To understand how much fear Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo inspires in the subject of our next interview; we will tell you how much censoring we had to concede to get the interview we share today. It took significant motivation to even get our interviewee in the right frame of mind to tell her story, sitting quietly with her as she was forced to process the trauma of her experience in front of a crew of strangers. We were initially supposed to obscure her face, but she felt so unsettled by the possibility of being recognized, we eventually blurred most of her visible frame. We had a box of tissues handy, because retelling her story overwhelmed her, even now when the majority seems in support of her.
She tells the story honestly, on the hope that her story will build on the impact of Busola Dakolo and Ese Walter’s stories and shed more light on the crimes of an alleged serial rapist and the system that enables him.
This interview is paraphrased, to listen to X tell her story herself watch the video below.
THE FIRST SIGN
The first time X was given a glimpse into the reality of the Fatoyinbo’s was in 2013. She was just a fringe member and church worker at the Commonwealth of Zion Assembly (COZA) Abuja, when the Ese Walter story broke, first on her blog, then on spreading like wildfire on the internet. X hadn’t started working closely with the pastor and his wife at that time and she remembers clearly waking up early to prepare for her day job. She picked up her phone to check the morning news and saw the story about Ese Walter and immediately felt the weight of its implications. Her infallible pastor had abused his authority, had an affair with a church worker and defiled his matrimonial bed. She was shocked and struggled to make sense of the story because it didn’t mark any of the boxes about she believed constituted rape or coercion. Ese didn’t consider herself a victim in the traditional sense, her narrative suggested a tinge of self congratulation, she didn’t seem sorry about her part in the affair. X eventually dismissed Walter’s story, filing it away as some kind of bizarre smear campaign. And it was easy for her because she was the ‘average’ COZA member.
After 4 years of serving within the church, she’d come to share the near rabid adoration COZA members have for Fatoyinbo. They were bombarded with the message that their proximity to the pastor made them special and being chosen in this way made people who weren’t chosen jealous and vindictive. X felt encouraged to only follow other COZA members on social media and prioritize business and personal relationships with them. She felt encouraged to shun all outsiders, to see them as interlopers who didn’t understand the message and were looking only to sabotage Fatoyinbo and the church. Ese Walter was even worse, she was a member who had defected and wanted to tarnish the image of the church. It was easy to dismiss Ese Walter, especially as the church framed her testimony as an attempt to discredit the church, which was moving to a larger, permanent venue at the time. The Devil was trying to sabotage Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo’s ministry and Jesus would triumph. She pushed away the incident and allowed herself be consumed with immersing herself in COZA.
At this point X had spent 4 years in the church. She joined in 2009, this was in Abuja and the church’s only music team Avalanche offered her sanctuary. She had no relationship with the Fatoyinbo’s at that time but she was already in their orbit, as most of the church members who serve in public positions like the choir are. She had grown up in a conventional christian family but had never experienced the fervor and devotion to Christian doctrine that defined fundamentalist christians. Pentecostal Christianity was an answer to her questions she had and COZA met her desire for validation and awareness. There was a deliberateness in COZA, and attention to detail that was striking to X, and it was fascinating enough that she joined and stayed from 2009 to 2015, serving in the music group. She was comfortable but wanted more.
But in 2015, things would become more intense. Fatoyinbo’s wife Modele took an interest in her. She began to extend opportunities for X to work intimately with her, handing her small responsibilities in the church’s administration and graduating into the opportunity to care for the Fatoyinbo’s youngest son. X and the boy developed a special bond; they would spend time together on Sundays ambling around Abuja, visiting child friendly parks and sharing all the experiences the city could offer to children. Sundays were especially hectic for the family and having their son cared for in this way, was presented as a relief to Modele. X felt special, because it was common knowledge that the Fatoyinbo’s children were sequestered from the rest of the congregation and rarely interacted with them on a personal level. For Modele to grant X access in this way, first with their youngest son and then to the rest of their children was an impressive move to disarm her. She began to tutor them in their academics, growing closer with the children to the point where Modele broached the subject of if X would relocate outside the country and become a legal guardian for the children as the Fatoyinbo’s toyed with the idea of sending their children abroad for their education.
NOTHING SAYS I TRUST YOU MORE THAN ‘YOU CAN WATCH MY KIDS’
It was known across the church branches that the Fatoyinbos carefully guarded access to their children, so anyone who was granted access in this way was exalted. Women and girls chosen in this way were referred to as ‘choice daughters’. It was a term reserved for teenage girls X believes are being groomed but were also extended to young women. Being granted this access also implied that whoever was chosen needed to reciprocate with an increased level of loyalty. When Modele Fatoyinbo suggested X move across continents to become an au pair for her children, she didn’t hesitate. At this point, she had been caring for the Fatoyinbo children for a year (2015 – 2016) and had grown incredibly close to them. X believes had Modele had given her this access to groom her on Biodun’s behalf.
X didn’t see the red flags because the opportunity was in line with her desire to do more within the church and kept the bond she had made with Fatoyinbo’s children. Traveling abroad was an extra perk. X didn’t really consider the fact that relocating to another country with the Fatoyinbo’s and working for their organization put her entirely under their mercy. That gave them a significant amount of power over her, power that would eventually lead to her exploitation and alleged rape.
A SPIRITUAL FATHER’S BETRAYAL
Before long, she was living abroad, in one of the cities where the Commonwealth of Zion Assembly (COZA) has branches across the world. Modele had done the job of hiring her but X’s position also required her to work closely with Pastor Biodun, who visited her city regularly to minister to his congregation there and spend time with his children who were schooling in the city. The day the incident happened, she had found out that Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo had come into the country where she lived, working for the COZA branch and serving as an au pair for the Fatoyinbos. The pastor traveled the world as part of his duties as head pastor and she had spent many hours in close proximity to the pastor in the past, sometimes in her capacity as an au pair.
At this time she considered him a mentor and a father figure. So it didn’t seem weird to her to go see the pastor at home. She had come to the house many times, she was familiar with the terrain and had made many deeply cherished memories there bonding with Fatoyinbo’s wife Modele and their children, especially the oldest daughter. Pastor Biodun had started their meeting innocently enough, he talked about something to do with church. Things moved pretty swiftly from there. She was seated on a long couch, and he left his seat and came to sit on her couch. He moved swiftly, trying to pull her into a hug and kiss her.
She remembers thinking to herself, “I had known him, not only as a mentor but as a spiritual leader. I’ve heard him preach, I’ve heard him talk about God; and there I was, about to witness him do the complete opposite of what he stood for.”
She also remembers what she was wearing that day, a pair of navy blue jeans, and remembers him trying to peel them off her legs. She kept asking him to stop, appealing to his conscience as her spiritual father but he didn’t listen. He undid the buttons of her jeans and took off her trousers. It was a couch and there was space to wiggle, but she didn’t even think to grab anything she could use as a weapon. She was just too shocked to react, he had just put his hands into her underwear.
X was someone who has had to fight a lot of unwanted sexual advances her entire life and up to that point she believed she had gained enough experience at spotting worrying behaviour. She felt guilt for ignoring her own instincts and felt like a failure for finding herself in the very position she’d fought so hard to avoid.
“Just relax.” He said, as he took off his trousers and forced her legs apart, convinced he had her subdued.
All through the period where he allegedly raped her, she tried to reconcile the person she called her spiritual father with the man on top of her. He was nothing like the charismatic, thoughtful and empathetic leader, who took his time to ensure she felt comfortable around him. This person was feral, focused in his attempt to subdue her. After, he switched seamlessly back into the pastor she knew, apologizing as though he wasn’t the one who had inflicted pain on her. He was so impassioned, so emphatic about not wanting to hurt her that she immediately began to minimize his actions, like she had done something to trigger this kind of behaviour, to inspire this kind of violence. He walked her to the door and sent her on her way, convinced she would not talk. And she didn’t, she stayed silent and he returned to Nigeria and his Abuja congregation.
After her alleged rape, it became starkly clear how much power over her life she had relinquished to the Fatoyinbos. There she was, at the mercy of the church, dependent on them financially for her sustenance, shelter and community.
The alleged rape happened in the last quarter of 2017, but she stayed on working within the church till July of the following year. It helped that Fatoyinbo had to shepherd his Nigerian congregation and could only spend limited amounts of time in the city in which she lived at the time. The distance gave her enough detachment to wean herself off survival mode. Her life revolved around the church, so there was nowhere to return but there. So she did, performed her duties, interacted with other team workers and volunteers, unable to admit to anyone the violent alleged rape she had just experienced.
