THE INTERNATIONAL CHILD RIGHTS NGO, Stepping Stones Nigeria (SSN), has condemned in the strongest terms the ongoing campaign of harassment and intimidation directed at one of its Nigerian partners, the Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN), which is based in Eket, Akwa Ibom state, in the Niger Delta. Since the work of SSN and CRARN was featured in the multi-award winning documentary – Saving Africa’s Witch Children – in 2008 both NGOs have been on the receiving end of a fierce and relentless campaign of intimidation. This has included two court cases being launched against them by the child witch-hunting pastor – Helen Ukpabio - who also sent her supporters to raid a child rights conference organised by the NGOs and beat up the organisers. Her lawyer also escorted some police officers from Lagos to the CRARN centre in July 2009 where they falsely arrested staff and beat up a number of the 200+ children.
Recent developments have seen the Akwa Ibom State Government launch a widespread media campaign stating that SSN and CRARN are fraudulent organisations who have used the children under their care to extort millions of pounds from the international community and demanding that the President of CRARN – Sam Itauma – and the Programme Director of Stepping Stones Nigeria – Gary Foxcroft – should both be arrested. These allegations have been entirely refuted by both agencies who have stated that their accounts are publicly available for all to see.
On Wednesday 10th November, 15 years to the day since the human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged by the Abache Regime, the CRARN centre in Eket was once again raided; this time by the EFCC, who said that a petition had been filed against CRARN and that they were seeking to arrest Mr Itauma. When informed that he was not on the premises, they initially arrested another staff member, Mr Bassey, but he was released following protests from the children at CRARN.
Sam Itauma of CRARN stated ‘I am genuinely living in fear for my life. I know there are people who would like to see me dead because I have stood up and told them that it is wrong to torture and murder innocent children who have been accused of being witches. I have had to leave my home and family and go into hiding. How can this be right?”
Harrasment of Child Rights Defenders in Akwa Ibom State, strongly condemned.