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SEX IN THE CHURCH: Ms. Ese Walter vs Pastor Biodun Fatonyinbo as a test case

By Emeka Ugwuonye on 25/08/2013

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On Friday, a colleague submitted to me the case of Ms. Ese Walter and Pastor Biodun Fatonyinbo and asked what I could make of it, and whether there was an angle for my group to intervene in this controversy.

Before I go any further on this, I would present the conclusion of my position first thus:

CONCLUSION:

You must realise that there could be many more women that slept with this Pastor in that church, including married women and possibly underage women. Some of them could have been raped. He might have had unprotected sex with them, thereby exposing them randomly to health risks. Those women are watching to see how you treat Ms. Walter’s case.

If you shout her down or disgrace her as some are doing, those other women would be forced to shut up and you may never know how dangerous this man is. But if you encourage Ms. Walter, you will be encouraging all women who felt the same way to come forward. And if they come forward, then you can understand. Let’s hear her. Let’s encourage more women to come forward.
My interest in this case is not just for Ms. Walter’s vindication. Rather, I find in this case an opportunity to say to all women who are bearing in their hearts some brooding sense of injustice, occasioned by the way they were treated by a powerful male figure in sexually exploitative context, to come forward. I want the girls who had to have sex with their professors in order to graduate to come forward. I want those young secretaries who have had to sleep with their bosses in order to be promoted at work to know it is okay to speak about it. Those women contractors who would not be paid for work they did unless some powerful men slept with them should know now that they can come forward. Those women who had to sleep with a police officer in order for their relatives to be released from detention should know too that they could speak out. I want them to know that the society would listen to them, thanks to Ese in the story you read and is further analysed below.

And I want the powerful predators to know that the truth may catch up with them.

THE ANALYSIS:

I read the story of Ms. Ese Walter and Pastor Biodun Fatonyinbo of Common Wealth of Zion Assembly (COZA). I detected a number of factors that made it interesting and relevant for a discussion on a major crisis in the Nigerian society. That crisis is the problem of power and sex. By this, I refer to all instances where people in privileged positions of power leverage their positions for sexual advantages over people on the weaker side of the balance of power.

We see this in the universities between lecturers and students, the power here being the power to control or influence the advancement of the student. We also see this in specific context of employer/supervisors and employees. We see this in the non-specific context of top government officials like Governors, Ministers, Senators exerting power and influence over others for sexual advantages. And to a noticeable extent, we are now seeing this power and sex game play out in the interactions between influential men of God and parishioners or congregants.

These are issues our society must begin to address. We have to build up a better awareness of this problem. It is not just a matter of protecting the weak and the vulnerable, as important as that is. It also necessary to address this problem because of the dangerous other ways it affects the smooth functioning and development of our society. For instance, if the professor awards a low grade to a bright student or a high grade to an unintelligent student just because of sex, the danger to the society is incalculable. We could have as a lawyer or a medical doctor someone who should not have qualified as a lawyer or a medical doctor. And we could have intelligent people packaged as unintelligent and placed behind those that they ought to be ahead of. The consequences of such are too great to calculate. If that practice is allowed to go on for a number of years unaddressed, the fabric of the society will be torn to shreds.

Even in the context of the church, the consequences are enormous. Bear in mind that in this country, our mental health care system is virtually non-existent. For a country that has gone through so many traumas such as war, instabilities, poverty and high crime rates and other forms of extreme violence, it ought to be understandable to policymakers that we would have a large number of people in need of mental healthcare. And we have very little of such care available. In a country of 180 million people, we have less than 200 psychiatric doctors. What has happened over time is that the churches have become the next likely place for those in need of care to look to. (Don’t get me wrong: not everybody in the church is there for health reasons). It will be therefore truly tragic for the church to become a place of emotional and sexual exploitation. The role of men of God becomes intricately sensitive in this regard. Sex abuse and exploitation in the church must therefore be viewed with seriousness.

It is high time we began to tackle this problem and there are many angles to consider. Ms. Walter’s case could be an opportunity. Therefore, it immediately was submitted to the Due Process Advocates (DPA) group for discussion and sensitisation. It was necessary to assess how Nigerians would react to issues that pertain to the problem highlighted above. DPA is a diverse group comprising of members of various professions, young professionals and students, as well as non-professionals. It was thus an excellent group to measure the level of aversion or tolerance the society has for sexual exploitation and predation.

As DPA members debated Ms. Walter’s case, one could see all the problems that one would expect. First, many people did not understand in a systemic way the nature and effects of sexual predation. They saw it as an isolated incident. Further, many saw it only from a moral point of view, in which the victim ought to have been wiser and the Pastor could be expected to be a man and indulge in the temptations of the flesh. For the moralists, it was just another sin that would be forgiven upon repentance. There was nearly a total failure to appreciate the power dynamics that tend to affect judgment, particularly that of the victim, in cases like this. Indeed, from the discussions on DPA, there is a low level of sensitivity and awareness of the dangers of predation in Nigeria. Despite that, the DPA discussions highlighted some of the problems with Ms. Walter’s claim and her status as a victim, as follows:

THE CASE:

For the purpose of this piece, not much is known about the life history of Ms. Walter. However, she has been described as a lawyer and a blogger, and it is known that she schooled and lived in London. She was actually based in London when the sexual encounter between her and the Pastor occurred. Much of what is known about Ms. Walter comes from her own narrative. The following elements of facts could be identified:

(1)  Ms. Walter is educated, well informed and has previously shown that she knew how to leave a church that she is not satisfied with. She actually came to the church of this Pastor because she was dissatisfied with her previous church.

