Stop the killing of children in Akwa Ibom State in Nigeria
Stop the killing of children in Akwa Ibom State in Nigeria
Stop killing of children in Akwa Ibom State in Nigeria
We, the concerned Nigerians of Akwa-Ibom State origin (South- South Nigeria) in Diaspora, as well as fellow Nigerian citizens seize this opportunity to appeal to your office for immediate intervention to save the severely abused, displaced, children of Akwa Ibom State in Nigeria, and the lives of the people who have worked tirelessly to advocate for their safety – Sam Itauma and Gary Foxcroft. We also seek your intervention for the safety of the social workers and volunteer staff members who provide care, medical aid, education, and a protective environment for the abused children. Please overlook the comprehensive nature of this letter but pay close attention to its content. We feel it is only proper and necessary to present adequate background information for better appreciation of the seriousness of the matter for which we petition your office.
Child torture and abuse:
In recent years, our home; Akwa Ibom State, in Southern Nigeria, has witnessed dangerous rising trends of diabolical child abuse practices where innocent and defenseless children are accused of witchcraft and subsequently labeled ‘child witches’ by self proclaimed prophets in “spiritual” churches, parents, as well as adult relatives, in their local communities. Once these churches accuse a child of witchcraft, such a child is subjected to varying forms of physical torture and extreme inhumane treatment under the guise of witchcraft exorcism. In many cases, children exposed to these dangerous rituals are maimed for life. In other cases, the children are out rightly murdered. There are several documented cases where scorching hot water is poured on children as punishment for their alleged involvement in witchcraft. In one case, a nail was drilled into a child’s skull, and in another case, a child was doused with acid. It is alarming and horrifying to learn that most of these victims range between 2 and early teenage years of age. The ‘lucky’ ones are tortured, and abandoned on the streets by their families and communities to fend for themselves. The government provides little if any protection for these children.
Rescue of stigmatized and abused street children:
Mr. Sam Itauma, a charitable and sympathetic citizen residing in Eket, Akwa Ibom State, assumed the arduous responsibility of rescuing these abused and abandoned children from the streets and providing them with a safe haven in a home that he shares with his family. To help with the rescue and rehabilitation efforts, Stepping Stones foundation a United Kingdom based NGO headed by Mr. Gary Foxcroft, a British National, partnered with Sam Itauma.
At the onset, Mr. Itauma tried for months with very minimal success in seeking government intervention in stopping these abuses, or to help provide care and protection for the abused children rescued by him. The lack of State government intervention further worsened the crisis and widespread cases of child abuse and abandonment occurred unchecked.
To cope with the growing number of rescued children, Sam Itauma sought donations from individuals, corporations and organizations. With partnership with Stepping Stones Nigeria, a rescue shelter called Child Rehabilitation Network (CRARN) was established and a small hostel was built on donated land. The hostel initially housed about 100 children and has since expanded to accommodate about 250 children, a few of whom were eventually reunited with their parents after counseling. At the time of writing this report, the CRARN facility had expanded with more buildings for classrooms, hostels for boys and girls, administrative building, a vegetable garden and poultry as well as a borehole with pump for safe drinking water. It is worthy to note that the borehole is the only source safe drinking water for community where CRARN is situated. Some of the infrastructures were donated by UNICEF, Zenith Bank, Bristol, and funds from Akwa Ibom State government.
Media Exposure, Public Outrage and Child Right Law:
Part of Mr. Foxcroft’s and Sam Itauma’s mission was to draw public awareness to the increasing danger that children in Akwa-Ibom are facing as a result of ignorance and superstitious beliefs in witchcraft. The persistent advocacy work of both men attracted attention of both local and international media to the plight of the ‘witch’ children and also beamed the spotlight on the government’s failure to protect the young and the vulnerable in the society. In furtherance of their child advocacy work and awareness campaign, CRARN center in collaboration with Stepping Stones foundation, granted an interview to UK’s Channel 4 TV Network, and other freelance documentary film makers whose films are shown here ‘Saving Africa’s “witch” children’ and “Part 1 2010 Update: Saving Africa's Witch Children (Falsely Accused)” by Attah Ikiddeh”.
