AP Report Highlights Nigerian Boy Doused in Acid by Father after Pastor Accused Him of Witchcraft

Back in August, the Nigeria Weekend Pioneer carried a story about Edet Nwanakwo, a boy who had been disfigured with acid by his own father after being denounced as a wizard by a pastor at a prayer service. The report can be seen in pdf form here, along with a very grim photograph. The report describes him as being 9 years old, although later accounts give his age as 17. After lingering in hospital for some weeks, Nwanakwo died towards the end of September. Sam Ikpe-Itauma of the Child’s Right and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN) in Akwa Ibom State reported:

His sin is the acceptance to an invitation to attend a prayer meeting with a church in Urban [var. spelling “Oban” – RB], near Calabar, Cross River State Nigeria. “When I arrived the church, people were clapping and dancing. I prayed God to bless me and our family including my father; soon the pastor came, turning around, holding my head ‘Do you know that you are a witch?’ he asked me. I told him no, I am not a witch…” ‘He told me that I must confess or he will beat me, even as he slapped me immediately. He handed over a bottle of olive oil to me to be drinking at home. I was annoyed, and went and told my father so that he will arrest the pastor with police.’

To his chagrin, his father merely told him that if he were a witch he would be cast out of the house. That was an understatement. After four days his father told him that they would travel home to see their relatives. The little lad was so elated by this offer. Did Nwanakwo and his father come back truly?

He told CRARN team who visited him at the [University of Uyo Teaching Hospital] in August that his father called a cyclist and whispered to him. They mounted on the bike and moved to a particular road that was bushy up to a distance where there were no houses and stopped there. His father took him inside the bush and pretended that he wanted to ease himself, while the cyclist waited. “He brought out a gallon from a sack bag and forced me on the ground, pressing my legs with his knees, he forced my mouth opened and poured acid into it. I cried and pleaded with him that I am his son; he shouted and called me a wizard and devil. He poured the acid on my face, head and body and ran away. Somebody came and took me to the police.” He said with a clear as is using a wireless microphone

Looking at Nwanakwo’s photograph, the acid burns are very glaring. The boy, who lost his mother four years ago, said he wants justice to prevail. “Even in my grave I want my father and Pastor King of Mount Zion Light House, Urban to be arrested and brought to book.” The Chief Medical Director (CMD) of UUTH, Prof. Emmanuel Ekanem was contacted to know what measure has been taken to ensure that justice is done. “The Head of the Corporate Affairs Unit (UUTH) has contacted the Divisional Police Officer of Ikono LGA who said that his men have been drafted to investigate the matter …” the CMD had responded briefly.

The story has now been picked up by the Associated Press, and is being reproduced widely in US newspapers and elsewhere:

Nwanaokwo said he knew the pastor who accused him only as Pastor King. Mount Zion Lighthouse in Nigeria at first confirmed that a Pastor King worked for them, then denied that they knew any such person.

Bishop A.D. Ayakndue, the head of the church in Nigeria, said pastors were encouraged to pray about witchcraft, but not to abuse children.

“We pray over that problem (of witchcraft) very powerfully,” he said. “But we can never hurt a child.”

The Nigerian church is a branch of a Californian church by the same name. But the California church says it lost touch with its Nigerian offshoots several years ago.

”I had no idea,” said church elder Carrie King by phone from Tracy, Calif. ”I knew people believed in witchcraft over there but we believe in the power of prayer, not physically harming people.”

The AP report goes into further detail about the wider context of children being accused of witchcraft in Nigeria – a subject that has 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 times.

The defunct association with the American church is confirmed by Rosalind Hackett in her book Religion in Calabar: the religious life and history of a Nigerian town (page 102), which tells us that the Nigerian church split away from a denomination called the the Apostolic Church:

Before long the new spiritual church had affiliated with a religious organization in Oakland, California – the Mount Zion Light House Full Gospel Church, and amended its name accordingly to reflect the affiliation. It was not possible to ascertain how this affiliation came about, partly because the relationship is no longer active.

In fact, the affiliation seems to have come about through a group called Federated Pentecostal Churches International, which has a website here. And although the link with the Calabar-based church is defunct, there is still an active link with a “Bishop A.B.U. Akpabio – Nigeria”; this is Bishop Abu Akpabio, who runs a Mount Zion Lighthouse church in Lagos, which in turn is affiliated with “House of Prayer for all Nations, USA”.

The AP report adds that the Mount Zion Light House is part of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, which seems keen to dodge responsibility; according to its president:

”We have grown so much in the past few years we cannot keep an eye on everybody,” he explained.

But [Gary] Foxcroft, the head of Stepping Stones, said if the organization was able to collect membership fees, it could also police its members better. He had already written to the organization twice to alert it to the abuse, he said.

Indeed. And isn’t it time some of the A-list neo-Pentecostal revivalists from the west who enjoy influence in Africa – such as Benny Hinn and Reinhard Bonnke – also speak out?

Name variations: Mt. Zion Light House Full Gospel Church; Mt. Zion Lighthouse Full Gospel Church