Nigerian Journalist Backs Helen Ukpabio with Attack on Charity Protecting Children Accused of Witchcraft

The Nigerian Vanguard has the latest on Stepping Stones Nigeria, a charity that provides refuge for children who have been abused and rejected by their families after being accused of witchcraft:

A child rights group has denied allegations of fraud levlled against it and published in the current edition of a national news magazine.

…Responding to these  allegations, Stepping Stones Nigeria’s Programme Director, Gary Foxcroft said,  “I refute these allegations entirely. It is clear that our work with so-called child witches in Nigeria has upset many powerful people who would prefer that this issue had never been brought to the attention of the International community. Such people, some of them who have made a great deal of money from spreading the mythical belief in child witches, will often use everything in their power to protect their interests”.

Foxcroft further stated: “Stepping Stones Nigeria, as a UK registered charity, publishes annual reports and accounts which are all publicly available. We are committed to upholding the highest standards of transparency and accountability.

All funds donated to the charity are used to support the local partner organisations that we work with in the Niger Delta to bring about lasting changes in the lives of vulnerable and disadvantaged children. It is a pity that the fake apostles who have established churches in Nigeria and made fortunes from preaching about witchcraft are not also regulated and made to publish such reports. Such allegations are clearly being made in an attempt to distract us from our important day-to-day work”.

We also learn that Sam Itauma, who runs the associated Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network

… now has to sleep in different locations in order to protect himself from the forces of darkness that seem to be intent on destroying him and the work of CRARN.

The 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 the belief that children can cause harm by supernatural means. One evangelist featured in the documentary was Helen Ukpabio, head of the Liberty Gospel network of churches and the director of witchcraft-themed horror films. Ukpabio defended herself with a comparison to J.K. Rowling, and she warned the interviewer:

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.

The programme created an international storm, and as a result state governor Godswill Akpabio announced support for CRARN and laws against withcraft allegations.

Ukpabio, however, has fought back: she warned Akpabio to “remember what happened to Saddam Hussein”, and she launched a number of lawsuits against those involved in making the documentary (including the narrator). She also denounced Itauma as a “wizard”, and her lawyer Victor Ukutt arranged for police to raid CRARN. When the prominent Nigerian humanist Leo Igwe held a conference on the subject of child witches with CRARN, a mob from her church invaded the venue. Other evangelists have come to her support, too – Bishop N. E. Moses recently made Ukpabio into an “Apostle”, and he praised the attack on Leo’s conference at an event attended by “top government officials, royal fathers, Nollywood stars, celebrities, diplomats”. Ukpabio also launched a lawsuit against Leo, although that was recently dismissed (Leo also has other enemies who use the law against him).

And it now appears that Ukpabio also has a journalist supporter: step forward Babajide Kolade-Otitoju of The News, with a piece called “One Big Scam”:

In 1999, Ukpabio made a film, The End of the Wicked, which starred such established Nigerian actors like Keppy Ekpenyong, Zack Orji, Justus Esiri and Teco Benson among others. She also featured her own children in the film. Ukpabio’s goal in producing the video was to show that though children and adults alike can come under the influence of witchcraft, with Jesus Christ in one’s life, one is insulated.

The movie did not label kids as witches and it easily scaled the Nigerian Video Censors Board hurdle. However, it was all that the duo of Gary Foxcroft and Sam Ikpe Ita-Uma needed as evidence to show that witchcraft is a colossal problem, especially in Akwa Ibom and Cross River states and that there was an urgent need to address the problem. The two men came up with a documentary which was aired on Channel 04 in the United Kingdom and it drew global attention to the problem. The telecast was watched all over the world and circulated on the Internet.

What many people who watched the documentary do not know is that Ita-Uma and Foxcroft doctored Ukpabio’s film and superimposed some portions of it on their documentary, with apparent desire to shock viewers. TheNEWS investigations showed that children who were interviewed on the documentary were coached to say some of the things they said. In the background, a male voice speaking Ibibio was telling the kids what to say. They travelled to some villages in the state and allegedly paid people to appear on the documentary.

