AN on-going campaign of intimidation against Nigerian humanist Leo Igwe took a sinister new twist when Igwe, a representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) in West Africa, was beaten up while in police custody.
Igwe, Director of the Centre for Inquiry in Nigeria who has been bravely campaigning against religious leaders and their supporters who stigmatise children as “witches”, was arrested earlier this month by the police in Akwa Ibom State. His arrest is thought to be part of a campaign by state Governor Goodswill Akpabio to clamp down on activists involvedÂ in the rescue of children accused of witchcraft.
Akpabio, according to this report,Â had vowed to jail the activists for bringing his administration into disrepute over the campaign againstÂ the harmful traditional practice, which violate the rights of children in the state.
Later it was reported that Igwe, following numerous calls to the Nigerian authorities by concerned human rights campaigners around the world, had been released, with the police claiming that his arrest ad been the result of “mistaken identity”
Igwe said after his release:
It was a terrible encounter â€¦. Â my hands were tied behind me and they beat me mercilessly. My head was swollen â€¦ I was kept incommunicado and had no contact with either my family or my lawyers.
During my interrogation I discovered that my case was worsened by the fact that I was an anti-witchcraft advocate; they kept saying that I was a fraudster making money from the child witch phenomenon, so it was funny for them to say that it was a case of mistaken identity.
Governor Akpabio had promised to make life uncomfortable for NGO’s working on children’s rights in the state when he ordered the arrest of Sam Ikpe-Itauma in a radio broadcast last year. Reacting to a report aired by CNN on the child witch situation, the Governor reportedly promised that “heads will roll”.
Igwe, along with Sam Ituama, who runs a homeless shelter for rescued child “witches,” has been working tirelessly against child abuse in Akwa Ibom State.Â Their successful campaigns have exposed the depth of the harmful practice in the state.Â But it has also pitched the activists against the state Governor, who recently accused them of “corruption”.
In 2009 Igwe was assaulted by supporters of a lunatic Pentacostal “witch-hunter” Helen Ukpabio. She and her church, the Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries, have run a campaign of terror against children and those committed to fighting for their rights. The conference had been organised by the Nigerian Humanist Movement and the UK charity Stepping Stones Nigeria in response to the widespread abandonment, torture and killing of children branded as “witches” in Akwa Ibom and Cross River State.