Prominent Nigerian Humanist Arrested for Murder after Speaking Out on Behalf of Rape Victim

For several years now, I’ve been following the activism of Nigerian humanist Leo Igwe. Back in 2005 I noted his role in debunking a “man raised from the dead” tale that was being touted by WorldNetDaily and some neo-Pentecostal churches; more recently, Leo has taken on followers of Helen Ukpabio, who promotes the idea that children can become “witches” who then harm other people – a year ago, I was proud to host a guest post by him on the subject. An event he organised to highlight the grim consequences of Ukpabio’s teaching was invaded by her followers, and he was handled roughly; Ukpabio is also suing him on the grounds that attacking her beliefs amounts to an infringement of her rights. Leo also advocates an end to the persecution of gay men and lesbians in Africa, and Peter Tatchell describes him as “a voice for reason, justice and compassion”. An overview of his opinions can be seen here.

Leo has also campaigned on behalf of Daberechi Anongam, a ten-year-old girl from his home village who has accused a powerful man from the same location of rape. In retaliation, this man and an associate have allegedly harrassed Leo and his family with civil suits, and they have now persuaded the local police to arrest him and his sick father for no less a crime than murder. Leo and his father have now been bailed, and Leo has given an account in a press release:

…They arrested me and my aging father. We were detained briefly at the local police station in Ahiazu before we were transfered  to the zonal police headquarters in Umuahia. The officers threatened to beat us when we asked them to allow us to clean up and change our clothes. One of the soldiers brought out his gun and threatened to shoot my father when he wanted to make phone calls to alert other family members of our arrest. The police held us throughout the day without giving us food and water. At the zonal police headquarters in Umuahia, a police officer read a petition by Ethelbert Ugwu who alleged that in September 2009 I with my father, three brothers and one Mr Gregory Iwu conspired, murdered and attempted to conceal the murder of one Mr Aloysius Chukwu who died in September last year. According to family sources, Mr Chukwu died in a local hospital after a brief illness. We made statements in response to the allegations and were later released on bail.

…When it comes to police arrest and investigation in Nigeria three things matter most: MONEY!MONEY! ! MONEY!!!. In most cases, police officers carry out their investigation to favour whoever ‘mobilises’ them or gives them a bribe. The way you are treated at police stations is determined by how much you pay or are ready to pay the officers whether as a complainant or a suspect. And in my community like in other rural communities in Nigeria, most people are poor and cannot afford to bribe the police. Hence criminal minded individuals are having a field day with police officers and soldiers.

…And I want to state that no amount of intimidation, police action, extortion, harassment, legal suits, trump-up charges, fictitious and malicious allegations, petitions against me and my family members will stop me from fighting for justice for this girl child and for humanity at large.

The International Humanist and Ethical Union adds:

On January 9, Sonja Eggerickx, president of IHEU, wrote to Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, President of Nigeria, to request his office intervene to end the police harassment of Leo Igwe and his family. The IHEU request was also sent to the Nigerian attorney general, minister for the police, and the governor of Imo State, where the Igwes live. A separate appeal is being sent to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the regional human rights body in which Leo Igwe represents the IHEU.

Unfortunately, appealing to the authorities at this time is likely to be of limited use, with Yar’Adua absent for weeks in a Saudi hospital (“I’m not dead, I’m getting better”, he reassured the country from his sickbed a couple of days ago). As a recent report in the London Times notes:

Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s Vice-President, said recently that the country was “in the hands of God”. One thing is for sure — no one else is in charge.

The prospect of Africa’s most populous nation, home to 150 million people, slipping into leaderless anarchy is now ringing alarm bells across the continent.

According to Josh Kutchinsky, Amnesty International has been made aware of Leo’s plight and is looking into the case.

(Hat tip: Harry’s Place)

5 Responses

  1. “man raised from the dead”

    I thought worn out American males used Viagra for that purpose.

  2. […] the right people, and this is not the only legal battle he’s facing – a few weeks ago I noted that he and his family members are facing a murder charge because he spoke out on behalf of a […]

  3. […] Ukpabio also launched a lawsuit against Leo, although that was recently dismissed (Leo also has other enemies who use the law against […]

  4. […] Eye in Attack by Gunmen Posted on August 13, 2010 by Richard Bartholomew Back in January, I noted Nigerian sceptic Leo Igwe’s campaigning on behalf of Daberechi Anongam, a ten-year-old girl […]

  5. […] blogged on this incident here, and the background here. Leo has many enemies in Nigeria, including the evangelist Helen Ukpabio, who hates Leo for his […]

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