Kolade-Otitoju does not go into much detail about his supposed evidence, and he totally ignores the visible injuries and obvious trauma of the children who featured in the documentary. Instead, Kolade-Otitoju gives us some testimony from… another evangelist:

What actually exposed the documentary as a huge fraud is the testimony of a certain Bishop Sunday Williams, who declared in the documentary that he killed no fewer than 100 kids that possessed the witchcraft spirit and that there are about 2.3million witches in Akwa Ibom State. Just about the entire population of the state!

However, when he was arrested after his shocking claim, Williams, in his statement to the police, claimed what he meant was that he killed the spirit deposited in the kids and not that he took their lives. He blamed Ita-Uma for his predicament.

…”All you saw on the documentary was a theatre set-up and acted by Sam Ita-Uma and the whiteman (Foxcroft). In fact, Ita-Uma asked me to say those things on the documentary so that they can play it to the whole world, to attract customers and clients. I did not kill anybody. That was what I told the police… Sam Ita-Uma is the biggest fraudster this generation has ever produced,” he said.

Williams (also known as Bishop Sunday Ulup-Aya) was arrested following the documentary – it was only then that he felt the need to clarify what he meant. The documentary certainly exposed his disturbing and abusive method of exorcism, which involves forcing a child to down a strange “poison destroyer” medicine made up of “African mercury”, his own blood, and pure alcohol. It was also clear that he was making a good deal of money from his antics.

We also learn that Ukpabio has been waving her lawyers around abroad:

Red Rebel [which made the documentary for Channel 4] paid… two television networks to run the documentary over a two-week period, but responding to threats of legal action by Victor Ukutt, Ukpabio’s lawyer, that the documentary was a fraud, and explaining that scenes where children appeared were taken from Ukpabio’s film, and superimposed on the documentary, both television networks immediately stopped running it.

Kolade-Otitoju also claims financial impropriety, although it’s a transparent hatchet job: he claims to reveal that Stepping Stones Nigeria has been waylaying donations for CRARN, but Itauma openly states that money is released to CRARN on a project-by-project basis following the scrutiny of proposals. In a complete non-sequiter, Kolade-Otitoju then declares that:

Ita-Uma was lying through his teeth. CRARN has domiciliary accounts with both Zenith and Oceanic banks…

Therefore what? Itauma never said CRARN doesn’t have its own bank accounts. Where else is CRARN supposed to put the funds it receives? But Kolade-Otitoju rambles on:

TheNEWS also has evidence that CRARN has been receiving money from not just Stepping Stones Nigeria through that account.

And here’s the shocking revelation that follows:

On 1 January 2009, one Emmanuel O. Emmanuel paid $300 dollars into the account. On 6 March, B.O. Obala Foundation donated $490, while on 25 June 2009, one Jessica O’Con paid in $78.

So, as well as funding from Stepping Stones, CRARN has received $868 from some private individuals. Again, therefore what?

Kolade-Otitoju’s risible non-exposé has drawn a response from the prominent human rights campaigner Patrick Naagbanton, who knows Foxcroft:

Akwa Ibom State is not the only geographic focus of the work of Stepping Stone Nigeria (SSN) as the writer of that piece wants us to believe. SSN’s work focuses on the plight of other children in other Niger Delta states like Bayelsa, Delta, Cross River, Edo, Rivers and others. SSN works with local partner organizations like the Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN) in Akwa Ibom State led by Sam Ikpe Itauma to achieve its purpose. Itauma’s CRARN is a child rights organization which SSN supports to do its work. I don’t see any scam in that relationship. Sadly, Sam Ikpe Itauma had suffered tremendously while trying to campaign about the abuse and abandonment of the kids in conjunction with SSN. He had severally been attacked by corrupt Nigerian Police officials allegedly on the payroll of Evangelist Ukpabio. Gary’s SSN had sometimes last year provided potable water to the schools in Bodo and Bane where poor villagers from those Ogoni communities also use. The project money also passed through me. 

