Leo Igwe should be an inspiration to us all. He is a Nigerian Humanist who stands up to religious extremism (both Muslim and Christian) and tries to protect children from religious-inspired child abuse...and for his pains he has been beaten, harrassed by police and frivolous lawsuits, and now his family has been attacked.
I am proud to have recruited Leo as a regular blogger on Culture Kitchen where he has written many fascinating pieces on religious extremism and superstition in Africa and how they impede African progress. I read all his pieces and learn a great deal from them. But I also worry about him. Most of us can blog all we want without endangering ourselves or our families. Leo cannot. He has chosen to speak truth to power at the risk of himself and his family. Would I be so brave in his shoes? More below (update at bottom).
This is from Leo's latest Culture Kitchen piece:
Around midnight of Wednesday August 4 2010,two gunmen invaded my family house in Mbaise in Imo state in Southern Nigeria. They shot twice in the air and my other fainted.Theylater descended on my aging father and started beating him. They blindfolded him with a piece of cloth and hit him several times with stones.
He later fainted and the hoodlums ransacked the whole house and made away with whatever they found valuable. My father bled from the right eye, nose and mouth. He had bruises on his head, hands, legs and chest. After the attack, some neighbours came and rushed him to a nearby hospital. From there, I moved him to an eye hospital in Lagos where the doctor confirmed that he had extensive injuries in the right eye and recommended that it be removed. Yesterday, August 11, 2010, he underwent a surgery and the right eye was removed. He is currently recuperating at the hospital. I called the police to inform them. And they said I should send a formal petition .
This attack is the latest in the vicious campaign of harassment and intimidation of me and my family members by state and non state actors for our efforts to bring to justice a 50 year old man, Edward Uwa who raped a 10 year old girl Daberechi, in my community. Since 2007, Edward and his associate, Ethelbert Ugwu have brought several police and court actions against me, my family members and our witnesses including Daberechi’s father. They have brought many fictitious allegations against us. In January, they brought police officers and soldiers and arrested me and my father for murder. In 2008 Ethelbert Ugwu brought some soldiers who who arrested brutalized and detained my two brother at a local police in Ahiazu.
Unfortunately, the authorities in Nigeria are not helping matters. They have refused taking appropriate actions against Edward and Ethelbert. The police and judicial systems are corrupt, inept and ineffective. Police officers are only interested in making money from petitions, not in fighting or preventing crimes. And the court system is slow and expensive. So in Nigeria police and court actions are used by criminally minded people to harass and intimidate others,and block access to justice particularly for the poor and less privileged.
The local police stations in Ahiazu and Umuahia have refused arraigning Edward and Ethelbert for misinforming the police. The police in Zone 9 have yet to publish the outcome of the investigation of the murder charge brought by Ethelbert Ugwu and Edward Uwa for which they arrested me in January. Right now the prosecution of Edward for indecent assault is stalled because the Assistant Inspector General of Police in Umuahia, Abubakar Ringim has refused releasing the case file to Imo state prosecutor despite several applications to that respect. The state prosecutor decided to take over the prosecution after Ethelbert Ugwu got a fraudulent fiat through a local lawyer to take over the case. The police prosecutor is no longer coming to the court and the local magistrate has threatened to strike out the case in October. Ethelbert and Edward have filed five civil suits against me, my family members and witnesses. In March, the court ruled against us in one of the suits brought by Edward for police harassment because the police did not appear in court. We are currently appealing the ruling. Since 2007 members of my family and other innocent people in my community have suffered and endured attacks, harassment and intimidation by Edward, Ethelbert and their police, soldiers and thugs.
And the state authorities have done little or nothing to address the situation.
WHAT WE CAN DO
These issues must be raised with the Nigerian authorities at the highest level. They should be kept on the front burner of international relations and human rights advocacy until the Nigerian authorities take appropriate actions. The Nigerian government must be made to understand that the international community is aware of the facts of this case. And that the world is outraged at the way they are handling it. The human rights community should join hands with the IHEU in bringing this disturbing trend to the attention of the world.
But this isn't the first time Leo has faced physical attacks nor is Edward Uwa the only enemy he has made who has attacked him. About a year ago I wrote about an earlier attack where an extremist Christian cult that Leo was exposing for child abuse physically attacked him. From that earlier article:
I only noticed this through an indirect route. His name came up in a discussion on Kiva I came across for other reasons. But it seems on July 30th, Leo Igwe, who sometimes writes articles for Culture Kitchen, was attacked by a mob in Nigeria. This is from a letter written by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (which Leo works for) the Nigerian High Commission in the UK:
According to an eye-witness account, about two hundred members of Liberty Gospel Church stormed the venue of the symposium on Thursday, 30 July. They attacked Mr Igwe, took his bag, his camera and his mobile phone as well as destroying his spectacles. Liberty Gospel Church, led by Helen Akpabio, has been alleged to have held ‘trials’ of children suspected of being witches and many of these children have been killed after having been found guilty by such ‘trials’.
And from an article on AllAfrica.com:
In another development, Stepping Stones, a UK-based NGO has alleged that Helen Ukpabio's campaign of terror against children and those committed to fighting for their rights took a new turn last week when a large group of her supporters raided a child rights conference in Calabar and attacked a number of the delegates. The conference, which was on the theme of "Child Rights and Witchcraft", had been organised by the Nigerian Humanist Movement and the UK charity Stepping Stones Nigeria in response to the widespread abandonment, torture and killing of children in Akwa Ibom and Cross River States due to the
belief in child 'witches'. As the day began, at around 10.30 am, a group of religious extremists dressed in orange raided the venue and began protesting loudly.
