Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom has ramped up his campaign of terror against the Eket-based Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network that caters to children abused and abandoned by their families after some rogue pastors declared them to be witches and wizards.
In a new twist, armed men yesterday swept into Eket, invaded the CRARN’s home for the abandoned children, and forcibly moved the frightened inhabitants to a government-run facility in Uyo, the state capital. CRARN is a non-profit organization that led efforts to provide shelter, care and education to some 200 children accused of witchcraft. An eyewitness told SaharaReporters that the invaders comprised three policemen and five armed men in plain clothes. “The children wailed as the armed men marched them into vehicles for their relocation to Uyo,” said a source who witnessed the assault.
SaharaReporters learnt that Wisdom Udoka, who has been Governor Akpabio’s henchman in the campaign to close down the private orphanage, was present at the center and personally oversaw the forcible abduction of the children. In the ensuing confusion, the gunmen who pursued some of the children that ran into the community, captured other children in error and attempted to take them away until the residents confronted them. “The activities of these gunmen sent by the government has been a source of concern to the community,” said an elder in Eket. “We have been living in fear,” he added.
Governor Akpabio decided to move against CRARN after the group’s rescue operations attracted international media attention to the plight of the traumatized children. Newspapers as well as TV networks in the UK, Europe and North America have highlighted the horrors faced by children in Akwa Ibom where unscrupulous pastors like Helen Akpabio prey on the superstitious to declare sickly children as witches and wizards.
Governor Akpabio ordered security agents to hunt down Sam Itauma, the founder and director of CRARN. Facing threats of arrest or death, Mr. was forced to flee to the US for his dear life.
So far, Governor Akpabio’s operatives have seized and moved no fewer than 140 children from the CRARN shelter in Eket to a so-called “Security Village” in Uyo where local and international child advocates have not been able to evaluate the quality of their care and treatment. A source in Eket said the invading armed gang beat up a few adolescent girls at the CRARN’s shelter. The girls were reportedly in the bathroom when the team arrived.
“About nine of the girls were dragged out of the bathroom and forced into the bus before their caretakers rushed to give them wrappers to cover their nakedness,” said the source. A staff of the center who tried to record the latest invasion on camera escaped death by whiskers as one policeman shot at him. The cameraman fled into the nearby bush where some of the children at the center had escaped to earlier on. The sporadic shooting by the armed men reportedly scared the community around the orphanage. A staff of the orphanage wondered what justified the use of force on vulnerable children that were already ostracized by their kith and kin as well as the larger society.
“We thought that we shall have peace when Itauma left, but the siege has continued,” said another source in Eket. He wondered, “Why can’t the government do this in a civilized manner that will not worsen the plight of these children who they say they care about?” Mr. Udoka has said that the government has ordered the immediate closure of CRARN and boasted that nothing can stop the governor from having his way.