I am posting the rejoinder below, as it deals with a subject that is dear to my heart: the fate of children condemned to incredible bodily mutilation and psychological torture by Christian evangelical "pastors" and "prophetesses" in Southern Nigeria. For whatever it is worth, I personally attest to the integrity of Sam Ikpe Itauma of CRARN through whom people I know have provided help to these unfortunate children. I am galled at the brazenness of the so-called prophetess and her band of lawless thugs. And I am disgusted that some people are so committed to hurting children, in the name of God. Please go on and read Mr. Naagbanton's rejoinder, first published in Saharareporters.com
Kolade-Otitoju, Foxcroft and the Helen Ukpabio’s Scam
Written by Patrick Naagbanton Wednesday, 10 March 2010 08:43
Public Relations is a vocation I dislike this days because of what its practitioners present to us on daily basis. The picture they paint of their line of business, is that they can make an image out of what do not have any image. Their major motivation and drive is always money. They are also called reputation managers or image-makers. In truth, there is no difference between its practitioners and those in the British historian and journalist, Anthony Mockler’s much-publicized book, Mercenaries (1969). Journalism and public relations are separate pursuits, and what news organizations feed the public with as the journalism stuff in Nigeria, is actually public relations. There should be no meeting point between the two. K.M. Shrivastava in his 327 page book, “News Reporting and Editing” (2003 revised edition), page 215, warns us that, “In journalism nothing can be taken for granted. There arise situations that put not just the reporter or sub-editor concerned, but prestigious publications and sometimes the entire profession to shame just because somebody in the profession has just not been careful enough”
I read with profound concern a lead article, entitled, “One Big Scam” in The News magazine of March 8, 2010, written by Babajide Kolade – Otitoju, the senior editor of that leading Nigeria’s magazine. The report centered around how “A Briton and a Nigerian who run two non-governmental organizations are exposed as telling barefaced lies to fleece donors over the Akwa Ibom child witchcraft affair”. The report covers six glossy pages (pages 25 – 30) of the magazine. The piece was really a public relations thing rather than a work of journalism. It was an attempt to give some image or fame to Evangelist Helen Ukpabio, a Nollywood (Nigerian movie) star, “the sole spiritual leader” of the Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministry, and “a great woman of God” whose vulgar theological anti-witchcraft propaganda has led to the torture, abuse and death of several vulnerable kids in her Akwa Ibom home state, and Cross River State, her state of residence especially.
I abhor writing articles to defend people because I am not a public relations person, but that does not mean that when the good work and esteem of somebody I know too well is about to be blown to bits I should keep quite. In this article, I am not doing a public relations job for Gary Foxcroft, the program director of Stepping Stone Nigeria (SSN), a UK-based registered charity working to protect, save and transform the lives of vulnerable and disadvantaged children in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, but just trying to clear the wrong impression the Babajide Kolade – Otitoju’s “One Big scam” may have created about him. I knew Foxcroft through Scott Pegg, a very good friend of mine. Pegg is an American Associate Professor of International Relations at the Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis in the United States of America. Like Foxcroft, Scott is a very honest, sincere, committed activist, author, and scholar I think highly of. Scott had initiated the kind of public- spirited projects similar to the ones Gary embarked upon in Akwa Ibom State, to help poor and abused children get better life.
Just like Foxcroft humanitarian works, Scott raises funds from his friends mostly in the US and the Timmy Foundation (the US children charity) to support the Bebor International Model School in Bodo community in the Gokana Local Government Area, and Wiwa International Model School in Bane, the martyred Ken Saro-Wiwa’s home town in the Khana Local Government Area, both in Ogoni, Rivers State, Nigeria. Orphans and poor children get free education at the Bodo and Bane schools respectively. The money for the both schools literally passes through me. Scott Pegg would insist on a proper and transparent accounting out of every cent or kobo he gives to me in spite of our friendship, he would say to me, “Patrick, I trust you and I know you don’t steal money, but the accounting of any money that passes through your hands is quite important”. His society discourages corruption under any guise, while ours encourage it. I had also visited Pegg at his home in Indianapolis and he had introduced me to a lot of the funders of the school projects. I hate singing praises of people but Scott Pegg’s ways of doing things is inspiring and challenging. His good work has earned him one of the most prestigious chieftaincy titles in Bodo, Mene Eedee I – (King of Light) conferred on him some years ago by the chiefs and people of Bodo.
