Helen Ukpabio Returning to Houston

Nigerian humanist Igwe reports:

In March, Nigeria’s notorious witch hunter, Helen Ukpabio, is organising a “Deliverance Session” in the United States, according to infomation posted on the web site of the Liberty Gospel Church. The event is slated for March 14-25 at Liberty Gospel Church in Houston, Texas. The program is said to be “12 days of battling with the spirit for freedom.”

…Ukpabio organizes deliverance sessions where she identifies and exorcizes people, mainly children, of witchcraft. Headquartered in Calabar in Southern Nigeria, the Liberty Gospel Church has grown to be a witch hunting church with branches in Nigeria and overseas.

Ukpabio’s advert gives no address for the Liberty Gospel Church in Houston, although one of the phone numbers provided belongs to Glorious Praise Ministries. This church is led by Pastor Jonathan A. David (also known as Jonathan Agba), and Ukpabio was previously there in 2010.

Ukpabio famously featured in a Channel 4 documentary about the plight of child witches in late 2008, and she complains that she has been unfairly maligned – witches who are brought to her church are simply prayed over, and once cured the former witch is reintegrated with his or her family. This is in contrast to other contexts, in which peripatetic healers perform bizarre and abusive rituals, or where children are harmed or abandoned after being identified as being witches.

However, this self-justification ignores several factors. First, children will only ever be safe from harm from witchcraft-related stigmatisation when belief in child witches has been eradicated. Leo is humanist, but it is perfectly possible to be a Christian and to understand that the idea of “child witches” goes against reason and has no support in Biblical teaching. Ukpabio’s teaching keeps this harmful belief alive, and not everyone adversely influenced by her books and DVDs will come to her church.

Second, to tell a child that he or she has caused family misfortune or bereavement through being a witch is obviously grotesquely cruel in itself.

Third, Ukpabio’s behaviour shows that she is malign. Leo again (links added):

Thanks to the activities of a UK based charity, the Stepping Stones Nigeria and its local partners, the problem of witchcraft accusations of children and the ignominious roles of Ukpabio and her Liberty Gospel Church and other ‘superstition miners’ were brought to the attention of the world. Since the broadcast of the documentary, Ukpabio and her thugs at the Liberty Gospel church have been campaigning to undermine Stepping Stones Nigeria and its efforts to tackle and address the problem of child witch hunting in Nigeria.

They brought several lawsuits against SSN and its partners, and lost. They have embarked on a smear campaign using local journalists to publish reports in the media which portrayed the projects of SSN in Nigeria as fraud.

In 2009, Ukpabio mobilized her church members against a local seminar on witchcraft and the rights of the child organised by Stepping Stones and the Nigerian Humanist Movement in Calabar, Cross River State. They invaded the venue, beat me up and stole my personal belongings. While the police were still investigating the matter, Helen Ukpabio and her church members went to court. They sued me, SSN and its partners asking that we pay them millions of dollars in damages for depriving them of the right to believe in witchcraft. Again they lost.

Ukpabio’s targets have included a man who runs a hostel for stigmatised children, whom she denounced as a “wizard”; the governor of Akwa Ibom state, whom she warned to “remember what happened to Saddam Hussein”; and the British actress Sophie Okonedo, who narrated the Channel 4 documentary. Members of Ukpabio’s church have created an abusive website where her critics are attacked in crude terms; I am described there as a murderer and a rapist, and as married to a “mongolis [sic] idiot”. The site was set up by Ukpabio’s webmaster, and has her personal endorsement. (1)

(1) To complicate matters, an unrelated on-line stalker I have in the UK has latched onto this site and made abusive attacks of his own while hiding behind the church’s name. Details here.