Friday, December 12, 2008

The horror in Akwa Ibom...

I finally watched the Channel 4 Child Witches documentary last night, at the Abuja screening. As with many others who have watched it, I had a sleepless, restless night full of sadness and anger.

My first reaction to the film was incredulity. How can people seriously believe that children are witches who fly off to covens in the middle of the night? As 'prophetess' Helen Ukpabio says when she was secretly filmed, there are witches and wizards in Harry Potter. However, these are things for the child's mind, to be put away during adolescence. How adults can retain the gullibility of children en masse is hard for the educated mind to comprehend. Grinding poverty, a lack of education and sinister manipulation from money-minded fake-pastors has produced a horrific mix in Akwa Ibom.

My second reaction was anger. To see a pot-bellied man swagger around with a machete, laughing as he threatens to murder a small child whimpering in front of him is enough to induce hatred. To hear how foam bubbled out of the young girl's skull after the nail was banged into her brain provokes outrage. To listen to the 'Bishop' as he explicitly boasts that he has killed 110 children is enough to wish him harm. Note how he says that he has killed '110 children' not '110 witches inside children' as he is now trying to say from the comfort of his prison cell. To listen as another pastor tell us that a small girl accused of being a witch stays with him in his bedroom during the night, and is locked up in a small room during the day is enough to want one to ensure he is castrated (at least chemically).

It is good that the Akwa Ibom State government, after many years of inattention, is finally taking action. Quite why what is now the richest state in Nigeria (given that it is the highest oil producing state) should be full of such desperately poor, uneducated people is a reasonable follow-up question.

Change is in the air - but will it go far enough to save the children who are being tortured, killed and sold off (in their hundreds, every week) to wealthy families in Equatorial Guinea, Cameroun and Gabon via highly organised trafficking gangs? It would not be difficult to close these gangs down - but do the powers-that-be have the stomach for it?

Some ways forward:

Nollywood films that portray children as witches (such as Ukpabio's "End of the Wicked") should be banned. Those who sell such films (such as Liberty Gospel Church) should be prosecuted, their operations closed down.

Akwa Ibom State Government needs to make a concerted effort to educate their citizens that children cannot be witches or wizards. This will require a robust communication strategy that filters down to primary school level.

The child-witch phenomenon is growing, well beyond Akwa Ibom into neighbouring states, just as it is now found in countries as far afield as DRC and Pakistan. Nigerian communities in London are also not immune, as we know from the child's body found washed up in the Thames a few years ago.

Little will change until those who are leaders in communities in Akwa Ibom and elsewhere (teachers, local chiefs, local politicians) themselves realise that belief in satanic/dark forces, 'deliverance' and child witches is utterly incompatible with Christianity, or with the 3rd millennium. The Anglican, Catholic and more formally organised/respectable of the Pentacostal churches have a huge role to play here.

The Lagos screening is this Saturday, at Terra Kulture, at 4pm.


Anengiyefa 2:49 pm  

Hi Jeremy, I guess you can now understand my seething anger at this insanity taking place under our very own noses. The behaviour of the pot bellied man you referred to demostrates clearly what we're dealing with here. This man was proud to be filmed prancing around waving his machette menacingly at a 5 year old girl. And he was surrounded by others, adults who seemed to be delighted by what he was doing and saying.

I saw this documentary several weeks ago, and my anger has been unrelenting. I sincerely do not believe that the authorities in Akwa Ibom state have grasped how serious the situation is and how urgently they need to act to protect vulnerable children. Legislating against it is good, but merely passing a law will not save a child who will be accused of witchcraft, brutally beaten and set alight by an angry mob even tonight!

Anengiyefa 6:12 pm  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous,  6:28 pm  


Lets keep this thing in perspective, shall we.

'seething with anger', chemical castrations....

You want Nollywood films banned?! You, Jeremy - liberal, academic, intellectual. Relax, bro.

No banning of films, no jungle justice, no short-cuts, no moral fascism please.

A firm, determined, calmly persued protection of child rights and social justice is all we need.

Take a chill pill, son.


Anengiyefa 6:28 pm  

If in passing new laws the Akwa Ibom State goverernment think that they have done what needs to be done to arrest the situation, my take on it is that there are already enough laws in our law books for vigorous investigative and prosecutorial action against those responsible. Taking more assertive and aggressive action now, surely will send the message that such conduct is not acceptable in a modern society and certainly not in the 21st century.

Each day that passes is another day of suffering and fear, for countless children. And each day that goes by, thousands of children continue to be at risk of being fingered as witches or wizards and suffering a monstrous demise at the hands of those who should otherwise be protecting them. I feel very strongly about this indeed.

