Akwa Ibom is a beautiful state that is blessed with large amount of crude oil deposit, good people and good landscape. Good efforts were made by the government from Obong Victor Attah to Barr. Godswill Akpabio to beautify the State with good and well tarred road networks and structures especially the city of Uyo which makes Uyo one of the most beautiful cities in Nigeria. For the State’s beautification, special kudos goes particularly to Barr. Godswill Akpabio. Governor Udom is presently working hard to continue the good works his predecessors started.
However, a casual look at the State reveals a social problem and ugly trend which has persisted for a long time despite legislations against it. It is the problem of witchcraft labeling and stigmatization of children which often leads to merciless beating of many of such labeled children with objects like cutlass, sharp wires and other objects that is capable of inflicting wounds on them and then chasing and/or throwing them out of the house to rotten on the streets. Many of such children I have encountered are between the ages of 6 and 15. Under Governor Godswill Akpabio in 2008, it was legislated that child witch-labeling and stigmatization is a criminal offence in Akwa Ibom State and punishable by 15 years imprisonment yet it persists till the present time.
I relocated to Akwa Ibom State in September 2013 for evangelical work. While moving around the city of Uyo from time to time either alone or with my family, I continue to see children scattered in different parts of Uyo city from Plaza area to other areas of the city. Sometimes, early in the morning I keep seeing children pick stuffs from dump sites and that led me to start asking questions from different persons about the children and the common answer I kept getting was that they are bad children and should not be related with. Being a stranger, ‘na waooh’ was always my response. One Pastor in particular told me that it is dangerous to get close to those children. But I wanted to know exactly what makes them bad and dangerous and why there are many of them on the streets because I wanted to get close to many of them to know their stories and make friends with them so that I can help some of them. As I probed further, the responses were that most of them are witches. It was funny to me at first but I needed to get close to them and find out myself but how will I do it was the question I needed to deal with. After some careful reflections over it, I came up with an idea to package food and visit them on Sundays since they are abandoned and live on the streets and many little ones among them feed from dump sites. That was how my journey with them started and I started making friends with different groups among them.
Trying to establish relationships with them at first was quite challenging and frustrating probably because of their experiences and societal rejections. But persistence and constant efforts to prove to them that I meant well opened up grounds for relationship. While relating with them and trying to know why they are on the streets and not keen to go home even when I requested that we go to see their parents, many of them had the same stories surrounding them, that of being accused of witchcraft, beaten and thrown away, but that is not the only stories. There are other reasons some gave why they are on the streets but that of witchcraft labeling takes dominance. Hearing the same witchcraft stories over the children repeatedly left me with worries and tortures in my heart. As I kept thinking about their future and destiny and the negative implications and dangers their hopelessness poses to the future of the society, I decided to sell myself to fight for them and against the witchcraft since legislation has not stopped the ugly trend which needs to be stopped. We cannot continue to watch children’s destiny waste away in the name of witchcraft. Either the trend stops or the witch spirit leaves the children alone to fulfill their purpose in life. One must happen. We are ready to stop it with government and public supports. As at the time of writing this article on November 5 2016, there are about 30 children living in the refuse pit on barracks road for over five months which breaks my heart. There is urgent need to get them out of there and rehabilitate them.
Frankline and some of the children that have been living in the refuse pit.
I believe strongly that many of them can be recovered, rehabilitated and reintegrated into the society and families so that they can fulfill their purpose and contribute their quota to the societal development. No child for whatever reason should be left in the hands of dehumanizing forces to rotten on the streets. They have rights to good life, good education, good health, good food, good shelter and loving care. Legislation alone is not enough to solve the problem because there are many factors that contribute to it. There are cultural beliefs associated with the child witch labeling, there are economic factors, spiritual factors, psychological and illiteracy factors associated with it. Taking these factors into consideration, I am asking the government to establish a rehabilitation center for street children in Uyo for us so that we can do holistic, inclusive and integrative rehabilitation on them. Such center will enable us to inclusively work with the parents of the labeled children and look at the problems with them to deal with it down to its roots taking into consideration all the factors that may have led to the labeling and rejection and addressing them accordingly.
Frankline Onuawuchi Maduka is an Anthropologist, Evangelist, a Social Engineer and the founder of Reach Out Life International Foundation (ROLIF), an NGO that concentrates on recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration of homeless street children in Uyo city.