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Witchcraft: Human rights groups call for arrest of pastor

Pastor Helen Ukpabio | File Image

‘We therefore call on the Commissioner for Police to arrest Helen Ukpabio and any other person promoting beliefs that lead to the abandonment, torture and murder of innocent children’

By Valentine Amanze

Human rights groups have called on the government to arrest Pastor Helen Ukpabio of the Liberty Gospel Church for alleged renewed witch-hunting activities in Cross River State, Nigeria.

The appeal followed Ukpabio’s commencement, on May 8, 2024, of a four-day programme in the state, titled: “Freedom from Witchcraft Attacks”, where she would brainstorm on how to “gain freedom” from witchcraft attacks so that they could be “happy, elevated and healthy”. 

The groups –Basic Rights Counsel Initiative, Advocacy for Alleged Witches, and Safe Child Africa – said that Pastor Ukpabio’s witch-hunting activities had brought shame and embarrassment to Nigeria.

They pointed out that Ukpabio’s witch-hunting activities had been widely linked in a variety of UN papers, academic studies and TV documentaries to the high rates of children being accused of witchcraft in Cross River state and Akwa Ibom State in Nigeria.

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For instance,Mr. James Ibor, the Lead Counsel of the Basic Rights Counsel Initiative, said, “Helen Ukpabio’s continued witch-hunting activities not only bring shame and embarrassment to Nigeria, they are also illegal.

“The Child Rights Law in both Cross River State and Akwa Ibom State now criminalises the act of accusing children of witchcraft. Furthermore, Section 210 of the Nigerian Criminal Code criminalises the act of “accusing anyone of being a witch or having the power of witchcraft”. 

“We therefore call on the Commissioner for Police to arrest Helen Ukpabio and any other person promoting beliefs that lead to the abandonment, torture and murder of innocent children.”

Contributing, Mr. Leo Igwe, the Director of Advocacy for Alleged Witches, said: “These renewed witch-hunting activities by Liberty Gospel Church once more promote the misguided belief that children can be witches. Such harmful beliefs and practices lead to children we have worked with being macheted to death, set on fire, drowned and/or forced to drink poisonous concoctions in order to dispel the perceived “witchcraft”.

“Such beliefs and practices have no place in the 21st century and government and police agencies need to uphold the law to ensure justice for the innocent victims of this horrific abuse”.

From the UK, Gary Foxcroft, the Chair of Safe Child Africa said: “The activities of fake prophets such as Helen Ukpabio have demonstrably led to some of the worst human rights atrocities seen in the world today. Despite this, she has shown zero remorse or willingness to stop her religious profiteering. Her renewed witch-hunting activities in Calabar are not only illegal, they also paint a negative picture of Nigeria to the international community. As someone who loves Nigeria and its people, I personally find this saddening. We therefore call on state agencies to do the right thing and arrest Helen Ukpabio, so that Nigeria may help uphold its International, National and State-level legal obligations”.

In 2021 the United Nation Human Rights Council passed an historic resolution on the elimination of harmful practices related to accusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks.

The resolution calls on state parties to take action to prevent such atrocities being carried out and, in particular, called for more action to be taken to combat the malevolent activities of pastors such as Helen Ukpabio.

In 2022 the Pan-African Parliament even went so far to label Ukpabio a “pastropreneur” who “is believed to have contributed to the torture and abandonment of thousands of children in Nigeria”.

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