It has become some yearly ritual for Scott to visit Bodo and Bane communities to inspect the projects during his holidays with his personal money sometimes with his lovely and good-natured Turkish wife, Tijjen Pegg. In several communications with him, he had insisted that I and other board members of the Bodo and Bane Schools should visit Gary Foxcroft and his wife, Noami who were staying in the Eket Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State then. I eventually bowed to Pegg’s pressures, and in early 2007, I led Rev. Moses Nyimale Lezor, the amiable Ogoni activist and founder of the Bebor International Model School, Mrs. Happiness Pie Appollo, a member of the school’s committee and Charles Konyan, an author, activist and staff of the Rivers State Sports Council to go to Eket and see Gary at his base. We toured the Stepping Stone Model School there, where SSN is supporting and which is run by Grace Udua, a very cheerful woman I have met, one wonders whether she is ever angry in her life. Gary took us to where he was staying then, and briefed us about his work to save our ill-treated children. From then, we cultivated a partnership and remained in touch until date. Gary is just like Scott Pegg when it comes to sincerity and transparency too.
Akwa Ibom State is not the only geographic focus of the work of Stepping Stone Nigeria (SSN) as the writer of that piece wants us to believe. SSN’s work focuses on the plight of other children in other Niger Delta states like Bayelsa, Delta, Cross River, Edo, Rivers and others. SSN works with local partner organizations like the Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN) in Akwa Ibom State led by Sam Ikpe Itauma to achieve its purpose. Itauma’s CRARN is a child rights organization which SSN supports to do its work. I don’t see any scam in that relationship. Sadly, Sam Ikpe Itauma had suffered tremendously while trying to campaign about the abuse and abandonment of the kids in conjunction with SSN. He had severally been attacked by corrupt Nigerian Police officials allegedly on the payroll of Evangelist Ukpabio. Gary’s SSN had sometimes last year provided potable water to the schools in Bodo and Bane where poor villagers from those Ogoni communities also use. The project money also passed through me.
The abuse of these children is gruesome in Akwa Ibom, Cross River State and other places. Is it not grossly hyperbolized to draw pounds, dollars and Euros by the duo of Gary and Sam from donors as the piece implied. The writer should go beyond mere listening to Evangelist Helen Ukpabio and her assortment of soldiers of fortune, and travel round Akwa Ibom and Cross River States to see how unscrupulous religious leaders have cashed in on the witchcraftcy myth to cause this new reign of evangelical windfall. Evangelist Helen Ukpabio is not the only person guilty of this crime against society; other Pentecostal preachers are also guilty. Babajide needs to watch “Saving Africa’s Witch Children”, that celebrated documentary made by SSN that exposes the violations of children rights in the name of witchcraft superstition by religious leaders of our time including Evangelist Ukpabio.
On Wednesday, July 29, 2009, I was a victim of a physical attack unleashed by scores of fanatics loyal to Evangelist Ukpabio who invaded a conference which the Nigerian Humanist Movement (NHM) and Stepping Stone Nigeria (SSN) jointly organized in Calabar, Cross River State capital. Leo Igwe, executive secretary of NHM and others were wounded, and Leo’s properties were stolen by Ukpabio’s militias. Read my accounts – The Trials of Evangelist Helen Ukpabio Part 1 and 2, in The National Network Newspaper, August 10 – 16, 2009 and August 24 – 30, 2009, same article was also published in The US-based The Secular Nation magazine, October – December edition, 2009. Akwa Ibom State has passed the Child Rights legislation, so those who abuse child rights in the name of witchcraft superstition can face some consequences in law. The picture which the magazine cropped mischievously as the picture of “a well-fed scammer” Gary Foxcroft, is not the picture of the Gary I know. A corrigendum is needed to correct that error of judgment; at least for the image of The News Magazine.
Babajide Kolade Otitoju’s article, “One Big Scam” is merely a re-echo of what the Ukpabio religious militants were chanting (that SSN is an illegal organization, SSN and others are using the witch campaign to defraud donors etc) while launching their well-coordinated vicious attacks on us at the Calabar conference in July, 2009 on “Child Rights and Witchcraft”. This is not the way to say thank you, to the likes Gary Foxcroft who at their personal inconveniences are rendering selfless services to our society. History is the great judge!
Naagbanton writes from Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State, Nigeria