Over the last year, religious Nigerians had to contend with the outsize influence religious organizations within the country have had in perpetuating rape culture and violence against women. #SexForGrades, #ArewaMeToo and #ChurchToo are feminist movements that arose from women challenging abuse within families where the perpetrators were supported and protected by the Nigerian church. But it is not only Nigerians in Nigeria who have been forced to contend with this pervasive problem, not when Nigerian born South African based pastor Timothy Omotoso is currently facing trail for charges of human trafficking, sexual assault and rape.
Timothy Omotoso ran an evangelical church called Jesus Dominion International out of Durban South Africa, and has been arrested based on accusations that he used his influence as a religious leader to grooming young girls and molesting them for years. Omotoso was arrested after 30 young women came forward to lodge complaints with the South African police about his actions. Since then, the pastor’s case has dragged in court, drawing media attention and for almost a year.
Today however, the state begins officially prosecuting Pastor Omotoso, opening proceedings by calling their first witness Andisiwe Dike, one of the 30 women who accused him of several crimes. Judge Irma Schoeman (the third judge to handle Omotoso’s case since he was charged) has rejected requests for the trial to be broadcast (the last high profile trial was the murder of Reeva Steenkamp by her superstar athelete boyfriend Oscar Pistorius.
What is worrying to us, and to many others is that Omotoso’s trial has not progressed much largely because of religious interference. Even during his trial, protesters are asking for his release and accusing the South African government of scapegoating him. There is a real fear that this trial will go the way of his previous mistrials, derailed and justice prevented.
— Jayed-Leigh Paulse (@JayedLeigh) February 24, 2020
Whether in Nigeria or in South Africa, religious men wield influence that allows them targeted an abuse young, impressionable and disadvantaged people in their congregations. We must acknowledge that this is a collective failing, and decide how to fix it. Until that happens, nothing else we do will deter them from abusing their influence and privilege.
Edwin Okolo is an author and journalist who has worked with YNaija, TheNativemag and the Naked Convos.