Over the weekend, the senior pastor of Dunamis Gospel centre, Paul Enenche, publicly embarrassed a congregant who shared a testimony about her new law degree. The woman who seemingly lost her composure due to stage fright described herself as a “BSc graduate of law”. For Enenche, this was all the evidence he needed to shut down her testimony as a blatant lie.

In the hours that followed, pictures and documents surfaced on social media confirming the woman’s claims to be true. Enenche released an apology statement but not before the aggrieved woman lamented the treatment on Facebook saying: “How shattered I must have felt to be disgraced by my spiritual leader in such a manner?”.

The entire exchange got me curious about the complexities of navigating conflicts with spiritual leaders who are often held in high regard by their followers. I found these people to share their experiences with their religious leaders.

Habib*, 30

In 2021, I returned to Quranic school because I had some free time on my hands. I was 26, but the Qur’an instructor always moved like no one was beyond ass-whooping. I didn’t like that but he had a way of teaching that made it easier to learn the Quran.

One day, I missed a recitation and this man gave me six hot strokes of cane on my butt. I’d never felt that embarrassed in my adult life. I stopped attending the classes and ignored him on the streets. He soon noticed my absence and visited me at home. He tried to avoid the topic and asked why I’d not been coming. This was when I gave him a piece of my mind about how he humiliated and physically assaulted me. I don’t know if he was genuinely remorseful or just wanted another student back, but he apologised. I returned to school a few weeks later and we’ve built a mutual respect since then.

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Dami*, 28

Back in uni, I once had a clash with our campus fellowship pastor who was a final year student at the time. I can’t remember the details of what happened because it’s been so long but I know it had something to do with me refusing a directive from him. He didn’t like that I disobeyed him in public and things got physical. Some other church executives settled us but this guy refused to apologise for raising his hand against me. I attended church after the weeks that followed and the pastor carried on like nothing happened. He limited his interactions with me and I returned the same energy. That incident lifted a scale off my eyes and till today, it’s a constant reminder not to place men of God on any high pedestal. They err, too.

Kaffy*, 35

I had the bitchiest fights with the Ameerah (leader of female Muslims) when I was in uni. I only wear scarves or hijab during prayer times but somehow this person thought she could change me. I mean, my parents didn’t even try to enforce the head-covering rule, but you, whom I only met in school, thought you’d change that? She’d give me the coldest shoulder when I wasn’t covered and try to warm up when I showed up covered in the mosque. 

I wasn’t cool with the pretence and called her out on her bullshit during one of the Muslim sisters’ Sunday meetings. She didn’t see it coming and didn’t like it either. If she didn’t like me before, calling her out doubled the dislike. In my mind, I was like “You won’t make a malice-keeping sinner of me”. So, I met all her cold shoulders with loud greetings of “Salam alaikum sister” or asking her for help when I didn’t need it. More than six years after school, we’re still friends.

Victor*, 40

We moved from Lagos to somewhere in Sango Otta last year, and it wasn’t easy to keep up with the travel time to my church on the island. So I decided to scout for a church in the area and found one. It was a new fellowship and the head pastor seemed like a nice woman. I attended for a couple of weeks, but somehow the service didn’t feel like my former church. I decided to start alternating visits between my new and old church. The pastor at the new church noticed this and asked why I’d missed previous services. When I told her about my arrangement, I noticed a look of betrayal on her face. Her response also hinted that she wanted me to choose between both churches. In the following weeks, she reduced her niceties and barely regarded me on the days I attended. I was slightly disappointed but I didn’t let it deter me from attending. I’m there for God and not her. 

Johan*, 32

I didn’t really have conflict with my former pastor but I  left his church because I didn’t agree with some of his ways: He was anti-women. When my parents once had issues in their marriage, I shared it with him and I left that conversation feeling hurt because he outrightly put the blame on my mum, calling her a witch.

 He was also the “I know it all” type of pastor who felt his ministry was the beginning and end of salvation. At some point, I evaluated all of these experiences with him and knew it was time to leave. I’m now at a place of forgiveness so I find it hard to recount some of the things I encountered.

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