Unpleasant, distasteful, disgraceful, annoying and haunting. These are the ready adjectival qualifiers for Channel 4’s Dispatches programme titled “Saving Africa’s Witch Children”, shown on Wednesday 12 November, 2008. The producers were sadistically deadpan in their engagement with the viewers’ repulsive emotion. It is a case of going for the jugular of our humanity to see how loud we could scream with our conscience. My conscience screamed along with other UK based Nigerians whose evening was shattered when the camera began to document another evil variant of our collective bastardy.
A paralysing Pandora box of Nigeria’s unbroken epic of the tale of the unexpected was thrown rudely across our living rooms. It was a grand spoiler. The menu was more of appetite suppressant than the rich delicacy of Akwa Ibom edikaikong. An exuberant, energetic, white foreigner who played the role of a messiah-redeemer was seen combing the creeks of Akwa Ibom State buying our children like chattel of slavery re-enactment. Gary Foxcroft, 29, of the charity body, Stepping Stones Nigeria, is the new reincarnated Bob Geldof. Foxcroft is championing a cause to emancipate Nigerian witch children from the hands of deadly, psychotic, machete-wielding witch and wizard hunters in the villages and towns of Akwa Ibom State.
Among Africa’s shackling demons, witchcraft is the most fearsome. It is in our existence, folklore and our everyday conversation. Every African has one closet witch in his family, I must say, until the day of confession-to- deliverance. Families have been ruined and marriages destroyed when witchcraft grenades are lobbed as weapons of warfare in our society. I am sure we all know one man, woman, relation, neighbour or friend whose life has been emptied of meaning either as a victim of a sustained witchcraft attacks or a card carrying coven attendee.
Gary Foxcroft, a young Englishman, is leading the dance for a new crusade to return sanity back to the people of Akwa Ibom whose confusing blinker has led to senseless beating, detention, starvation, mutilation, rejection and horrid murder of innocent children branded as witches and wizards. Bishop Sunday Ulup-Aya, a murderer and an ignoble village jester who doubles as exorcist and deliverer estimated that among Akwa Ibomites, 2.3million of its humanity morph nightly into birds of terror leaving their victims barren, unemployed, deaf, dumb, pauperised, ill, maimed and disorientated. And those of them whose teeth are like graders enjoy nightly feast on human kidneys, heart and flesh.
Ulup-Aya charges N400, 000 to perform bloody exorcism on children who have been initiated into witchcraft. His magic alchemy is the fusion of traditional medicine with Biblical sophistry. He gave it a chic name: poison destroyer. This tool of deceit has made our village urchin rich, influential and sought after as the Grand Exorcist of the Ibomite Witchcraft Order. He even boasted that he had killed 110 of the little angels branded as possessing wicked powers. A murderous bishop, you might say.
As the programme progresses in its relentless portrayal of Nigeria’s Pentecostal bestiality, Gary Foxcroft, a lone white face in a sea of blackness stretched forth his comforting hands to the dazed, dehumanised and despoiled witch children. These children, many of them bedraggled, burdened and betrothed to the waiting embrace of death, rallied round to their white messiah to bring to a glorifying life, Christ call to the weary and burdened in Matthew 11v 28-30.
Foxcroft is a capable hand. There is compulsive passion in his method which is vehemently set against the evil beliefs and barbaric practices of the people of Akwa Ibom. He is also a witness to evil. He has seen the evil of adulterated Christianity that fuses Africanised custom into the sacrament of Christ. There is a sacrilegious greed when the teaching of Jesus Christ- the diluted variant- becomes a convenient cover to exploit, extort and exert irresponsible power on abandoned, ostracised and traumatised minors falsely accused as coven conveners.
Who best typifies this exemplar of Pentecostal exploitation and greed than the self-styled Prophetess Helen Ukpabio of the Liberty Gospel Church? Akpabiosis has led to the resurgence of witch hunting on a massive scale in Akwa Ibom. Ukpabio, rich, vocal, witch hunter and businesswoman preys on innocent children. Going by the amount of videos and DVD she has made, she is a Christian Industrialist. She has created an industry of fear, where, a macabre but thriving genre of flesh tingling, horror-laden, ghoulish and blood suckling drama on the inner secrets of witchcraft are given celluloid reality. Her film, “End of The Wicked” is so unrelenting in its gory details of flesh eating witches that it sails close to screen overkill.
The media feast on the insane criminality of Akwa Ibom and its sordid maltreatment of little witch children is bringing about a moral catharsis among its famous sons. The Divisional Police Officer, Mr Esit Eket said that most of the locals are afraid to give evidence and serve as witness in cases of prosecutable offences. Chief Victor Ikot, the local traditional ruler calibrated anger and rained curses on the pastors who are exploiting the poverty and ignorance of his subjects. Meanwhile, not a single pastor has been convicted for falsely accusing gullible children as witches and wizards. Aposle Dr. Cletus Bassey, the zonal President of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, defended the church but denounced Upkabio for creating a cloud of witchcraft fear through her films.
Then the State House invasion. Gary Foxcroft is an activist messiah and a grass root mobiliser. After cleaning his flock of ‘witches and wizards’ and turning them into shinning emerald, he has to take them to a kingly feast with the State Governor, Godswill Akpabio. Any Daily Monitor would have captioned the invasion as “Angry Witches and Wizards Confront Governor”. Mary, a 5 year old malnourished, ebony beauty, embattled and abandoned to Foxcroft led the baying witches and wizards on a long, craggy march to present their freedom chatter to the Governor. Foxcroft cuddled a 3 month’s old abandoned girl in his bosom all through the epochal event.
Foxcroft reminded me of Moses, the deliverer, as he led the children of Israel from servitude to triumphal grace. Confidently and regardless of the governmental pincers on the way, he led his singing hordes of witches and wizards to the fortified palace of Governor Akpabio. Then and then, a white foreigner’s humanity challenged African’s. Then my tears flowed freely. Mary, holding high her banner, “We are not witches or wizards” locked gaze with God Akpabio on his Mount Olympia. Foxcroft, lapping the moment with humble pride, yes an oxymoron, kissed the little angel on his chest, as he watched and compared the absurdity of two Nigerians. Akpabio is a scion of Nigerians who are God, lordly, rich, aloof and powerful. Mary and the little witches and wizards are the other Nigerians who are despised, denied, denounced, detained and dehumanised.
God Akpabio’s, nay, African humanity shrivelled in shame. Foxcroft, an immigrant from a distant shore cuddled, caressed, nursed and laughed with his burdened ‘witches and wizards’ under the burning African sun while God Akpabio, surrounded by his aides, mumbled a belated promise and evaporated into his marble palace. He did not, for the timeless connection of grace between him and the kids touched nor smiled to any of the ‘children witches and wizards’ he was voted to look after.
What is going on in Akwa Ibom outraged my Christianity. I became a converted Christian in 1999 without any delusion that the faith has been massively infiltrated by the anti-Christ masquerading as angels of light. Regardless of the sustained assaults against the cross of Christ, I remain unshakeable and deeply committed to a faith that has given me redemption from the pit of darkness. Hallelujah!!! At last, I can laugh with malnourished Mary who had never known laughter until meeting Gary Foxcroft. A baby doll did it for her.