In fulfillment of an earlier radio pledge to go after the charitable organisations responsible for the upkeep of suspected ‘child witches,’ Akwa Ibom State Governor Chief Godswill Akpabio has sent his killer squad after Mr Samuel Ikpe-Itauma of the Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN).
SaharaReporters checks in Eket, the State capital on Sunday revealed that unidentified gunmen on the trail of officials of CRARN invaded the centre run by the group for abandoned "child witches" late on Saturday and unleashed a reign of terror on the stigmatized children.
Eye witnesses told Saharareporters that the gunmen laid siege upon the premises for several minutes, firing sporadically into the air before they left the premises, promising to return.
Some of the children who witnessed the assault told SaharaReporters they were frightened because the governor had announced that officials of CRARN would be arrested, but that they never expected them to show up in the middle of the night.
“For sometime now we have been having strange people around the centre and it has been making us afraid because if they come in the night, it will not be possible to know their identities.
“If their mission is genuine, then they should come in daytime but we are afraid also that it may be kidnappers. We cannot understand why the governor is after us”, Kufre Ikpe, an inmate at the CRARN centre, said.
Some locals near the centre, which is located on the outskirts of Eket, said that the community has been living in fear since the governor announced in a phone-in radio program that he plans to arrest the operators of the two NGOs involved in catering for the children. His threat was a follow up to a CNN interview where he accused the two NGOs of exaggerating incidents of child abandonment, occasioned by accusation of witchcraft, in the state.
The locals said that the gunmen were in plain clothes and arrived at the centre in a convoy of cars with private license plate numbers which made it difficult to identify if they were plain clothes detectives or gangs loyal to the governor.
In particular, governor Akpabio has ordered the arrest of Mr. Sam Ikpe-Itauma for daring to expose the lapses in his administration to the international community.
Ikpe-Itaum, a child rights advocate and President of CRARN, has since gone underground. The grossly inefficient Police Force has not been able to find him since they were briefed over a week ago to apprehend him.
Akpabio accused the NGO of exaggerating the child witch syndrome in the state for monetary gain, and threatened to prosecute the NGO officials.
However, the UK-based child rights charity, Stepping Stones Nigeria and its Nigerian partner, CRARN, have dismissed the allegations of fraud by stating that they remain committed to fighting for the rights of so-called child witches in Akwa Ibom.
Responding to allegations that the child witch issue in Akwa Ibom State has been “exaggerated”, Sam Itauma, said in a statement, “Over the last 7 years CRARN has dealt with numerous horrific cases of child abuse linked to the belief in child witches.
“Recent reports by UNICEF and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child show this problem is real and that it has not been exaggerated at all. We hope that the Governor will give us the opportunity to discuss this with him as the relevant Government Ministries working on this issue have not given us the opportunity to address this issue with them”, he said.
With the 65th United Nations General Assembly opening in New York in two weeks, some Akwa Ibom indigenes in the United States are understood to be arranging to push the issue during the session, and are urging the international press to question President Goodluck Jonathan in New York about Governor Akpabio’s witchhunt of the NGOs in Akwa Ibom.