A coalition of Nigerian and International civil society organisations and churches have strongly condemned the recent campaign of terror that has been inflicted upon the so-called ‘child witches’ at the Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network Centre (CRARN) in Eket, Akwa Ibom State by Lagos-based police officers. The work of CRARN, and the children they care for, was shown on UK Channel 4’s Dispatches Programme on ‘Saving Africa’s Witch Children’ in November 2008.
On Friday 3 July 2009, in the afternoon local time, a group of men appeared at the CRARN Centre claiming to be donors who wanted to donate goods and toys to the children. Shortly after, the men identified themselves as police officers, and unlawfully arrested two CRARN staff members and mercilessly beat many of the children whilst searching for CRARN’s Founder and President, Sam Itauma. Two young girls aged 11 and 12 years old were beaten unconscious and are currently receiving treatment in a local hospital. Five other children suffered injuries at the hands of these men, who then left a round of bullets in Sam Itauma’s bedroom, presumably to act as a warning that his life is in danger.
Gary Foxcroft, Programme Director of the UK-based NGO Stepping Stones Nigeria, and partner of CRARN, said: “We condemn the actions of the police in the strongest possible terms and call for the Akwa Ibom State Government to ensure the safety of all CRARN staff and children. The beatings of these innocent children further highlight the depravity of these so-called men and women of God who label and abuse children as witches. However, we will not be intimidated in our fight to protect the rights of vulnerable children and ensure that children are no longer labeled as witches. We know that the truth is on our side”.
Stepping Stones Nigeria believe that this campaign of terror is a direct response to Channel 4’s Dispatches Programme, ‘Saving Africa’s Witch Children’, which highlighted the role that Mrs Helen Ukpabio, self-proclaimed pastor, evangelist and founder of the Liberty Gospel Foundation Church in Nigeria, and film production company, Liberty Films, have played in spreading the myth of child witchcraft.
Helen Ukpabio has recently filed legal complaints against Sam Itauma and CRARN at the Special Fraud Unit at the Ikoyi Station in Lagos for “fraudulent activities and threat to life”, charges which the coalition argues are clearly fabricated in order to threaten and intimidate. The police officers were accompanied by Mr Victor Ukott, the Lagos-based lawyer who is representing Mrs Helen Ukpabio. Staff at CRARN, Stepping Stones Nigeria and the Stepping Stones Nigeria Child Empowerment Foundation have also recently received numerous threatening phone calls, which would appear to be linked to this campaign of terror. CRARN staff have also been threatened by persons regarding the upcoming court case of “Bishop” Sunday Ulup-Aya, who was featured on Channel 4’s Dispatches programme bragging that he had killed “up to 110 witches”.
Sam Itauma, Founder and President of CRARN, said: “It is clear that forces of darkness are intent on taking my life and I remain deeply concerned for my safety and, most importantly, that of the children at the CRARN centre. I therefore plead for the Akwa Ibom State Government to offer us its full protection and ensure that its international image is not further damaged by this worrying situation”.
The coalition urgently calls on the Akwa Ibom State Government to:
· Award their full protection to Sam Itauma, other CRARN staff members and the children to ensure their full safety now and in the future;
· Carry out in-depth investigations into the activities of Mrs Helen Ukpabio and the Liberty Gospel Foundation Church, prosecute anyone found to be labelling children as witches and close any church found to be labelling children as ‘witches’ through deliverance or other methods.
· Arrest and prosecute the police officers who unlawfully arrested and detained CRARN staff members and beat and injured innocent children;
· Support the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the false legal charges that are being levelled against Sam Itauma and CRARN staff.