Busola Dakolo said she had been expecting to hear from the police. Three weeks earlier the photographer had filed a case against the flamboyant Nigerian celebrity pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo, accusing him of raping her years before.
However, she recalled that the silver Toyota that tailed her as she was driving into her Lagos housing estate, and the white minibus with tinted windows already parked outside her house, had no police markings. By the time she got to her gate, the minibus had blocked her path. According to Dakolo, a man appeared and told her to get out of the car, get into the bus and speak to his oga – Nigerian pidgin English for boss.
Dakolo said when she refused, three men got out of the minibus and walked towards her.
“One was holding a gun, and I noticed a second one holding a letter. They told me they were from IG’s [the inspector general of police] office in Abuja and that I needed to sign this letter and acknowledge it,” Dakolo said in an interview with the Guardian.
The letter contained allegations of criminal conspiracy, falsehood, mischief and threat to life. These were not levelled against Fatoyinbo, however, but against Dakolo and her husband, a well-known musician.
Dakolo’s description of the two occasions on which Fatoyinbo allegedly raped her, first at her family home and then on the bonnet of his car, shocked Nigerians. It also triggered a backlash both from the pastor himself – he denies the allegations “in every measure” – and from some of the 16,000 members of his church, the Commonwealth of Zion Assembly (Coza).
Dakolo had been hailed as a brave survivor whose speaking out, women’s rights activists hoped, could set off a #MeToo movement in the west African country where patriarchal traditions continue to stigmatise survivors. Now she found herself hounded in a seemingly orchestrated social media campaign.
“Busola Dakolo was never raped nor had any form of intercourse with Biodun Fatoyinbo. She fabricated the entire story to garner sympathy for a bigger assignment of defamation,” wrote the controversial blogger Kemi Omololu-Olunloyo, who describes herself as “the Great Journalist of Nigeria”. Later, she posted: “Busola Dakolo should exit this web of lies now. There was NO RAPE!”
“If God be for him, even all the celebrities, everyone that has made comments, even the over two million followers on Instablog can’t bring him down,” Ernest Esekhile, a Christian DJ, said on Instagram.
The charges against the Dakolos were brought by a special police branch in a counter-case filed by Coza, despite investigations stalling on the initial case.
“Our culture doesn’t allow speaking of these sorts of things against anointed men of God,” Dakolo said. “They’d rather hide it, and the party that is being victimised tends to live with that self-blame. The damage on the survivor is extremely terrible. The society, the church, keeps sweeping things under the carpet.”
Fatoyinbo returned to the pulpit on Sunday after a month’s absence. “As a Christian, you must face opposition. If God, who is holy and faithful, has enemies, you are sure going to have,” he told the congregation.
Pastors are often revered in Nigerian society, some leading church franchises with branches worldwide and congregations in the tens of thousands, building hangar-size places of worship and flying around in private jets. Fatoyinbo himself drives a Porsche.
They often also wield significant political power: TB Joshua, the leader of the Synagogue, Church of All Nations, has received presidents from across the continent, and sometimes makes prophecies about who will win elections – including one that Hillary Clinton would win in 2016. Chris Okotie, a 1980s pop star turned pastor, has run for president himself four times.
The country’s vice-president is a pastor at the Redeemed Christian Church of God, the country’s most economically and politically important religious institution, according to the sociologist Ebenezer Obadare.
In response to condemnation of the delivery of the Dakolos’ letters, the Nigerian police force put out a statement saying: “A police invitation letter is not synonymous with a warrant of arrest, and must not be construed to be one. Rather, it is a polite investigative tool used in eliciting information voluntarily from parties to aid police investigations.”
However, Dakolo said it was “extremely intimidating” to have a gunman emerge from a darkened minibus, and that while she had eventually acquiesced, she had been in shock.
“Is this what everybody goes through, everyone that comes out to say their truth, everybody that says something about someone that is influential?” she asked. “I felt: who’s going to be there for the common man? Who is going to be there for someone who nobody knows?”
The lawyer and women’s rights advocate Ayisha Osori said Nigeria had “a very strong rape culture” and that men and the state felt a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies. “That’s why the state doesn’t typically play a supportive role, but instead plays a role to maintain power structures,” she said.
Osori said that if it was not quite Nigeria’s #MeToo moment yet, it was a “huge deal” to have an educated, public-facing woman speak out, with a supportive spouse alongside her, and would be looked back on as a milestone.
“It’s not done for women who have everything to lose to come out and say: ‘This has happened to me.’ That a middle-class family, a well-known family responds as they do – it’s extremely positive.”
The way Dakolo saw the reaction to her allegations, she said, was: “He [Fatoyinbo] is in denial and he’s just trying to cover up and protect everything about himself.”
She said she was praying for justice and she hoped it would encourage others to come forward.
“This issue is beyond me. This is what’s happening, and the church is a place where they don’t talk about this.
“I decided to come out for me,” she added. “It’s for me and others, so they can begin their process of healing, so they can begin to live freely.”