Channel 4 Revisits Nigerian “Child-Witches”

Channel 4 television in the UK has just broadcast a new documentary about children accused of being witches in Akwa Ibom State in 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, punishable by ten years in prison, and arrests have been made – the documentary in particular noted the arrest of Bishop Sunday Ulup-Aya, who had boasted in the original programme of having killed 110 supposed “witches” (blogged here).  Some children have been successfully reintegrated into their families, and the Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network, which runs a home and school for accused children, has received some generous donations. Posters have appeared on the streets urging people not to make witchcraft accusations.

On the other hand, though, the documentary showed that horrific abuse is still occuring – including the case of Edet Nwanakwo, the boy who recently died after his father doused him in acid (blogged here). Gary Foxcroft, the British charity worker who has devoted himself to the cause of ending child-witchcraft accusations, hopes the problem will be overcome within five to ten years, but it’s clear that local attitudes remain quite entrenched.

The documentary also covered attempts by the evangelist Helen Ukpabio to hamper the work of CRARN and other groups opposed to the stigmatization of children. Ukpabio has published a number of books on how to diagnose children as witches, and she is famous for a lurid horror film on the subject, End of the Wicked. When the original documentary was aired last year, Ukpabio became the focus for considerable public anger and disgust – she claims that on a trip to London soon after, she was nearly killed by a mob. However, Ukpabio has many supporters, some of whom have left abusive comments on this blog from my previous postings on the subject. The new Channel 4 documentary shows how her followers disrupted a conference organised by the Nigerian sceptic Leo Igwe in August, and how the CRARN home was raided by police, with her lawyer in attendance (blogged here, and Leo provided this blog with a guest post that I was proud to host here). One child interviewed by Channel 4 said that the police hit her on the ear so hard that pus came out, and Elizabeth Ikpe-Ituama, who runs the CRARN home with her husband Sam, claims that she was threatened with a gun. Ukpabio is now suing the state government, those involved with CRARN, and the makers of the original Channel 4 documentary, claiming that she is the victim of fraud, that her religious freedom has been infringed, that her film was “pirated” because a clip was shown, and that Foxcroft and others sent “assassins” after her. She believes that she should receive – wait for it – eight hundred million British pounds (I actually recorded the programme and played that bit back to make sure I’d heard that correctly). She also, of course, wants CRARN to be shut down.

Unfortunately, the problem of child stigmatization is not just confined to Nigeria; back in February I blogged on a pastor promoting the belief in Cameroon, and the situation remains alarming in  Angola and Congo. There have also been cases reported in the UK, although these have been unfortunately conflated with other issues.