To even the most casual of observers, there's an overstated sense of taboo surrounding discussions around religious leaders in a country as obsessively devoted to divine affairs as Nigeria.

"Touch not my anointed," is a well-worn maxim so pronounced that it's a wonder it's not documented in the nation's constitution. It's simply taboo for the uninitiated to even suggest that religious leaders are susceptible to the same failings as ordinary beings, or deserving of the secular society's crude scrutiny.

Nigeria's Christian religious leaders, modestly labelled Men of God, have ridden high on their flock's devotion, and the society's reticence with glancing too hard at them, to get away with a wide range of wrongdoings.

These wrongdoings, in speech and/or action, typically play out in the court of public opinion where their reputation eventually takes some sort of damage so insignificant that they're allowed to continue with business as usual.

As with all things, Men of God operate on planes different from one another - from private jet-level Men of God to as far down the rabbit hole as you can go.

Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo has not made it into the league of private-jet having Nigerian Men of God, yet, but he's one of the nation's most famous clerics, especially among Nigeria's teeming youth population.

He's the founder of the Commonwealth of Zion Assembly (COZA), a church he has grown from only a handful of worshippers in Ilorin in 1999 to thousands of members who worship at branches in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Dubai, with headquarters in Abuja.

Fatoyinbo is remarkably famed for being a fashionable modern-day cleric who's not shy to flaunt his divinely-bestowed wealth. Coupled with his flashy lifestyle, he's described by many to be a great singer and man of great religious depth.

This has made his ministry a big draw for Nigerian youths who are increasingly inquisitive about faith and perpetually on the hunt for places of worship that fit their 21st century standard of spiritual practice.

In 2013, Fatoyinbo's well-curated public image took a hit when a former member of his congregation, Ese Walter, revealed that she had a week-long affair with him that left her scarred enough to abandon the church. It's worthy to note that he was already married when this alleged affair happened.

Even though she admitted that she was not raped, Walter, a lawyer and radio personality, felt manipulated and abused by Fatoyinbo who she said subsequently played mind games on her to keep the affair between them. She even noted that he impressed upon her the "Touch not my anointed" doctrine to keep the affair from becoming public knowledge.

"Little did I know at the time that all of these were ways to mess with my mind and even manipulate my thoughts," she wrote.

Ese Walter [Premium Times]
Ese Walter [Premium Times]

Walter's public confession generated a huge amount of public interest that many were convinced that he was guilty of being a duplicitous religious leader whose exposure would spell the end of his ministry.

However, many were also willing to hear his side of the story to know what happened or didn't happen at all.

Many innocent, or even guilty, people would simply say, "I didn't do it" to Walter's kind of allegations, but while addressing his congregation days later, Fatoyinbo said God told him to not speak on the issue.

Nevertheless, he also said he would consult with COZA's leadership and release "a robust response" to the allegations. God must have won the eventual battle because that response never came.

Even though Walter's allegation was the first of such to flash the public spotlight on Fatoyinbo, there had been many similar rumours about his sexual conduct with members whose trust he allegedly violated with trysts.

Walter noted the same thing, saying she wasn't the only lady in COZA who had been a victim of Fatoyinbo's "sexcapades and manipulative patterns".

This resonated when Timi Dakolo, a singer, subtly, but very unambiguously, accused Fatoyinbo of "leaving a trail of broken women, sexually abused and mentally strangled" in an Instagram post in May 2019.

"From Avalanche to Gratitude, from Pastoral Care Unit to Host and Hostesses, from witty Inventions to Hospitality Unit. They are found in every department in that "Church". He hand picks his victims and ruins them," he wrote.

Dakolo's post refocused the spotlight on Fatoyinbo and COZA, with more rumours of alleged victims flying around social media. Some of the people that reacted to Dakolo's post raised allegations that he was only mad at Fatoyinbo because the pastor had had an affair with his wife, Busola, in the past.

However, Busola, a celebrity photographer, has now revealed in an interview that Fatoyinbo had allegedly raped her twice in four days when she was a 17-year-old who had just finished from secondary school.

Detailing her encounters with him after she joined COZA, she said he first raped her in the comfort of her home, and then again in the back of his car, rape incidents for which she claimed he admitted and issued an apology to her family.

And like Walter claimed, Busola also said Fatoyinbo's deceptively-pristine reputation as a Man of God sits comfortably on the back of many teenagers that he keeps allegedly grooming and abusing.

This, she said, is why her husband made the Instagram post last month, a consequence of his outrage against an unending injustice.

"People have reached out to him to say, 'You're the voice that can help us. This person is still doing this,'" she said.

Busola Dakolo [Instagram/BusolaDakolo]
Busola Dakolo [Instagram/BusolaDakolo]

Busola's new claim has understandably brought Fatoyinbo's alleged private transgressions back under intense public scrutiny yet again.

Rape, especially in Nigeria, is a tricky subject, even taboo, as victims have been considerably forced to internalise the reality that they'd be inviting unguarded scrutiny into their lives followed by careless judgements. When such a subject is now wrapped around a venerated religious leader, it's clear to see how issues can be unnecessary complicated.

Organised religion, a very significant colonial legacy, has eaten deep into the Nigerian society that the common people have made themselves gatekeepers to ensure that it takes as little damage as possible.

This has enabled pastors to build a cult of personality around themselves that's almost impossible to pierce, not even if such a pastor has been convicted of murder and sentenced to death as Reverend King, who killed a member of his congregation, proves.

Fatoyinbo has not killed anyone, and he's not been found guilty of anything by a court of law. However, in the court of public opinion, he has a lot to answer with allegations from intimidation, grooming teenagers for sex, as well as rape trailing him.

The church has been increasingly accused of exploiting vulnerable people who trust in the institution, and Men of God are the constant face of that exploitative streak.

Fatoyinbo promised and failed to issue "a robust response" to Walter's allegations six years ago, but with with Busola Dakolo's fresh allegations and a string of other lingering allegations, he'll need more than that to salvage his rocked reputation outside of his committed followership.

One unaddressed allegation is disturbing, and a bunch of them simply borders on criminal and doesn't inspire too much confidence in whatever anyone will try to say is his truth or the real truth. 

As of now, there's no indication that a criminal case will be filed against Fatoyinbo, so the only cost of this latest storm is a loss of face in public.

However, if the institution that shields Men of God is anything to go by, his response or non-response will likely change nothing in the grande scheme of things.

Like he's always done, he'll survive; and that is simply unacceptable.