For Immediate Release
Akwa-Ibom State Commission of Inquiry into Witchcraft Accusations and Child Rights Abuses: A Call for Inclusion of Child Psychologist, Human Rights Activist and Commission's Neutrality and Fairness
Our organisation, Young Humanistas Network, also known as YHN, has been involved in addressing child-witch menace in Akwa-Ibom and Edo both south-south Nigeria (and recently in researching into the situation in Nasarawa state) in the last twenty-three (23) months. During this period, we have been able to organise town-hall meetings, meetings with pastors, paid courtesy visits and organise road rallies to highlight the precarious state of child rights in the areas and explored, with the beneficiaries, how best to redress the situation; we even went as far as donating a sick-bay (health center) in one of the interventions. In all of these, we have been supported by the Humanist Action for Human Rights, Norway (HAMU) and Stepping Stones Nigeria, UK (for the pastors' parleys and book production).
While we can beat our chests to say that we have made appreciable impact on all fronts (rescuing, psycho-social supports, prosecution and re-unification), we shall be untruthful to say that we have not been faced with challenges.The challenges we have encountered in Akwa-Ibom has, however, been more gangantuan and disturbing than we envisaged; our staff have been harrassed, our partners' have been frustrated and key officers have been variously haunted by the foot-soldiers of the governor and some highly placed religious leaders. Unnecessary allegations have also been made against us on international and national media such as the CNN, AIT and even the local newspapers, but the joy has always been that WE ARE NOT DISSUADED!
After so many months of mis-information which has culminated in highbrow raising decisions, Governor Akpabio's constitution of a panel of inquiry on 23 November, 2010, we are bold to admit, is a welcome decision; not because of the committee's terms of reference but for the supposedly sincerity of members of the committee.
The committee, by the way, was given the mandate to, among others,
a. determine the veracity of the allegations of witchcraft against children and infliction of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment upon such children.
b. It is also to determine the number of those stigmatized, abused or killed on suspicion of involvement in witchcraft; those culpable; identify the shallow graves and the particulars of children affected under paragraph 5 (e) and also identify those who maltreated, stigmatized or caused their deaths and make appropriate recommendations.
The Commission is chaired by a Judge with over 23 years on the bench, Honourable Justice Abraham and Barrister (Mrs.) Theresa Obot, Dr Okon Edet Akaiso, Dr. Essien Edward Essien, Rt. Rev. John Koko-Bassey and a Chief State Counsel, Barrister Mrs. Uduak Victor Ekwere as members.
Ordinarily, one should be happy of this, though late yet, vital government intervention. Unfortunately, however, the tasks set before the committee and the timeframe (six weeks), non-inclusion of a child-psychologist and seasoned rights activist leave much to be desired.
We therefore call on the government of Akwa-Ibom to:
1. As a matter of URGENCY extend the time-frame of the commission by FOUR WEEKS if truly the Governor wants to unravel the mistery behind the stigma Akwa-Ibom children have been subjected to
2. include a capable child psychologist and a respected human rights activist in the commission to ensure that the members are adequately advised in the screening of gathered child-related information and that the pulse of the populace on the menace is sumptuously felt; and
3. Ensure that the commission, as promised, by His Excellency Governor Akpabio, remain apolitical and futuristic.
On our part, we are ready, as CONCERNED CITIZENS of Nigeria, STAKEHOLDERS and professionals, to partake in the public hearing BUT we shall be happier if the above concerns are taken care of.
Above all, we want to thank His Excellency, Akwa Ibom State Governor, Chief Godswill Obot Akpabio, for this initiative and his untiring efforts to free Akwa-Ibom state children.
Akwa-Ibom Children ADO OK! They are NOT WITCHES!!!
'Yemi Ademowo Johnson