Sunday 28 January 2024

Rape sentence: Church members say popular Lagos pastor framed, conviction will be overturned

Nigerian News, Latest Nigeria In News. Nigeria News. Your online Nigerian  Newspaper.: Popular Lagos pastor Feyi Daniels bags life imprisonment for  raping church member

Some members of the iReign Christian Ministry, Lagos, on Friday, expressed shock as the church’s founder and senior pastor, Bishop Oluwafeyiropo (Feyi) Daniels, was sentenced to life imprisonment by an Ikeja Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Court for raping a church member.

The members of the church, which is located at 1a Gbolade Adebanjo Crescent, Opebi, Ikeja, who spoke to Saturday PUNCH, said the pastor was being victimised and that his imprisonment would not stop the work of God.

The court on Friday sentenced Daniels to life imprisonment for raping his 23-year-old assistant (name withheld).

Justice Rahman Oshodi, who delivered the 324-page judgment, also sentenced the embattled bishop to three years’ imprisonment for sexually assaulting another member of the church, aged 19.

He held that the prosecution had established the ingredients of rape and sexual assault, which were counts one and three, against Daniels beyond reasonable doubt.

He further held that the pastor should spend the rest of his life at the Kirikiri Custodial Facility, Lagos.

According to him, the evidence of the first prosecution witness was corroborated by that of the third witness.

The judge, however, discharged and acquitted him of rape (count two) of another survivor (name withheld) on the ground that there was an element of consent.

Justice Oshodi also discharged and acquitted Daniels of attempted rape (count four) of another member of his church, also 19.

According to him, the convict did not have regard for the truth and committed the offences using his dominant character and position as a pastor.

Justice Oshodi said, “Oluwafeyiropo Daniels, I have convicted you of sexually violating two women, who were members of your church.

“The first one, you raped ferociously and caused her so much pain. The second, you sexually assaulted using your dominant character and position as a clergy.

“These offences are grievous and rape attracts life imprisonment, while sexual assault is punishable with three years’ imprisonment.”

The judge also said though the defence counsel, Adebayo Adegbite, urged the court to use its discretion in sentencing, the Lagos State law, however, prescribed a mandatory sentence for rape.

“Due to the seriousness and the ferocity of the attack on his victims, accordingly, I sentence you as follows: on count one, I sentence you to life imprisonment; on count three, I sentence you to three years imprisonment and you shall also serve your term in the maximum security custodial centre where you are currently being held,” he added.

Oshodi said the sentencing should run concurrently and the convict’s name be registered in the Lagos State Sex Offender Registry.

The convict remained silent when the court asked him whether he had anything to say following his conviction.

The defence counsel, in his allocutus (plea for mercy), prayed the court to temper justice with mercy.

Adegbite told the court that the convict was a first-time offender with no previous conviction.

He also said the convict was the breadwinner of his family and urged the judge to use his discretion in sentencing him.

The state prosecution team led by Babajide Boye, however, urged the court to convict the bishop as charged.

The prosecution called five witnesses, while the defence also called five witnesses during the trial through whom various documents were tendered in evidence.

Boye submitted that the convict raped his assistant pastor in her home in Ikota Villa Estate, sometime in June 2020.

He also said that the convict sexually assaulted one of his church members by forcefully sucking and touching her breasts without her consent sometime in April 2021 at the church’s office in Ikeja.

Daniels was charged with four revised counts of attempted rape, rape, and sexual assault.

On April 17, 2023, and May 9, 2023, Daniels entered a not guilty plea at his arraignment and re-arraignment, respectively.

Sections 260 (2) and 263 of the Lagos State 2015 Criminal Law, according to the prosecution, were broken by the offences.

‘Our bishop framed’

However, while reacting to Bishop Daniels conviction, some church members said he had been unfairly treated because of his political affiliation.

A woman, who claimed to be a leader in the evangelism and welfare unit of the church, and gave her name as Mrs Peace, said, “I know my pastor. He will overcome.

“He has been a staunch attacker of this government and they are victimising him. Our God is not asleep. In this month of our fasting, we will not stop praying for him even while in captivity.”

Peace posted on X after the judgment, “All because he gave a prophecy that did not go down well in the eyes of the Tinubu APC govt (sic). Make una continue.”

Another X user, Ikokwu Chidozie Ikemba, through his handle, @IkeokwuChidozie, wrote, “There is a war against the church and it’s coming from the inside.”

