A lawsuit was recently brought against the Synagogue Church of All Nations’ (SCOAN) board of trustees over the 116 persons who lost their lives during the SCOAN building collapse in 2014. The founder of the church, Prophet T.B. Joshua was however absent at the court yesterday. His counsel, Oluseun Abimbola, told the media that the board of trustees is a legal entity which could be represented by anybody as the prophet wasn’t named as a direct defendant in the law suit. However, even if he wasn’t directly named in the suit, many observers felt his presence would have indicated a sign of good faith.
Churchgoers in Nigeria, who often look to their leaders for inspiration and guidance in their lives seemingly indulge their leaders with blind faith. After all, how else could leaders such as Joshua get way with sexual abuse, intimidation and extorting their members?
Although, several church leaders have succeeded in raising many young Nigerians out of poverty and ignorance through financial support for scholarship programmes, job opportunities and poverty alleviation schemes. For example, Eagle Hand International Foundation, Wisdom Group Scholarship Scheme and the SCOAN Job Creation Initiative are just a few churches initiatives positively influencing the country’s youth. However, where can we look to for accountability?
In 2006 Chukwuemeka Ezeugo aka Reverend King, head pastor of Lagos based Christian Praying Assembly was accused of murdering Ann Uzoh. Reverend King’s ministry allegedly set several of his church members on fire for allegedly committing fornication. He gathered them and requested confessions from them over their sins, proceeding to flog those who had nothing to confess.
After setting them on fire, he allegedly rushed one of them, a female to the hospital. Ezeugo was arraigned on September 26, 2006 on a six-count charge of attempted murder and murder but he pleaded not guilty to all the charges. He was however sentenced to death by the Lagos State High Court, Ikeja, on January 11, 2007 for the murder of Ann Uzoh. In response to his appeal, an Appeal Court sitting in Lagos upheld his death sentence in 2013. Although he still remains alive to this day.
Physical assault also tends to be one of the ways men of God exercise their authority over their members. In 2012, Bishop David Oyedepo, of the Living Faith Church, popularly called Winner’s Chapel, slapped a teenage girl right in the middle of an altar call (where Christians are called by presiding pastors/ministers to the altar to surrender their lives to God). There was a video which showed Oyedepo slapping the young lady in question and subsequently went viral. The teenage girl was slapped because she denied the Bishop’s allegation that she was a ‘witch-for-Christ.’ Following the slap, Oyedepo stated that he had a right to slap the lady, claiming he was ‘Baba-witch’ himself. She later sued the Bishop for assault in a reported 2 billion naira lawsuit but lost to Oyedepo, as the Ogun state High Court presiding judge, Justice Mobolaji Ojo struck out the case on grounds that the case was lacking in merit.
Let’s not forget sexual abuse. In 2013 Ese Walters accused Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo, head pastor at Commonwealth of Zion Assembly (COZA) in Abuja of sexual abuse. She leveled her accusations against him through a written confession. In her letter, she shared that when she began attending COZA, Pastor Biodun took notice of her. A few excerpts of her written confession are seen below. The full letter can be found here.
The cases aforementioned are just a few examples of men within the Church overreaching their power as religious leaders within their community. However, the abuse of power in Nigeria extends beyond the church. In fact, whether in politics, business or the church Nigerians continue to learn the same lesson- when you’re a man in charge you can do anything, and get away with it.
Without a strong legal system that demands accountability, the Saraki’s and Joshua’s will continue failing to show up in court because the painful truth is that they don’t have to.
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