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

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Court Case Brought by Helen Ukpabio Dismissed

Leo Igwe reports on a legal defeat suffered by “Lady Apostle” Helen Ukpabio in her attempt to suppress opposition to child-witch stigmatisation in Nigeria:

Today a Federal High Court in Calabar in Cross River State, presided over by Justice P.J. Nneke, dismissed the application by Helen Ukpabio and some members of the Liberty Gospel Church seeking to enforce their fundamental rights against Akwa Ibom state government, the Commissioner of Police of Cross River state, Assistant Inspector General of Police, Leo Igwe, Sam Ituama, Gary Foxcroft and others as respondents for daring to organize a workshop which they perceived to be critical of their activities. They asked the respondents to pay them 200 billion naira ($.1.3 million dollars) in damages.

The court wondered why Helen and her church members attacked some of the respondents and still came to court to enforce their fundamental rights for the mere reason that the victims of the attack dared report the matter to the police. The court dismissed the application and awarded costs of 20,000 naira(184 dollars) against Helen and her church members. Helen Ukpabio, her church members and her lawyers were not in court today for the ruling.

It should be recalled that last year over 150 thugs from Helen Ukpabio’s Liberty Gospel Church invaded the venue of a workshop on Witchcraft and Child Rights in Calabar. They attacked and beat up the organizers of the program. The police intervened and arrested some of them; in their statement they said they were sent by Helen Ukpabio to disrupt the event. Shortly after the arrest, Helen and her church members went to court to enforce their fundamental rights. Early this year, Helen’s lawyers did not appear in court on two occasions and the court had to strike out the case. But a month later, the leader of her legal team Victor Ukutt went to court and re-listed the case.

“This is a landmark judgment and a victory of the rule of law over the law of the jungle. I am greatly delighted that the court has sent a strong message to Helen and her church members who have continued to use their connections to evade justice and to undermine the cause of reason, enlightenment and human rights.”

I have been following this story for some time, and I blogged on the attack on the workshop here; the invasion was later praised by another powerful evangelist, Bishop NE Moses. Ukpabio had argued that attempts to oppose labelling children as witches is an attack on her religious freedom, and that Sam Ituama, who runs a hostel protecting “witch-children”, was himself a wizard. A previous bit of “lawfare” undertaken by Ukpabio was dismissed in February.

A few months ago, Leo Igwe’s father lost an eye in an assault, after Leo spoke out against the rape of a young girl in his home village (see here and here); Ukpabio’s followers – who all apparently regard themselves as good Christians – left comments on this blog expressing their joy that this had happened, and warning that worse was to come. Victor Ukutt himself left a comment:

There is no way Leo Igwe would lift up his hands against God’s annionted like Mrs Ukpabio and you expect God to stop giving him troubles. He has not seen trouble yet.God will visit and trouble all those people troubling Mrs Ukpabio.Watch out ,the troubles that God will rain on you,except you repent, will very severe…

There is also an anonymous attack blog which was set up by Ukpabio’s webmaster Gabriel Egba, containing the most extravagant lies and abuse about Leo and about anyone else who has spoken or written critically about Ukpabio – there are even a couple of pages devoted to me on it.

Meanwhile, the state governor of Akwa Ibom, Godswill Akpabio, is currently running an inquiry into child-witch stigmatisation in the state, although his commitment to ending the problem remains uncertain. The charity Stepping Stones Nigeria is urging that letters be sent; details have been posted here.

(As a footnote, I’ll add that Ukpabio’s attack blog has been been cited – somewhat desperately – by British cyber-thug Charlie Flowers as evidence that I’m an anti-religious Communist working in league with Islamic extremists)