Nigerian Village Square, Olusegun Fakoya, 18 Nov. 2008
Africa abounds with various forms of child abuses, most arising from prevalent poverty and ignorance. This notwithstanding, the paramount role of the child in the African setting has never been in question. However, the traditional African belief and attitude to children has been successfully fractured by those who have deliberately perverted traditional belief and infused it with a distorted dose of Christianity. In the words of Professor Richard Hoskins (Kings College University, London), a noted expert on the phenomenon of Child Witches, “the phenomenon (of child witches) appears to spring from a new Frankenstein religion, an unholy marriage of perverted Christianity and an ingrained African belief in the spirit world, fuelled by the grinding poverty and desperate need of the people of West and Central African cities”. Professor Hoskins did a lot of work on the phenomenon of “kindoki” the Congolese Lingala language for witchcraft. It is perhaps apt at this stage to state that the concept of child witches could successfully spread like wildfire in Akwa Ibom and Cross River states of Nigeria, no thanks to the unfettered growth of the phenomenon in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The near constant strife and the desperate civil war in the Congo DR which has killed over 4 million people since the late 1990s, orphaned many children, while leaving other families intact but too destitute to feed themselves. This has a created a festering opportunity for shirking family responsibilities and the transference of frustration on innocent children. In the Congo Republic, a surprising number of children are accused of being witches, and thereafter, beaten, abused or abandoned. Child advocates estimate that thousands of children living in the streets of Kinshasa, Congo’s capital, have been accused of witchcraft and cast out by their families, often as a rationale for not having to feed or care for them. There are over 50,000 homeless children on the streets of that lawless city, stealing, begging, and selling anything they can find, including themselves. The true number is incalculable but this estimate is certainly conservative.
Many of these abandoned kids are Aids orphans. Others are the children of Congo’s desperate civil war, but a shockingly high proportion of these children are on the streets because of the mushrooming influence of the new revivalist churches who have comfortably carved a commercial niche for themselves in the business of “child kindoki”. Prof Hoskins stated that still more children are not on the streets but are held virtual prisoner in church compounds, apparently awaiting exorcism. In 2006, Congo’s social affairs minister, Bernard Ndjunga, estimated that as much as 50,000 children might just be illegally detained by churches specializing in the removal of kindoki.
It is perhaps natural to state that the situation in the Congo Republic would only be reflected in Angola, what with the country’s 27 years of civil war and social disharmony. The influx of Congolese pastors did not in any way help Angolans to peacefully come to terms with the effects of war and its consequential widespread poverty and hardship. Congolese pastors invaded Angola, bringing with them messages of kindoki and further destabilization of an already fractured society. In 2006, it was officially estimated that one northern Angolan town had over 400 abandoned and abused children stigmatised as witches. Same year, the United Nations Children fund described the number of child witches in Angola as being massive. It was easy for the notion of child witches or kindoki to gain a firm foothold in Angola as in many other African nations, as one of the key African beliefs is that of the potency of witchcraft. It is commonly believed that witches can communicate with the world of the dead or other such supernatural plane, and usurp or “eat” the life force of others, bringing their victims misfortune, illness and death. Adult witches are said to bewitched children by giving them food and then using them to achieve their nefarious goals by bringing misfortunes to their families, causing illnesses, bad lucks and deaths. In retaliation, gory tales abound of the atrocities committed against children in the fight back against child witches. Two cases were particularly significant. A mother blinded her 14-year old daughter with bleach in an attempt to rid her of evil visions, while a father injected battery acid into his 12-year old son’s stomach because he feared the boy was a witch.
One of the notable propagators of kindoki in Congo DR was Prophet Onokoko who as at 1999, had over 230 children on his book, all accused of witchcraft. He employed what he termed “vomit up the devil system” to exorcise children of kindoki. This is the regurgitation of strange objects after these kids have been forcefully made to drink bizarre concoctions. There are other sects involved in these unwholesome practices in Congo, chief amongst whom is the Combat Spirituel Church with its headquarters in Kinshasa and numerous branches all over the country and outside, United Kingdom inclusive.
