For Immediate Release
Contact: Paul Fidalgo
Phone: (207) 358-9785
August 05, 2009
Gospel church upset at efforts to halt African atrocities based on fear and ‘magic’
Amherst, New York (Aug 5, 2009)— The Center for Inquiry’s anti-superstition campaign has turned dangerous.
During a passive Nigerian conference meant to explore ways of combating the abuse, expulsion and murder of children wrongly accused of witchcraft, more than 150 members of the Christian witch-hunter Helen Ukpabio’s Liberty Gospel Church reportedly overpowered the non-combative participants, invading the conference and subjecting attendees to threats, violence and physical attacks. During the July 29 incident, the mob attacked conference speaker Leo Igwe, the Center for Inquiry’s Nigerian representative and secretary of the Nigerian Humanist Movement. Igwe said disruptive individuals broke his glasses and stole his bag, camera, cell phone and other items in an unsuccessful attempt to halt the discussion. A transcript of Igwe’s talk—copies of which he reported were stolen with his bag—is available upon request.
“The Liberty Gospel Church’s disruptions show just how important this anti-superstition campaign is,” said Norm R. Allen Jr., executive director of African Americans for Humanism and CFI’s Transnational Programs. “Religious fanatics are running scared and becoming desperate.” Read Allen’s CFI blog posting on this incident.
The invasion was captured on video , and posted to the Internet. The short (2:40) video includes statements from Nigerian journalist Patrick Naagbanton and Dr. Enyeribe Onuoha, chairman of the Nigerian Humanist Movement. “This ‘witchcraft thing’ is based on superstition, and it doesn’t exist, but children are losing their lives because of it,” said Dr. Onuoha. “Adults, their houses are being burned and families are being destroyed because of it.”
According to a report from Calabar, Nigeria, the state government was embarrassed by the attacks of the Liberty Gospel Church members on the conference, and the governor has reportedly called for Ukpabio’s arrest.
Ukpabio is infamous for organizing witch hunts, allegedly inciting violence and spreading misinformation about children and adults accused of witchcraft. She has reportedly used the political clout of her church recently to influence authorities into unlawfully detaining individuals running a haven camp for displaced families. The families, driven from their homes by neighbors consumed with superstitious panic and unwarranted fear of “magic,” were subjected to further inhumane treatment and violence.
“Throughout the years, religious fanatics have tried to thwart genuine progress by resorting to violence. However, truly committed human rights activists always seem to prevail,” Allen said. “I fully suspect such will be the case as African humanists and skeptics continue to fight against superstition in all its forms.”
The Center for Inquiry, an international organization dedicated to education, reason, and secular ethics, launched its campaign against superstition-driven violence May 29 in Ghana with a groundbreaking seminar titled “Witchcraft and its Impact on Development.” The seminar began a continuing campaign to fight against ongoing atrocities, educate the public, and implore Africans to employ reason against the violence and tragedy fostered by belief in witchcraft, unchecked superstition, and fear of malevolent magic.
Igwe continues to promote the campaign, traveling to Cape Town South Africa Aug. 29-30 for a workshop, and to Lilongwe, Malawi Sept. 4-5 for a conference on Humanism, Religion, and Witchcraft. Additional planned campaign activities include protest marches, communiqués and meetings with officials, letter-writing movements, and aggressive widespread consciousness-raising efforts geared toward modernizing Africa.
“Superstitious ideas, many of them rooted in religion, continue to thwart social and economic progress throughout the African continent,” said Allen. “What African humanists and skeptics are doing is uncompromisingly challenging these harmful ideas and offering a humane and rational alternative, drawing upon humanistic ethics and an appreciation for scientific methods of investigation.”
Superstitions—including belief in witchcraft—are based on fear, magical thinking and inadequate education, and are regularly exploited in Africa by unscrupulous individuals in positions of influence. Until this campaign, there have not been any major organized efforts to critically analyze, debate and dispel superstitions, myths, misconceptions and other deeply harmful practices in Africa.
“The lives of innocent children are at stake,” said Allen. “If courageous adults will not come to their defense, who will?”
In order to bring this matter to the attention of Nigerian authorities, an independent petition site has been set up, titled Make Helen Ukpabio Face Justice.
Contact: Norm R. Allen Jr.
Phone:  636-7571 x 426
Hotel phone (Aug 6-9)  524-7991
Contact: Leo Igwe
Phone: 234 80338 61053
The Center for Inquiry/Transnational, a nonprofit, educational, advocacy, and scientific-research think tank based in Amherst, New York, is also home to the Council for Secular Humanism, founded in 1980; and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly CSICOP), founded in 1976. The Center for Inquiry’s research and educational projects focus on three broad areas: religion, ethics, and society; paranormal and fringe-science claims; and sound public policy. The Center’s Web site is www.centerforinquiry.net .