The attack in Calabar: Religious Extremism in Nigeria

Around 11:30 am on Wednesday July 29 2009, a mob of about 200 persons from the Liberty Gospel Church invaded the Cultural Center in Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria. The Cultural Center was the venue of a public symposium on witchcraft and child rights organised by the Nigerian Humanist Movement and Stepping Stones Nigeria.

Most of them arrived at the venue in buses wearing orange T-shirt while others donned plain clothes to hide their identity. As we were about to start, some of them stormed the conference hall stamping their feet on the ground and chanting slogans critical of the event and the organisers.

I tried calming them down without success as they were determined to disrupt the event and ensure that the program was not held. The representative of the Commissioner of Police in Cross River State, Anthony Placid, was there and he tried calling them to order but they rebuffed him.

At one point I walked up to one of the camera boys who was videoing the whole chaos and pandemonium and tried to inquire who authorized him to cover the event. I held the camera and around ten of them came and started dragging it with me. At some point they said the camera had broken and consequently all them pounced on me and started hitting me on the head and at my back. They snatched my bag containing my digital camera, conference papers and some cash. They destroyed my eyeglasses and made away with my mobile phone. The mob went away with some of our conference banners and some anti witchcraft T-shirts and caps which we gave to participants. Some friends who tried rescuing me from these idiots were also beaten.

The representative of the Commissioner of Police called and had some police officers sent to the scene who brought the situation under control. The police dispersed the thugs and arrested one of the pastors, Jeffrey Bassey. In his statement at the police station, Bassey told the police that they were instructed by Evangelist Helen Ukpabio to disrupt the event. He was detained and was later released on bail.

Incidentally the attack by the Liberty Gospel Church happened at a time the Nigerian police and the army were doing a battle with an Islamic sect called Boko Haram in Bornu State in Northen Nigeria. This fanatical group had declared a war against the state. They attacked and beheaded police officers and civilians in a violent campaign to foist their own version of Sharia law on the country.

It is unfortunate that Helen Ukpabio has turned her Liberty Gospel Church into a fundamentalist sect in Calabar. Helen has been heavily criticized for fueling witchcraft accusation and persecution through her ministry. She claims to be a former witch and to have powers to exorcize witchcraft. She organizes witch testing, witch screening and witch deliverance sessions. Helen has written books and articles, produced films, like the End of the Wicked and published newsletters detailing the characteristics of witches and how a witch can be delivered.

But Helen and her rag tag ministry called Liberty Gospel Church are not alone in this shameful scheme. Many pastors in Nigeria are in the business of witch exorcism for which they charge a lot of money. The activities of Helen, the Liberty Gospel Church and other unscrupulous Penticostal pastors are largely to be blamed for the tragic phenomenon of witch children. Witchcraft accusation of children has caused so many problems for families and communities across Nigeria. Today many states in Nigeria are grappling with the problem of street children. And many of the kids are those abandoned, driven to the streets or displaced due to witchcraft accusations. Some witch children have been tortured or killed by their own parents or family members, others by pastors during exorcism.

The Nigerian authorities should take note of this and take action against this moron and her terrorist group before it is too late.The Nigerian government needs to immediately arrest Helen Ukpabio and investigate the activities of the so called Liberty Gospel Church. Tomorrow may be too late.

Taken from a comment at Bartholomew’s Notes September 26 2009.

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