In spite of the glaring evidence of child abuse that were recorded by these documentaries and the worldwide condemnation and outrage, the initial reaction of Akwa-Ibom State government was an outright, denial of the existence of such abuses or of any such ‘witch children’. The state commissioner of information Mr. Aniekan Umanah described the documentary as a hoax and accused Sam Itauma and Gary Foxcroft of staging a fraudulent documentary, aimed at embarrassing the administration. The intense public outrage finally prompted the State Governor, Chief Godswill O. Akpabio to act in 5 December 2008 by signing into law, UN Charter on the Rights of the Child. . This bill known as a Child Right’s Law in Akwa Ibom State criminalizes child abuse of any form. Many applauded the Governor for taking action. It is important to point out that according to Akwa Ibom State website: (http://www.aksgonline.com/child_rights_law.aspx), this law among others:
“Prescribes up to 15 years imprisonment without an option of a fine or both for offenders in Child stigmatization, accusation of witchcraft or torture”
“Provides for the setting up of a family court to try suspects for speedy adjudication of offenders”,
Expects Associations to: “Create awareness and develop community interest”
“Mobilize and seek support to develop and implement effective pro-child policies and programs”,
“Bring the law to bear on all cultural practices”
It is sad to note that since 2008, Akwa Ibom State government has not yet kept the promise to its vulnerable citizens by enforcing the laws that they enacted. There have not been a “speedy adjudication of offenders”; no single offender is yet in jail for “stigmatizing, accusation of witchcraft or torture”. On the contrary, an offender like the “Bishop” who boasted on camera to have killed 108 people is reported to have had his charges reduced, has been released on bail and back to his same old business.
Associations like CRARN and Stepping Stones who through their advocacy work have “Created awareness and developed community interest”, “Mobilized and sought support to develop and implement effective pro-child policies and programs”, are being hounded and harassed by the government for carrying out their duties according to the law. The government evidently views the diligent work of these organizations as tarnishing the image of the administration. It seems that the government does not believe in the laws it makes and cares more about its image than Akwa Ibom children, which may explain their lack of commitment in enforcing the child protection law.
Threats to the Life of Mr. Itauma; and Police action against him and CRARN Center:
On August 25th 2010, CNN broadcasted the result of their investigation of child abuse and abandonment in Eket, the Governor was also interviewed and he dismissed the evidence gathered by CNN as mere exaggerations. After that interview with CNN, Governor Godswill Akpabio went on local radio and TV stations and accused CRARN and Stepping Stones of using the situation to dupe people of money. Without evidence of criminal wrong doing he also declared Mr. Sam Itauma wanted, and announced that he had placed surveillance around the CRARN center. Shortly after the Governor’s threat, the town’s people reported that gunmen stormed the town around 2 AM and fired gunshots around CRARN facility. Mr. Ituama has since gone into hiding, as it is clear that his life is no longer safe in his home or in his community. His movement is now restricted and his rights and his freedoms violated by Governor Akpabio. Because this threat extends to Mr. Foxcroft as well, he is unable to visit Nigeria to oversee the administration of the facility, which his organization supports.
Most people of good conscience are at a loss over Governor Akpabio’s sustained hostility towards the two men who stepped forward to rescue, care for, and provide safe havens for children who were abused and abandoned in our State. One would have assumed that a government faced with evidence of such child abuse crisis would partner with organizations like CRARN and Stepping Stones to “Bring the law to bear on all cultural practices” by facilitating re-education campaigns aimed at ridding our state of the ignorance and superstitious belief that promote such abuses. Unfortunately, the opposite is the case. The protectors of vulnerable children are hounded like common criminals and threatened rather than supported in their selfless humanitarian service.
Given the abysmal record on human rights, respect for the rule of law, tolerance for dissenting opinion of this administration, we are very concerned and worried, and need your immediate help and action to save the lives of the children at CRARN, Mr. Itauma, and his family as well as protect Mr. Foxcroft from harm.
Prior to hostility towards CRARN and Stepping Stones, by the Governor of the State, there were threats and lawsuits by a prominent and an influential Pastor by the name of Mrs. Helen Ukpabio.
Mrs. Ukpabio operates a religious organization called Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries with branches spread across Nigeria and parts of Africa. Some of Nigeria’s powerful politicians are members of her church, while some of her devotees are residents in the UK and in the US, where Mrs. Ukpabio frequently visits.
The main tenet of the belief in her organization is a claim that Satan has the ability to manifest himself in the bodies of children by demonic possession and make them become his servants in the form of 'witches' or 'wizards'.
Mrs. Ukpabio’s organization poses a clear and present danger to children especially in rural communities where she exploits ignorance, poverty and local customs based on superstitious beliefs, particularly those related to demonic possession or witchcraft.
Ukpabio spreads her views on several published books and videos that are widely sold and still in circulation in Akwa Ibom State. One of such title is “Unveiling The Mysteries of Witchcraft', in which she states that: “If a child under the age of two screams in the night, cries and is always feverish with deteriorating health he or she is a servant of Satan”. This book fails to mention the medical fact that these are common symptoms in young children, especially those living in Ukpabio’s targeted socio-economic class, where high level of poverty and treatable deceases like malaria are common cause of illnesses and death.
