Emmanuel was sent out of his home by his stepfather, Mr. Ubong Akpan, for allegedly being a witch.
He told SUNDAY PUNCH, “I have slept outside for some months now. I cannot remember how long that was before I was rescued. I was never sent to school, but I take my younger siblings to school, every day on the request of my mother. I also wish to go to school.”
Emmanuel was sleeping outside buildings around No. 28B, Yellow Duke Street in the Calabar-South axis of the Cross River State capital. His stepfather’s action was reportedly based on a claim from a church that the nine-year-old was a witch.
Emmanuel’s case is not the first in Calabar and other parts of the state. On June 17, 2016, two sisters, Aniema and Mary Ekpenyong, escaped lynching after a church in Ikot-Abasi-Effiom District of Akpabuyo Local Government Area of Cross River State, branded them witches. They were first thrown out of their home by their uncle, identified as Victor, who took them to the church for alleged deliverance.
Similarly, on January 10, 2017, a 33-year-old taxi driver from Akamkpa Local Government Area, Festus Anyanime, confessed to have poisoned his 11-year-old twin daughters, Emediong and Mfoniso, after a church in his area labelled them witches.
These sad tales have become common episodes in Cross River and Akwa Ibom states as several kids had been killed over allegations of witchcraft.
The case of Emmanuel became public following a Facebook post by one Chris Inyang, who resides where the nine-year-old lived.
Emmanuel, who is now in the custody of Basic Rights Counsel Initiative in Calabar, is pleading to be enrolled in school.
The boy, who now enjoys watching movies on TV, urged the government to arrest his father, Okokon Ironbar, for abandoning and rejecting him.
He said, “My father runs his business at the Etim-Edem Park in Calabar. My mother married another man after she left him. She has three other children for my father. She also has a boy and a girl for my stepfather. In all, I have five siblings.
“I was staying with my mother before my stepfather sent me parking because they claimed I was a witch. When they sent me out initially, I was sleeping beside a church. I later moved to an abandoned shop. I was always afraid at night.
“Sometimes, my mother would sneak out of the house to give me food whenever my stepfather was not at home. I want government to arrest my father because he was the one that neglected my mother. He never cared about our welfare. I have never been to school because I was never given the opportunity. I wish to go to school.”
Inyang said he saw the boy in the neighbourhood for some time but didn’t know he was sleeping outside until his (Inyang) children drew his attention to Emmanuel’s plight.
Inyang told our correspondent that he pitied Emmanuel when he saw him and initially contemplated adopting him but for the tedious official process associated with such move.
He added that to prevent any evil from happening to him, he went on social media to draw attention to his plight.
Inyang said, “I gave him food and money few times. I allowed him to fetch water free of charge in my compound. I saw him take his siblings to school many times. I was sad when I learnt that his stepfather branded him a witch and threw him out of his house.”
SUNDAY PUNCH observed that the kiosk where Emmanuel slept before he was rescued was an eyesore.
Some occupants in houses located around the 28B, Yellow Duke Street said the boy was exposed to all sorts of danger before succour came his way. The 28B Yellow Duke Street has over 30 buildings.
The Executive Director, Basic Rights Counsel Initiative, Mr. James Ibor, who got in touch with Inyang on Emmanuel’s case, noted that branding children as witches by fake pastors and prophets had become a routine in Cross River and Akwa Ibom states.
He said, “My attention was drawn to the boy’s plight on Facebook. I quickly mobilised and we arrived at the place where the boy was.
“It was Inyang that facilitated our movement to where we found him. We found him on tattered clothes looking unkempt. We did our best to reassure him that there are good people willing to support him.
“He told us his story and we reassured him that he was not a witch. The boy was labelled a witch and stigmatised by his stepfather. The stepfather claimed that it was a church that told him that the boy was a witch. We traced the stepfather to a church along Technology Street in Calabar-South and we had an interaction with him.
“Although the stepfather initially denied knowing Emmanuel, he later admitted that he knew him but denied kicking him out of the house. He said he was aware that Emmanuel is a witch but he did not call him one. We asked him how he knew Emmanuel was a witch, he didn’t answer. We are working to get to the root of the matter to know the person who stated that Emmanuel was a witch.”
Ibor said investigation revealed that the stepfather might have called Emmanuel a witch because he didn’t want to take responsibility for his upkeep.
“Like the saying goes — you call a dog a bad name to hang it. So, the only way to justify kicking him out was to brand him a witch. We have received reports that the stepfather is making plans to send Emmanuel’s mother out of the house too because he felt she was the one that made us interven. She is nursing two children and we are careful that she is not pushed out so as not to worsen the case of the two children,” he added.
Ibor further said the belief in witches and wizards, especially in Cross River and Akwa Ibom states, was deep and disturbing.
He added, “Many people believe that old people or children are mostly witches. Many years before the visit of Mary Slessor, old people were branded witches and lynched if the young ones kept dying in a family. Over the years, the belief faded away but because of the uprise in Pentecostalism, especially when a movie based on a book was produced by a Calabar-based woman pastor, the belief in witches and wizards was re-ignited.
“In the movie, children were portrayed as witches and people started believing that most children without good backgrounds are witches. Children with physical challenges are also called witches. That was how many parents started throwing their children into the streets.’’
At a recent conference in Calabar, the resident pastor of Cornerstone Bible Ministry and state Coordinator of the Albino Foundation, Pastor Bassey Mbang, said churches were using the concept of witchcraft to deceive the public.
He described prophets preaching about witches as bereft of sound gospel.
Mbang stated, “Nobody has been able to tell me the symptoms of a witch. It is not only children who are tagged witches, if God blesses you with long life and you live to be over 70, people will start calling you a witch. I have not seen any clear evidence of witchcraft.
“Most of the pastors call the children witches because of money. If they tell you your child is a witch, and they will deliver the child, you will give them money. It is a business; it pays them and that is why they are doing it.’’
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