Jeremy 6:47 pm  

Modibbo - you clearly haven't seen the full film. If you had, you would have noted End of the Wicked has been seen by almost everyone in Akwa Ibom and directly contributes to the superstition...

I'm not sure what kind of human would want to take a chill pill when kids are being raped, murdered and trafficked every single day in that state..

me,  7:09 pm  

Modibbo how would you feel if that was your daughter who had a nail hammered through her head for no reason? Chilled?

Anengiyefa 9:29 pm  

@Modibbo, I'm not sure that anyone has suggested or even implied "jungle justice". Most of these child victims would in law be immune to criminal responsiblity of any kind, because the spirit of the law is that a person of tender years is incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong. But it is these same innocent children who are subjected to such cruel abuse by adults who should know better. The anger arising from this injustice causes the outcry that was Jeremy's "chemical castration".

This is not a time for chill pills. It is not the time for sitting around and twiddling our thumbs, thinking about child rights and social justice. What is required here is immediate direct action, even if this means physically taking into protective custody children who are at risk. When the children are physically safe, then and only then can we begin to debate methods of implementing well-thought-out child rights and social justice programmes.

Ini 12:30 am  

I get very upset when people take issues like this with levity. Everyday children are abused, beaten, thrown out in the cold; most of you have househelps as young as eleven whom you treat as slaves and yet, you think we shld take a chill pill? I'm upset because I work with children and the things we see and hear from these children will give anyone a sleepless and restless night. As Nigerians, we have lost the ability to be shocked at anything; we seem to have had all our morality eroded by the daily shocks of life we get. How else can we explain people not feeling any pain at hearing a child of 2 is kidnapped and held hostage? How else can we explain our turning our faces away when we read in the papers of a 27 year old man who rapes a one year old child and the judge gives him an option of three months imprisonment or N30,000 fine and he gladly pays the fine and is a free man? I have began praying a weird kind of prayer and that is God should ensure that as many as are no longer shocked and will to take up arms at this evil in our society, should have their children, wards, daughters, sisters and wives raped, beaten and stripped naked - only then maybe, just maybe, will it reach home.

I rest my case.

Anonymous,  8:27 am  

Don't let Jeremy deceive you.

I know him and know that he doesn't believe half of what he is advocating, on this issue.

'Catholics, Anglicans and more respectable Pentecostals'...Jeez, am I dreaming!! Jeremy, what is happening, bro??!

Stick to your principles and stop playing to the gallery, dear boy. Pandering to the masses doesn't become you.

If you like don't publish this post - I will deal with you when we see!

As for those of you that ask what I would do if it were my sister....well, I will give you the benefit of the doubt that you aren't ignorant of the tenets of social justice. Therefore I will say to you, stop trying to manipulate and ride on this issue.

You are practicing witchcraft, if you do.

We need a calm, forthright, sustainable solution. Not knee-jerk moralisation.

By the way, if my sister was treated this way, I hope I would be saying these same things, but who knows?


chetablog 10:59 am  

Moddibo shut the 4kup. The only thing irritating your dumb behind is that a non nigerian is calling us out.

Standtall 12:34 pm  

The reason why I dont watch home vidoes most time is bcos they always leave me sad and agry. They will portray sterotypes, discriminations against women, child abuse and all without proffering any solution

I cant wait for films like this to be banned for life as they further corrupt the minds of a lot of Nigerians

Why is Akwa Ibom govt just taking action? I wonder why they waited till now

Anengiyefa 12:35 pm  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Standtall 12:36 pm  

Is anonymous for serious? If the films arent good, if they are of no reasonable essence, yes they shd be banned. Any intellectual will not object to that

Do you just like to oppose Naijablog or what?

Standtall 12:39 pm  

Modibbo: really Jeremy didnt believe in what he says? What do you believe in slow and rational solution? So how are you helping in your own way?

Whether Jeremy believes this or not is not the point, his blogging and raising awareness on this issue is all it takes to be a believer and a social reformer

Kody 1:04 pm  

Jeremy is enraged, and in truth advocating a lot of things he wouldn't normally, as anyone would, judging by what I now know are the contents of this documentary.

As usual with all things concerning cruelty against children, I cannot bring myself to watch the documentary because I know how it will make me feel.

Immediate action is what is required to protect those children from harm and prosecute those responsible. Many are cynical but I am really proud that our protests and donations have gotten things this far.

In the end though, without a concerted effort to educate people, this practice may likely continue and that is what we must all continue to work against.

