Forceful Evacuation of Children from CRARN Center by Akwa Ibom State’s Commissioner for Women Affairs
On May 10, 2011, the Commission of Inquiry into Witchcraft Accusations and Child Rights Abuses, established by the Government of Akwa Ibom State and led by Hon. Justice Godwin Abraham, concluded its sitting which was initially held at Akwa Ibom State Judiciary headquarters, Uyo, and was later adjourned to Idongesit Nkanga Secretariat, Uyo and then to Nigeria High Commission, London, United Kingdom.
On May 16, 2011, a mere six days later, Mrs. Eunice Thomas, Akwa Ibom State’s infamous Commissioner for Women Affairs, together with her team, stormed the premises of Child’s Rights and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN), a non-governmental organisation (NGO), with a centre at Esit Eket, abducted over one hundred of its children, forced them into Akwa Ibom Transport Company (AKTC) coaster buses and drove them to Akwa Ibom State Special Children Centre, Uyo.
Interestingly, the Commission of Inquiry into Witchcraft Accusations and Child Rights Abuses made a finding on the said centre to the effect that it is understaffed and lacks adequate facilities to cater for as few as fifty children. Moreover, even its few staffers are ill-trained; and they freely profess belief in witchcraft, and that the children under their charge are indeed witches as charged.
It is difficult to agree that Mrs. Eunice Thomas’s ill-considered action was approved by the Government of the State or taken in the best interest of the special class of children who are supposed to be an important part of her charge. However, assuming without conceding that her action was sanctioned by the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, His Excellency now has a grave duty to justify his action as it was not based on the findings of the Commission whose report is pending.
The unvarnished truth is that the Commissioner for Women Affairs, during her evidence before the Commission of Inquiry, clearly took a very heavy beating. She demonstrated criminal ignorance and incredible incompetence in the running of her Ministry. For instance, she did not know the actual number of children in her custody; she had no idea of the number of child-shelter centres in Akwa Ibom State; and she admitted that she had never made any effort to ensure compliance with the Child’s Rights Law of Akwa Ibom State. These shortcomings are both shocking and tragic.
Moreover, the very honourable Commissioner claimed on oath that every Saturday she visits all of the four orphanages in Akwa Ibom State run by the Government of the State. She also claimed to have issued certificates of custody rights to NGOs other than CRARN. These were all lies – to her knowledge. And the Commissioner was on oath!
Having realised the total disaster and fiasco that was her testimony and the coup de grace of a sack awaiting her, she is now making frantic efforts to not only save her job but also position herself for reappointment into the next Cabinet to be constituted by the Governor of the State who secured a fresh term of office in the nationwide gubernatorial elections of April 26, 2011. Clearly, the good Commissioner is more concerned about maintaining her exalted position in the administration than she is with the fate of the embattled children.
As the honourable, courageous, independent and respectable Commission of Inquiry of Hon. Justice Godwin Abraham found out, CRARN Centre is by far the most qualified to keep children branded as witches, compared to any of the centres maintained by the Government of Akwa Ibom State under the direct supervision of Mrs Eunice Thomas.
Based on the foregoing, we urge the Government of Akwa Ibom State, as matter of national emergency, to:
1. Relieve Mrs Eunice Thomas of her appointment forthwith; and
2. Commence a robust and all-round implementation of the Child’s Rights Law of Akwa Ibom State.
The Government of Akwa Ibom State should take note that should it fail to comply with the above minimum demands; we will be constrained to deploy all measures at our disposal to enforce the fundamental rights of children forced into homes that are not habitable.
We commend to you the time-honoured adage: A stitch in time saves nine.
_____ ___________ _____________________
JAMES IBOR, ESQ. E. U. UNOH, ESQ.
Executive Secretary Legal Adviser, Expert Committee
Chief of Logistics, Expert Committee
About the Author
A press release from the Basic Rights Counsel Initiative, Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria