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Leadership: Sam Itauma (CEO & Founder)

PROFILE: SAM IKPE ITAUMA, FIRST AFRICAN ANTI WITCH-KILLING CAMPAIGNER

Sam Ikpe Itauma is the President and Founder, the Child's Right and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN), and the CEO of Itauma Foundation (IFOUND). He started rescuing children considered as pariah when he was a student in the University of Calabar, Nigeria. He has a very strong strong aversion for act of branding children and older people as witches and wizards. Itauma used his school allowance to feed children rejected and abandoned by families for fear of being witchcraft-possessed.

CRARN is a charity group with headquarters in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria and a registered charity in the United States of America. Itauma initiated anti-witch hunt and killings campaign in African in 2000 when he rose to put a stop to the widespread killings of suspected witches, including adults and children in his home state by petitioning the commissioner of police and mobilizing stake-holders to stop the uprising targeted at children and older men. The killings were a re-enactment of the "Inquisition" and the "Salem witch trials." The killings were organized by different groups of irate, frustrated and unemployed youths who formed themselves into different cult groups carrying out what they called "witch cleansing" with the backing of some influential politicians and religious leaders. No fewer than 600 people were killed within a space of two months, while thousands fled their homes.

In 2003 Mr. Itauma rescued three children from the hands of witch-hunters who dragged them to be killed in the nearby by bush close to a market where he lives, because the local sellers believed the children were responsible for their poor sells of goods. He kept the children in his family home for safety while working to reconcile them with their families.

A week later, three orphans who were siblings also arrived at the market to beg for food. They were attacked and tortured but lucky that a woman led them to Sam's family house where other 'witch' children were taking refuge. As the children kept trickling in, as a result of witchcraft stigma and torture, Sam approached the government in 2003 to take the children and keep the government centre. He was told that such children cannot be allowed to mix with normal children. He, therefore, decided to open a place for the abandoned stigmatized children in his hometown; with the help of The Catholic Church and Latter-Day Saint Charities. That was the beginning of CRARN Children Centre. He later added a school called CRARN Academy. His organization, CRARN, continued to rescue the 'witch' abandoned children from the street who were lucky to be alive, as he led the campaign and advocacy to stop the phenomenon. By 2008, rescued children in the CRARN Centre were already gearing up to 300 in number.


Sam Itauma with children at CRARN Centre as they return from school (2015)

Mr. Itauma's campaign received a boost from the United Nation Children Fund (UNICEF) and the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Person and related matters (NAPTIP) a Nigerian Federal Government agency to facilitate the anti-witch-hunt campaign. A research report] done by UNICEF in partnership with CRARN indicates that some religious preachers make a lot of money from deliberately labeling children as witches and wizards with claims of having powers to exorcise them of witchcraft spell while fleecing their parents of their hard earned money. This assertion is confirmed by the UK Observer report] of December, 2007 investigative report:

"Evangelical pastors are helping to create a terrible new campaign of violence against young Nigerians. Children and babies branded as evil are being abused, abandoned and even murdered while the preachers make money out of the fear of their parents and their communities..." The report added that:

"Sam Ikpe Itauma is one of the few people in this area who does not believe what the evangelical 'prophets' are preaching. He opened his house to a few homeless waifs he came across, and now he tries his best to look after 131..." Itauma's works have saved the lives of thousands of children who would have otherwise been buried alive, thrown into the river, locked up in toilet for days to die of hunger or piecemeal, abandoned in the bush, forced to eat a local, poisonous eseri berry, choked or strangled to death. It is estimated that more than 20,000 children might have being stigmatized as witches in Nigeria alone and the number of deaths not ascertained as cases like these are usually not reported to the police for fear of reprisal from the witch-hunters. Even if they are reported, influential men in the society work round the clock to get them off the police hooks.

By 2010, children in the CRARN Centre were already gearing up to 300 in number while more than 600 were reconciled with their parents or reintegrated into the society.

CNN Connect the World reported about Itauma's work in 2010 that:

"Pastors in southeast Nigeria claim illness and poverty are caused by witches who bring terrible misfortune to those around them. And those denounced as witches must be cleansed through deliverance or cast out... A crowd gathered around two brothers and their sister. Tears streamed down their mother's face as she cast out her children from the family, accusing them of causing the premature deaths of two of their siblings with black magic.

