It was a dramatic scene at a South African airport on Thursday when the country’s police swooped on a Nigerian pastor, Timothy Omotoso, accused of sexually molesting girls in his congregation.
Mr. Omotoso, who is based in Durban, South Africa, was arraigned in court on Friday and was denied bail. He is likely to spend 12 nights behind bars, according to South African media.
The 58-year old pastor was arrested inside the toilet at the Port Elizabeth Airport shortly after he disembarked from his flight, says a report published by a South African newspaper, The Herald.
Mr. Omotoso had arrived Port Elizabeth airport around 3 pm from Durban where his church, Jesus Dominion International, is headquartered.
“Within minutes of the first passengers disembarking, police rushed on to the tarmac. But Omotoso was seen walking into the toilets minutes earlier, accompanied by a woman,” the paper reported.
The paper said that about eight heavily-armed policemen were in the airport searching for the pastor.
It said that the policemen went into the toilet, dragged out the unidentified woman before arresting Mr. Omotoso.
A short video posted on The Herald website shows a handcuffed Mr. Omotoso being dragged away by the policemen, amidst cheers from onlookers.
Mr. Omotoso’s lawyer, Terry Price, who was present at the airport, had reportedly protested, “You can’t arrest him here without a warrant!”
Mr. Price accused the South African police of maltreating Mr. Omotoso.
“They (the police) are worse than Mugabe’s thugs in Zimbabwe,” the lawyer was quoted as saying.
“Since when do you arrest an unarmed pastor with eight armed men? He is not a danger.”
Robert Netshiunda, a spokesperson of the Tactical Response Team, TRT, the special police unit that arrested Mr. Omotoso later said of the pastor’s arrest: “We can’t say he wanted to run. We can say he sought refuge in the toilets.”
The police alleged that Mr. Omotoso over the years trafficked about 30 young women from various branches of his church to a house in Umhlanga, KwaZulu-Natal where he allegedly exploited them sexually.
Meanwhile, the South Africa’s branch of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), has called on the country’s authorities to follow due process in the handling of the case.
CAN, according to a report aired by Channels Television, expressed fears that Mr. Omotoso’s arrest might trigger more anti-Nigerian sentiment in South Africa.
Mr. Omotoso, who is the founder of a 24-hour satellite TV station, Ancient of Days Broadcasting Network (ADBN), which is aired across the Caribbean, Africa, Mexico, Middle East, Europe and the United States, is married and has three children.