The abuse of these children is gruesome in Akwa Ibom, Cross River State and other places. Is it not grossly hyperbolized to draw pounds, dollars and Euros by the duo of Gary and Sam from donors as the piece implied. The writer should go beyond mere listening to Evangelist Helen Ukpabio and her assortment of soldiers of fortune, and travel round Akwa Ibom and Cross River States to see how unscrupulous religious leaders have cashed in on the witchcraftcy myth to cause this new reign of evangelical windfall.

Naagbanton was also at Leo’s conference:

On Wednesday, July 29, 2009, I was a victim of a physical attack unleashed by scores of fanatics loyal to Evangelist Ukpabio who invaded a conference which the Nigerian Humanist Movement (NHM) and Stepping Stone Nigeria (SSN) jointly organized in Calabar, Cross River State capital. Leo Igwe, executive secretary of NHM and others were wounded, and Leo’s properties were stolen by Ukpabio’s militias.

…Babajide Kolade Otitoju’s article, “One Big Scam” is merely a re-echo of what the Ukpabio religious militants were chanting (that SSN is an illegal organization, SSN and others are using the witch campaign to defraud donors etc)…

 

26 Responses

  1. That so-called journalist really puts the “tit” into “Kolade-Otitoju”, doesn’t he?

  2. There seems to be much religious extremism in Nigeria on both sides. Why Nigeria? I don’t know.

  3. A Hatchet Job by The News Magazine

    How a local Nigerian magazine and a ‘witchcraft’ church are spreading lies and perpetuating witchcraft scam.

    Leo Igwe

    My attention was drawn to a story, ‘One Big Scam’ with a rider ‘How a Briton and a Nigerian who run two non govermental organisations are telling barefaced lies to fleece donors over the Akwa Ibom child witchcraft affair’. The story, written by one Babajide Kolade-Otitoju was published in March 8 edition of The News magazine. Babajide, a senior reporter with The News started by explaining how Gary Foxcroft of the UK based charity, the Stepping Stones Nigeria and Sam Ituama of the Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network connived to ‘demonise’ Helen Ukpabio and made her a big hate figure around the world.

    He said the duo used a documentary which was broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK with some doctored portions of Helen’s film, The End of the Wicked, to draw global attention to the witchcraft problem, and raised money which they used to enrich themselves, without taking care of the kids in whose name the money was raised. The News published interviews granted by the governor of Akwa Ibom state, the Commissioner of Police(CP)and Gary Foxcroft.

    I am not a journalist, but you need not be one to know that what Babajide Kolade-Otitoju did was a hatchet job. The whole story drips with bias, ignorance, lies, half-truths, contradictions, superstition, insensitivity, pettimindedness, malice, mischief, blackmail and irreponsible journalism. Anyone with a modicum of objectivity, and who has been following the child witchcraft affair in Nigeria particularly the ignominous role of the dangerous charlatan and owner of the Liberty Gospel Church, Helen Ukpabio, would definitely know that Kolade-Otitoju was commissioned to do this dirty and disgusting job. Hence The News carried out a shoddy investigation -without depth or balance- and twisted all the facts and figures to suit their terms of contract.

    According to Kolade-Otitoju, the story was meant to expose the scam of Foxcroft and Ituama. And my question is this. What is the connection with Helen Ukpabio? What is the relationship with how this shameless woman has been turned to a hate figure worldwide. Kolade-Otitoju said the ‘scam activities of Foxcroft and Ituama made Helen who was once ‘a subject of admiration’ (by who?)a figure of derision and a purveyor of falsehood, and ‘one who makes money hoodwinking the helpless and labeling children as witches’. But is Helen not a propagator of lies, deceit and superstition? Is this evangelical throwback not exploiting guillible minds and fueling witchcraft related abuses in the country? To The News Magazine, the answer to these questions is in the negative. Because according to Kolade-Otitoju, Helen did not label children witches in her films, instead ‘the goal of Ukpabio’s The End of the Wicked was to show that though children and adult alike could come under the influence of witchcraft, with Jesus Christ in one’s life, one is insulated’.

