The Center for Inquiry (CFI) has announced that one of its members, Leo Igwe, is facing a lawsuit brought by Helen Ukpabio, head of the Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries in Nigeria. Ms. Ukpabio claims that Mr. Igwe and other members of humanist groups are interfering with her right to practice her faith. Mr. Igwe counters that Ms. Ikpabio is a witch hunter, and "has repeatedly targeted and persecuted the most vulnerable members of society. She is the one who should face justice and answer for her crimes." Here is more from the CFI's recent press release.
The suit, scheduled for a hearing on Dec.17, is seeking an injunction preventing Igwe and other humanist groups from holding seminars or workshops aimed at raising consciousness about the dangers associated with the religious belief in witchcraft. The suit aims to erect a legal barrier against rationalist or humanist groups who might criticize, denounce or otherwise interfere with their practice of Christianity and their “deliverance” of people supposedly suffering from possession of an “evil or witchcraft spirit.” The suit also seeks to prevent law enforcement from arresting or detaining any member of the Liberty Gospel Church for performing or engaging in what they say are constitutionally protected religious activities. These activities include the burning of three children, ages 3 through 6, with fire and hot water, as reported by James Ibor of the Basic Rights Counsel in Nigeria on August 24, 2009. The parents believed their children were witches.
Ukpabio is seeking damages of 200 billion Nigerian Naira, more than $1.3 billion, for supposedly unlawful and unconstitutional infringement on her rights to belief in “God, Satan, witchcraft, Heaven and Hell fire” and for the alleged unlawful and unconstitutional detention of two members of her church.
Along with the full support of the Center for Inquiry, Igwe has been offered legal representation from Stepping Stones, a charity registered in the UK dedicated to defending alleged witches, primarily in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
CFI’s anti-superstition campaign is continuing strong. The campaign began May 29 of this year with a groundbreaking seminar titled “Witchcraft and its Impact on Development” in Ghana. Campaign organizers say that they hope to educate the public about the dangers of superstitious beliefs while highlighting the abuse of children and exposing the "false prophets" who spread dangerous misinformation.
“The persecution of alleged child witches underscores the importance of our anti-superstition campaign in Africa,” said Norm R. Allen Jr., executive director of African Americans for Humanism and CFI’s Transnational Programs. “Superstition has dire consequences to individuals and societies, and often contributes greatly to gross human rights abuses. Those who continue to view superstition as benign must think again.”
Allen says that plans are underway to lead marches aimed at combating superstition and to work with governments, NGOs, traditional rulers, and women and childrens’ groups to promote rationality and universal human rights.
Igwe remains optimistic and full of resolve. “I am convinced that at the end of the day, reason, justice and human rights will prevail,” he said.
Back in January, Nigerian authorities in the state of Kwara were holding a goat on suspicion of attempted armed robbery while they tried to figure out whether it (he?) had anything to do with trying to heist a Mazda 323. Apparently earlier two men were spotted trying to rob the car. One got away but the other "turned into a goat," or was around and then there was the goat, and the man disappeared...anyway, there's confusion, and the goat did not have Nikes. Said a police spokesperson, "We cannot confirm the story, but the goat is in our custody. We cannot base our information on something mystical." Here's a BBC story with more information, suggesting that in fact the goat was being held until its owner turned up. Finally, here's an update: a judge ordered the goat to be auctioned. Poor little goat. He's awfully cute. Apparently, in that part of the country, some people believe that magicians can turn themselves into goats. Yet, but what about thieves? Or are magicians also thieves? Anyway, I hope the little kid is happy in his new home, and not turned into some kind of stew.
Enyinna S. Nwauche, Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST), Faculty of Law, Centre for African Legal Studies, has published "The Right to Freedom [sic] Religion and the Search for Justice Through the Occult and Paranormal in Nigeria," at 16 African Journal of International and Comparative Law 35-55 (2008). Here is the abstract.
The widespread belief in the occult and paranormal in Nigeria in the context of the freedom of thought conscience and religion guaranteed by section 38 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is the basis of this article which examines the search for justice through the occult and paranormal. By the paranormal which is used interchangeably with supernatural I mean phenomena which cannot be explained by science and reason. To some people "occult" does mean the same thing as paranormal. However for many others "occult" refers to paranormal phenomena which is evil and destructive and includes practices such as witchcraft.