By Leo Igwe
Nigeria’s notorious witch hunter, Helen Ukpabio, is suing for libel both the British Humanist Association (BHA) and the Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network(WHRIN). In this she is, as in other matters, a repeat offender. All British campaigners for children’s rights, and especially humanists and secularists will not stand for the spread of African Pentacostalist witch hunts to the UK.
This lawsuit should serve as a wake up call for all rational people in Britain. It should provide a rallying point for those who subscribe to enlightened values and who must now take a proactive stance against the ‘witch hunting tourism’ of these African pastors.
This is because there is an emerging poisonous trend in African Christianity which if not nipped in the bud risks returning Britain to a growth in practices last widely witnessed in the dark ages. The signs are clear. The recent cases of witchcraft related abuse of children in Black communities can be traced back to the practice of this brand of Christianity. So this must be opposed and those who peddle this religious barbarism and who wish to import or encourage it in the UK must be stopped.
This Africanized Christianity contradicts human rights, and civilized values. It contains forms and currents of Christian practice which Western Christianity had abandoned decades and centuries ago. It seeks to turn back the clock on the evolution of a more ‘enlightened religion’ and of the recognition of broadly secular values in UK society. British humanists must resist this vicious brand of Christianity. British humanists should mobilize and come out strongly, critically and vociferously against such dark age Christianity.
Ukpabio’s action should serve as a stark reminder of the potential risks and dangers that lie ahead if we turn a blind eye to the visits of African witch hunters to the UK. African witch hunters are coming to the UK to erode the hard won gains of secularism and enlightenment. Ukpabio’s lawsuit illustrates how far this evangelical throwback and her ilk are prepared to go to clamp down on their critics The hope in doing so is to also legitimize their violent brand of Christianity. Ukpabio plans to take advantage of UK libel law to silence the BHA, WHRIN and other human rights campaigners. She has tried using the law to silence her critics in Nigeria and failed. Surely she must suffer the same fate in the UK.
But we need to know that Ukpabio’s move is not an isolated incident. It is part of a wider trend in African Christianity – the quest to re-evangelize the West. Yes. African pastors want to re-introduce Christianity back to the West. This trend is driven by the notion that although European missionaries introduced Christianity to Africa centuries ago, today people in Western countries have abandoned Christianity. At least that is what African Christian leaders think; that Westerners have turned their back on God. So, African pastors are exporting Christianity back to Europe. They are trying to get western people to return to God. But is this mission strictly all about evangelization, Christianity and God? I do not think so.
In the name of re-evangelizing the west, African Pentecostal pastors are exporting homophobic and witch hunting brands of Christianity to western countries. They are bringing to Europe and other parts of the western world forms of Christianity whose practices are set to collide with the laws of these countries. But this re-Christianization program is not strictly an evangelical enterprise. It has a strong economic undercurrent. These ”pastorpreneurs” want to extend their financial empires and their murky businesses to Europe using religiosity as a cover. African pastors want to ‘recapitalize’ their ministry. They are using the African migrant communities in these countries as a launchpad for their nefarious business enterprises.
In April, Ukpabio was in the UK to promote her witch finding ministry. She desperately wants to connect her witchcraft market with the European religious market. She has attempted to establish branches of her churches in the US. But Ukpabio is not the only African pastor scheming to re-Christianize the West. Other Christian clerics are already part of this reverse missionary process. Early this year, Nigerian homophobic pastor and the general overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Rev Enoch Adeboye toured Australia and New Zealand to inaugurate branches of his church.
In August, the UK authorities denied entry to another witch hunting pastor David Oyedepo. Oyedepo is the owner of Winners Chapel. He is known to be the richest pastor in Africa, owning several private jets. During a deliverance session in Nigeria he slapped a girl whom he accused of being a witch. In Cameroon a nine year old girl collapsed and died after a pastor at a branch of Winners Chapel accused her of being possessed by numerous demons and started conducting a ritual exorcism.
Churches that promote these abusive practices have no place in contemporary Britain. Pastors who own these churches should be told clearly that they are not welcome; that their brand of Christianity is unacceptable and particularly so in modern day Britain. We cannot realize a secular country when we allow African Pentecostal pastors to come and spread their gospel of hate and violence. When we turn a blind eye or tolerate the induction of witchcraft narratives into black migrant or diasporic communities we insult the memory of Kristy Bamu, Victoria Climbie and other child victims of witchcraft related abuse.
Silence also hurts the campaign against witch hunts in Africa if these pastors are given a free pass; when we refuse to speak out against their visit to the UK. Allowing these ‘pastorpreneurs’ to stage their witch and demon finding sessions in the UK gives legitimacy to their mission in Africa. It hampers efforts to eradicate these horrific abuses in all regions. So humanists and secularists speaking out against the visit of African witch hunting pastors to the UK is not only in the interest of UK children it is in the interest of the human rights of children in Africa and around the globe.
Leo is a Nigerian human rights advocate who has played leading roles in the Nigerian Humanist Movement, Atheist Alliance International and the Center For Inquiry—Nigeria. For many years he represented IHEU at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and generally in Western and Southern Africa. He specialized in campaigning against child witchcraft accusations and is now researching the topic at the University of Bayreuth in Germany. His exposure of the violence and child abandonment and death that can result from accusations of witchcraft brought him into conflict with high-profile witchcraft believers, such as Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries, whose followers broke up a meeting he was addressing, beat him up and robbed him. His campaigns for human rights have led to him several times being arrested in Nigeria. In 2012, Igwe was appointed as a Research Fellow of the James Randi Educational Foundation, where he continues his work against superstition.