• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

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Nigerian State Government Moves Against Witchfinders

The Lagos This Day reports from Akwa Ibom State:

Governor Godswill Akpabio…insisted that henceforth, the state government will not hesitate to destroy or demolish any church engaged in any negative and unproven vision in order to satisfy their clients.

“We will destroy and demolish every church that is engaged in any stupid vision in Akwa Ibom State. We will not stop there, we will have to make examples out of some people. We will chase out some churches in the state which are found wanting.

“The churches are busy deceiving people in many aspects including avoiding deaths. We have to do something to re-strengthen the Child Right Law. We must fight against the abuse of children and ensure proper education for them,” he said.

This 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 churches and had suffered extreme abuse as a result. One Nigerian commentator observes that

…Very few electronic materials in the last decade, have done as much damage to Nigeria’s image as this documentary. It is a factual portrayal of the failure of the Nigerian state, the entrapment of the people in a shell of superstition and hysteria, the absolutely low value of human life in Nigeria, the abuse of Nigeria’s children and the opportunism of religious charlatans who lie, kill and cheat in God’s name. Covering the plight of children who are dubbed “witches” in Akwa Ibom, the documentary tells a familiar Nigerian story.

Meanwhile, the state Commissioner for Information has announced that:

SIR: On the orders of Governor Godswill Akpabio, the Police in Akwa Ibom State on November 29 at about 2 p.m. moved swiftly to Mbo Local Government Area for the search and arrest of one Bishop Sunday Ulup-Aya who stated his involvement in this matter in a documentary broadcast on Channel 4 and placed on several websites.

The said Bishop who claimed he had “killed” several children was successfully apprehended with an accomplice and are at present in detention on a holden charge from where he will face criminal prosecution this week. In view of the above, Government will not hesitate to effect further arrests and prosecutions of organisations, individuals or even parents who are involved in child abuse and labelling children as ‘witches’. Already one Rev. Onuoha operating from Oron and fingered in the child stigmatisation saga has been arrested by the police for questioning.

At the arrest of the self-styled bishop, about three children were discharged from illegal custody and immediately given government support. They appear normal and healthy. Also the state government has ordered full investigation into the child abuse issue. This will help government fashion out ways of tackling the social problem head-on.

The Governor plans to assent to the Child Rights Act in December, a law that will be fully implemented for the protection of Akwa Ibom children irrespective of economic background.

Consequently, Government takes a stand on the matter and is set to deal very decisively and in accordance with the rule of law and due process as follows:

  • Place full legislative machinery against labelling of children as witches;
  • Advance high-powered investigation into every element of the issues involved and all allegations against persons involved in stigmatisation of children as witches;
  • Prosecute all persons found culpable of this crime of child labelling;
  • Deploy social resources for the support, comfort and enjoyment of all categories of children all over the state;
  • Possibility of closure of every organisation involved in this evil stigmatisation of children. Government will not spare any culprit involved
    Aniekan Umanah,
    Commissioner for Information

I’ve written about children being accused of witchcraft several times on this blog, and since the documentary aired I have received dozens of comments execrating the pastors responsible – a nice contrast to comments I had received before the programme went out from one pastor’s supporters, denouncing me as “wicked, crooked, crafty, poisonous, and dangerous to women.”