Through her video productions she also spreads the view that evil spirits can possess children, the most famous of these is 'End of The Wicked' in which child actors are shown to eat human flesh and murder their parents. This is an obvious instance of Child stigmatization.
One wonders why the government is permitting the distribution and sale of these materials in Akwa Ibom State in spite of Child Right Law that “prescribes up to 15 years imprisonment without an option of a fine or both for offenders in Child stigmatization, accusation of witchcraft or torture.”
In 2007 Observer newspaper in London published an article reporting that Ukpabio and other evangelical pastors were encouraging an upsurge in the numbers of children accused of witchcraft and being abused and stigmatized by parents and communities as a result.
In 2008, a UK broadcaster Channel 4 broadcasted a documentary titled “Dispatches Saving Africa's Witch Children” that showed the link between the preaching of evangelical pastors like Ukpabio and the plight of stigmatized children as well as the work that Stepping Stone and CRARN are doing to remedy the situation.
Since the international media expose, Mrs. Ukpabio has declared war on CRARN and on Stepping Stones. She dragged these organizations to court and threatened to close them down.
On July 3rd 2009, Mrs. Ukpabio through her sphere of influence in the government, employed men identified as members of the Nigerian police force Division 2 from Lagos, accompanied by her lawyer, Victor Ukutt Esq., to raid CRARN facility and terrorize both children and staffers. Mr. Ukutt forcefully and illegally gained access to Mr. Itauma’s home-office by breaking door locks with bolt cutters and carting away confidential records, the children’s protected information, employee files, a laptop computer, and a camera. The target of that raid was Mr. Itauma. Mr. Itauma managed to escape but his wife and a staff of CRARN were threatened with a gun, arrested and detained for several hours at the local police station. Some children were physically assaulted and were hospitalized and treated for wounds sustained in the hands of the gunmen.
This incident was reported to the State police command, and also to the State government, but there has been no official investigation till date. Once again, the government flouted the tenet of the Child Right Law to “represent the interests of the public by investigating and addressing complaints reported by individual citizens regarding children's rights.”
Most Recent danger to Mr. Itauma’s Life:
In August 30th of 2010, Governor Akpabio was on a CNN interview in London where the issue of Child Witchcraft in Akwa-Ibom State was raised and where eye witness accounts and investigative reports by CNN on the stigmatization and torture of children in Akwa Ibom State as witches and wizards were presented. The Governor dismissed all credible reports presented to him by CNN as mere exaggerations attributed to mischievous people wishing to portray Akwa-Ibom State negatively. But, barely a week after the Governor’s denials, two twin brothers aged six, in Akwa-Ibom State, were rescued from being buried alive by a man claiming the boys were supernaturally responsible for his wife’s sudden death. We are made to understand that the case of the twin brother’s rescue from death is still under investigation.
On November 10th 2010, another governmental agency, EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission); a Federal Government agency; raided CRARN center, claiming to act on petitions from ‘anonymous’ sources that they would only reveal when Sam Itauma reports in person at the EFCC office.
A reliable source opined that even though there is no merit or evidence to investigate CRARN and Sam Itauma for financial crime, their hands are tied as they are carrying out orders from above. We believe that this is an intimidation tactic to have Sam Itauma thrown in jail without charge or due process. And the so-called ‘anonymous petition’ was indeed ordered by agents of Governor Akpabio as part of his targeted campaign against CRARN.
We have reasons to believe this because in previous months, Akwa-Ibom State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Aniekan Umanah, writing on Akwa Ibom Forum (internet listserve) had threatened to use the instruments of office to dismantle CRARN. He threatened then to have a government commission set up with the sole objective of investigating and destabilizing CRARN. Rather than focusing government effort at ending the abuse of children, the same Commissioner Umanah in an attempt to discredit Gary Foxcroft made an unproven allegation of Mr. Foxcroft’s involvement in child trafficking.
Commission on Child Witch Saga:
As more news articles focusing on Akwa-Ibom child ‘witches’ emerged, the government of Akwa-Ibom state on November 22nd 2010 announced the establishment of a commission to investigate theses abuses.
