Channel 4 Highlights Nigerian “Witch Children”

Last night Channel 4 broadcast Saving Africa’s Witch Children, as part of its Dispatches strand. The programme focused on children accused of being witches by Pentecostal pastors in Akwa Ibom state in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria, and the work of the Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network. Several pastors were featured, including Helen Ukpabio, who has featured on this blog several times in the past, most recently here. The problem makes for grim viewing: we see children who have been horribly mutilated, and in one case left brain damaged after having had a nail driven through her skull; others appear withdrawn and tearful after being rejected by their families and threatened. We also see the hostility of aggressive and angry adults against the charity workers who challenge the witch teaching and offer support to children living rough.

The first pastor we meet is the rolex-wearing Bishop Sunday Ulup-Aya, who makes children drink a strange “poison destroyer” medicine made up of “African mercury”, his own blood, and pure alcohol. He explains, in a jerky and giggling manner, that

I have power here on earth that is bound in heaven…I killed up to 110 people who was identified to be a witch…We have 2.3 million witches and wizards in Akwa Ibom.

His services cost “400,000”.

Also featured are Prophetess Cecilia Udoyeo and Franklin Udoeyo, of the Covenant Global Mission. They have a group of subdued children in a room at the back of their church; the prophetess tells us that

In the night we have to tarry [i.e. fight] with them, so they may not go to the coven, so we have to tarry with them until it is 5 and we know they cannot move again. The Spirit of God has overwhelmed them. That is why we will allow them to sleep by daytime.

Franklin adds, regarding one girl:

She has grown up to a level of becoming a Queen in the coven, so one day the Lord helped me I was able to remove the crown, her power was removed.

The girl now sleeps in Franklin’s bedroom. Some of the children have been living at the church for three years.

Ukpabio herself is then featured, and we are treated to scenes from her Christian horror film End of Wicked, which shows witch children eating human flesh, flying around, and making an man’s eyes pop out. In 2000 only a few children were ever accused of witchcraft, but the upsurge since then – there are frequent arrivals at CRARN’s shelter – is blamed by a local community leader, Chief Victor Emet, on Ukpabio and her film. The filmmakers also visit a village where everyone has seen the film, and where a girl has been ostracised for witchcraft. The locals are outraged when the child is brought back into the village, one man smiling as he tells us “I want to kill that small girl”. Here’s an extract I found on Youtube:

Ukpabio, however, denies any responsibility:

Witchcraft is a problem all over Nigeria..I never hurt anybody. Be careful, mind your ways…We have about 150 churches in Nigeria. I am a voice in this country. So, a white man or a white woman cannot come into my country and say nonsense against me and mess up the whole situation.

She accuses the interviewers of not having seen her film, and demands to know why she is being targeted rather than J.K. Rowling. Ukpabio’s supporters have left similar defensive rants on this blog, as I noted here. And as for the Biblical basis of child witchcraft, Ukpabio tells us that

I can show you and teach you many places in the Bible.

The interviewers go on to meet Ukpabio’s denominational leader in the Pentecostal Fellowship, Apostle Dr Cletus Bassey, who is clearly an educated man. Bassey claimed not to know about Ukpabio’s films specifically, but agreed that such works are harmful:

We should be able to let our people know that that is not a true picture of what we should present, especially from our culture…It’s not presenting a true picture of a nation we are trying to build, it’s not presenting a true picture of children we are trying to raise, it’s not presenting a good picture of a society we are trying to sanitise. I think that such videos should be discontinued and should be discouraged. And we are doing everything in the Pentecostal circles to discourage such things, especially among those who because of money have tried to get themselves involced un issues like this.

Towards the end of the programme, children from CRARN protest outside the residence of State Governor Godswill Akpabio, one child poignantly telling the camera that

I want to ask the government to tell my parents I’m not a witch.

After some hours Akpabio agreed to see them, and he offered support and a (belated) promise to ratify the federal Child Rights Act. This law has now been adopted, but apparently ten children a week are still arriving at CRARN, and no pastor has yet been convicted.