(2) She understood all her rights in the church, including the right to refuse unwelcome sexual advances. But even if not, it is clear that when this happened she was in a place where the Pastor’s influence over her ought to have diminished. No overt sexual advances were made to her while she was an active member of the church in Abuja. What happened occurred while she was in London as a graduate student. There was enough time for her to have weaned herself from much of any influence the Pastor might have had over her in Abuja.

(3) The timing of her reaction seems a bit delayed. The sexual encounters occurred in London for a sustained period of one week. She did not do anything about it until she completed her programme in London and returned to Nigeria, and back to the church. According to her story, that was the time she decided to confront the Pastor over what happened. There seems to be a gap in her account. There was no indication of what transpired by way of further communication between the two from the time of the incident in London to the time she returned to Nigeria. No phone conversation. No e-mail communication. No communication was reported to have occurred between the two until she returned to confront him.

(4) As hinted above, Ms. Walter is not naïve. From her story alone, one gets the impression of a rather sophisticated, confident and bold woman. Take, for instance, the following portion of her narrative in which she described a conversation between her and the Pastor. She stated as follows:

“Care for a drink?” asked Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo.

“No, Sir,” I said.

“You don’t have to be shy, Ese, even if it’s alcohol, feel free and order what you want.” I wasn’t sure I heard my Pastor asking me to order alcohol. I imagined it was a test and ignored the voice inside that was saying, “I’d have Henny and Coke, please.” He proceeded to ask how I had been coping in London and if I was a committed member of any church. He also said he thought there was something special about me and wanted to know that I had not strayed from my faith. I really thought he had heard I was doing something I shouldn’t while in London but tried my best to focus on the conversation instead of my straying thoughts. He kept telling me to relax and feel comfortable with talking to him. After a few minutes, he asked that we go to the roof of the hotel as his room was a pent suite and had a connecting door to the roof.

A number of issues could be detected from the above example of her story.

(a) Ms. Walter is definitely not as naïve as her claims would suggest. Prior to this scene, she was familiar with sophisticated liquor such as Hennessey, which she referred to as “Henny”.  With this sophistication, why would she believe that the Pastor was not just acting like a man by trying to have adulterous sex with her? How could a seemingly sophisticated consumer of cocktails of “Henny and Coke” be that naïve?

(b) Her narrative has significant degree of creativity. It is not the same as a standard incident report compiled by a disinterested party. Rather, it is a narrative in which she reported not only what happened but also what she thought and what she believed the other person was thinking.

(c) Also, the entire story was peculiarly selective in the details it revealed. For instance, Ms. Walter described the details of how the Pastor offered her drinks the first day and how she felt conflicted about it. She proceeded to say that they had sex in that hotel room everyday for a week. But there was no detail on whether she drank with him the subsequent days, whether he gave her money, whether he used condom during sex. The issue of condom is particularly important because we are dealing with the fact that many other women are similarly exposed to the Pastor and if he is having unprotected sex with a lot of women, then the danger to society is worse as he might be exposing those women and his wife to disease. She didn’t give us this detail. Also, that detail would have raised questions as to whether she got pregnant from him and how she handled such pregnancy. Curiously, she avoided those important details.

THE STRENGTH OF THE CASE:

The claims of Ms. Walter have one crucial source of strength. And that is the fact that she found the courage to make them public. For reasons highlighted above, Ms. Walters must have realised that she risked being blamed and being exposed to a scandal. There is thus no clear benefit for her in telling this story. She is not asking for money, even when it insinuated was to her. She is only asking that the Pastor own up and atone for what happened. She is not suggesting she was raped, despite the hint of hypnotism. She is not suggesting that she was jilted or that she had any expectation of having an open relationship with the Pastor that could have led to anything. Why would she put herself and reputation through the gutters if her story or motive were not genuine? Ordinarily, she could have handled her grievance with the Pastor privately and quietly without going public in the manner she has.

THE OVERALL BENEFIT OF THE CASE:

The greatest benefit of this case is that a woman came forward with a story of this nature. It is well known that the greatest obstacle to fighting sex crimes and cases of exploitation and abuse is the fact that the victims are too shy or too timid or too embarrassed to come forward to talk about what happened to them. The mere exposure of an incident of non-violent sexual exploitation tends to warn other victims and it embarrasses the powerful figure that would have wanted such incident to go unreported.

Ms. Walter’s decision to come forward is an empowerment for women all over. It shows that an educated professional woman could use her case as an example of the problem the society must tackle. This should encourage the undergraduate who has been exploited sexually by her professor to come forward and say what happened. The same should be true with other women in the various churches who have been victim of predation. The same should be true with women in various workplaces who have been exploited sexually. They should all come out and speak out about their experiences. Such reports and disclosures would help fight the problem.

Irrespective of any doubts about Ms. Walter’s lack of judgment, Nigerians should all come out and support her and help focus attention on sexual exploitations by people in powerful positions.

•Emeka Ugwuonye, Esquire, lawyer and activist, whose photo appears alongside this piece, is the Group Founder/Principal Administrator of Due Process Advocates (DPA). •Photo shows Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo and her lover Ese Walter.

Source News Express

Posted 25/08/2013 9:40:20 PM

 

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