    Insulated indeed. I mean is the guy who wrote this story intelligent at all? What is the difference between labeling a child a witch and claiming that a child can come under the influence of witchcraft? If a child comes under the influence of witchcraft, that child is what…..? If somebody is possessed(as Ukpabio claims) by the spirit of witchcraft, that person is what? Or may I ask, who is ‘the Wicked’ in Ukpabio’s The End of the Wicked?

    Witchcraft is superstition. So, it is a lie that a child can come under the influence of witchcraft. It is a lie that anybody can be possessed by the witchcraft spirit(whatever that means). It is pure nonsense that having Jesus Christ in one’s life would insulate one from the influence of witchcraft. It is a lie that some people like the Ukpabios of this world have the power to exorcise witchcraft. These are the lies and falsehood, the myths and misconceptions charlatans and stone age pastors like Ukpabio have been spreading and using to hoodwink guillible and ignorant folks.These are the lies and falsehoods at the root of the problem of child witchcraft in Nigeria particularly in Akwa Ibom and Cross River states. And Helen Ukpabio has built her ministry and entire business empire-the Liberty Gospel church and other Liberty bla bla bla….on the witchcraft scam. Instead of exposing this scheme which Ukpabio has been using to deceive and extort money from believers, The News magazine went ahead and published a photo of Helen Ukpabio and underneath, they wrote,’scandalized’ And my question is this-Scandalized by what? Who has scandalized who? Is it that Kolade-Otitoju and his colleagues at The News do not know that the civilized world is scandalized that this mischievious witchunter has not been brought to justice?

    Kolade-Otitoju dismissed the documentary as product of con artists, even without interviewing those who produced the documentary. Well I dont know how he expected the people who were implicated by the film to say any good about the documentary and those behind it. I think Kolade-Otitoju needs to let us know how he knew that the portions of Helen’s film were doctored and superimposed on the documentary.

    It is obvious that the so-called Bishop Williams implicated himself ‘unknowingly’ by saying that he had killed over 100 witches. One does not need some special intelligence to know that his statement with the police and what he told The News were part of his desperate attempt to escape justice. Willaims did not know that his claims would backfire!

    Concerning the accounts and the money raised to help child witch victims, Kolade-Otitoju presented his case so incoherently without the necessary details and background required to make a case for a scam.

    Obviously he wanted to establish a case for a scam by all means.

    First of all Stepping Stones did not deny that they had not raised money to tackle the problem of child witchcraft in the Niger Delta. They acknowledged how much they had raised so far and how much had been sent to assist child victims. Gary also noted that they still had some reserve. I can confirm that apart from CRARN, SSN supports other child witchcraft related projects and programs in Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Cross River States. Those who donated money to SSN gave it to them to manage. And their records have shown that they are doing just that. So what is the scam in the way SSN is handling the affair? But Kolade-Otitoju made it look as if the money raised by Stepping Stones Nigeria went into the pockets of Gary Foxcroft -or Sam Ituama -who was using it the way he liked. If Kolade-Otitoju, in the course of his investigation found out that SSN was a registered charity in the UK, and that it was SSN, not Gary Foxcroft who was raising money on the internet for child witch victims, why did he portray Gary as a crook who had made a fortune out of the misfortune of Nigerian kids?. It is the likes of Helen Ukpabio, not Gary Foxcroft or Sam Ituama who have made fortune out of plight of Nigeria’s ‘witch children’.

    Can Kolade-Otitoju substantiate his claims that Gary ran out of money when he was in Nigeria and used the child witchcraft affair as a financial ladder? Could he tell us how the abused children were catered for by SSN and CRARN before the production of the documentary?. I think that Babajide and the editors of The News should be ashamed that it took a foreigner to draw the attention of the world to this huge problem, and to raise money to fight this cultural scourge. And instead of commending Foxcroft, who had risked his life for these children, for his courage and commitment. Instead of proffering some constructive suggestions and criticisms, The News joined forces with Ukpabio and her goons to undermine such a noble venture.Taking care of the children at CRARN is a lot of work. Sam and his colleagues have been doing their best, and they should be commended. And even if there are challenges and shortcomings in what they are doing, the way to help them is not to call them scammers.The way to help them is to offer them your support, advice and expertise. The number of children at the Center has been increasing. And these are children of different ages and with different needs. But if this is only challenge CRARN and Sam Ituama had to contend with, then there won’t be much tp worry about. The whole situation is being compounded by the fact that Helen Ukpabio has been trying several means to eliminate Ituama and close down CRARN. She has brought several legal suits and police actions against Ituama, Foxcroft and other child rights campaigners. Ukpabio has been trying several means to undermine this humanitarian project. And part of the money sent to CRARN to take care of the children goes into paying lawyers, ensuring the security of the staff and the children, and attending to several police actions instituted by this crazy woman. Does it mean that The News did not find out all these in the course of their investigation?