"I am afraid. They are witches and they can kill me as well," she sobbed.

The report added: Sam runs Child's Rights and Rehabilitation Network, or CRARN -- an orphanage that supports nearly 200 children. All of them were accused of witchcraft and cast out by their families, often after being tortured. The orphanage provides security, healthcare, nutrition and counseling.

In the course of saving the lives of children and elderly weaklings, Sam has suffered series of attacks in the hands of powerful religious preachers who see his campaign to enlighten the people against false preaching, superstitious belief of witchcraft as a threat to their 'business.' As Dr. Olusegun Fakoya puts it in his article: The Many Faces of Helen Ukpabio.

"The world-wide reaction and publicity that followed the release of the award-winning documentary, 'Saving Africa's Witch Children', has been a source of consternation to those whose activities were exposed by the film. This film demonstrated the scale of the problem caused by the continued labeling of children as witches in South Eastern Nigeria. This practice has brought untold hardship to thousands of children. The burgeoning role of some Pentecostal churches was equally exposed, including their collusion and participation in the lies and untruths which lead children to be stigmatized as witches and later tortured, and which generate huge commercial success.

"Sam Ikpe Itauma of Child Rights and Rehabilitation Centre (CRARN) in Eket, as the enemies that must be crushed. Mr Ukutt, on behalf of the Trustees of Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministry, wrote a threatening letter to both organizations demanding a public and published apology and one billion US Dollars on behalf of his clients. When this failed to achieve the desired reaction, Helen Ukpabio employed the Police to visit CRARN on 3rd July of this year where the aim was to arrest or kidnap Mr Ikpe-Itauma. Failing to achieve this, the policemen beat several of the children including two who required hospitalization." – Dr. Olusegun Fakoya.

In 2007, Itauma carried out a special investigation to discover churches and persons that were in the habit of branding children 'witches' and 'wizards.' He discovered that 90% of the churches were in the practices of identifying children and elderly people as practicing witchcraft which lead to their torturing and death. He also discovered a certain Bishop Samuel Okon William (also known as Bishop Ulup-Aya), who confessed in a 2008 documentary, "Saving Africa's Witch Children" that "I killed 110 people, who were identified to be a witch..." Sam believes that William was telling the truth in his confession or he might have killed more than that, as he was arrested in 2000 and 2002 for wide-spread witch killings and kept in detention for three years without trial. He was later released after as witnesses refused to come forward to testify for fear that his magical power will fortify him from justice. Therefore, when he returns, he would kill them. He, together with his group was always hired to identify witches in part of Oron area.

DIRECTOR ITAUMA FOUNDATION (IFOUND) Though Itauma Foundation was first initiated in 2000, it became overwhelmed by CRARN activities which actually concentrated more on rescuing and supporting 'witch children' in Nigeria. As elderly women and men continued to be branded witches and wizards, mercilessly tortured and more often than not killed. However, as support for such hapless old people were not forthcoming or given attention by any organization or body, Sam Ikpe Itauma saw the need to revive Itauma Foundation (IFOUND), the organization which he used to stop the 2000 cleansing of suspected witches in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria, which actually aimed to protect and support the aged people; educate and enlighten the society on issues relating to superstitions, witchcraft belief, and human right.

Itauma Foundation has it offices in USA and Nigeria with coordinators in Ghana, Zambia and Sierra Leone. These coordinators help in facilitating enlightenment programs aimed to disabusing the minds of people with regards to witchcraft belief, albinism killing as object of lucrative business and work to investigate and report cases of attacks and abuses on aged people and children to enforcement agencies. With cases of witchcraft accusations and assault burgeoning every day, Itauma believes that if groups or individuals do not come forward to address such mounting cases of barbaric attacks on suspected 'witches' and albinos, it is likely to get out of hand. Itauma says that he intends to travel to different parts of Africa to launch massive enlightenment campaigns in the coming years.

"In years to come, I will be in various African countries to put up mega campaign structures that will help to scale down belief in witchcraft and other superstitions..." he'd told the media.