Jolted into consciousness, the fervor of the congregation and other church members disillusioned her. She’d been one of them in 2013 and she knew how they would react to any kind of accusation against the pastor. The alleged rape had shaken her faith and forced her to reevaluate everything she knew about God and Pentecostal Christianity. The distance gave her time to process her circumstance and plan her exist strategy.
TYING UP LOOSE ENDS
In 2018, when she still abroad, one of her friends from Nigeria called her out of the blue. They hadn’t spoken in a while and her friend seemed concerned. She told her Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo had called her to ask for X’s number, that he didn’t have it anymore and he had been trying to reach her. At this point, X hadn’t told no one about what had happened to her, and couldn’t explain that she hadn’t wanted her to give the pastor her number. 10 minutes later, Pastor Fatoyinbo would call her, conciliatory. He was somewhere in America, she didn’t have his number but caller ID put his location at Colorado.
‘I know you are angry with me,’
He didn’t bother to clarify, because they both knew what he was talking about. They had spent months without communication and his surprise call and the apology that would follow rang of dishonesty. He refused to address thealleged rape directly, instead vaguely referencing the act and repeating that X ‘knew his heart’. As soon as the call was over, she realised a couple of her other friends from Nigeria were calling her to tell her about a public post singer, Timi Dakolo had made in Nigeria, accusing an Abuja pastor of sexual misconduct. It didn’t take much to connect Fatoyinbo’s call to his Instagram call out, and recognize it for the attempt at damage control that it was. If she had any doubts about Fatoyinbo’s nature, those events completely eliminated them.
It took her a couple of months but she raised her money for her flight back to Nigeria and funds to reintegrate and then sent Fatoyinbo a DM on Instagram about needing to have a work related meeting with him. He called her later, insisting that she find a place where she was alone before they spoke. She informed him that she was ready to move on, She was still a staff of the church, and wanted to leave on good terms. Fatoyinbo conceded but asked that she meet with him when she came back to Nigeria before she made her exit official.
By the time X returned to Nigeria, Timi Dakolo had made his second Instagram post accusing Fatoyinbo of sexual misconduct. She heard about the post but didn’t know the details. Fatoyinbo insisted on the meeting, and ensured she put her phone away before he offered a third vague apology for raping her and mentioned unsolicited, Timi Dakolo’s post, suggesting that Busola had seduced him and ‘something had happened’ but he hadn’t known she was a teenager and he had no idea why she was trying to sabotage his ministry. It made sense to her, her entire life for 8 years until that point had revolved around the church and many of the important people in her life she had met through the church.
‘Is there anything you want me to do for you?’ He asked.
From his tone, she could tell he was suggesting financial compensation as a way to ensure her silence. X had no plans to speak up in that moment, but she also had no interest in taking anything else from him. He insisted that if she changed her mind, she should reach out. She reassured him she wouldn’t and left. Now that she had left the church on good terms, she felt she could finally tell her closest friends about the alleged rape.
She couldn’t bear to have the conversation over and over, so she made a conference call and told her friends in tandem what had happened to her. She needed them to be there for her in the days she could not have been there for herself. She wanted to be the girl who was bold, who took down the bad guy, but there were so many other people in the story, people who would question the validity of her story because of her proximity to the Fatoyinbo family, people on the internet who would reduce her pain to funny gifs. She was convinced that if her friends knew, that would be enough for her.
But Busola Dakolo coming forward to talk about her experience with Pastors Biodun and Modele Fatoyinbo brought a number of things into stark focus for her. First, that there was a pattern where Modele either deliberately or inadvertently drew young women into her orbit and groomed them into a complacency that Biodun Fatoyinbo allegedly exploited to allegedly rape and sexually assault them. Second, there were pastors who were aware of the violence and exploitation that Fatoyinbo was accused of wreaking and either kept quiet about it or enabled it. He called them ‘The COZA 12’, pastors and religious leaders within and outside the church to which Fatoyinbo publicly defers to. Third, she had to tell her story and free herself of the burden of shame.
X had devoted her life to COZA from 2009 to 2018, and suffered for it. To truly free herself of its hold, she had to speak her truth.
Edwin Okolo is an author and journalist who has worked with YNaija, TheNativemag and the Naked Convos.