    Does Kolade-Otitoju not know that Helen Ukpabio is in court with Sam Ituama, Gary Foxcroft and others? To do this story, Kolade-Otitoju interviewed Helen’s lawyer Victor Ukutt, whom I know must have supplied him with all the materials he used for the story, but why didnt The News interview the lawyer of Ituama. Also the bias of Kolade-Otitoju was evident in the way he introduced the governor’s interview. According Governor Akpabio, the story of witchcraft in Akwa Ibom was a bit blown out of proportion, and in his commentary on the interview Kolade-Otitoju said that the Governor affirmed that ‘the matter was grossly exaggerated’. Anyone who understands English very well would know that Kolade-Otitoju misquoted the Governor. A matter that is a bit blown out of proportion cannot mean the same as a matter that is grossly exaggerated. That is why the cowardly interview of the Commissioner of Police aligned with what Kolade-Otitoju wanted. From what he said, it is obvious that nothing would come out of the prosecution of Bishop Willaims. The CP had already said they had no case. And Kolade-Otitoju never wondered why in a state where thousands of children had been killed, abused and abandoned by parents and pastors, and a legislation had been enacted by the government to combat the problem, there had not been a single successful prosecution of an offender. Doesn’t that raise questions about the competence of the CP and the standard of policing in Akwa Ibom state? It did not surprise The News that the CP had openly admitted that there was no case against the only person being prosecuted in the state for murder and abuse of children? But that was not his mission. Kolade-Otitoju’s mandate was to do a hatchet on the child witchcraft project in Akwa Ibom state. And he did just that.

    • leo they call you.you said she extorts money from believers.the question is,are you a believer or an atheist?.like your profession,the lies never seizes,keep on writing your bla bla bla.you will soon coming beg.you think you can hide under the umbrella of your slave masters forever.All the money on your education,was a total waste.The very calamity befalling you family is not a persecution,but your dues.It is just the beginning

  4. Helen Ukpabio is the only scammer in all this. She has turned on the work of Stepping Stones Nigeria and CRARN to try and make herself look innocent. This is just a tactic by Helen Ukpabio to try and inprove her failing image. She is a wicked woman who should not be trusted by anyone.

    She is a criminal and should be brought to justice. Stepping Stones Nigeria and CRARN only do good honest work and the one big scam article was one big scam in itself, fuelled by Helen Ukpabio to try and repair her failed image, with money as her prime motivation. Helen Ukpabio, nice try, you might fool a few people but the more intelligent people of this world can see right through you SCAM!

    • Hey, you can’t just read things on the net or watch documentaries and then jump into conclusions. You better stay out of this or you’ll have yourself to blame sooner or later.

  5. Helen Ukpabio needs to quit! Leo Igwe and the other courageous human rights activists in Nigeria need to be commended and supported by rational, humane activists the world over.

  6. [...] have written about Stepping Stones Nigeria before; it is a British charity, and two Channel 4 documentaries (here and here) have highlighted its [...]

  7. [...] blogged a number of times on the attacks she and her supporters have made against CRARN – see here. Oppenheimer notes that she also uses lawyers against her opponents, and I’ve blogged on how [...]

  8. [...] a money-grabbing “419″ scam, why have/allow her followers to disrupt their meetings, attack them in the press, and bringing litigation against them? Seems like a lot of trouble for a group that is simply [...]