One underlying social reason given for the upsurge in child-witch accusations is the juxtaposition of extreme povery with the obvious wealth of the Niger Delta oil industry. Also, the industry’s pollution of the environment has damaged the livelihoods of fishermen and others, to that there is a pervasive sense of things going wrong.

I’ve also blogged on child witches in Congo and on a minister famous for getting women to “confess” to being witches in Cameroon.

47 Responses

  1. So yes, I am another devastated person after watching yesterday’s dispatches. To be honest there always have to be someone like Helen Ukpabio or other similar to her to show evil and immense stupidity exists in this world and also find out there are good people too who will always opose. I am speechless about this whole whichcraft phenomenon. I don’t blame uneducated and simple villagers to follow this insanity and to torture and kill their own children. How they can know they are doing wrong if they were made to believe it’s the right thing to do. People to blame for it are the ones who make them belive in it. It’s high time to get rid of Helen and all others following her for the sake of money and power. It’s time to bring justice and rights for the little ones, innocent, stigmatised and suppressed children of Nigeria.

  2. that show was really heartbreaking

  3. […] More today. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Prominent US-Palestinian Lutheran Barred from […]

  4. Sad, so sad. The mind set of Nigerians baffles me, even the educated class are not any better. Religion is the answer to all the problems.

  5. Tragic.

  6. i think dapo, it is unfair and wrong to use the phrase ‘nigerians’ its condemning a whole nation. and the mind set of many, if not most educated nigerian are better,much better.

    It is sad, and it is abuse. but don’t make it out as if all nigerians believe this.

    It is lack of education and poverty, they are just looking for someone to blame for their misfortunes.

    In your position Dapo, stop being baffled and contribute, support the charity. http://www.steppingstonesnigeria.org/

  7. I am not a white man, and I am disgusted by these witchfinders. They are shameful. Indeed, they are evil.

  8. […] Richard Bartholomew has two stunning must read posts on the the children of Nigeria who are being tortured, killed, blamed, put into slavery and cast out of their families for being ‘witches.’ […]

  9. I would just like to point out that helen ukpabio was educated at a Roman Catholic primary school before she herself became involved in the local tribal religions. Her perspective – like many of her fellow nigerians I have no doubt – is therefore caught between european christianity and nigerian tribal religion. She also has a manifest hatred for europeans (judging by her own website). Just as in Zimbabwe, before we in the west accuse and judge, we need to consider the part that we ourselves have played in the present situation in nigeria, not least in the impotence of its federal system (a British legacy) and the manipulation of that system by western oil companies for their own ends. Its perfectly clear that the western policy in African former colonies (ie “dont get involved”) over the last forty years has clearly not worked and that more brave souls like Gary Foxcroft working individually and communicating as much as they can between first and third worlds, are probably the only way forward.
    It is also interesting to hear, for the first time, Africans talking back through the internet (helen ukpabio’s supporters for example). This can only be for the good of course, but the first thirty or so years could be quite messy. . . . .

  10. i was in tears to think that they could do that to their own children, but comming from a religion myself i know how powerful religion can be amongst others and just how cult leaders gain control other the minds through fear. i am glad to see that people are trying to make a difference, at risk of their own life.

