Nigerian anti-rape campaigners and rights activists have threatened to mobilize rape victims to institute a class action suit in court against a popular pastor in the country’s capital, Abuja who has been accused of rape by his members.
Biodun Fatoyinbo, a founder and senior pastor of the Commonwealth of Zion Assembly, COZA, was on Friday accused of rape at 16, by wife of a popular musician, Busola Dakolo while she was a teenager. She is a former choir member in the church.
The campaigners said Police action is slow but police sources told News Central in Abuja on Saturday that there was no formal complaint lodged against Fatoyinbo with them except for media reports and social media posts which they had been reading, like other Nigerians.
Dakolo, in a video interview with one of Nigeria’s popular websites, said she was 16 when Fatoyinbo, then a young pastor, raped her in Ilorin, a town in northcentral Nigeria where they both grew up.
“When I was about to react, he covered my mouth and when he did he said, Busola, listen to me and you will be fine, just do what I want you to do. I didn’t struggle…” Busola said in the interview run on Friday that has now sparked outrage among Nigerians especially on the social media.
“He said, ‘be happy a man of God did this to you, disvirgined you’” said Busola who is a celebrity photographer and married to popular musician, Timi Dakolo, who himself had a few months ago accused Pastor Fatoyinbo of raping many female members of the church. “At this point he was already a pastor in Ilorin, his wife had given birth to their first child Shindara and I was in the choir.” The alleged victim said in the interview.
– Pastor denies allegations –
The Nigerian pastor who has had a growing ministry and is popular especially among youths has denied the allegations, threatening a law suit to protect the church and himself from constant harassments.
“I have never in my life raped anybody even as an unbeliever and I am absolutely innocent of this.” Fatoyinbo said in a statement on Friday in Abuja.
“Busola Dakolo, who has made this false allegation and her family, attended the church during the early start of the church in Ilorin in 1999. I never had any private interactions with her beyond my pastoral duties. Looking at her status and that of her husband, I am dumbfounded by why she would say such a thing.” The COZA pastor said in reply to the allegations.
The cleric promised that the “false criminal allegations made against me or the church” will not stand. He said “the leadership of the church and I have briefed our lawyers to commence criminal and civil actions against all individuals making such false allegations whether directly or by proxies.”
– Outrage among Nigerians –
But the revelation has got many Nigerians angry considering that a similar allegation had been made against the same pastor in 2013 by Ese Walter, another church member of COZA in the Nigerian capital.
Celebrities, bloggers, politicians and social media influencers have now joined hands with anti-rape activists calling on Pastor Fatoyinbo to step down as COZA senior pastor and allow for an independent investigation that would involve the Police. They accused church officials of “paying social media influencers millions of naira” to twist online narratives and refute the allegations on Fatoyinbo’s behalf.
Some protesters under the #ChurchTooMovement have now vowed to protest peacefully against the embattled cleric on Sunday in Abuja at the Guzape District church building of COZA.
“#PastorStepDown. Innocent or Not. Please” hashtag is also trending among those seeking an independent inquiry into the rape allegations which they have now accused Nigerian authorities of being too silent about instead of the government launching a probe to safeguard the rights of those women allegedly violated by pastor Fatoyinbo and for social good.
“What can I say about your wife! A woman of strength, courage. We all, as women, must rise up and demand justice. I sponsored the violence against persons bill which prescribes life imprisonment for rape. Busola, you’ve got my back!” said Abike Dabiri, a former presidential adviser and Chief Executive of the, Nigerian Diaspora Commission in a message to Busola and her husband.
Despite Fatoyinbo’s denial of the rape accusations which the accused said happened twice first at her parents’ house and later at a secluded spot in Ilorin, several interest groups have vowed to mobilise a class action against the embattled cleric.
“We have more than 30 people who are ready to testify against him,” Segun Awosanya, a concerned Nigerian mobilizing for a class action suit told journalists in Lagos. “Busola’s case is just one out of the plethora of abuses that we have heard. We are ending rape culture and we are starting in the culture.” Awosanya said.