While this is a good gesture by the government, we believe that given the seriousness of the abuses, the history of denials by the administration, and the Governor’s unwavering hostility toward CRARN. To constitute a commission of men and women hand picked solely by the administration would amount to dishonesty, deception, and quite frankly an attempt to misuse official powers to circumvent due process. Given the administration’s atrocious human rights record, our fears are well founded. The Governor charged the commission amongst other things, to investigate the veracity of the physical abuse claims reported by CRARN and Stepping Stones social workers. He also charged his hand picked Commission to investigate reports that claim that children are in fact branded as witches. The Commission’s charter suggests that Governor Akpabio is either confused, or already has a predetermined agenda.
In May of 2008, the children of CRARN matched to the Governor’s office in a peaceful rally to protest the dehumanizing treatment they had suffered and also to demand government protection of all Akwa-Ibom children. After being denied access to the Governor by armed policemen and left standing outsides the gates of the governor’s office for over four hours under the scorching heat, Governor Akpabio finally emerged from his office to address the children and their guardian. In his speech to the children, he admitted to having been informed of their plight, and request by his Commissioner for Women’s affairs.
The Governor promised to sign a bill into law that would address all the children’s concerns, mainly abuses and stigmatization. Thankfully, he made good on that promise.
It is therefore odd that two years after, the same Governor would constitute a Commission to investigate the legitimacy of a crisis that he signed a law to address.
Secondly, on July 9th, 2009, Governor Akpabio made an unscheduled visit to CRARN along with members of his staff following an earlier illegal and unlawful raid on the facility by Mrs. Helen Ukpabio on July 3rd 2009. At CRARN, Governor Akpabio saw first hand the condition of the children at the center. He saw the physical evidence of torture such as burns and deep scars on the bodies of recovering children at CRARN. He met a girl who eventually died from brain damage after six inches nail was knocked into her skull. He heard the horror stories of some of the children. In appreciation for his unannounced visit, the children lovingly presented the Governor with a makeshift citizen’s award. Governor Akpabio was so impressed by the gesture that he made a one-time donation of ten million naira, with promises to do more.
Given these instances, we the citizens are stunned that the governor who is intimately familiar with the atrocities committed against children in his State would go on the airwaves to deny and discredit the facts.
The Commission as it exists is a fraud and is not intended to put an end to the scourge of child witch stigmatization. Reputable international news organizations such as CNN, Guardian of London, and Al Jezeera already came to Akwa Ibom and conducted investigative reports that found these cases to be facts. UNICEF field office in Nigeria has been collaborating with CRARN and Stepping Stones to rescue children and have donated a furnished hostel for girls at CRARN facility.
We request that the make up of a credible commission should include participation from unbiased international organizations like the UNICEF, UNCRH, Human rights commission, ICPRC, IPSCAN, Child protection International, Save the Children Alliance, Defense for Children International, etc. The inclusion of participants from these organizations along with adequate safeguards designed to protect witnesses, as well as unrestricted local and international press access to the commission’s sessions, would ensure public confidence in the fairness of the process. As it stands, this is nothing but kangaroo commissions set up by Governor Akpabio so he can affect revenge on CRARN and send the children back to the streets.
Aside from our primary concern for the safety and welfare of the children at CRARN, we are deeply concerned for Mr. Itauma and his staff who have become surrogate parents and guardians to the rescued Children at the facility. Many of the children have found a loving environment at CRARN. The Children at CRARN, who now number more than 250, are understandably fearful and uncertain of their care and wellbeing as their lives are about to be turned upside down again. Despite the Governor’s antagonistic actions, both Mr. Itauma and Mr. Foxcroft had continued to make the safety and protection of Akwa-Ibom Children their utmost priority while seeking cooperation and collaboration with the Government. Both CRARN and Stepping Stones have made overtures to the administration of Governor Akpabio and have on many occasions humbly sought conference with the Governor so that the harassment of Sam Itauma, Gary Foxcroft and the children would stop. Such overtures have received increased hostility.
Given the dangerous public safety situation that exists in Akwa Ibom State, with strings of unsolved assassinations, illegal and unlawful arrests of citizens, convictions without proof, frame up of individuals, uninvestigated and unsolved homicides, and numerous kidnappings of innocent citizens, we are deeply concerned for the safety of the children and the Staff of CRARN, as well as Mr. Itauma and his family.
Our Plea for Intervention and Help:
We are therefore appealing to you agencies, organizations, groups, individuals, and governments; to intervene and encourage the Nigerian President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to prevail upon Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State, to:
Commence immediate enforcement of the Child Right Law laws when and where applicable.
Commence immediate and ongoing government funded education and awareness campaign to educate communities in Akwa Ibom State against superstitious beliefs in child witchcraft.
