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Protesters, worshippers storm COZA amid Fatoyinbo’s rape allegation

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Protesters at the Commonwealth of Zion Assembly (COZA) church over sexual abuses allegedly perpetrated by Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo and other clerics in Abuja…yesterday.<br />PHOTO: PHILIP OJISUA

From the build-up to yesterday’s showdown at the Commonwealth of Zion Assembly (COZA) headquarters in Abuja and its Lagos centre, one thing was clear: the various allegations of sexual assault reignited by the latest disclosure of celebrity photographer, Busola Dakolo, wife of singer, Timi Dakolo, against the church’s embattled Senior Pastor and founder, Biodun Fatoyinbo, will not easily fizzle out.

The anticipated drama lived up to its bill as for the first time in a long while, the controversy surrounding the flamboyant pastor, transmuted from social media rants into a street crusade when two groups (for and against) staged a protest at the headquarters of the church located in Guzape District of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.

Protesters numbering hundreds under the aegis of ‘#ChurchToo Movement’ had about 9:30a.m. when service was going on, stormed the church to protest against the alleged sexual abuse by Fatoyimbo.

But inside, with carefully orchestrated moves at its unusually brief worship service yesterday morning, members of COZA resoundingly celebrated their embattled Senior Pastor. Service began with songs of victory, with the choir singing: “I see it, I feel it, testimony’s all around, I’m in the middle of it” to a loud ovation from the congregants.

During the service, which held under heavy security presence, worshippers, both high and mighty, coming into the venue were subjected to a thorough search. Nobody was allowed to go in with any writing material, whether jotter, a piece of paper or pen.

While the church’s male security personnel screened the men, the female security officers searched all female bags and removed every writing material in the bags. On entering the church, beautifully dressed ushers beaming with smiles lined up in different areas welcoming worshippers, especially “first timers” with the word, “I celebrate you”.

The church auditorium, including the overflow, were filled to capacity with the atmosphere fully charged with melodious music even as worshippers who were visibly less-concerned about allegations against their pastor, danced as if nothing was going on outside the church. Also, so many women gave testimonies of how their marital and financial lives have been transformed since they joined the church

But the protest continued outside with the protesters chanted various songs against the pastor and exchanging words with the security for not allowing them get to the entrance of the church.

Speaking on behalf of the protesters, Bukky Shonibare, said the pattern and the repetitiveness of the allegations was worrisome and required urgent attention, adding that leaders placed in positions of authority must be subjected to a higher level of scrutiny and accountability.

She lamented that the church authority has not taken any action on an allegation of such magnitude as rape and demanded that the leadership commence immediate investigation into the allegation of rape leveled against Pastor Fatoyinbo while the pastor steps down from any leadership role in the church.

In her sermon, wife of the pastor, Modele Fatoyinbo, alluding to the allegations against her husband, said: “When help wants to come to you, it starts like a trouble. This is the authentic COZA that you are hearing about. You may have some small enemies but God always separate the major from the minor”.

As the sermon continued, Pastor Biodun went to the pulpit, took over the microphone from his wife and announced the cancellation of the Seven Days of Glory programme scheduled to begin today.

He said the church has cancelled invitations for popularly known clerics to attend its ‘Seven Days of Glory’s fasting and prayer programme scheduled to run through the first week of July, explaining that he “won’t like to put invited guests from within and outside Nigeria through the sort of thing that was happening outside.”

He told the congregation, “ I am very proud of you all, thank you for standing by the church, thank you for standing by the Lord Jesus Christ. I am the most blessed pastor in the world. It took me hours to get to this place today. You know I am a man of peace, I don’t like these kinds of stuff that is happening. Please as you are going out, the ushers will direct you on how to move, Let’s be a people of peace, I am a very peaceful person, when you are going out, please don’t fight nobody, be peaceful, If they say anything to you, just keep quiet.

As he handed over the microphone to his wife for the continuation of the sermon, Modele who spoke in defense of her spouse, said: “Not even as an unbeliever will my pastor rape anyone”.

Immediately, Pastor Biodun came back to the pulpit, collected the microphone and said, “the elders are looking into it”. He abruptly called off the sermon being delivered by his wife and ordered that they take tithes and offering.

As soon as the church service was over, another small group of poorly dressed young men who said they have confidence in Pastor Fatoyinbo emerged with placards saying, “Biodun is anointed, I love Pastor Biodun”.
 
Meanwhile, Lagos-based rights group, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) yesterday condemned the harassment, repression and arbitrary arrests by security agents of the anti-rape activists.
 
In a statement by SERAP’s deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the body said: “The authorities must immediately and unconditionally release all those detained and allow them to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”
 
Also, the Coalition of Public Interest Lawyers and Advocates (COPA) has urged the police to commence investigation on the rape allegation. Pelumi Olajengbesi, chairman of COPA, in a statement described the allegation as grievous and that 24 lawyers were ready to file a case.

“In our quest to build a sane nation, no stone should be left unturned; this matter must be treated with the urgency it deserves and not swept under the carpet, as has regrettably been the habit”, he said.


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