The Coalition of Public Interest Lawyers and Advocates (COPA) in a media statement late Friday by its convener, Pelumi Olajengbesi said the Police “must begin a thorough independent investigation of the allegations against Pastor Fatoyinbo given that rape is a criminal matter squarely within their purview and mandate as the law enforcement arm of the people.”
“The Nigeria Police Force are to whereupon make its findings public and proceed to prosecute the culprit, without delay, where it’s investigations turn up sufficient material for a case of rape.” The group said while stating that 24 public interests lawyers and advocates had volunteered to pursue the case pro bono on Busola’s behalf.
Many Nigerians on social media have promised a showdown with the embattled pastor in the weeks ahead “to send a strong message to rapists,” especially the rich and powerful who are “using their positions to violate weak women.”
Social media restriction in Chad lifted after one year
Access to social media was cut in March 2018, as public opposition mounted over Deby’s plans to push through changes to the constitution
Chad President Idriss Deby said Saturday he was lifting social media restrictions which were imposed more than a year ago for “security reasons.”
“For some months, security requirements led the government to toughen access conditions and control measures for electronic communications,” Deby said in a closing address to a digital forum in the capital N’Djamena.
“These measures were imposed in a context of terrorist threats (but)” the current situation ” leads me … to instruct the firms concerned to lift immediately the restriction on electronic communications,” said Deby.
On Saturday afternoon, it was possible to access social media applications including Whatsapp and Twitter, an AFP journalist reported.
Access to social media was cut in March last year as public opposition mounted over Deby’s plans to push through changes to the constitution shoring up his power after almost three decades in office.
Access remained possible using VPN networks but the use of those is costly in one of the world’s poorest nations.
Barely five per cent of the population enjoys internet access.
Chad is a Western ally in the fight against jihadist groups in Africa and notably faces threats from Boko Haram, which has made several deadly incursions into its territory in recent months.
The largely desert north, bordering Sudan, Libya and Niger, is highly volatile while several rebel groups have set up base just over the border with Libya.
In late January, Chad rebels seeking to destabilise Deby entered the northeast of the country from Libya but were pushed back after French air strikes.
In the east, farmers and nomadic groups have also clashed while the south on the border with the Central African Republic is still tense after the 2013 overthrow of former CAR president sparked unrest which spilt over the border.
Legislative elections in Chad are scheduled to take place by the end of the year having been postponed several times since 2015 as Deby, who grabbed power in 1990, looks to maintain his grip on the country.
18 killed in village raids in Nigeria’s Katsina state
The victims were buried the same day after funeral prayers attended by the emir, his entourage said.
Armed bandits killed at least 18 people in raids in northern Nigeria, where attacks by kidnappers and cattle rustlers have been on the rise, residents said Friday.
Gunmen on motorbikes stormed into four villages in Kankara and Danmusa districts in Katsina state on Wednesday, shooting residents as they fled.
“We collected 18 dead bodies from the four villages after the attacks,” said Sada Iliya, a community leader from Unguwar Rabo village where nine people were killed.
“The bandits rode through the villages, opening fire on people,” he said.
Residents on Thursday transported the bodies to the state capital 130 kilometres (80 miles) away and presented them to the traditional emir in protest at the attacks.
“We took the 18 corpses to Katsina for the emir (so that he could) see what we are going through at the hands of bandits,” said Isyaku Jari from Maidabino village.
The victims were buried the same day after funeral prayers attended by the emir, his entourage said.
Katsina state has suffered months of attacks by cattle thieves and kidnappers, prompting villagers to form vigilante groups to protect themselves.
The gangs hole up in forests, using them as bases from which to launch assaults.
In May, 34 people were killed when bandits attacked three villages in Batsari and Danmusa districts, according to police and residents.
The latest violence comes amid efforts to halt the attacks in neighbouring Zamfara state, which has seen the worst of the bloodshed.
Bandits, herders and local vigilantes attended a peace meeting on Tuesday brokered by the regional government and police.
Farmers and herding communities in the area have long been terrorised by the gangs but the vigilante groups they have formed have been accused of extra-judicial killings.
The gangs have demanded that their suspected members stop being targeted for reprisal attacks, while mediators are pushing for both sides to disarm.
Arab spring deja-vu for Egyptians exiled in Sudan
Post-Bashir Khartoum in 2019 has much in common with Cairo after January 2011, when president Hosni Mubarak was toppled.
