Child-Witch Exorcist Helen Ukpabio Comes to London

Helen Ukpabio in London

Channel 4 News has the latest on Helen Ukpabio:

A controversial Evangelical Christian and “witch hunter” arrives in the UK in the hope of performing exorcisms on children. But in Nigeria witch scares have resulted in violence, torture and death.

The founder of the bizarre Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries has been accused of exploiting superstitious beliefs around demonic possession and endangering children.

…She offers “deliverance” sessions, crude exorcisms which have been accused of fuelling witchcraft accusations against children in Nigeria.

The report comes with a video, in which Channel 4’s Paraic O’Brien showed up at an event in south London where the “Lady Apostle” was addressing a small group of adults in what seems to have been a community centre. Ukpabio appeared wary and unsure of what to do, and O’Brien was quickly told to leave by the event organisers. The video also captured a glimpse of a table display of Ukpabio’s publications: I noticed the cover of her opus Akwa Ibom State Child-Witch Scam: The Wholesome Truth, an abusive and crudely libellous screed in which she outlines how her critics (including me) are part of a world-wide atheist conspiracy against her.

For wider context about what happens when children are accused of causing misfortune through witchcraft, O’Brien referred back to the 2000 murder of Victoria Climbié, and, unfortunately, to the case of “Adam”, the West African boy whose  torso was found by the Thames in 2001 – I say “unfortunately”, as this was an unrelated matter (other reports have also conflated the story of “Adam” with child witches, leading to some regrettable sensationalism).

The report also covered a small protest that took place outside the venue, that was organised by the International Humanist and Ethical Union; the IHEU’s Bob Churchill wrote on Twitter afterwards:

her support network on the ground seems thankfully very small. small numbers at the event.

It should be remembered that the Evangelical Alliance as long ago as 2007 issued a statement that condemned accusing a child of witchcraft as “abusive, immoral, and unbiblical”, and that highlighted efforts by the African and Caribbean Evangelical Alliance to ensure the issue was addressed within black-majority churches. However, there are many small African churches operating in the UK, and journalists have uncovered a few cases where little-known pastors from Nigeria and Congo continue to identify children as witches.

Ukpabio’s current visit to the UK is low-key, and probably deliberately 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 2010 she cancelled a planned visit to a Liberty Gospel franchise in Houston following bad publicity.

As it was, her latest London venue had to be hastily rearranged after her original booking at the Albany in Deptford was cancelled; the theatre has issued a statement:

We only cancel bookings in very exceptional circumstances. In this instance we were not given full information about the nature of the booking by the booker, which is at odds with our terms and conditions and ethical policies as an organisation.

And according to Churchill, her second-choice venue was also closed to her after the first evening.

Ukpabio’s publicity for the London visit does not focus on child-witches; instead, the three-day event (10-12 April) is billed as a “Season for Disconnections from All Spiritual Attacks”, and her flier asks:

Are you under:
Witchcraft attack?

Ancestral spirit attack?
Mermaid spirit attack? 

The “mermaid spirit” element has led to some baffled mockery on Twitter – and I suspect that’s why Channel 4 has dubbed Ukpabio’s church “bizarre”. However, it’s less out of place in Ukpabio’s African context, where there is widespread belief in water spirits, known as “Mami Wata“.

Ukpabio has complained bitterly that critical coverage of her teaching and activities maligns her: she insists that although “child-witches” are abused elsewhere, at her own church (which has 150 branches), children are given “a very easy and mild” exorcism that does no harm. But this simply will not do: the tragedies caused by child-witch stigmatisation will only become a thing of the past when the belief itself has been rooted out of religious communities. Ukpabio spreads her teaching on child-witches through videos and paperbacks, and her influence goes beyond those who will bring their children to her church for a “mild” exorcism. And the teaching is abusive in itself: imagine how it must feel to a child to be told that they have caused misfortune within their family due to witchcraft, and how other family members are likely to regard them afterwards.

It should also be remembered that Ukpabio has actively obstructed efforts to protect children: in 2009, she orchestrated a raid on a hostel for children who have been abandoned due to child-witch stigmatisation, and when the Governor of Akwa Ibom intervened she warned him to “remember what happened to Saddam Hussein”. Ukpabio also sent thugs to disrupt a conference on the subject of child witches organised by the Nigerian sceptic Leo Igwe, and in 2010 her lawyer left a comment on this blog expressing glee that Leo’s father had come to harm due to Leo’s anti-corruption campaigning.

2 Responses

  1. What is she thinking? Who would really lack enough common sense to believe her?

  2. […] to the Bartholomew Notes blog,  the Evangelical Alliance as long ago as 2007 issued a statement that condemned accusing a child […]

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