Amid allegations of rape levelled against its Senior Pastor, Biodun Fatoyinbo, the Commonwealth of Zion Assembly has declared seven days of fasting starting from Monday (today).
This comes as protesters vowed to continue to demand justice following allegations by Busola Dakolo, wife of popular musician, Timi Dakolo, that Fatoyinbo raped her 20 years ago.
Addressing the congregation on Sunday, Fatoyinbo said the yearly special programme titled, ‘Seven Days of Glory,’ which usually takes place from July 1 to July 7, had been suspended.
The programme had in the past attracted international preachers like Creflo Dollar and Bishop T.D. Jakes.
However, Fatoyinbo, who claimed to be speaking under the instruction of God, said the programme had to be cancelled because he did not want the invited preachers to go through the embarrassment of being heckled by protesters.
Fatoyinbo added, “We will have prayers for those who are interested in coming but we are not going to have the seven days of glory. It has been suspended because I don’t want all those kind of stuff.
“So, if you want to pray, come; but the regular seven days of prayer, having preachers come in, you don’t want to put your guest speakers through that. We love to host people properly.”
His speech was greeted with chants of ‘we love you pastor’ from worshippers.
In a prayer that ensued, he added, “As we start our fasting, even though we are not doing the seven days of glory (programme), those of you who are led to come and pray here, as you come, the Lord will lift you up.”
Shortly after Fatoyinbo’s speech, his wife, Modele, attested to the integrity of her husband, insisting that he was not a rapist.
Mrs Fatoyinbo said, “Not even as an unbeliever would my husband rape someone. Hello, let me talk, please, not even as an unbeliever…”
However, her husband grabbed the microphone from her, saying, “The elders are stepping into it, please let them handle it.”
Earlier, the church, which usually begins its sermon at 10am, held a session of testimonies by female members, apparently with the aim of rubbishing allegations that Fatoyinbo was a rapist.
About seven women came out one after another to share their ‘COZA experience’.
The women all claimed that their lives had hit rock bottom but God used Fatoyinbo to save them from destruction.
While Fatoyinbo was being eulogised inside the church auditorium, he was being heckled by protesters outside.
The protesters, mainly women, demanded justice and asked for the pastor to step down.
The #ChurchToo Movement, a group of at least 126 civil society organisations and individuals, which organised the protest, marched to the front of the church around 9.30am clad in white T-shirts and holding placards that read, ‘We are watching you,’ ‘Your pastor is not your God,’ ‘Thou shall not rape’ and ‘No to sexual abuse in my church,’ among others.
At the scene of the protest, COZA protocol officers formed a barricade against the protesters as officers of the Department of State Services, the Nigeria Police Force and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps accosted protesters and journalists who tried to intercept the barricade.
A convener of #ChurchTooMovement, Bukky Shonibare, said, “We demand that the board and leadership of COZA commence investigation into the allegation of rape levelled by Busola Dakolo and any other member of the church against its lead pastor, Biodun Fatoyinbo.
“While the investigation is being carried out, Pastor Fatoyinbo must be asked to step down from any leadership role in the church.
“The Christian Association of Nigeria, the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria and other relevant Christian bodies must show leadership by condemning this crime coming from the church. The continuous harassment and intimidation of Busola and Timi Dakolo, and other victims must stop forthwith.”
She said in the coming days, the group would take its protest to relevant bodies to show that rape and other forms of sexual abuse would no longer be tolerated.
A mild drama, however, ensued while the protest was ongoing as supporters of Fatoyinbo emerged with placards that read, ‘We love Pastor Fatoyinbo’ and ‘Biodun is a great man,’ among others.
Our correspondent observed that some of them accepted N500 each from a #ChurchTooMovementprotester to surrender their placards before other Fatoyinbo supporters rejected the amount they were offered.
About two protesters were said to have been arrested by the DSS around 8am before the main demonstration began but their identities remained unknown as of press time.
In a related development, human rights advocacy group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, condemned the alleged harassment and arrest of anti-rape activists who protested outside COZA, Abuja.
SERAP’s deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, in a statement on Sunday urged the security agencies to release those arrested unconditionally.