Thursday, 9 July 2009

Nigerian Governor Responds to International Outrage Over Campaign of Terror Against "Witch Children"

The recent campaign of terror against Nigeria's "witch children" elicited international outrage. As a result, the governor of Akwa Ibom State has guaranteed the staff and children at CRARN their safety. Below is letter of apppreciation from the programme director of Stepping Stones Nigeria, CRARN's UK partner. The letter was received by the Consortium for Street Children (UK)( Stepping Stones Nigeria is a member of the Consortium. Until recently I was the executive director of the Consortium, now I'm their senior advisor, which is how I was copied in on the letter of appreciation.

Dear Friend,

Just to quickly update you with what is happening in Nigeria in response to the recent campaign of intimidation that has been launched against the CRARN Children and their carers.

In response to the international outrage that greeted this incident, the Governor of Akwa Ibom State,Godswill Akpabio, has visited the CRARN centre today [July 9] and ensured the staff and children that there security and safety was guaranteed by the Akwa Ibom State Government. In addition to this the Governor has donated 10 Million Naira (around £40,000) and numerous other food items to CRARN and the children.

This is a most welcome development after a rather challenging week.However, the false charges that have been levelled against Sam Itauma and the CRARN Staff by Evangelist Helen Ukpabio remain a serious threat.Stepping Stones Nigeria and CRARN are currently working with our legal team to get a high court injunction and prevent Sam and the staff from having to travel to Lagos to face these charges. Hopefully this matter will be resolved in the next few days.

I would just like to extend my sincere thanks to you for the support that you have offered us during these rather challenging times. The fight against the abuse of child rights due to the belief in witchcraft is far from over but I believe today marks another very positive step forward in our efforts to protect and save the lives of the children that we work with.

With very best wishes,

Programme Director

Stepping Stones Nigeria,
24 St Leonard's House,
St Leonard's Gate,
LA1 1NN,

Tel Office: 0845 3138391

Protecting, Saving and Transforming the Lives of Vulnerable and
Disadvantaged Children In the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria

Registered UK and Wales charity number 1112476
Company number 05413970

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Campaign of Terror unleashed on Nigeria’s ‘Witch Children’

A coalition of Nigerian and International civil society organisations and churches have strongly condemned the recent campaign of terror that has been inflicted upon the so-called ‘child witches’ at the Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network Centre (CRARN) in Eket, Akwa Ibom State by Lagos-based police officers. The work of CRARN, and the children they care for, was shown on Channel 4’s Dispatches Programme on ‘Saving Africa’s Witch Children’ in November 2008.

On Friday 3 July 2009, in the afternoon local time, a group of men appeared at the CRARN Centre claiming to be donors who wanted to donate goods and toys to the children. Shortly after, the men identified themselves as police officers, and unlawfully arrested two CRARN staff members and mercilessly beat many of the children whilst searching for CRARN’s Founder and President, Sam Itauma. Two young girls aged 11 and 12 years old were beaten unconscious and are currently receiving treatment in a local hospital. Five other children suffered injuries at the hands of these men, who then left a round of bullets in Sam Itauma’s bedroom, presumably to act as a warning that his life is in danger.

Gary Foxcroft, Programme Director of the UK-based NGO Stepping Stones Nigeria, and partner of CRARN, said: “We condemn the actions of the police in the strongest possible terms and call for the Akwa Ibom State Government to ensure the safety of all CRARN staff and children. The beatings of these innocent children further highlight the depravity of these so-called men and women of God who label and abuse children as witches. However, we will not be intimidated in our fight to protect the rights of vulnerable children and ensure that children are no longer labeled as witches. We know that the truth is on our side”.

Stepping Stones Nigeria believe that this campaign of terror is a direct response to Channel 4’s Dispatches Programme, ‘Saving Africa’s Witch Children’, which highlighted the role that Mrs Helen Ukpabio, self-proclaimed pastor, evangelist and founder of the Liberty Gospel Foundation Church in Nigeria, and film production company, Liberty Films, have played in spreading the myth of child witchcraft.

Helen Ukpabio has recently filed legal complaints against Sam Itauma and CRARN at the Special Fraud Unit at the Ikoyi Station in Lagos for “fraudulent activities and threat to life”, charges which the coalition argues are clearly fabricated in order to threaten and intimidate. The police officers were accompanied by Mr Victor Ukott, the Lagos-based lawyer who is representing Mrs Helen Ukpabio. Staff at CRARN, Stepping Stones Nigeria and the Stepping Stones Nigeria Child Empowerment Foundation have also recently received numerous threatening phone calls, which would appear to be linked to this campaign of terror. CRARN staff have also been threatened by persons regarding the upcoming court case of “Bishop” Sunday Ulup-Aya, who was featured on Channel 4’s Dispatches programme bragging that he had killed “up to 110 witches”.

Sam Itauma, Founder and President of CRARN, said: “It is clear that forces of darkness are intent on taking my life and I remain deeply concerned for my safety and, most importantly, that of the children at the CRARN centre. I therefore plead for the Akwa Ibom State Government to offer us its full protection and ensure that its international image is not further damaged by this worrying situation”.

