SIR: I am writing to draw the attention of the Nigerian public to the activities of Lady Apostle Helen Ukpabio who has just announced a witch-finding and witch-delivering session tagged “Ember Months Special 2013”. The program is taking place from November 11-17, at the headquarters of the Liberty Gospel Church in Calabar, Cross River State.
The theme of the event is ‘Witches on the Run”. Ukpabio is inviting people to come for “free deliverance”. The poster for the programme has an image of a cat like animal at the background. A cat is locally believed to be a witch’s familiar in the region. The image of this familiar invokes fears and fantasies of impending danger or misfortune in the minds of the local population.
The poster further states “Is your family sold out to witches? Are you oppressed or tormented by the witches? Are you a victim/prey/slave/servant in witchcraft coven?
Are you a witch or wizard? There is a special deliverance for the possessed and the oppressed.”
In a region where people often spiritualize the cause of their problems or attribute the misfortune they suffer to malevolent supernatural and occult forces, many can easily connect and link their problems and tragic experiences to these questions.
Ukpabio claims to have divine mandate and power to exorcize the spirit of witchcraft. She made witchcraft deliverance the primary mission of her Liberty Gospel Church. This time, her goal is to exploit popular fears- of accidents and deaths- often entertained by Nigerians during the ‘ember months’ using witchcraft images and imaginaries.
At this event Ukpabio will instigate witchcraft insinuations and suspicion, incite hatred and violence against children and other vulnerable members of the population often scapegoated as witches.
Ukpabio’s witch-hunting mission is set to erode the gains made so far by state and non-state actors in combating witchcraft related abuse in the region.
Witch hunting will not end in Africa as long as witchcraft entrepreneurs like Ukpabio continue to act with impunity and the authorities refuse to bring them to justice.
In Cameroun, the government has ordered the closure of around 100 pentecostal churches following the death of a nine-year old girl in a local church. The girl reportedly collapsed and died during a prayer session to cast out the ‘numerous demons’ that controlled the girl’s life.
I urge the government of Cross River to take action against the witch-hunting activities of Helen Ukpabio. The Nigerian government should act now to stop this woman from re-infecting the region with her virus of witch-belief and deliverance.
• Leo Igwe
Founder Nigerian Humanist Movement,