New York Times Profiles Child-Witchfinder Helen Ukpabio

The New York Times carries an article by Mark Oppenheimer about Apostle Helen Ukpabio, the Nigerian Pentecostal minister at the centre of the child-witchcraft hysteria in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria. The British Channel 4 documentary Saving Africa’s Witch Children is due to air in the USA on Wednesday (on HBO2) – and as luck would have it, Ukpabio was in Houston last week, leading a “Worship Warfare” event at a Pentecostal church (a “demonstration of the power of GOD to save, Heal and Deliver from all demonic operations”).

Ukpabio appears to have been as blustering as ever, and she tried to make a distinction between her sermons and her witch-themed horror films, such as End of the Wicked:

“Do you think Harry Potter is real?” Ms. Ukpabio asked me angrily, in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Express where she was staying. “It is only because I am African,” she said, that people who understand that J. K. Rowling writes fiction would take literally Ms. Ukpabio’s filmic depictions of possessed children, gathering by moonlight to devour human flesh.

Oppenheimer, however, observes that

“Saving Africa’s Witch Children” makes clear that many rural Nigerians do take her film seriously. And in her sermons, Ms. Ukpabio is emphatic that children can be possessed, and that with her God-given “powers of discernment,” she can spot such a child.

He also quotes from her book Unveiling the Mysteries of Witchcraft:

if a child under the age of 2 screams in the night, cries and is always feverish with deteriorating health, he or she is a servant of Satan

Ukpabio also railed against a school which gives shelter to abandoned children stigmatised as witches:

The Children’s Rights and Rehabilitation Network, a school for abandoned children run by Sam Itauma and featured in Mr. [Gary] Foxcroft’s documentary, is “a 419 scam,” Ms. Ukpabio said, referring to the section in Nigeria’s criminal code that deals with fraud.

…The school “does not understand demonic possession,” she said. “If they understood, they would take the children to Liberty Gospel.

“We would deliver them!”

ln other words, Western criticism of her is just anti-African prejudice, but African opposition to her preaching can be dismissed in terms of the Nigerian “419” stereotype. I’ve 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 she has fired off lawsuits in all directions.

In Houston, Ukpabio was hosted by Glorious Praise Ministries, which is led by Pastor Jonathan A. David (also known as Jonathan Agba). According to his biography, David was “officially ordained on 7th of April, 2002 by the House of Grace Ministries Incorporated, Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria, after several years of serving and training under the same ministry”. There are of course innumerable Pentecostal organisations in Nigeria, but this is perhaps the same the Royal House of Grace International Church (also sometimes refered to as “Royal House of Grace Ministries”). The leader of this denomination is David Zilly-Aggrey and, like Ukpabio,  he a leading figure in the Pentecostal Association of Nigeria. However, unlike her, he has spoken against an excessive interest in demons and witches.

Oppenheimer adds that

 Last August, when she had herself consecrated Christendom’s first “lady apostle,” Nigerian politicians and Nollywood actors attended the ceremony.

I blogged on that event here – she was consecrated by Bishop Nnadi E Moses, who took the opportunity to praise Ukpabio’s distruption of a conference held by the Nigerian humanist and activist Leo Igwe.

(Hat tip: Bulldada Newsblog)