There’s a very good article about Leo Igwe in South Africa’s Mail and Guardian.
The heated face-off between Igwe and Ukpabio’s followers that took place in July 2009 is part of a continuing battle for the country’s soul. In the one camp, there are people like Igwe, a humanist who fights superstition because of the savage effect it has on the country’s children. Ukpabio and a growing horde of pastors just like her, such as David Oyedepo and Celestine Effiong, make up the other group. They are the ever-growing number of evangelists whose fame and fortune comes from irrational beliefs and their livelihood is dependent on the hysterical fear associated with witchcraft that exists in Nigeria’s fundamentalist, Christian south.
A tireless champion of critical thinking, Igwe works to help bring relief to the victims of superstitious crimes. He also helps children who are abandoned in Nigeria because they are identified as witches.
A year after Igwe was attacked by Ukpabio’s followers, the “lady apostle” herself took him to court along with members of local government and the police. Ukpabio was seeking $1.3-million because, she alleged, Igwe and the state was infringing on her freedom to practice religion. Ukpabio was seeking “an order of perpetual injunction” restraining Igwe and his fellow respondents from stopping her church’s “right to practice their religion and the Christian religious belief in the existence of God, Jesus Christ, Satan, sin, witchcraft, heaven and hellfire.” The judge dismissed Ukpabio’s application.
Their “right to practice their religion” – so they try that game in Nigeria too.
At times, the union has had to petition the Nigerian government to get the police to stop harassing Igwe and his family because of the work the humanist does. Online, you will find numerous websites libelling Igwe because he openly challenges Ukpabio, who preys on the weak with her practice of “witchcraft deliverance”. This is a process of exorcism during which Ukpabio expels demonic spirits from the possessed.
In the region of Akwa Ibom, a small girl was said to be possessed by a demon a few years ago. The child was a five-year-old by the name of Esther, whose mother had died. In this particular region, an illness is often said to be instigated by the curse of a neighbour, or more tragically, by a child in the family. Esther became the demon who was cast out.
“I rescued her twice when she was about five years old after she was accused of killing her mother,” said Igwe. “She was driven out and went to live in the local market. A man of about 40 took Esther back to his home and was having sex with her. I was shocked when I heard about it. I took this girl and I handed her over to the government. Later, I found out that Esther had fled because the government doesn’t take proper care of these children.”
I published Leo’s article about rescuing Esther for the second time, including heart-rending photographs that he took. It’s sad that she fled.