The coalition urgently calls on the Akwa Ibom State Government to:

• Award their full protection to Sam Itauma, other CRARN staff members and the children to ensure their full safety now and in the future;
• Carry out in-depth investigations into the activities of Mrs Helen Ukpabio and the Liberty Gospel Foundation Church, prosecute anyone found to be labelling children as witches and close any church found to be labelling children as ‘witches’ through deliverance or other methods.
• Arrest and prosecute the police officers who unlawfully arrested and detained CRARN staff members and beat and injured innocent children;
• Support the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the false legal charges that are being levelled against Sam Itauma and CRARN staff.

Notes to Editors:
1. Coalition members include: Stepping Stones Nigeria, Stepping Stones Nigeria Child Empowerment Foundation, Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network Centre, Consortium for Street Children, Nigerian Humanist Movement, Street Invest, Mboho Akwa Ibom Association (UK and Ireland), Ibom People’s Forum, Ibibio Nation, Eket Development Congress USA, The Covenant of Grace Ministries, International Christian Ambassadors of God, Grace Chapel London.
2. ‘Saving Africa’s Witch Children’ Dispatches Programme was aired on Channel 4 in November 2008. The documentary graphically details how the belief in witch craft leads to the widespread abandonment, torture, trafficking and killing of children in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. The documentary has since won a prestigious BAFTA award and Amnesty International’s Media Award in the UK
3. Following the airing of the Dispatched documentary, The Akwa Ibom State enacted the Child Rights Act making it illegal to brand a child a witch. On its website the Akwa Ibom State Government states that it “will not fold its hands and watch evil elements of society dehumanise, demoralise, bastardise, displace, stigmatise, or persecute our children for personal gains.” The Government then states how it will:
• Place full legislative machinery against labelling of children as witches
• Advance high powered investigation into every element of the issues involved and all allegations against persons involved in stigmatisation of children as witches
• Prosecute all persons found culpable of this crime of child labelling
• Deploy social resources for the support, comfort and enjoyment of all categories of children all over the state
• Possibility of closure of every organisation involved in this evil stigmatisation of children
• Government will not spare any culprit involved.
For more information please go to:

4. For more information about the work of Stepping Stones Nigeria, CRARN and the issue of child witchcraft please visit

5. For more information about this press release please contact Gary Foxcroft, Programme Director, Stepping Stones Nigeria, a UK charity, on or 0845 313 8391.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Support Your Favourite Charity -- and Keep People Marginalised

The recent success of the indigenous peoples of the Peruvian Amazon in getting the government to pull back (which is, when all is said and done, probably only a tactical retreat) from privatising vast areas of the fragile rainforest, leads me to think that we need to radically restructure the way marginalised people around the globe (and in our very own neighbourhoods) are supported by us, the public, through our favourite charities.

I believe that non-profit organisations as they currently work, however well intentioned, may well be part of the problem, instead of the solution to addressing social problems, whether at home or abroad.

In brief, I believe they tend to keep people marginalised.

Thousands of indigenous people, armed only with bows and arrows and spears, mobilising throughout the Peruvian Amazon against ill-conceived government development policies caught the imagination of many of us.

Few of us knew that they were able to accomplish their well-coordinated protest because they have spent decades organising themselves, locally, nationally and internationally.

They have steadfastly refused to let others speak on their behalf. They have struggled long and hard to be in charge of their own future, of their own paths to development. Of course, with the help of alliances with sympathetic organisations, many of them charities from the U.S. and U.K.

The organisations formed by indigenous peoples in the Peruvian Amazon are first and foremost accountable to their communities, not to the Peruvian government and certainly not to international donors. During my stay as a guest of the Consejo Aguaruna y Huambisa (CAH) in the 1980s, I saw how CAH directors of programmes (health, education, etc.) had to report directly to the community at bi-annual meetings. And the community could replace a director on the spot, if their performance was found lacking.

If we examine the charities, the nonprofits, in our own communities, especially those that exist to address the needs of marginalised people, how many of them have marginalised people as trustees or on their board of directors? How many are actually managed by the very people the organisation purports to help? I suspect very few.

Instead, in many cases we have nonprofits managed by professional staff members, often with the help of volunteers. The staff answers to trustees who are very often chosen for their ability to raise money from the community; that is, they are people of means. And too often the objectives of programmes are determined or, at the very least, greatly influenced, by donor organisations. The more money, the greater the influence. And the larger the charity, the greater the bureaucracy.

The first rule of thumb of any organisation is to guarantee its own survival. This can easily conflict with the goals of the very people the organisation says it wants to help.

Now, there are charities that have helped marginalised people to establish their own organisations, and have done so without creating any kind of dependency. But such organisations are few in number.

So why are there not more organisations created by and managed by marginalised people? Perhaps they’re too dumb? Or they don’t have the skills to run an organisation? Or they don’t have the resources?

I doubt it.

When marginalised people start to organise themselves, they make the transition from being objects of our pity and compassion to becoming a threat to society and those groups that are benefitting from the status quo. By donating to a charity that works with marginalised people, we know that we are supporting a well-known organisation, approved of and regulated by the government. Few of us demand that our favourite charity address the causes of poverty or inequality. Instead, we want to know that our dollar or pound will help to feed a child or provide clothing or shelter. In return we get a letter of thanks. It makes us feel good.

I believe that any charity, any government aid or development policy, has to help marginalised people to empower themselves, to organise themselves, to help them to choose the path to development they believe is best for them – if they want to make a real difference.

Any other approach is just business as usual.