    playwork student
    leeds met

  11. GOD HAVE MERCY ON THIER SOULS!!! HENIOUS, VILE, SUBHUMAN AND PERVERTED.THESE PEOLPLE MUST BE STOPPED, AN EYE FOR AN EYE AS FAR AS I AM CONCERNED. OUR COMMANDMENTS TEACH US DO UNTO OTHERS TO WHICH YOU WILL HAVE DONE TO YOURSELF. THIS IS CERTAINLY NOT THE CASE. AFTER WATCHING THIS PROGRAMME I WAS PHYSICALLY SICK, MY HEART AND SOUL GOES OUT TO THE BABIES YOUNG AND OLD WHO HAVE BEEN VIOLATED BY THEIR ELDERS. TO HELEN UKPABIO AND HER RACIST CLIAM THAT A WHITE MAN OR WOMAN CANNOT COME INTO HER COUNTRY AND DISAGREE WITH HER. WHAT FOOLISH COMMENTS, SHE IS TRYING TO DISGUISE HER ABUSE FROM THE WORLD AND HER COUNTRYMEN BY BRINGING RACE INTO IT.THANKFULLY MOST PEOPLE IN NIGERIA WILL NOT ACCEPT HER WHITEWASHING. SHE IS EVIL THROUGH AND THROUGH. WE HAVE SEVERAL TERMS FOR SUBHUMANS LIKE THIS IN IN BRITAIN, A KIDDY FIDDLER, ABUSER, BRAINWASHER THE LIST COULD GO ON AND ON. TO ALL IN THIS WORLD DO NOT LISTEN OR BELIEVE IN ABUSIVE CONMEN OR WOMEN LIKE HELEN DEVIL UKPABIO!!! IF THEY REALLY WHERE SENT TO THIS WORLD FROM GOD TO HELP, WHY THEN DO THEY CHARGE A FEE FOR SEEMINLY DOING GOD’S WORK. THIS IS SYTEMATIC ABUSE AND EXTORTION OF A SIMPLE RELIGIOUS MIND!!! THE ONLY HOPE I CAN HOLD ONTO IS THAT THE LIKES OF HER WILL NOT GO TO THE PEARLY GATES!!! AGAIN MY THOUGHTS ARE WITH HER VICTIMS. I WISH AND PRAY FOR YOUR FUTURE..

  12. Anyway, why is it that no Nigerian, Not even indigeons and so call arrogant State Governor of AKwa Ibom State did nothing until a foreigner came to Nigeria to appeal to the world. That shows how wicked our society has become. The witches and wizard here are people who are suppose to look after these children and fight for their welfare. There is no government in that state considering the arrogance shown by the state Governor. He should be made to resign
    followed by his state cabinets.

    He did not show an ounce of sympathy that such things is going on in the state he governs.
    Tell me – Who are the witches and wizards?

    The federal government will be doing those children justice by bringing all the people interviewed in the
    documentary for questioning especially the “pastor” that admit he killed 110 witches. The governor and his cabinets like I mentioned earlier needs to be suspended pending investigation.

    The problem goes deeper than witch hunt, its witches and wizard today, tommorow it would be something else. Poverty, poor or lack of governance has a way of bring out the worst in human, as history as proven.

    I am so ashamed and sadden that poverty, ignorance and poor governance has driven my people back to the barbaric age. God help us all and guide those interest in change.

  13. Again another person sickened at the way religious belief can be used to desacrate the sanctity of innocense. They are children “for crying out loud” I won’t say for god’s sake, because any true religion wouldn’t go any where near this pack of dark , evil and sadistic perverts.
    How that so called holy man could grin as he admitted the barbaric ways he dealt with the evil ,that only he could sense was present is beyond me. Maybe somebody should drive nails through his head or pour liquid in his eyes,the church has always found ways to excuse ritualistic torture,in the name of god,is this really what a compassionate god is ,if indeed these people were as they claimed sent by god .
    This kind of religious cruelty must be stopped ,even the governor ,when asking the children how they came to be there replied “most unfortunate” as if that is all that it takes.Will a bill be passed through to protect these children ,or as in most casesd with in politics,is it just lip service?

  14. @Mrs Robyn Bronw-Obot:

    Sam Itauma took the children in but he was overwhelmed because one man obviously does not have the resources to take care of hundreds of children who need psychological help on top of everything. He’s Nigerian, and he did something. I am Nigerian, and I sure as hell am going to do something about it. The governor of Akwa-Ibom should resign for not nipping this situation in the bud. As for Helen Ukpabio….. well.. let’s just say that if I run into her…it won’t be pretty.

