The world-wide reaction and publicity that followed the release of the award-winning documentary, ‘Saving Africa’s Witch Children’, has been a source of consternation to those whose activities were exposed by the film. This film demonstrated the scale of the problem caused by the continued labelling of children as witches in South Eastern Nigeria. This practice has brought untold hardship to thousands of children. The burgeoning role of some Pentecostal churches was equally exposed, including their collusion and participation in the lies and untruths, which lead children to be stigmatised as witches and later, tortured, and which generate huge commercial success. The international outcry following the documentary led to the endorsement of the Child Rights Act by the Akwa Ibom State government. There were also spates of arrest following the release of the documentary including “Bishop” Sunday Ulup-Aya who boasted of having killed 110 child witches single-handedly. However, it was Helen Ukpabio, the self-acclaimed expert witch-hunter within Nigerian Pentecostal Christendom, who escaped the noose but who has led the crusade in child witch stigmatisation. Like Cleopatra, this notorious woman has many faces which are key for understanding how she operates.
The first of Helen Ukpabio’s faces is that of the determined fighter whose major focus is that of combating witchcraft. She sees the branding of witches and wizards as a fundamental part of her Christianity and shows no regret in the social turbulence caused by her religion. Helen once expressed a grudge with fellow Pentecostals saying: “many of our preachers are giving the excuse that not much is said about witchcraft in the Bible.” It is perhaps in response to this that both Apostle John Okoriko of Solid Rock Foundation Church in Nigeria and the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos recently denounced pastors who are profiting from the witchcraft industry, condemning the falsehood, exploitation and inherent deception in modern-day Nigerian Pentecostalism which sees the gospel used to deceive the gullible. The vulnerability of children holds a special allure for Ms Ukpabio which she has found easy to exploit. Helen has produced numerous programmes, home movies and books, all warning parents about the participation of children in witchcraft and the importance of child exorcism. In her book, Unveiling the Mysteries of Witchcraft, Helen and others, write that “a child under two years of age that cries at night and deteriorates in health is an agent of Satan”. Helen remains indifferent to the social consequences of her actions, deceiving the masses and lining her pocket. Society is left to bear the scars of her misguided actions.
Another face of Helen Ukpabio is that of an organised business woman who discovered a working formula amongst the multitude of Pentecostal preachers. She is astute and ruthless in her determination to ensure her comfort that even when presented with the outrageous fallouts of her mission she remains nonplussed and unrepentant. It is an indication of this that to date, Ms Ukpabio has not apologised for the agonies that she has caused to thousands of children in Nigeria and elsewhere for stigmatising them as witches.
The third face of Helen Ukpabio is brutish and monstrous. In an attempt to clear her name following the film’s release, Helen employed the Lagos lawyer Victor Ukutt. Ms Ukpabio identified Gary Foxcroft of Stepping Stones Nigeria and Sam Ikpe-Itauma of Child Rights and Rehabilitation Centre (CRARN) in Eket, as the enemies that must be crushed. Mr Ukutt, on behalf of the Trustees of Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministry, wrote a threatening letter to both organisations demanding a public and published apology and one billion US Dollars on behalf of his clients. When this failed to achieve the desired reaction, Helen employed the Police to visit CRARN on 3rd July of this year where the aim was to arrest or kidnap Mr Ikpe-Itauma. Failing to achieve this, the policemen beat several of the children including two who required hospitalisation. Helen has used every means to defend her name, never attempting to ameliorate the plight of stigmatised children. Ms Ukpabio would perhaps achieve her goal of rehabilitating her name by re-distributing the wealth amassed through cruelty to children and clearing the social mess caused by her actions.
The faces of Helen Ukpabio are many. She is the evangelist, the tormentor of children, the astute business woman, the formidable fighter and the conscienceless brute. Helen Ukpabio is an egregious evangelist who readily boasts of her influence in Nigeria and sees any foreign interference as a threat. This is who Nigeria must contend with. As concerned Nigerian citizens, we owe it to our children, our nation and generations unborn to speak out in the face of the ignoble antics of this renegade evangelist. In a more civilised environ, her types are usually curtailed behind prison walls. Notwithstanding that this may not be the case in Nigeria, our struggle for justice demands input from all.
The Child Rights Act asserts that children can only reach their full potential when there is an environment that helps to meet their basic needs and also recognises and protects their rights. It is thus an offence against humanity for anyone, whether an organisation or individual, to destroy the rights of children. It is irresponsible of any government to fold its arms while such tyranny is being perpetrated. Helen Ukpabio has shown total disregard to the welfare of children by stigmatising them as witches. She is guilty of violating the Child Rights Act through the unfettered social, emotional and psychological torture of children as well as profiteering from the misfortunes of innocent children which she induced by her proclamations and actions. She has caused untold social hardship, marriage destruction and psychological disharmony in the nation. As a result it is necessary to:
1. Demand a full and thorough investigation into the activities of Helen Ukpabio by the Federal Government or the government of Akwa Ibom state.
2. Bring Helen Ukpabio to justice through the legal system.
3. Seizure of the assets and illegal wealth of Helen Ukpabio.
4. Educate the public on the evil of labelling children as witches and the criminality inherent in such practices.
The battle for the emancipation of the rights of children in Nigeria will not be made easier by the freedom of people like Helen Ukpabio, an enemy of child rights. The time has come for Nigeria to say no to her satanic verses.
The battle to bring Helen Ukpabio to justice is still on. There has been a tremendous international response but it is vital that Nigerians are seen to be keen to tackle identified social menaces in their country. We implore you all to visit the petition site (link attached) to append your signature to the online petition. The struggle to dethrone Helen Ukpabio from her self-imposed, illusory, deceptive, socially destructive and satanic empire continues.