Combat Spirituel church assumed a striking notoriety in the United Kingdom when the case of Child B came to limelight. Sita Kisanga, a Congolese woman and her accomplices received various jail terms for the torture of an eight-year old girl from East London, known as Child B. Child B was accused of having kindoki. Kisanga subsequently opened up, insisting that it was her North London church – Combat Spirituel – that diagnosed kindoki in Child B and that “torturing” the child was only an execution of the will of God and that of the church. Another popular case was that of the boy called Londres, who was returned from London to Congo because Combat Spirituel church diagnosed kindoki and his mother wanted it removed from him. Prof Hoskins, being fluent in Lingala was able to trace Londres back to the Congo, interviewed him and exposed the horrible details involved in the exorcism of kindoki, despite shameless denials by Londres mother. Evidences have shown that the process of removing kindoki entails so many acts of criminalities on the parts of the pastors. Children have been forced to drink pigeon’s blood, have had their stomachs cut open in “surgical” attempts to physically remove the evil spirits, and so on. Prof Hoskins put it better: “I went from church centre to church centre, seeing evidence of exorcisms. I saw children cut with razors, stamped on, beaten, shouted at and forced to drink pigeons’ blood. Chillingly, I was often given open and unfettered access to these scenes by pastors and practitioners who plainly believed that what they were doing was in the name of God and thus could do no harm to the children”. Mr. Molobo, president of Combat Spirituel in Kinshasa, believes that witchcraft is clearly attested to in the Bible, though insisting that it is completely against the doctrine of the church to harm children in any way or to force them to undergo deliverance ceremonies. The incorrigible belief in witchcraft, especially child witches, was re-affirmed by one official after another of Combat Spirituel, including its founders and global leaders, Mama and Papa Olangi.
Nigeria being a land of opportunities and brimming with opportunists, both real and sacrosanct, did not lag behind in wholeheartedly adopting the concept of kindoki or child witches. It is instructive to note that the end of the civil war in Nigeria, despite its resultant hardship with social disruption involved, did not lead to an upsurge of this phenomenon. It took the ingenuity of an evangelical preacher, who is prolific at producing socially potent and misguided DVDs (to illustrate the concept of the powers of child witches), to unleash the terror of this phenomenon on unsuspecting Nigerians. Our political situation may not be terribly similar to that of
Congo DR and Angola, yet similarities abound in the prevalence of an enduring poverty and social deprivations. This is the situation amply exploited by Helen Ukpabio and similar sects like hers who have turned defenseless kids into money-making ventures. The recent film by Mag Gavan titled: Saving African Child Witches, which featured the efforts of Gary Foxcroft and his Stepping Stone Foundation, amply illustrated the extent of the social problems created by Helen Ukpabio and her cronies.
The film by Mag Gavan was very moving – I could not help but cried while watching it. It is unimaginable that we, as human beings, harbour so much wickedness in us. The level of wickedness exhibited by man to fellow man, specifically children in this film, remain quite alarming. Being an emotion-laden film apart, the ugly publicity this film once again brought to our country, Nigeria, is another source of sadness. Every day, events happen to portray the inadequacies of this fumbling giant that is yet to chart its path, not to talk of ascertaining its destiny. The current situation in Akwa-Ibom State and other parts of the Niger Delta remains a shame. For as long as it is allowed to continue, it remains a stigma on Nigeria. For as long as it flourishes without restraint, for so long will it remain a blur on the conscience of the Christian Association of Nigeria and all those who at daggers drawn in defence of the impeccability of modern-day Pentecostalism. For as long as this unchecked instances of child abuse reign in Nigeria, for so long will men and women of good will and clear conscience the world over, continued to confront the problems created by a nation that has allowed its territory to become a nightmare for innocent children and mediocrity to reign unchecked.
Children ostracised by being labelled as witches, pay a heavy price. Gone is the innocence associated with childhood, the care and embrace of loving parents. Such children become social outcasts, rejected by parents and communities, faced with insurmountable obstacles and subjected to indescribable tortures. The beneficiaries of these gory spectacles are the churches who engage in exorcisms. Dubious exorcisms at prohibitive costs. There is no point going into the details of this any longer, Mag Gavan film explained it in details and this film can be accessed online. The Nigerian phenomenon of child witches started attracting international attention as far back as around 2005. Tracy McVeigh visited Esit Eket in 2007 in the course of investigating it and produced a film to document her findings. What Mag Gavan recently did was to add flavour to a simmering problem that refused to abate.