  15. […] Day notes that Akpabio is responding to the outrage following the broadcast of a documentary in the UK a few weeks ago that exposed how children had been labelled as witches by certain […]

  16. I just want to thank you for having the guts to be in the front line.Helen Ukpabio has a fortune and lavish lifestyle to defend,of course she’ll never admit to being the cause of this problem.I have seen posters in Eket with very daunting messages by her concerning witches….of course the witches were innocent children.
    In an environment were people who have little to eat are subjected to seeing others have more than enough…there is bound to be anger,frustration,a longing for revenge of some sort.
    In Eket,the workers of the oil company are well paid compared to the rest of the population that is very poor.The poor have been given promises of being delivered from poverty and their survival instincts dicatate their actions instead of ration….So it’s easy to give up a child(one less mouth to feed,to worry about)with the hope of getting out of poverty…
    The govt has ignored the plight of the children because it was easy to do..they were just children with adults against them…helpless…It’s a good thing publicity has forced them into action and exposed their indifference which they now try to deny…Please keep going….when people start sending negative comments it shows you hit a raw nerve….it’s such a good thing to know that in the end all will be brought to justice…

  17. The broadcast in Channel 4 of Saving Africa’s Witch Children is a welcome development and all those behind this important documentary deserve commendation. Witchcraft is a killer belief especially of women and children in Africa. Witchcraft is a weapon for human rights abuses and exploitation of poor gullible and ignorant folks on the continent. Belief in witches reinforced by penticostal nonsense has corrupted African minds and conscience I hope this documentary awakens Africans from their superstitious slumber and gets the continent on the path of genuine renaissance and enlightenment

  18. […] Suggests I Might be a Witch Posted on December 15, 2008 by Richard Bartholomew Despite the recent exposé of children suffering in Africa due to witchcraft accusations and the subsequent outrage, there […]

  19. […] witchfinder who has been on the receiving end of considerable opprobrium following a Channel 4 documentary, has given a defiant interview to Modern Ghana. She accuses Sam Itauma, who runs a hostel […]

  20. […] Witchfinder Update: Ukpabio Denounces CriticsArchbishop Duncan Williams Marries US BusinesswomanChannel 4 Highlights Nigerian “Witch Children”Third Time Lucky?Ex-Follower of Yahweh Ben Yahweh in Anti-Obama […]

  21. […] serious: as I’ve blogged previously, such religious teachings have had grim consequences: in Nigeria, Angola, and Congo, hundreds of children have been rejected by their families, tortured, and in […]

  22. […] The torture and abuse of children accused of witchcraft by certain Christian pastors in Nigeria is of course well-attested, and received international attention following a British TV documentary in November- I blogged on this here. […]

  23. […] evangelist Helen Ukpabio, who has endured global opprobrium since a British television documentary suggested in November that her campaign against child witches had led to children being abused in the […]

  24. I’m am deeply saddened and disturbed after watching this documentary. It tears at my heart strings. It also greatly angers me that those in positions of power such as the pastors that are influential members of the community influencing and persuading people , people who are less educated and less aware on the underlying causes of accidents are so readily to believe the idea of so called child witches . maybe it highlights the need for more education especially among the poor but when the poor don;t have the finances to educate themselves or government won’t intervene, what hope is there?

  25. understandably we are all horrified and furious by what has occured here, these children have a RIGHT to be loved, to recieve an education and a right to safety. i saw this programme a few weeks ago, and ever since then i have begun to set up my own charity. it is called “The Love Project” and its main aim is to fight for children’s rights all over the world, and too bring safety, love and education to those children who have been forgotten. The main idea is to give the general public a means by which they can fight for the innocents of the world whose voices were not heard, until now. Through the donations the love project receives it will be able to build a centre, a safe place for the accused Child witches, where they can be cherished and loved like every child ought to be.

    i makes me SOO SOOO furious. anyway, i’m setting up a website and a Facebook page, and hopefully i’ll be able to start campaigning soon. (i live in Australia.) if any of you want to comment or chat to me about it or anything really, Contact me on evilgenius91@hotmail.com. PLEASE. anything you could do to help would be GREATLY appreciated.