Egyptians exiled in Sudan, who fled after their elected Islamist president was deposed by the military, say the current standoff in Khartoum reminds them of their own broken dreams.
“It’s the same young people that are trying to carry out the same revolutionary action,” said Abdelaziz, an Egyptian student who has been in Sudan since 2016.
“They have read the same books, lived the same experiences”, he added.
For him and other Egyptians once close to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement, the popular uprising in Sudan reminds them of events in their own country, even if there are some clear differences.
Sudan’s uprising has been led by liberal movements and unions of professionals, which spurred the military to overthrow Omar-al Bashir’s Islamist regime.
In Egypt itself, the Brotherhood polarised the youth movements that spearheaded the 2011 revolt.
But Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, was likewise ousted by the army after mass protests against the Islamist’s divisive year in power.
Like Abdelaziz, many supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood ended up in Sudan after fleeing a deadly crackdown launched in 2013 in Egypt.
He fled to escape a 15-year prison sentence for “protesting” and “acts of vandalism”.
In Khartoum, sitting in the courtyard of his house and dressed in a traditional white Sudanese robe, he spoke to AFP using a pseudonym to protect the fragile stability of his new life.
His host country has been swept up by the same revolutionary fervour that Egypt once experienced.
Post-Bashir Khartoum in 2019 has much in common with Cairo after January 2011, when president Hosni Mubarak was toppled by a popular uprising.
On the walls of the city, the slogans are the same: “Down with the military government”.
The graffiti depicting Bashir is accompanied by the clarion call of the Arab Spring that once reverberated across Egypt, Tunisia and Syria: “get out”.
“A very enthusiastic person asked my opinion of the situation in Sudan… I laughed and said ‘we did the same thing as you and here we are sitting by your side'”, said Abdelaziz, who is in his twenties.
“Let’s not be too optimistic, let’s stay realistic”, he added.
If he is cautious, it is because in his country, the democratic moment ended with the removal of Morsi, and paved the way for the repression of not only Islamists but also secularists.
Detained for almost six years and kept in isolation, the ex-president died after collapsing during a court appearance on June 17.
His Muslim Brotherhood was branded a “terrorist organisation”, and thousands of his supporters were sentenced to years in prison or handed down the death penalty.
In August 2013, security forces dispersed a pro-Morsi sit-in at Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya square, killing more than 700 people in one day.
“Sudan appeared to be something of a safe haven at a particular time for Islamist opponents of the Egyptian regime”, said H.A. Hellyer, senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London.
Bashir consistently denied that his country granted asylum to members of the Brotherhood.
In 2017, Sudan and Egypt signed an agreement not to host any opposition groups hostile to their respective governments.
The Egyptian authorities even gave Khartoum a list of names of Brotherhood members allegedly residing in Sudan, requesting their extradition, according to several sources.
In fact, Bashir’s regime – which came to power with the support of Islamists – had turned a blind eye to the arrival of the dissidents.
Today, Sudan’s ruling transitional military council has initiated a rapprochement with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, all fiercely hostile to Islamists.
“The new Sudanese regime is currently reformulating its geopolitical position”, Hellyer said.
‘The same naivety’
Almost every day for more than a month, Abdelaziz has said goodbye to a departing Egyptian friend.
Fellow exile Ahmed, an Egyptian student who came to Sudan since 2015, saw his circle shrink — all his friends went to Turkey, a stalwart Islamist supporter.
“They saw a power change” in Sudan, said the young man who also used a pseudonym.
“The fear of the unknown means they want to find a safer place”.
Detained for a few months in Egypt, he also avoided 15 years in prison for participating in a pro-Morsi demonstration after 2013.
With time and reflection, he said he has distanced himself from the ideology of the Brotherhood, admitting that it had committed “catastrophic errors” in its management of Egypt’s crisis.
To escape the memories and emotions of a painful past, he avoids Sudanese political life.
But it is not easy when Khartoum is engulfed in protest.
“I feel like these people in the streets are a lot like us,” he said.
“It’s the same dreams, the same ambitions, the same fears, the same desire for change, the same naivety too”.
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