Children ostracised by being labelled as witches, pay a heavy price. Gone is the innocence associated with childhood, the care and embrace of loving parents. Such children become social outcasts, rejected by parents and communities, faced with insurmountable obstacles and subjected to indescribable tortures. The beneficiaries of these gory spectacles are the churches who engage in exorcisms. Dubious exorcisms at prohibitive costs. There is no point going into the details of this any longer, Mag Gavan film explained it in details and this film can be accessed online. The Nigerian phenomenon of child witches started attracting international attention as far back as around 2005. Tracy McVeigh visited Esit Eket in 2007 in the course of investigating it and produced a film to document her findings. What Mag Gavan recently did was to add flavour to a simmering problem that refused to abate.
It is to be expected that Nigerians in the Diaspora would not be left behind in manifesting the paranoia associated with the child witches phenomenon. The United Kingdom abounds with Nigerian-oriented churches practicing the Nigerian version of Pentecostalism with its prejudices and notable flaws. This is said with reverence to the unwholesome impact of non-Nigerian sects like that of Pastor Gilbert Deya and so many others from the African continent. In essence, Britain remains like a microcosm of Africa with our blemishes and impurities fully represented. The practice of kindoli is strongly rooted in the Congolese communities in the United Kingdom, with branches of Combat Spirituel firmly established and gaining adherents daily. Cases abound where parents have attributed ill lucks in the UK to kindoli possessed by their children. Often times, such children have been returned to the Congo for exorcisms, some not to be seen again. Not too long ago, in Bradford, a Nigerian pastor was convicted of charges of child abuse. The abuse was directed to none other than his kids, whom he accused of possessing witchcraft.
Witchcraft apart, Nigerian kids face sundry abuses in the United Kingdom. Nigerians, pastors and non-pastors, bring children to the United Kingdom to work as housemaids, shop-helps and so on. Such kids are denied basic education which does not cost a dime in this clime. Education officials have lamented specifically about the abuses Nigerian kids are being subjected to. Kids are forced to participate in various demanding church activities, including being subjected to night vigils and prolonged fasting. The result is that sleeping during school hours remains the norm with associated poor performances.
It is pertinent at this stage to take a look at the situation that allows for the continued growth of the phenomenon of child witches in Africa and to also assess the social and international impacts of this scourge. There is no doubt that continued thriving poverty in Africa, ably sustained by the unending war in Congo DR and the prolonged acrimonies in Angola, fuelled and sustained this practice in these countries. The terribly bad situation is being actively exploited by conscienceless individuals who are thwarting religion and traditional beliefs to amass wealth. As stated earlier, Nigeria’s situation bothers on opportunism with a hybrid of thwarted traditional belief and “yellow-faced” Christianity. As per the case of Nigeria, the failure of the Nigerian state comes to the fore. Nigeria has actively continued to neglect the welfare of its citizens, adults and children alike. Concept of governance in Nigeria remains mired in corruption and political insensitivity. Manifestations of trappings of power and insensitivity of government to the citizenry are the order of the day. A good snapshot was the total ignorance exhibited by Gov Akpabio, after haven taken a lengthy time to accept that the problem of the child witches was worth his precious time. In his simple understanding, merely signing the Children’s Act to law in Akwa Ibom state would forever abolish the problem of child witches. However, experience has taught us that mere laws do not solve social problems in Nigeria.
Evangelist Helen Ukpabio has written many books and produced many home videos, all chillingly pointing to and reinforcing the belief that children can be and are indeed witches. She has produced so much misinformation that it is genuinely doubtful if posterity can forgive this lady. Her books have sold in millions, likewise her tainted home movies. In a particular book titled “Unveiling the Mysteries of Witchcraft”, Mrs Ukpabio exposed her dangerous mindset by her inflammatory guidance to diagnosing witchcraft. On pages 76 to 83 of this book, Mrs Ukpabio affirmed that children under two years of age who “scream at night, cries, show sudden deterioration in health, show attitude of fear or who fail to feed well” are witches. For children over two years of age, witchcraft can be diagnosed when such kids are “unusually bold, tell lies, steals, becomes very stubborn, crafty, suddenly droop from good to poor performance at school, hates school, are destructive at home…, sleep much in the day time, suddenly stammer when asked questions with excessive blinking of the eyelids, ….”. In this book, Mrs Ukpabio exposed her antisocial mindset in readily diagnosing witchcraft for every manifestation of poverty and social rebellion in children. Yet she still has the courage to declare herself “a voice in Nigeria.”