  26. […] aren’t too keen on my blog posts on the subject either (in particular here, here, and here), and some wonderfully florid insults have been received (“You are wicked, crooked, crafty, […]

  27. […] received considerable scrutiny over the past year, since a UK Channel 4 documentary on the subject last November. I’ve blogged on the issue a number of […]

  28. […] Nigeria, as a follow-up to the programme on the subject that went out a year ago (which I blogged here).  There’s some good news: it is now a crime to accuse a child of witchcraft in the state, […]

  29. […] there have also been deaths. Channel 4 in the UK has run two documentaries on the subject (see here and […]

  30. […] work of Stepping Stones became widely known due to a British documentary that was broadcast at November 2008, and which highlighted how certain evangelists had promoted […]

  31. […] about Stepping Stones Nigeria before; it is a British charity, and two Channel 4 documentaries (here and here) have highlighted its work and that of its partners – in particular the  Child […]

  32. […] of the child-witchcraft hysteria in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria. The British Channel 4 documentary Saving Africa’s Witch Children is due to air in the USA on Wednesday (on HBO2) – and as luck would have it, Ukpabio was in […]

  33. […] documentary Saving Africa’s Witch-Children will be broadcast on HBO2 on Wednesday evening at […]

  34. If ever a backward, ideal have been presented to a backward world, this is one of them. No matter how poor I can not think why a parent would want their child to be accused of witch craft just to eat. For me it would be better if we all died rather than to see my child suffer. Men who would exploit this ideal for money are guilty of murder just as if they had did it themselves. The Government evidently is not enforcing this law. Only giving the appearance of enforcement, so that it can be said that the Government is against this kind of treatment of children, but it is just as guilty as any one!

  35. […] that the author of the NY Times article was part of a conspiracy which involves Gary Foxcroft, Leo Igwe, Olusegun Fakoya, and myself (this is somewhat flattering to me, as I’ve done far […]

  36. […] comes in the wake of two Dispatches documentaries on child-witch stigmatisation in Nigeria (see here and here; the first was also shown in the USA in May). However, the UK context also got some […]

  37. […] as with other reports on the subject (most notably the documentaries for Channel 4 I blogged on here and here), there are depressing and poignant scenes of battered and bewildered homeless children […]

  38. […] programme drew on the 2008 documentary Saving Africa’s Witch-Children, which I blogged on here, and we saw once again the sad sight of Mary, the terrified young girl who was threatened with […]

  39. […] Nigeria, which I dealt with here. Umanah is a reactive figure – the state government only stirred itself to make a few arrests connected to child-witch abuse following the 2008 Channel 4 documentary on […]

  40. […] William (or Sunday Okon Williams) featured in the 2008 documentary as Bishop Sunday Ulup-Aya, in which he was shown explaining how he makes children drink a strange […]

  41. Pls. I need help i have been in the darkness of this life since please, i need help. Thanks i will look forward to here from you soon. Thanks.

  42. Please we are are calling on his excellency, President Jonathan to please order for the evacuation of all Corpers from the northern states where there are riots. These young nigerians have done nothing to deserve brutal death, they are serving our nation. PLEASE save them from harm or death for their sake and for the sake of their families and friends! They are the future of this country!

  43. […] SSN, which brought the problem of “child-witches” in Nigeria to international attention in 2008, was recently forced to terminate its link to CRARN, a hostel for stigmatised children in Akwa […]

  44. […] famously featured in a Channel 4 documentary about the plight of child witches in late 2008, and she complains that she has been unfairly […]

  45. […] placed on-line its recent interview with evangelist Helen Ukpabio, who is known for her teachings about the dangers of child witches. The interview received some attention earlier this month, as it […]

  46. […] so: after she came to wide attention in 2008 following the broadcast of the documentary Saving Africa’s Witch Children, she claimed that a mob had “almost killed” her when she visited London shortly […]

  47. […] so: after she came to wide attention in 2008 following the broadcast of the documentary Saving Africa’s Witch Children, she claimed that a mob had “almost killed” her when she visited London shortly afterwards. In […]

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