It is to be expected that Nigerians in the Diaspora would not be left behind in manifesting the paranoia associated with the child witches phenomenon. The United Kingdom abounds with Nigerian-oriented churches practicing the Nigerian version of Pentecostalism with its prejudices and notable flaws. This is said with reverence to the unwholesome impact of non-Nigerian sects like that of Pastor Gilbert Deya and so many others from the African continent. In essence, Britain remains like a microcosm of Africa with our blemishes and impurities fully represented. The practice of kindoli is strongly rooted in the Congolese communities in the United Kingdom, with branches of Combat Spirituel firmly established and gaining adherents daily. Cases abound where parents have attributed ill lucks in the UK to kindoli possessed by their children. Often times, such children have been returned to the Congo for exorcisms, some not to be seen again. Not too long ago, in Bradford, a Nigerian pastor was convicted of charges of child abuse. The abuse was directed to none other than his kids, whom he accused of possessing witchcraft.
Witchcraft apart, Nigerian kids face sundry abuses in the United Kingdom. Nigerians, pastors and non-pastors, bring children to the United Kingdom to work as housemaids, shop-helps and so on. Such kids are denied basic education which does not cost a dime in this clime. Education officials have lamented specifically about the abuses Nigerian kids are being subjected to. Kids are forced to participate in various demanding church activities, including being subjected to night vigils and prolonged fasting. The result is that sleeping during school hours remains the norm with associated poor performances.
It is pertinent at this stage to take a look at the situation that allows for the continued growth of the phenomenon of child witches in Africa and to also assess the social and international impacts of this scourge. There is no doubt that continued thriving poverty in Africa, ably sustained by the unending war in Congo DR and the prolonged acrimonies in Angola, fuelled and sustained this practice in these countries. The terribly bad situation is being actively exploited by conscienceless individuals who are thwarting religion and traditional beliefs to amass wealth. As stated earlier, Nigeria’s situation bothers on opportunism with a hybrid of thwarted traditional belief and “yellow-faced” Christianity. As per the case of Nigeria, the failure of the Nigerian state comes to the fore. Nigeria has actively continued to neglect the welfare of its citizens, adults and children alike. Concept of governance in Nigeria remains mired in corruption and political insensitivity. Manifestations of trappings of power and insensitivity of government to the citizenry are the order of the day. A good snapshot was the total ignorance exhibited by Gov Akpabio, after haven taken a lengthy time to accept that the problem of the child witches was worth his precious time. In his simple understanding, merely signing the Children’s Act to law in Akwa Ibom state would forever abolish the problem of child witches. However, experience has taught us that mere laws do not solve social problems in Nigeria.
Evangelist Helen Ukpabio has written many books and produced many home videos, all chillingly pointing to and reinforcing the belief that children can be and are indeed witches. She has produced so much misinformation that it is genuinely doubtful if posterity can forgive this lady. Her books have sold in millions, likewise her tainted home movies. In a particular book titled “Unveiling the Mysteries of Witchcraft”, Mrs Ukpabio exposed her dangerous mindset by her inflammatory guidance to diagnosing witchcraft. On pages 76 to 83 of this book, Mrs Ukpabio affirmed that children under two years of age who “scream at night, cries, show sudden deterioration in health, show attitude of fear or who fail to feed well” are witches. For children over two years of age, witchcraft can be diagnosed when such kids are “unusually bold, tell lies, steals, becomes very stubborn, crafty, suddenly droop from good to poor performance at school, hates school, are destructive at home…….., sleep much in the day time, suddenly stammer when asked questions with excessive blinking of the eyelids, ……..”. In this book, Mrs Ukpabio exposed her antisocial mindset in readily diagnosing witchcraft for every manifestation of poverty and social rebellion in children. Yet she still has the courage to declare herself “a voice in Nigeria.???
