Leo Igwe: Nigerian Advocate for Child “Witches”

Yesterday saw the savage beating death of well known Ugandan gay/human rights activist David Kato. In my short post on the event, I briefly mentioned Leo Igwe, a humanist/atheist and human rights activist in Nigeria.

Leo is affiliated with the British Humanist Association and has been a tireless fighter for atheist rights, advocate for children who have been accused of witchcraft and abused and a fighter against for-profit Christian groups which incite abuse and violence. In the course of his fight, he has been verbally and publicly attacked, physically assaulted and arrested and jailed numerous times.

The most recent arrest involved an 8 year old girl who had been accused of witchcraft, forced into sexual slavery and repeatedly raped by a man more than four times her age. Igwe and his team went with police to extract the girl from her horrific living situation. After attempting to take the girl to a clinic, Igwe was arrested for kidnapping, beaten tortured and jailed. He was later released but not after sustaining injuries to his head and hands. The fate of the girl is unknown.

This timing of the arrest is interesting. Just the day before, Igwe was scheduled to testify before a commission on child witchcraft accusations. It appears that the governor of Igwe’s region, who initially supported Igwe’s group’s actions, has caved to the demands of local evangelical groups. It is thought that the governor, Godswill Akpabio, ordered the arrest in the hopes of silencing Igwe.

Of course, as with American evangelistic groups, religious leaders in Nigeria profit from maintaining belief in a religious war between God and evil spirits. Persons who challenge this fundamental assumption are marginalized, threatened and framed as a common enemy to rally around and insure the financial security of bogus religious leaders. Fortunately, violent events in the name of religion are becoming a rarity in the US, despite having a long and bloody history. Religiously swayed politics and divisive, hateful and dangerous rhetoric from religious groups still carries on in both countries, however.

There are not words to describe the horror of African child witchcraft accusations. Children are abandoned by their families, abused, raped, killed, and worse, sometimes brutally maimed. AP reported last year on a 9 year old boy who had been doused in acid by his father, who believed the child to be a witch.

A much more detailed set of reports on Igwe and child witchraft accusations is at Richard Bartholomew’s blog.

MakeaPACT.org, an advocacy group for children who have been accused of witchcraft, have a website here.

Below is a video of a local (but very powerful) evangelical group invading and attacking a Nigerian Humanist Conference. Spreading Jesus’ word, indeed…..

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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

2 responses to “Leo Igwe: Nigerian Advocate for Child “Witches””

  1. renxkyoko says :

    This kind of news makes me angry, and it’s 6:55 AM. I’m not supposed to be angry at this time of the day. If Jesus were alive today, and living in Nigeria, he’d be killed too by these fundamentalist Christians.

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