Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Governor Akpabio's War Against Children -- Okey Ndibe

*This is unprecedented for Ọf ọdunka: I am posting this piece written by my friend Okey Ndibe for a newspaper published in Nigeria. But for some really curious reason it was declined by the editor. In posting Ndibe's piece I am just saying to the censors: you cannot kill the voices in the wilderness.
Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom is in danger of doing something that’s unforgivably evil. In the name of protecting the image of his state, he has set out to destroy two organizations that are doing an admirable job of rescuing innocent children who are stigmatized as witches and wizards – and then subjected to brutalization.

In a recent CNN program devoted to the plight of Akwa Ibom’s “witch” children, the state’s commissioner of information, Aniekan Umanah, resorted to the most bizarre of lies. Unabashed, this commissioner told the world, in effect, that the problem was a mere hullabaloo and fiction, the product of a scam by two groups – one, the UK-based Stepping Stones Nigeria (SSN) run by Gary Foxcroft, the other, the indigenous Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN), run by Sam Itauma.

Following his commissioner’s shameful attempt to convince CNN viewers that the young victims of witchcraft persecution were actors and actresses directed by Foxcroft and Itauma, Governor Akpabio delivered an address to the state where he spoke along the same lines. In Akpabio’s facile script, the many children being sheltered, fed and educated thanks to the collaborative work of SSN and CRARN are victims, not of depraved witch hunters, but of two men determined to make a fortune.

The governor’s allegations are the more astonishing because he must know that his claims were deceptive. As a duly registered entity in the UK, Stepping Stones Nigeria is required by law to file documents disclosing the donations it received as well as its expenditures. If Akpabio had any proof that SSN’s funds were diverted, he could send Foxcroft on his way to jail by forwarding the evidence to British authorities.

But the governor and his commissioner are the ones making facile fiction out of a gory reality. The fact is that children, thousands of children, in Akwa Ibom are accused of witchcraft, and then beaten, burned, maimed and killed on the grounds of the unproven, ignorant charges.

It’s a shameful, shocking reality, and one that should challenge the governor and his cabinet to keep sleepless nights until the traumatized children are safe and their tormentors brought to book.

Instead of doing this, the governor and his commissioner have taken the low road. They have decided to wage a vile campaign against the two men whose dedication and advocacy have made a world of a difference in the lives of some of these persecuted innocents.

Governor Akpabio was not content to stop at vending a falsehood by accusing SSN and CRARN of fraudulent exploitation. Since his declaration of war – ostensibly on Foxcroft and Itauma, but in actuality against the unfortunate children that the two men care for – “security” men have turned the town of Eket, where the children are sheltered, into a theater of indiscriminate shooting. It is nothing less than evil to compound the travails of children who have been put through hell-grade suffering. Itauma, the portrait of a loving father to these maligned, mauled children, has been forced to look constantly over his shoulder, and to run for dear life.

It’s bad enough that Mr. Akpabio did not offer to make the resettlement of these children a singular mission of his administration. In seeking to slash and burn those who offer succor and a glimmer of hope to the castaways, the governor is, in effect, savaging poor children who had already suffered cruelty on a scale that would horrify anybody with a modicum of humanity.

It was in late 2008 that BBC Channel 4 first exposed the hideous dehumanization of children in a documentary titled “Saving Africa’s Witch Children.” As I wrote in an earlier column, “I was transported to one of the most gruesome, barbaric and dehumanizing documentaries I’ve ever watched.”

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