Embarrassed by reports of the continuing problem of children being stigmatised as witches in Akwa Ibom state in Nigeria, Governor Godswill Akpabio has decided to act: by going after the charities that have been caring for abandoned children and highlighting the problem. The Pioneer reports:
Weekend Pioneer recalls Chief Akpabio in his reaction to a news report on Cable News Network (CNN) which portrays the state in bad light to the international community.
Chief Akpabio maintained that the operators of the CRARN and Stepping Stones were blowing the issue out of proportion for monetary gains.
…Chief Akpabio had accused officials of the NGO of fraud and promised to effect their arrest in a radio and television phone-in- programme in the Akwa Ibom Broadcasting Corporation (AKBC).
Stepping Stones has released a statement on the accusation:
…Speaking at a recent press conference held by the organisations and the Bar Human Rights Committee Child Rights Unit in Abuja, the Programme Director of Stepping Stones Nigeria, Gary Foxcroft, said: “Stepping Stones Nigeria refutes these false allegations in the strongest possible terms. As a registered charity in England and Wales we are accountable to the Charity Commission and publish our accounts on their website and ours annually. Stepping Stones Nigeria and our partners are committed to upholding the highest standards in transparency and accountability. We have absolutely nothing to hide. Unfortunately it appears that the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio, has been given misleading information on this issue by those with a commercial interest in seeking to discredit our work. We therefore wish to request a formal meeting with the Governor to help address this misunderstanding. Under the leadership of Governor Godswill Akpabio the Akwa Ibom State Government has made some significant progress in improving the lives of children accused of witchcraft in Akwa Ibom State. This has included enacting the Child Rights Act and transforming the educational landscape in the state. Stepping Stones Nigeria and its partners remain committed to working with the Akwa Ibom State Government to stamp out this evil practice once and for all”.
Responding to allegations that the child witch issue in Akwa Ibom State had been “exaggerated”, the President of the Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN), Sam Itauma, stated that: “Over the last 7 years CRARN has dealt with numerous horrific cases of child abuse linked to the belief in child witches. Recent reports by UNICEF and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child show this problem is real and that it has not been exaggerated at all. We hope that the Governor will give us the opportunity to discuss this with him as the relevant Government Ministries working on this issue have not given us the opportunity to address this issue with them”…
One particular enemy of the children’s hostel is the powerful local evangelist ”Apostle” Helen Ukpabio. Ukpabio teaches through her books and films that children can cause misfortune as witches, and she tried to have the hostel shut down last year. She has denounced San Itauma as a “wizard” who has “turned those children to become witches for the sake of money”, and when Governor Akpabio visited the hostel last year she warned him – with her typical vulgarity and arrogance – to “remember what happened to Saddam Hussein”. Perhaps Akpabio is taking the threat seriously.
Meanwhile, Ukpabio’s supporters continue to leave comments on my blog, and an abusive attack website created by Ukpabio’s webmaster and endorsed by her remains in operation. Most recently, Ukpabio’s fans have been celebrating that the father of Nigerian humanist and activist Leo Igwe lost an eye in a attack after Leo publicly supported a victim of rape in his home village.