Helen Ukpabio founded her questionable ministry on a false premise. She has been so engrossed with the issue of witches and wizards, seeing in this a very easy way to penetrate the often competitive market of Pentacostalism in Nigeria. Her Palace Temple Headquarters of Liberty Gospel Church, along Ndidem Usang Iso Road, Calabar, has been the seat of the dissemination of falsehood and the sowing ground of discord and persecution of innocent children. Just as she wrote in words, her verbal teachings remain contentious and outrageous. At this infamous headquarters, she had organised many counselling and screening sessions for people who wanted to know their “witchcraft status”. She taught about the different types of witchcraft, particularly those practised in Africa, Nigeria and the local communities. Helen Ukpabio’s world view of witchcraft is essentially divided into three – white, black, and red witchcraft. She taught that: “In white witchcraft, people are organised into various cult groups or religions and thought certain things contrary to the Word and will of God. Some of the things they do are believed to have the potential of protecting the member and making him prosperous while harming the others in the work place, business place, school, the neighbourhood, or family. All the same, it is witchcraft and harmful to him and others.” She also stated that: “In black witchcraft, the spirit gets directly into the human spirit. It can be dropped into someone’s food and it develops. If you are initiated into it, you can do a lot of evil to people in the society. The black witchcraft is crude and dangerous. They act like beasts and have no sympathy or pity for humans.” She often support her bizarre teachings with portions of the Bible, quoting liberally from the Book of Job, Chapter 41 verses 24 and 25 and other parts of the holy book. Her teaching states that witches “practise their craft on their beds (meaning while asleep at night), coveting other peoples’ fields and properties and taking them violently”. Within the local metropolis of Calabar, Ukpabio was able to identify two possessed spots where she said that marine spirit was holding the people captive. She also singled out the local Akim market in Calabar as the den of witches and wizards where no trader can prosper. She has effectively transferred the rubbish being disseminated beyond the confines of Calabar to various parts of the Niger Delta and Nigeria, by being able to establish over 150 branches.
The Nigerian scenario, as reflected in the film Saving Africa Child Witches, demonstrated the deceit, egotism, greed and total callousness of those exploiting religion to amass wealth in Nigeria. Helen Ukpabio, by her behaviour in that film, demonstrated no empathy for the unfortunate children thrown to the streets because of the belief she championed. All she cared about was protecting her financial empire. Her behaviour on the film represented the need for urgent action on the excesses of these modern-day religious scoundrels in Nigeria. Not to be neglected also is the very urgent need to infuse life and practicality into the Children’s Act in Nigeria. Child Abuse abounds in so many facets in Nigeria. From the child hawking “pure water” on the busy motorway to that serving as a maid in a rich man’s household. There are indeed serious needs for our governments to wake up.
This write-up will not be complete without mentioning the organisations that have committed their time and energy to tackle the menace created by the misguided preachers of religion. There is the need for us all, and people of goodwill the world over, to rise up and support the wonderful work of Gary Foxcroft and Stepping Stone Nigeria. His efforts at this stage, remain basically at the infantile level – that of providing shelter and feeding to the displaced children. These children need more. They need better healthcare facilities, schooling and recreational facilities and so on. This is a challenge we must not shirk away from.
There are also other organisations involved in this challenge and across the ocean, the one that came to mind is AFRUCA (Africa Unite Against Child Abuse) . This wonderful organisation in the United Kingdom has been working assiduously behind the scene, tackling the plights of African kids. The remit of this energetic organisation covers the various aspects of exploitation of kids, including child witches, female genital mutilation, child trafficking, child prostitution, pornography and so on. The organisation remains the mopping-up arm of problems created in Africa in the United Kingdom. Abandoned kids often ended up being trafficked into western countries and at this stage, AFRUCA, become very relevant. The organisation has extensive outreach programmes, extending to Africa in some instances. The Executive Director is Debbie Ariyo, who is probably the Gary Foxcroft of Britain. It is just right at this stage to pay homage to those who are sacrificing their time, energy and resources to ensure that our kids have a better future and more importantly, to ensure the future of the African continent.
Governments of the world need to come together in action and in deeds to tackle the menace posed by the phenomenon of kindoki or child witches. Africa as a continent can only become further impoverished by the sustenance of this retrogressive practice. In this age and time, what Africa needs is not the concept of child witches but technological advancement, economic, social and political emancipation. Africa needs enlightenment and not the concept of child witches. Africa needs prosperity and not further marginalisation by a hybrid religion that has done little to shake off the shackles of superstition and ignorance.
This piece was written as a measure of my concern for the abused children in Africa. It stems from my earlier series titled: Gospel of Materialism – Nigerian Pentecostalism and Hypocrisy, where references were made to the antics of Helen Ukpabio and the resultant social menace created by the issue of abandoned children. I am solely responsible for this piece and have no interests to declare.