Governor Godswill Akpabio Claims Child-Witch Problem “Under Control”, Attacks Reports

Following CNN’s three-part series on child-witch stigmatisation in Akwa Ibom in Nigeria (see here, here, and here), State Governor Godswill Akpabio has now been given right of reply on the channel in an interview with Becky Anderson:

He said he signed a bill into law in 2008 that makes it a criminal offense, punishable by up to 15 years in prison, to label a child a witch.

“That brought the situation immediately under control,” said Akpabio.

Akpabio said nobody has been convicted of witchcraft-related abuse so far under the new law. He said five people have been charged and are making their ways through the legal process.

…The governor attacked a report sent to the United Nations from Stepping Stones Nigeria, a group that works with local street children. The study uncovered evidence of a large number of children in Akwa Ibom accused of witchcraft being taken to forests and killed, washed in acid, burned and buried alive.

“That report is part of the media propaganda against the state and it was done for pecuniary reasons,” said Akpabio.

He also cast doubt on whether various reports, made by the media and nongovernmental organizations, were using different children to tell their stories.

“I need to know why the same set of children are being shown all over the world with the same story,” he said. “These children are being used for monetary reasons,” Akpabio said.

The child who was “washed in acid” was reported in the media with photographic evidence last year – perhaps Akpabio thinks it doesn’t count, as it occured across the border in Cross River State.

Akpabio’s attack on Stepping Stones follows the same line as that given by State spokesman Aniekan Umanah in the third part of the CNN series. Like Umanah, Akpabio does not go into any detail, although he presumably has in mind Babajide Kolade-Otitoju’s hackwork accusations against the organisation –  I dealt with those here. It’s particularly disappointing to see what amounts to a volte face, since – as Akpabio also mentions – he had previously visited the hostel featured in the CNN series and made a donation; this hostel is run by the Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN) and supported by Stepping Stones, and Akpabio’s visit came after the hostel had been raided by police at the behest of evangelist Helen Ukpabio’s lawyer Victor Ukutt (Ukutt, incidently, stopped by at this blog a few days ago). Ukpabio, who is a powerful figure in the state, claims that the hostel is run by a “wizard”, and she warned Akpabio to “remember what happened to Saddam Hussein”.

UPDATE: Stepping Stones responds:

Stepping Stones Nigeria entirely refutes the allegations made by the Governor in this interview. All of our accounts are entirely transparent and are available online. Our 2009/2010 accounts will be added in the next few weeks. We will continue to work tirelessly to protect and uphold the rights of Nigerian children.