In spreading the word to as many people as possible, I have to admit that I have broke down in tears on two occassions. Believe me, there were many who have the attitude that though the children are witches (!), the level of cruelty towards them was excessive.

Anonymous,  2:22 pm  


When Jeremy calls for the banning of a film - he is bullshitting, trust me.

Film censorship has never been the hallmark of a progressive society.

A call for the strengthening of the national film and video certification board - YES. A demand that a clearer distinction be made between fact and fiction - YES.

Outright banning of individuals from expressing themselves - nada. Its considered wrong in USA, UK - and we should not sign up for anything less in Nigeria.

As for the Go-Go-Jeremy Club - make una relax, brethren. Abusiveness simply undermines your credibility.

I will not accept a shoddy, knee-jerk standard for Nigeria, no way! Whatever is good enough for the civilised world is good enough for Nija.

Legislation, oversight, enforcement, (dare I say it) rule of law/due process. Yes, due process for child-killers, paedophiles, drug barons, 419ers, even politicians. These are the guiding precepts of a modern society, which is founded on the principles of social justice and freedom.

Lynch-mob mentality no be am.



Anengiyefa 2:54 pm  

@Modibbo, with respect, I do not see the relevance of anything that you have said in your last comment to the issue being discussed here.

Your personal knowledge of Jeremy's principles, or your thoughts concerning whether or not Jeremy is sticking to his principles have no bearing whatsoever to the subject-matter of this discussion.

Obviously you have no appreciation of the seriousness of the situation and it may be suggested that perhaps you need to find out more about it. Sustainable solution for the long-term, rule of law, etc are ok, but in the meanwhile there is an urgent requirement for immediate action. Taking urgent action to save children at risk is not mob mentality.

The reason why this evil has persisted is our failure to recognise it and deal with it. With attitudes like yours, thousands more innocent children continue to be at risk and many will lose their lives before we get do anything. That is a luxury that we cannot afford because what we have here is a desperate situation

Jeremy 3:05 pm  

Modibbo - you have me wrong my friend. I'm no fan of the Church in any of its forms, but that doesn't detract from recognising that all formal and respectable versions of it have a significant role to play in marginalising the wacko cultist elements such as T.B Joshua, Ukpabio and their like.

You are right in saying I'm not usually pro-censorship, but just as in the case of snuff movies, there are some films which it should just be illegal to sell. Given the pernicious effect End of the Wicked has had in the South-East, it is one film that it should be difficult to buy/see, and those that do buy/see it should be aware there will be consequences.

Nothing knee-jerk about any of the above.

There are parallels with the concentration camps here in 1930s Germany and Poland. Many people were aware that the Jews were being carried off to an awful fate, and most turned a blind eye and tried to pretend it wasn't happening. Ditto for Stalin's Gulags in Siberia. In the same way, many Nigerians know that the vulnerable in society are often at risk, and know in their bones that something seriously evil is going on in the name of Christianity in Akwa Ibom. How many will continue to turn a blind eye? How many more kids have to be raped, tortured, trafficked or killed before anything changes?

Anonymous,  3:25 pm  


We are on the same side on this issue. Where we differ is perhaps in tone and approach.

Akwa Ibom's case is a proxy for fairly wide-spread, deeply held and often disturbing belief-systems that are pretty commonly held in Nija.

The fact that Ukpabio cannot see the distinction between Harry potter and her own, nasty fear-peddling sums it up.

My worry is that we focus so closely on the 'trees' of this case that we lose sight of the 'forest' of the fundamental dysfunction at the heart of so much in our society.

Lets fight the child-witchcraft issue, by all means, buts lets not over-cook the issue.

That's all I ask.


Anengiyefa 4:40 pm  

Modibbo said, "I will not accept a shoddy, knee-jerk standard for Nigeria, no way! Whatever is good enough for the civilised world is good enough for Nija."

Well, in the developed world, the first thing they would have done would be to identify all those children who are risk and remove them to safety. Thereafter will take place the armchair discussion on the "'forest' of societal dysfunction", which in any event is not peculiar to Nigeria or the less developed world.

Ms. Catwalq 11:40 pm  

This is why I hate the internet because it has democratized the opportunity for people like Modibbo to come and say a whole bunch of nonsense.

we are talking about molested children and violence endorsed by ignorance and religion and you are talking about the fact that you know Jeremy's home, best be glad that this was not a physical forum cos this is the kind of thing that would warrant you a slap...what is wrong with you?

Anonymous,  12:55 am  

Why are some of you dumping on Modibbo? If you take off your filter of helpless anger and his digs at Jeremy,he makes a lot of sense. There is no need for this "mob action". State your opinion/solution and do what you can, if you can.