Cease all hostile actions, threats, and petitions against Mr. Itauma, CRARN, Stepping Stones or Mr. Foxcroft. Order the Akwa Ibom State Government to cease negative media campaigns against CRARN and/or its agents.
Guarantee that all persons living or working at CRARN Center will not be harassed, kidnapped or murdered. Ensure complete stoppage of unlawful entry by law-enforcement agents into the CRARN Compound.
Provide qualified and paid onsite medical personnel for medical emergencies, first aids, evaluations, and hospital referrals at CRARN Center.
Commence immediate and extensive investigation of the role of Helen Ukpabio’s and other such organizations whose practices and beliefs foster Child endangerment due to stigmatization of children as witches. Full criminal prosecution of those found complicit in such practices should follow this investigation.
Commence immediate investigation of Governor Godswill Akpabio’s administration for child endangerment by their failure to effectively enforce the Child Right Law, and for harassment and intimidation of the children’s advocates.
We thank you for your prompt attention to this SOS and ask that you help ensure that justice prevails where the defenseless have no recourse.
Please act on this petition, as we believe lives are at stake.
For more information regarding the CRARN children’s plight please visit links to documentary videos and news reports provided below.
Dispatches: Return to Africa's Witch Children (1 of 5) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbGzFN_NalI&NR=1
Dispatches - Return to Africa's Witch Children 5/5 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJBUNpZBJZs&feature=related
African Witch Children Pt6 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PjwaXbVZ-XY&feature=related
Saving Africa's Witch Children - A UNHCR event http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w81CB2UEBEI&feature=related
Nigerian governor says abuse of child 'witches' exaggerated. By the CNN Wire Staff. August 30, 2010 9:08 p.m. EDT http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/africa/08/30/nigeria.child.witchcraft/index.html?iref=allsearch
The rescued, accused witches of Nigeria. By Christian Purefoy, CNN. August 26, 2010 3:27 p.m. EDT http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/africa/08/25/nigeria.witches/index.html?iref=allsearch
His State Bereft Of Children Protection Services, Gov. Akpabio Hounds Akwa Ibom Child Advocates. Sahara Reporters. Posted: September 9, 2010 - 18:35 http://www.saharareporters.com/news-page/his-state-bereft-children-protection-services-gov-akpabio-hounds-akwa-ibom-child-advocates
Governor Akpabio’s War Against Children By Okey Ndibe. Sahara Reporters Posted: September 21, 2010 - 03:12 http://www.saharareporters.com/column/governor-akpabio’s-war-against-children-okey-ndibe
Akpabio’s Gunmen Invade Stigmatized Children’s Home In Eket http://www.saharareporters.com/news-page/akpabio’s-gunmen-invade-stigmatized-children’s-home-eket
Children abused, Killed as witches in Nigeria By Christian Purefoy, CNN http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/africa/08/25/nigeria.child.witches/index.html
Nigerian Governor says abuse of child “witches” exaggerated http://articles.cnn.com/2010-08-30/world/nigeria.child.witchcraft_1_witchcraft-reports-of-child-abuse-children?_s=PM:WORLD
Abuse of Child ‘witches” on the rise, aid group says http://articles.cnn.com/2009-05-18/world/nigeria.child.witchcraft_1_witches-nigeria-abuse?_s=PM:WORLD
Nigerian governor says abuse of child 'witches' exaggerated - CNN.com.mp4 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pkc70_RzbkE
Child-witches' of Nigeria seek refuge By David Harrison. Daily Telegraph. 9:42PM GMT 08 Nov 2008 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/nigeria/3407882/Child-witches-of-Nigeria-seek-refuge.html
Saving Africa's Witch Children Chanel 4 http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dispatches/episode-guide/series-8/episode-1/
On a Visit to the U.S., a Nigerian Witch-Hunter Explains Herself The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/22/us/22beliefs.html
Nigerian Children Deemed Witches Tortured CBS News http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/10/17/world/main5392572.shtml
Nigeria 'child witch killer' held BBC News http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7764575.stm
Child 'witches' in Africa Guardian of UK http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/video/2007/dec/09/video
Witch Children in Nigeria! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXIU_HeF-eM&feature=related
For additional information, please contact:
Stepping Stones Nigeria: http://www.steppingstonesnigeria.org/
Victor Ekpuk: Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Margaret Itauma: Email address: email@example.com
Concerned citizens of Akwa-Ibom State for Protection of Children:
Eno Adams / Hayward, Carlifonia
Thompson Essien / Portland, Oregon
Friday Ekpuk / Austell, Goergia
'OduduAbasi' Nicholas N. Edet
Victor Ekpuk / Washington DC