By Sam Itauma
Absolutely shocking! Distasteful, traumatizing and unbelievable! Can this be another April fool? No, it is not. The news is indeed true: Nwanakwo is DEAD! This was the state that beclouded the Child’s Right and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN) Centre when the news of the death of a 9-year-old Nwanakwo Udo Edet from Ikono LGA who was receiving treatment at University of Uyo Teaching Hospital (UUTH) filtered in; having been bathed with acid by his father.
Pitiful! Poor, innocent Nwanakwo was taken to the UUTH in July this year from the General Hospital Ikono when his medical situation deteriorated. His sin was the acceptance to an invitation to attend a prayer meeting with a church in Urban, near Calabar, Cross River State Nigeria, according to the child. “When I arrived at the church, people were clapping and dancing. I prayed to God to bless me and our family including my father. As soon as the pastor came, he started turning around, holding my head ‘Do you know that you are a witch?’ he asked me. I told him no, I am not a witch…” ‘He told me that I must confess or he will beat me, and even as he slapped me immediately. He handed over a bottle of olive oil to me to be drinking at home. I was annoyed and went and told my father so that he will arrest the pastor with the police.
To his chagrin, his father merely told him that if he were a witch he would be cast out of the house. That was an understatement. After four days his father told him that they would travel home to see their relatives. The little lad was so elated by this offer. Did Nwanakwo and his father come back truly?
Nwanakwo told CRARN team who visited him at the UUTH in August that his father called a cyclist and whispered to him. They mounted on the bike and moved to a particular road that was bushy up to a distance where there were no houses and stopped there. His father took him inside the bush and pretended as if he wanted to ease himself, while the cyclist waited. “He brought out a gallon from a sack bag and forced me on the ground, pressing my legs with his knees, he forced my mouth opened and poured acid into it. I cried and pleaded with him that I am his son; he shouted and called me a wizard and devil. He poured the acid on my face, head and body and ran away. Somebody came and took me to the police.” He said with a clear voice as is using a wireless microphone.
Looking at Nwanakwo’s photograph, the acid burns are very glaring and terrifying. The boy, who lost his mother four years ago, said he wanted justice to prevail. “Even in my grave, I want my father and Pastor King of Mouth Zion Light House, Urban to be arrested and brought to book.” The Chief Medical Director (CMD) of UUTH, Prof. Emmanuel Ekanem was contacted to know what measure has been taken to ensure that justice is done. “The Head of the Corporate Affairs Unit (UUTH) has contacted the Divisional Police Officer of Ikono LGA who said that his men have been drafted to investigate the matter …” the CMD had responded briefly.
This brutish act was committed in January this year, precisely eight months ago, and Nwanakwo died about four days ago. As at the time of writing this piece, there was no news as to the arrest of Nwanakwo’s father or Pastor King. Will justice ever be done?
Nwanakwo represents the thousands of children in Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Bayelsa, Delta, Abia, Rivers States, etc., who have suffered similar fate; either by being set on fire, thrown into the river to serve as delicious meal to the fish, buried alive, poisoned to death, slaughtered, hacked to death, pierced hot pokers into the anus, stoned to death, incarcerated and manacled in churches or prayer houses, sold to child traffickers or ritual syndicates, enslaved in brothels, strangled to death, starved, neglected, hung or tied suspended with head downward to die by piece-meal and or bathed with acid.
The rebranding of Nigeria is a project I so endeared and so I can die for it. But the rebranding has to start from the first rung of the ladder. The first rung is children. The visit by the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Chief Godswill Akpabio to children at CRARN Centre where over 200 stigmatized or witch-branded are rehabilitated children is an inroad to this concept of rebranding. Therefore, all the undoing committed against these children must be addressed and redressed. The Childs Right Law should not be allowed to be sleeping in the archives and libraries unattended to (the Child’s Right Act passed into law in 5th December 2008). Its spirit should be evoked and allowed to hound the phoney pastors, fake evangelists, apostles and prophets. The Child Witch Inventors should not be allowed to continue in their hoodwinking business using the name of God and garnering criminal awe and reverence while children continue to suffer and die; the image of Christianity and Nigeria remain in the mud They must face justice. There should be no sacred cow. This, to me, is rebranding! Rebranding should be an egg we cannot trifle with if sincerity is anything to go by. Parents who give themselves up to be brainwashed by the renegade men of God thereby unleashing all sorts of terror on their children should be made to face the full weight of the law. To say that the rate of child-witch branding with its attendant consequences on children is alarming is making an understatement.
This is not enough; there must be a Special Implementation Committee saddled with the responsibility of monitoring the activities of churches in liaison with the police in ensuring the prosecution of child’s right violators in the truest spirit of the law. But I am confident that where the conventional law takes some doses of sedatives and remain drowsy, fidgeting or opt not to wake up at all, the natural justice will brace the storm and fish out the untouchable and the sacred cows. ‘Be not deceived, God is not mocked…’
You will agree with me that I have digressed a lot. So I hereby plead for amnesty. Yes, Nwanakwo, in the spirit of rebranding should be immortalized! This will awaken the consciousness in our psyche that children, the world over, deserve special attention; not assault and battery, not machetes cut, not hot iron-branding, not hot water-bathing, not even violent exorcism, but love, good food, education and good health. And that no one should be religiously irreligious as this sometimes leads to ‘insanity’ thereby giving the urge to harm others, especially vulnerable children.
Nwana, my sole-friend, your death reminds me of the 9 year old Mary Effiong of Oruko, Oron axis who was slaughtered in a broad daylight in 2007 by his beloved daddy because an apostle of God ‘revealed’ to him that his frequent arrest by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency-NAFDAC for trading in Indian hemp and hashes, was the handiwork of his daughter who was a witch. He was arrested, but pressure from the elite and the community made him walk the street like Fidel Castro of Cuba while in office. Justice was not served! So for Nwanakwo, will justice ever be served?
Sam Ikpe Itauma is the President, Child’s Right and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN) Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria. (First Published August 2009)