BOOKS/RESEARCH PUBLICATIONS: Several books and research works have been published about Itauma's work. They include, "The Role of a Culture of Superstition in the Proliferation of Religio-Commercial Pastors in Nigeria" By Chima Agazue. "It has become the norm in Nigeria for anyone turning on a radio or television to be greeted by pastors marketing God with testimonies of unverifiable miracles and marketplaces are filled with the religion of noisy preachers with megaphones. Buses and coaches are boarded by mobile pastors claiming that, without their intervention, blood-sucking demons will cause road accidents and attract armed robbers to the travelers. Exorcisms are then conducted and the passengers are expected to pay for these religio-commercial services."

Chima concludes that "...in conjunction with the systematic exploitation of culturally-embedded superstitious beliefs, the true message of Christianity is being perverted by these pastors and it is time for the Nigerian government to find a way of regulating their pervasive activities"

Sentenced in God's Name: The Untold Story of Nigeria's Witch Children - By Chido Onuma

"In the midst of this religious travesty, a few individuals and organizations have taken it upon themselves to support and comfort these hapless children. Of particular interest is Sam Ikpe-Itauma and his Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN) who are in the forefront of rehabilitating these abandoned children who have become social outcasts.

Their burden can only be made lighter by a government response that is not only swift but effective. There is no basis for this violence against children on the strength of Nigeria's obligation to continental and international charters on the rights and welfare of the child...."

Random Reflections: Belief: how absurd and dangerous beliefs have led to atrocities]. By Ikechukwu Nwanze

"Nwanze's book might be considered as a confrontational work against some beliefs and traditions; it is a well-researched and must-read piece that should be seen as a wake-up call to all our religious leaders and their followers in Africa, some of who have taken absurdity to a high and noble level in their beliefs." – The Tide

AWARDS Sam was nominated twice for CNN Hero Award of the Year in 2009 and 2010. 2008 Heroes Award - the National Daily Newspaper, Lagos 2008 Man of the Year Award from Weekly Insight Newspaper, Akwa Ibom State 2009 Children's Right Champion Award from Christech International College, Eket 2009 Best Christian Practice Award from First Love Foundation, Akwa Ibom State 2009 Humanitarian Award, Rotary Club International, District 9140 Eket 2009 Humanitarian Award-AKWA Ibom State Association USA (AKISAN) 2010 Prince of the Niger Delta Children. - Core Oil Community Association, Akwa Ibom State 2010 Humanitarian Award, Eket Development Congress, USA.

SHARED AWARDS for Documentary: Saving Africa's Witch Children: 2009 British Academy (BAFTA) TV Award, UK 2009 Sanford St Martin Religious TV Award, UK 2009 Amnesty International Media Award, UK 2009 One World Media Award, UK 2009 International Emmy Awards, UK.

Sam Itauma has been supported by various individuals, groups and organizations, including UNICEF, Comic Relief, Virgin Atlanta, Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, Akwa Ibom State Government, Zenith Bank, First City Monument Bank (FCMB), Obala Foundation, ExxonMobil, AKISAN, Meal-A-Day, Bristow Helicopters, Catholic Church, Latter-Day Saint Charities, Nigerian Power Bike Association, Mr. /Mrs. Humphry Umemba, Mr. Gus Yepiz & Co,Chief&Mrs. Samuel Willie Edohoeket, Dr. Emem Wills, Capt. Nat Ovuarere etc.

CHILDREN PROTEST MATCH: In August 2008, Sam Itauma with partners led more than 150 'witch' children on a protest match to the government House, Oyo - Nigeria with a demand to pass anti child-witch hunt law. The then Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Chief Godswill Akpabio was handed over a petition signed by more than a thousand people from 30 countries. The was put up by a US-based child's right advocate; Ms. Kelli Stowe. On December 5th 2008, Governor Akpabio signed the Child's Right Bill into law.

"An act to protect our children and posterity: We have come to make a law to protect everything we cherish and value, for it would be completely futile to make the gains we have made in terms of development and progress without preparing the next generation for sustaining our legacy. It should be pointed out that this bill is today being domesticated in Akwa Ibom State and today marks a giant stride for our children"- Governor Godswill Akpabio.

SUPPORT: You can support Sam Itauma's work to save more lives of the vulnerable at CRARN or Itauma Foundation.


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