  9. Helen Ukpabio is just another example of the abuse of christianity to the benefit of a few individuals. To everyone, to all I say, go back to the book, read what Jesus himself said and stop following all these false proohets!
    Unfortunately, in this case innocent children are involved and much suffering, and abuse are being perpertrated against them. If you feel compeled to give to any charity, please give to education so that people may not be so ignorant as to be taking advantage of by this greedy provocatour Helen Ukpabio or the likes.
    To helen ukpabio: you are a filthy criminal misdirected false christin tainted by greed. You need to be prosecuted for all crimes commited in the name of Jesus Christ. You are no prophet, you are just a rat!!

    • novice.what do you know.check yourself well,who does your reply resemble?not her and never

    • Hey if they call christians to come out i’m very sure you too will come out. Besides if i tell you to show me innocent children that are suffering i don’t think you’ll be able or is it the ones that you saw in the documentary that you’ll show me? May God forgive you.

  10. I have strong sympathy for Sam Itauma. I have been thanking God each time hear about the child’s right advocate- that mean he, at least is alive.
    As somebody from Akwa Ibom State I hear much about Itauma, but I could not see him because he knows that when he comes out to the public he will be killed by Helen Ukpabio’s thugs around. I saw him once in a conference of anti-child witchcraft belief and torture last year but could not shake his hand as he rushed into the police guarded truck like a prisoner after the campaign. That was last year. I dont what the government is doing to help him, can you throw more light here?

  11. Sam Itauma is a rare courageous christian fighting for children being killed by the christian Lords, Bishops and apostate Apostles. Sam Itauma is a man sent by God to expose the renegade pastors. As he is the one who started the odyses of saving the so called witch children officially in 2003 but unofficially in 2000, so I learnt from research. Outside Eket High court he was snapped and videoed in a multiple way by members of Helen Ukpabio’s Liberty Gospel church and pasted all over their 160 branches for easy identification so that any where they see him he could be killed.

    • Jesus was talking to people like you when he said beware of false prophets, when you see a devil like Itauma you call him God sent. May God forgive you. Nobody will go into hiding after doing a good thing, if he is really innocent let him come out and parade the streets like Helen Ukpabio is. HE IS NOT COURAGEOUS AND WILL NEVER BE. HE’S A COWARD. And you beware.

  12. [...] Kolade-Otitoju’s hackwork accusations against Stepping Stones Nigeria, which I dealt with here. Umanah is a reactive figure – the state government only stirred itself to make a few [...]

  13. [...] Kolade-Otitoju’s hackwork accusations against the organisation -  I dealt with those here. It’s particularly disappointing to see what amounts to a volte face, since – [...]

  14. why did Itauma and co doctored Helen ukpabio’s film to get sympathy from viewers, her’s not the only film potraying witches activities. (there’s a copyright law) is there a prove that the children or pastors were members of helen ukpabio’s church? SSN/CRARN motive was good but approach wrong.

  15. [...] I blogged on the CNN reports here, here, and here, and on Akpabio’s response here. Akpabio’s attack on the charity is based on a newspaper report which I discussed here. [...]

  16. Why can,t you people allow Nigerians to handle their problems? You claim to be universal problem solver but daily, you keep multiplying and compiling problems which you and your unborn generations would not be able to solve. We in Nigeria know who is who. The government of Nigeria has not for once called you up to assist us on this issue so, stop portraying my country to international communities as if we are lawless and an enviable and a reputable woman of God as being evil. The end shall tell

  17. [...] to discredit anyone who speaks out against the idea of child-witches, as well as politicians and journalists who wish to downplay the consequences of child-witch stigmatisation. However, SSN has clearly made [...]

  18. NİGERİAN MİNİSTERY OFFİCE HELEN MARK A WORKİNG ANSWER,BİG PROPLEM
    NİGERİAN MİNİSTRY OFFİCE SEND E-MAİL NOT
    NİGERİAN POLİCE SEND E- MAİL NOT

  19. [...] dealt with accusations against SSN here, and SSN’s accounts and reports can be seen on the website of the UK Charity Commission [...]

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