Another member of the church, who gave her name only as Mrs Omopariola, said, “Pastor cannot do that kind of thing. I have worshipped in that church for five years. Where is the evidence?

“Was there a hidden camera? This year is our year of abundance and this month is our month of answered prayers. I know this is not the end. God will intervene.”

An X user, @Nosafk, wrote, “The day your prophecy doesn’t favour them, they will come and arrest you for one thing or the other. Every opportunity is good to silence those who will call them out to be accountable.”

Another X user, @CheezyCharles, said, “Life imprisonment ke? What’s the proof? Abeg, he should go and appeal this nonsense!”

However, several other Nigerians lauded the judgment, saying that it would serve as a deterrent to religious leaders who use their positions to oppress and sexually exploit their members.

A social commentator on X, Oke Matarazi, through his handle, @OMatarazi, wrote, “The reported case of a Lagos pastor, Feyi Daniels, receiving a life imprisonment sentence for raping a church member is a deeply troubling and unfortunate incident. Such acts of misconduct, especially within a place of worship where trust and moral guidance are expected, are reprehensible.

“Religious institutions in Nigeria need to prioritise the safety and well-being of their members, fostering an environment of trust, support, and accountability.

“The Lagos legal system’s response to such cases sends a strong message about the consequences of such heinous actions and I hope they learn.”

One of our correspondents, who on Friday joined a Facebook prayer group belonging to the embattled cleric, Bishop Feyi Daniels Prayer Group, observed that the members were offering prayers for him.

Members, numbering over 40 were saying, “May God vindicate him”, “Our pastor is innocent”, “This is wickedness”, and “The body of Christ is under attack.”

A member, Doyin Okediran, told our correspondent on Facebook, “Our pastor is innocent. He did not do these things. I am sure God is in heaven watching and he will not allow his servant to suffer.”

Another member, Ifeyinwa Mgbe, said, “I know this man of God. I worshipped under his unction. If I travel, I still join him online. I am still in shock.”

NGOs, lawyers react

Meanwhile, a human rights advocacy group, Tonia Bruised But Not Broken Foundation, has lauded the jailing of the pastor.

The Executive Director of the foundation, Anthonia Ojenagbon, told journalists in Lagos on Friday that the judgment was a landmark one and commended the judge for not leaving any stone unturned during the proceedings.

She said, “The judgment will serve as a deterrent to everyone who manipulates vulnerable girls and women.

“I thank the International Federation of Women Lawyers, Ekiti State branch, to which the case was first reported to in 2020.

“This judgment shows beaming hope that survivors will get justice and perpetrators of this evil act will, one day, find themselves in a place where they will not be able to escape.

“I want to say that this is a victory for every survivor of sexual violence and rape case in Nigeria.”

She also thanked the survivors for coming out to testify against the cleric, while praising the Lagos State Government for having zero tolerance for any form of sexual and gender-based violence.

The founder of Stop the Abuse Against Children and Women Foundation, MrsToyin Taiwo-Ojo, said the judgment would restore faith in the church and the entire society.

Taiwo-Ojo, who is the lead counsel to the victims, said the judgment showed that morality was protected by the judiciary.

The Lagos-based lawyer said, “This is another win for sexual violence and rape survivors.

“We have seen men of God committing this crime over and over again.”

Another lawyer, Ikechukwu Onu, laud the judgment and said sexual offences should not be treated with kid’s gloves.

“I am glad that my lord, Justice Rahman Oshodi, did the right thing. I followed this case keenly and I am glad. Truly, the judiciary is the hope of the common man. As for other religious leaders jumping from one skirt to another, the arms of the law are wide enough to grab them,” he stated.

On social media, netizens have continued to express joy over the judgment, saying that the Justice did a thorough job.

A Facebook user, Olumuji Olaoluwa Oluseyi, “Very sad indeed but it is nevertheless a superb judgment. With great power comes great responsibility.

“The problem is that many of these so-called ‘pastors’ are scammers. They have tarnished the image of others and have ridiculed the pulpit and the altar. Once again, I say, superb judgment.”

Another Facebook user, Balogun Tobi, said, “Na wa o. It is highly disheartening but I think the judgment is right. This is the end time. I am happy justice has prevailed.”

Another Facebook user, Ifeanyichukwu Abraham, posted, “I thought they said he’s been sentenced today? I wish the government could go for more of such molesters in the body of Christ.

“Every pastor or so-called man of god molesting and abusing minors and vulnerable people is actually molesting and abusing the gospel he purports to represent. God’s hand is not in the matter at all.”