unwittingly exposing itself to ridicule with the allegations.
“Do I sound like someone unstable since you have been talking to me? Even if I am unstable, why have I not been healed by a church that preaches healing after spending 14 years there?” Ms Johnson said.
She said during the COZA protest in Lagos last week, she made a conscious effort not to accuse Mr. Joshua of rape or other sexual crimes.
“But I found out that there is no way I could tell my story of rape without mentioning T.B. Joshua, because, it originated from his church,” Ms Johnson said.
“I do not want my past to be another person’s future.”
Denials in police net
While Pastor Fatoyinbo and Prophet Joshua have continued to maintain their innocence from the confines of their churches with strong backing of their members, a few others did not enjoy such luxury. Just at the same time the COZA pastor was battling to save his career and the SCOAN leadership putting together a strong defence, a 37-year old pastor and the founder of the Heavenly Network Ministry, Sapelein, Delta state, was arrested for allegedly raping a 13-year-old girl in his church.
The victim told police officers at Sapele Police Division where the matter was reported, that the clergyman identified simply as Pastor Abraham, forcefully had a karnal knowledge of her that fateful night, and later offered her huge sums of money to keep the secret which she declined.
“Pastor Collins forced me at our church around Gana quarters in Sapele town and has two kids and married, hence, he did it with me inside the church during an all night”, the victim alleged.
The accused, during an interrogation by police officer, dismissed the rape allegation as untrue, claiming that the devil was using the girl to tarnish his reputation. He equally denied holding an all night service at the church last Monday.
A similar drama took place same week when operatives of the Lagos State Police Command nabbed a pastor for allegedly raping and impregnating a 15-year-old girl.
According to the state Police Command’s spokesperson, DSP Bala Elkana, the mother of the victim, who filed the report at Igando Police Station on July 2 disclosed that her daughter was living with the suspect’s wife when the incident happened.
“She stated further that she discovered that the survivor (the teenager) was pregnant sometime in June, 2018, and that when she interrogated her, she mentioned the name of the suspect. The survivor stated in her statement that it all started in January, 2018 when the suspect started having sexual intercourse with her, and got her pregnant. She stated further that she gave birth to a baby girl sometime in April, 2019,” Elkana said.
Calls for restraint
As increasing number of Nigerian pastors come under public scrutiny for sexually abusing teenage girls, who flock around them in their churches, some religious leaders have spoken up against the development. Notable pastors that had waded into the sex scandals rocking the pulpits include Pastor Enoch Adeboye, leader of multi-million-member Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), who urged young Christian pastors to flee from any situation that could lead them into temptation of sleeping with women.
Adeboye, who has spent over 44 years on the pulpit without sexual misconduct record, disclosed last Sunday that keeping female church members at arms-length was the best way to avoid sex scandal. Hear him, “When you find yourself facing youthful lust, flee. Don’t say, I’m very strong, I’m full of anointing.
“You may say I’m old fashioned, I agree. I’ll never have a private secretary who’s a woman. When a woman accuses you of something, nobody will listen to you whether you’re right or wrong. If you say why me? People will say, why must it be you? Be wise! It is better to be old fashioned and live, than modern and die.”
He, however, said he was compelled to offer his own personal advice, because of the need to guide young and upcoming pastors.
“I feel compelled to say some things to those that are young and up and coming ministers. There is nothing hid that shall not come to the open or made manifest. Mark 4:22,” he said.
Just like Adeboye, the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) also warned pastors and members to be ethical in their conduct or face the consequences of their actions. PFN president, Rev. Dr. Felix Omobude, said in a statement that the PFN was saddened and disturbed by the allegations of criminal conduct and serial impropriety that have been made against some clergymen in recent times and thus, warned that it would not shield erring pastors.
The statements read in parts: “The PFN is utterly shocked at these allegations, as the acts that have been alleged are not only criminal in nature but also antithetical to the tenets of Christianity; and a violent breach of the trust that ought to exist between members of the congregation and a minister of the gospel. The PFN, hereby, warn pentecostal pastors, who feel they can live carelessly and take undue advantage of their congregants that PFN will not shield anyone, who crosses the line.
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), on its part, called for de-escalation of the crisis and for all parties to toe the Christian path of forgiveness.
CAN’s acting general secretary, Abuja chapter, Joseph Daramola, argued, “We have earlier stated, it doesn’t matter who is involved, rape is ungodly and reprehensible. But we have resisted the temptation to jump into any conclusion since a body like ours will be expected to have uncovered the truth about any matter before making public statements and not base its position merely upon media reports.
“The Bible states it clearly that “God demonstrates his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Roman’s 5:8,11). Having reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, God has committed to us the ministry of reconciling the world unto Himself and to one another.