T.B Joshua: How The Nigerian Church Sanctions Pedophilia

I remember the year 2019 almost like the events that occurred yesterday. 2019 marked a pivotal year in my becoming as a feminist organizer, writer and speaker.

For one, it was the year that saw me join to organise a protest on police brutality called #SayHerNameNigeria. 

It was the year that saw me actively document my experiences of gendered school bullying on social media and it was the year that saw me use my voice to more or less threaten institutions and school authorities that thought they had power over me.

2019 was also the year that saw me have an incredible crisis of faith when it came to the place of women in the church and feminism. It was the year that saw Busola Dakolo, a celebrity photographer share how she was raped twice as a young woman by Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo of COZA.

I remember going for the #IStandWithBusolaDakolo protests in Lagos and screaming my voice out. I remember being called a prostitute by some of the people whp saw us protesting. I remember crying and feeling super alone when it hit me that the bulk of the organising was done by irreligious women.

This is not to say that there weren’t Christian women at the protests but I kept wondering where the women bloggerd who had large platfoms and constantly spoke on Jesus were.

It would take me a while to realise that they chose not to speak because to criticise a man like Biodun Fatoyinbo was to go toe to toe with the possibility of no speaking engagements in Christian circles.

I was reminded of the events of 2019 when I saw clips from the recent BBC Africa Eye documentary on the late Pastor T.B Joshua. It covered his actions raping underage girls, slapping them and using underage boys and girls as manual labour. 

It also covered how he staged fake miracles, deprived his followers of sleep and encouraged people not to take their medications.

What struck me in the clips I saw was the striking similarity between him and Pastor Fatoyinbo. Even more, it made me wonder at how the Nigerian church has literally normalised the grooming and targeting of underage girls.

Not just grooming, but the outright sanction of pedophilia and child sexual abuse. It is almost impossible for the members of churches headed by men like Fatoyinbo and T.B Joshua to alienate themselves from ideologies that give permission to things like rape, sexual assault and physical violence.

How can that be when the very leaders of a congregation are continually in the news for raping members of their congregation? How do we expect a boy who grew up in a church like COZA to ever respect women’s bodily autonomy? It is practically wishing for a green horse because all around him, he is surrounded by people who ignore the atrocities of those they call pastors.

How do we expect a girl who grew up in a church headed by T.B Joshua to ever think she has a right to her body? She will grow up into a woman who viciously shames rape survivors or a woman who blames herself and cannot comprehend that she has a right to say no.

Even worse, when such children are absorbed into the bigger Nigerian society, they propagate the ideas of female inferiority that they learned from their churches. 

Some of them become like misogynist men like Andrew Tate who start podcasts and content berating women. The women may go on to preach that women accept a subservient role and lower our voices where careers, men and businesses are concerned.

Speaking with Concerned Female*, she told me that the normalisation of sexual abuse also extends to student fellowships.

In her words: “For over two years different ladies in school had different experiences with a particular boy touching them inappropriately in varying degrees. Finally, one lady gathered the courage to call him out publicly which led to him being reported to the school authorities. 

Before this, he had been informally reported to “elders” in his fellowship. They agreed to counsel him. That was years ago.

Just before the letter was submitted to the school, the fellowship released a letter relieving him of his responsibilities and pleading that they be allowed to handle the issue “their own way”. When asked what “their own way” entailed, they couldn’t respond.”

She went on to say: “When signatures were being collected, very few members of that fellowship signed. Majority refused. Behind the scenes, a couple of them were begging the people who were going to report to give the boy another chance.”

For A, she believes that sexual abuse is rampant because the people perpetrating it are also those who are in power.

To quote her: “Sexual abuse in the church is such a major issue and I wish our culture would be more adamant about protecting victims, especially girls and women, and calling out perpetrators. 

I believe sexual abuse is so well covered up in churches because almost all the perpetrators are the men in power, like the elders, deacons and the pastor himself. They commit these crimes and teach teachings shrouded in shame and victim blaming to enable their evil and silence victims. Like that clip in the documentary about T.B Joshua brushing aside the fact that someone raped a woman and instead calling her a ‘tempter with an evil spirit of lust’. Lol.”

She continued by saying: “While I don’t personally know a woman who’s been abused by a ‘man of God’, or I do and they haven’t shared their story with me, I never doubt women when these revelations come out of the atrocities these men commit. 

It’s really sad how these churches treat this serious topic. The women internalise these things and victim blame younger women when they’re assaulted. The sexual purity myth doesn’t make it any better because sex ed becomes almost nonexistent. And then men reinforce all the oppression because it enables their harmful actions and the cycle repeats. 

The solution will take a long time and a lot of work, but we have to start. That’s what’s most important. Creating spaces for proper sex education will help women understand their bodies, know what it means for a person to violate them, and have access to the tools they need to protect themselves and heal from their trauma. 

If ‘real’ Christians really care about the severity of sexual abuse in the church they’ll take action to call out and punish perpetrators and protect the victims, not the abusers. And everyone else should do better to be supportive of victims, whether we think they’re perfect or ‘deserving of it’ or not.”

For Victoria, she narrowed it down to the need to not tarnish the reputation of the church. In her words: “I think one of the major reasons is to not tarnish the reputation of the church. It’s really disgusting. So basically, most churches have existed for a very long time. And considering the fact that Nigerians are mainly blinded by religion, they follow suite.

The average Nigerian feels that a woman has a fault in anything “sexual abuse” related—this mindset for one contributes to this.”

Moving on, Victoria said: “Secondly, these churches don’t ever want to tarnish their reputation. A pastor rapes or molests a female member and the church authority stylishly “lays him off” to avoid any controversy. If these people were really working for God wouldn’t they even tell the world that there’s yet another sexual offender posing as a fanatical “man of God”. A lot of these religious houses are just businesses. Because they become feeble at the thought of exposing their leaders’ wrong doings. 

Priests have assaulted women for far too long yet the religious houses do nothing about it.

Instead, we hear “preventive measures” each day. 

The sad part is that the Nigerians that are so blinded by that faith or church will keep going there, disregarding the proof. It’s just sad mehn.”

When asked to give her thoughts, Precious, a writer, echoed the thoughts of Victoria and said: “I’d say because they don’t want the perceived sacredness of the church to be undermined. So, rather than root out the ones undermining this sanctity, they’d rather cover up and pretend nothing is going on.”

If women and girls are not safe in a place touted as the “House of God”, then women and girls can expect that we will not find peace in places outside the “House of God”.

We must make it unacceptable for women to be silenced when they speak on abuse in the hands of religious leaders and even greater, we must actively work to create a society free of sexual abuse.

That society is possible and not merely an “utopia”.

*Name changed to protect identity

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