Helen Ukpabio founded her questionable ministry on a false premise. She has been so engrossed with the issue of witches and wizards, seeing in this a very easy way to penetrate the often competitive market of Pentacostalism in Nigeria. Her Palace Temple Headquarters of Liberty Gospel Church, along Ndidem Usang Iso Road, Calabar, has been the seat of the dissemination of falsehood and the sowing ground of discord and persecution of innocent children. Just as she wrote in words, her verbal teachings remain contentious and outrageous. At this infamous headquarters, she had organised many counselling and screening sessions for people who wanted to know their “witchcraft status”. She taught about the different types of witchcraft, particularly those practised in Africa, Nigeria and the local communities. Helen Ukpabio’s world view of witchcraft is essentially divided into three – white, black, and red witchcraft. She taught that: “In white witchcraft, people are organised into various cult groups or religions and thought certain things contrary to the Word and will of God. Some of the things they do are believed to have the potential of protecting the member and making him prosperous while harming the others in the work place, business place, school, the neighbourhood, or family. All the same, it is witchcraft and harmful to him and others.” She also stated that: “In black witchcraft, the spirit gets directly into the human spirit. It can be dropped into someone’s food and it develops. If you are initiated into it, you can do a lot of evil to people in the society. The black witchcraft is crude and dangerous. They act like beasts and have no sympathy or pity for humans.” She often support her bizarre teachings with portions of the Bible, quoting liberally from the Book of Job, Chapter 41 verses 24 and 25 and other parts of the holy book. Her teaching states that witches “practise their craft on their beds (meaning while asleep at night), coveting other peoples’ fields and properties and taking them violently”. Within the local metropolis of Calabar, Ukpabio was able to identify two possessed spots where she said that marine spirit was holding the people captive. She also singled out the local Akim market in Calabar as the den of witches and wizards where no trader can prosper. She has effectively transferred the rubbish being disseminated beyond the confines of Calabar to various parts of the Niger Delta and Nigeria, by being able to establish over 150 branches.
The Nigerian scenario, as reflected in the film Saving Africa Child Witches, demonstrated the deceit, egotism, greed and total callousness of those exploiting religion to amass wealth in Nigeria. Helen Ukpabio, by her behaviour in that film, demonstrated no empathy for the unfortunate children thrown to the streets because of the belief she championed. All she cared about was protecting her financial empire. Her behaviour on the film represented the need for urgent action on the excesses of these modern-day religious scoundrels in Nigeria. Not to be neglected also is the very urgent need to infuse life and practicality into the Children’s Act in Nigeria. Child Abuse abounds in so many facets in Nigeria. From the child hawking “pure water” on the busy motorway to that serving as a maid in a rich man’s household. There are indeed serious needs for our governments to wake up.
This write-up will not be complete without mentioning the organisations that have committed their time and energy to tackle the menace created by the misguided preachers of religion. There is the need for us all, and people of goodwill the world over, to rise up and support the wonderful work of Gary Foxcroft and Stepping Stone Nigeria. His efforts at this stage, remain basically at the infantile level – that of providing shelter and feeding to the displaced children. These children need more. They need better healthcare facilities, schooling and recreational facilities and so on. This is a challenge we must not shirk away from.
There are also other organisations involved in this challenge and across the ocean, the one that came to mind is AFRUCA (Africa Unite Against Child Abuse) . This wonderful organisation in the United Kingdom has been working assiduously behind the scene, tackling the plights of African kids. The remit of this energetic organisation covers the various aspects of exploitation of kids, including child witches, female genital mutilation, child trafficking, child prostitution, pornography and so on. The organisation remains the mopping-up arm of problems created in Africa in the United Kingdom. Abandoned kids often ended up being trafficked into western countries and at this stage, AFRUCA, become very relevant. The organisation has extensive outreach programmes, extending to Africa in some instances. The Executive Director is Debbie Ariyo, who is probably the Gary Foxcroft of Britain. It is just right at this stage to pay homage to those who are sacrificing their time, energy and resources to ensure that our kids have a better future and more importantly, to ensure the future of the African continent.
Governments of the world need to come together in action and in deeds to tackle the menace posed by the phenomenon of kindoki or child witches. Africa as a continent can only become further impoverished by the sustenance of this retrogressive practice. In this age and time, what Africa needs is not the concept of child witches but technological advancement, economic, social and political emancipation. Africa needs enlightenment and not the concept of child witches. Africa needs prosperity and not further marginalisation by a hybrid religion that has done little to shake off the shackles of superstition and ignorance.
This piece was written as a measure of my concern for the abused children in Africa. It stems from my earlier series titled: Gospel of Materialism – Nigerian Pentecostalism and Hypocrisy, where references were made to the antics of Helen Ukpabio and the resultant social menace created by the issue of abandoned children. I am solely responsible for this piece and have no interests to declare.