Solutions, people, not blind anger.
Public awareness, legislation, criminalisation, rule of law and all that good stuff that a progressive society is built on.
Protection for children ,non exploitative , non abusive , with a view to family reunification after proper rehabilitation of the parents/parental figures.

It is too easy to ask that these children are removed. And put them where? Without proper structures set in place you are looking at kids that will be further abused , runaways,criminals etc.

Helen Ukpabio (and people like her), as much as i despise her message and refused to see any of her movies when i was still in Naija, only plays to the paranoia and beliefs of a lot of people.

Where are the parents in all of this? Why do these people procreate wily nily and pass their kids off on to strangers or relatives? Where is the message of have as many children as you can afford to take care of? What about the one of widows/fatherless children and their maltreatment? what about not hiring any child under 18 as a domestic worker? what about any child of school age must go to school until the age of 18 and only then can they learn a vocational skill? what about treating domestic workers as employees and not slaves and second class the meantime awareness,legislation/criminalisation/due process.

In the country where i live, you will do more jail time if you commit armed robbery that if you rape an infant. The law however is the law and if you kill a paedophile, you go to jail for murder.

Anengiyefa 5:39 pm  

@Anon 12.55 AM.

That endangered children should be removed to safety is an absolute necessity. In World War II when children were removed enmasse from Britain's cities to safe locations in the countryside, there were no elaborate arrangements made. In saying this I am not for a minute suggesting that suitable arrangements should not be put in place for the children's welfare, because that will be self-defeating. But it is not beyond the capabilities of the Akwa Ibom State government, or even the Federal government to make emergency arrangements to shelter children who are at risk of being killed.

What I, in particular, am angry about is the fact that we as a society have allowed this barbarism to carry on for so long, turning now into a crisis situation. Children's rights as a broader issue must be addressed, but the children of Akwa Ibom state who are at grave risk of murder and torture simply do not have the time to wait for legislation to be passed and implemented.

And with regard to legislation, child neglect and all of the abusive acts that these children are currently suffering, are already criminalised by the existing legislation. It is the safety of children that should be the priority here, not new laws.

Mike,  8:56 am  

As with most problems in Nigeria the necessary laws are there to protect the people - the Government merely fails to implement them.

Censorship - I haven't seen the documentary or the Ukpabio film but this seems a very dangerous path to tread.

Bee 3:02 pm  

I cannot hold jeremy's anger against him. I cannot blame anyone for being angered by what is an angering situation. I went to Terra Kulture on Saturday. I could see very clearly that the people who made the film were angry and upset. When I finished watching it, I was angry and upset too.

I do not see that anyone is advocating anything that will spiral nigeria into a worse state than we already exist in. I too want to see a renewed sensitivity in Nigeria and some basic human compassion.

After the film, the lady who spoke to us reminded us that it took Mary Slessor for that area to be able to enjoy the birth of twins and triplets who were once considered evil and routinely murdered.
It did not take lynch mobs then to stop this behaviour. It took compassion and people willing to push for the right thing to be done till it was.

Rescuing children from torture, rape, trafficking or murder is the right thing.

Setting systems in place that protect them and ensure that these things do not happen on a regular basis is the right thing.

Demanding some sort of responsibility from bodies that advocate the abuse of children is the right thing.

Being sensitive to this problem and doing whatever little bit you can to help even if it does not affect you directly is the right thing.

We probably can all agree on that so I will only add that I see nothing wrong with urgent measures being taken to rescue the children who are right now in very real and very urgent need of us while setting the ball rolling on more long term and sustainable solutions.

ababoypart2 12:56 pm  

I like your solutions.I saw it when it was screened by Channel 4. I think we are all making the mistake of thinking that this is just an Akwa - Ibom issue and only applies to Liberty Gospel Church and her subsidiaries. Its a nation wide or to be more specific an African problem. There are many 'churches' in Nigeria, mostly led by self anointed/appointed criminals -'Pastors' who continuously spread the same message. Maybe they haven't gone as far as the 'thug' who made those helpless kids drink his blood, but they are equally dangerous.

Most of our folks back home (and even here) have the wrong mindset. Fixing that mindset is the only solution. Sometimes people lose their jobs because they are not good enough, not because someone has 'whinched' them. Most times people die of natural causes, not because someone in their family is 'doing' something to them. Sometimes women don't get married, cant have kids, folks remain poor and struggle, people have car accidents, have bad dreams....etc.

And its not down to a 2 year old 'witch' in their family.

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