In Summer 2019, youth from Lagos, Nigeria joined the #ChurchToo movement to fight what Festus Iyorah, reporting for Sojourners, described as “incessant” sexual assaults perpetrated by members of Nigeria’s clergy and a “slow and corrupt” justice system that “favors and shields” powerful authorities. The #ChurchToo movement was inspired by the global #MeToo movement, which began in October 2017 in response to the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in the Hollywood entertainment industry.
Iyorah’s report for Sojourner recounts multiple charges against Biodun Fatoyinbo, the pastor of the Common Wealth of Zion Assembly (COZA), a megachurch with a huge following in Lagos. Many critics allege Tatoyinbo is a serial rapist. After a series of tweets, sparked by an interview in which a celebrity photographer, Busola Dakolo, said that Fatoyinbo had raped her when she was a teen, Lagos youth “poured onto the streets in protest,” Iyorah wrote. Widespread protest led Fatoyinbo to resign as pastor. However, a month later Fatoyinbo returned to the pulpit.
Religious leaders like Pastor Fatoyinbo have been protected from accountability in Nigeria. Iyorah explains how, for years, a passage from the Book of Psalms has been invoked to “shield religious leaders from criticism.” Psalm 105:15 reads: “Do not touch my anointed ones; do no harms to my prophets,” which, Iyorah writes, was overused to the point of becoming a cliché. However, a younger generation, “grown weary of this biblical passage,” has deployed online activism and protest as means to counter the lack of accountability. This generation, Iyorah writes, have now become enraged with and disengaged from the church.
The woman who sent the tweet that led to the #ChurchToo protest, Jekein Lato-Unah, feels the church and Nigeria’s justice system have failed women. “The justice system is sexist, misogynistic, power and money-hungry so all these factors are working against women who seek justice,” says Lato-Unah said. “In a functioning country, [Fatoyinbo] would be in jail right now.”
Iyorah describe the #ChurchToo protest as “a microcosm of what the younger generation in Nigeria represents: a shift from religious conservatism to activism.”
According to a 2018 UNICEF Nigeria report on child protection, “Abuse in all its forms” is a “daily reality for many Nigerian children and only a fraction ever receive help.” Many sexual assault victims in Nigeria are dismissed or simply ignored. The UNICEF report noted that, even when children reported violence, “fewer than five out of 100 received any form of support.”
Nigeria’s #ChurchToo movement has yet to receive attention from corporate news outlets in the US. In July 2019, Reuters covered the allegations by photographer Busola Dakolo that Biodun Fatoyinbo had raped her and the ensuing protests, but other than Yahoo! News US news outlets appear not to have picked up this story. The lack of coverage only hinders the progress of Nigeria’s youth to hold church leaders accountable.
Source: Festus Iyorah, “How Young Nigerians Are Challenging Sexual Assault in the Church,” Sojourners, September 4, 2019, https://sojo.net/articles/how-young-nigerians-are-challenging-sexual-assault-church.
Student Researcher: Analeigh Fulgham (City College of San Francisco)
Faculty Evaluator: Jennifer Levinson (City College of San Francisco)