The child rights organisation, Stepping Stones Nigeria (“SSN”), strongly refutes the allegations of financial impropriety made against it in the December edition of Newswatch magazine. In a statement made available to our correspondent in Lagos, SSN described the allegations of fraud levelled by Newswatch as totally false and entirely lacking in merit.
According to the statement, “the Newswatch article is littered with lies and distorted facts and is plainly defamatory in nature. It is a crying shame that the Nigerian media has been so corrupted as to allow articles filled with incorrect allegations to be published. The Nigerian public are well aware that some people are making money by accusing children of being witches and hurting, abandoning and even torturing such children. By challenging these practices, SSN and its partners are preventing such people from further enriching themselves from this horrific and inhumane practice. It is clear that many such individuals do not like SSN shining a light on their illegal behaviour. This has lead to some of them investing large sums of money to slander SSN in the media and to pursue a campaign of lies and intimidation against the organisation. However SSN will not be stopped in its mission to work with key local stakeholders to eradicate this practice and uphold the rights of children across the Niger Delta”.
The charity also responded to the main allegations made against it by Newswatch. It says that claims that it has made 10 million British pounds have no basis in reality. SSN’s accounts (which are freely and publicly available on both the SSN website and on the UK Charity Commission website) demonstrate that it has actually received donations of £1,794,000. Of this figure, £1,682,000 has been utilized to carry out projects from 2005 until December 2011 assisting disadvantaged Nigerian children and £112,000 is presently held in reserve for future projects which will help Nigerian children during 2012. Indeed, the statement by SSN clarifies that it “has always been completely open and honest about how much money it has received and how it has used this money to help children in Nigeria. SSN’s accounts are in full compliance with UK legal requirements and are approved by independent professional accountants has been completely ignored by Newswatch, who have instead used false and unsubstantiated information to make completely unfounded allegations against SSN”.
SSN says the allegation that it has done nothing for Nigerian children is equally untrue, pointing to numerous projects that have benefitted from its support throughout the Niger Delta. These include:
· construction of a girl’s dormitory block at the Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN);
· the funding of 26 staff to teach and assist abandoned children for over 5 years at CRARN;
· payment for at least 5 years of food and medical support for more than 200 children at CRARN;
· provision of 150 scholarship places for disadvantaged children at the Stepping Stones Model School and Bebor International Schools;
· support for salaries, running and capital costs and staff training so that street children can be provided with counseling, food and health care support by the Stepping Stones Child Empowerment Foundation (SSNCEF);
· provision of free resources and training to 3,354 teachers in the fast-track literacy method known as Jolly Phonics;
· providing free Jolly Phonics work books for 240,000 children;
· carrying out a wide range of national and international advocacy activities such as Operation Enlightenment;
· producing and distributing the anti - child witchcraft stigmatization Nollywood film ”The Fake Prophet”; and
· working with Federal Government agencies to strengthen their response to child witchcraft accusations through the Nigerian legal system.
One of the partners of Stepping Stones Nigeria in the Niger Delta, Reverend Moses Nyimale Lezor of the Bebor Model School said: “People don’t understand just how much Stepping Stones Nigeria has done for children in the Niger Delta. They have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds and have used this to do things like give food and clothes to children living on the streets, provide medical care to girls who have been raped and to lobby people in positions of power to live up to their responsibilities to the children of Nigeria. I am particularly angry at the claims that Stepping Stones Nigeria do not provide scholarships to orphans and children living in poverty. I can personally attest that they have provided significant funds to my school to help hundreds of children as well as paying for school improvements and drilling boreholes.”
SSN also highlights that its director, Gary Foxcroft, has no criminal convictions in UK or anywhere else in the world, despite the false allegation to the contrary in the article.
Likewise, the claim in the publication that the organization is not regulated by the UK Charity Commission is similarly false and its UK Charity Commission registration number is 1112476. In fact, SSN has an independent Board of Trustees whose role is to ensure that SSN fulfils its charitable object of assisting disadvantaged children in Nigeria with education, skills and welfare; and that it complies with its Charity Commission obligations.