The extremists, who are believed to be members of Helen Ukpabio's Church, Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries, were carrying a number of banners with slogans such as, "We give freedom to the witches" and "Stepping Stone is not a registered organisation". Eventually, after an hour and a half, the police turned up and dispersed the mob. One person was arrested.
The conference co-ordinator Leo Igwe, the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Humanist Movement, was viciously beaten during the attack and had his phone and camera stolen by the angry mob. Speaking after the event Leo said: "The conference was a peaceful meeting for people to openly debate what could be done to prevent the abuse of child rights linked to the belief in witchcraft. This attack by Helen Ukpabio's supporters once again highlights the depravity of this so-called "woman of God". Such false prophets should be immediately arrested and prosecuted under the child rights Act".
Leo's most recent posts on Culture Kitchen dealt with this topic. You can read about it in the following articles:
When I wrote that I didn't know Leo's condition after the attack and was genuinely concerned for him...of course I have often found myself worried about him if I haven't seen one of his articles for some time. Fortunately I heard from him directly within a month of that attack. And he has since been right back in the saddle taking on the same religious fanatics and advocating reason and human rights in Nigeria. This latest attack, almost exactly a year after the previous one, shows what bloggers in other parts of the world face when they try to do exactly what you and I are used to doing: using our words to advocate for freedom and to help others. Leo happens to be someone I know. I have never met him personally but we have corresponded by email for years now and his presence, at my invitation, at Culture Kitchen has given Culture Kitchen some of its best articles.
I hope the Daily Kos communitee can help a fellow blogger in need. Write to the Nigerian Embassy to let them know that the international community is aware of these attacks on Leo and his family. Support the IHEU which helps Leo's work. And perhaps most importantly, read Leo's articles and learn about what he and a small group of people are trying to do in Africa to promote reason, tolerance and human rights. And spread the word about what Leo is trying to do. Last time he was attacked I asked him what I could do to help from halfway around the world. All he asked me to do is help him spread the word about what he is trying to do. Hope you all can help out.
Update [2010-8-13 20:17:58 by mole333]: The following comes from the IHEU website:
IHEU has protested to the Nigerian government about the brutal persecution of Leo Igwe, IHEU Representative for West Africa, and his family. Igwe and members of his family have been subjected to a sustained campaign of harassment by Nigerian police, soldiers and criminals. The latest attack, on August 4, resulted in grievous injuries to Leo’s elderly father, who lost an eye as a result. The harassment is the result of the Igwes’ efforts to bring to justice a powerful local man accused of raping a ten year old girl.
IHEU’s letter of protest to the Nigerian is reproduced below:
H.E. President Goodluck Jonathan
President of Nigeria
Nigeria Brussels, 7 August 2010
The delegates to the General Assembly of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, meeting in Brussels from 5th to 7th August 2010 wish to bring to your attention the systematic harassment suffered for the past three years by our representative for West Africa, Mr Leo Igwe, and members of his family by criminal elements, aided and abetted by the police and public officials in Mbaise in Imo State.
Mr Igwe and members of his family have been arrested or detained for questioning on at least eight separate occasions, they have been subjected to physical beatings, their home has been raided by armed police and Mr Igwe has been falsely charged with murder. All of these incidents occurred after Mr Igwe, a well-known human rights activist, was approached in 2007 by the family of a 10 year old girl rape victim and asked to help bring the rapist to justice.
In an attempt to pervert the course of justice, supporters of the rapist have bribed the police to harass Mr Igwe, the police claim to have lost written testimony describing the rape, and have failed to hand over the file to the State Prosecutor.
In the latest incident on 5th August Mr Igwe’s father who is in his 70s and in poor health was attacked by two gunmen in his home and beaten unconscious with rocks. He is now in serious condition in hospital.
Despite calls to the police commissioner by officials of this organization, the harassment continues.
We appeal to Your Excellency to urgently look into this matter and to use your good offices to end the harassment and bring the perpetrators to justice.
President, International Humanist and Ethical Union
Cc : Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs
Nigerian Federal Minister for Justice
Nigerian Federal Inspector General of Police
Commissioner for Justice, Imo State
And more from IHEU:
Help defend Leo Igwe
Submitted by Matt on 1 July, 2010 - 13:55
IHEUis seeking donations to its Human Rights Defense Fund to help cover legal fees for Leo Igwe, IHEU’s Representative in West Africa. Mr. Igwe and members of his family have been subjected to a sustained campaign of harassment by local police involving multiple arrests on unsubstantiated charges. Disponibile anche in italiano - vedi sotto
The campaign of harassment arose from Leo’s campaign to bring to justice a powerful local man accused of rape by a ten year old girl. The accused rapist is now facing trial, but he has enough money and influence in a notoriously corrupt legal system to persuade police to harass the Igwe family. Leo Igwe’s father, who is a 77 year old diabetic in failing health, has been arrested six times on false charges since 2007. Two of Leo’s brothers have been detained three times each in connection with the same case.
On January 9, 2010, Sonja Eggerickx, president of IHEU, wrote to the president of Nigeria, as well as the Nigerian attorney general, minister for the police, and the local governor to request an end the police harassment of Leo Igwe and his family. In March 2010, the IHEU raised the Igwes’ case, and the persecution of human rights defenders in general, at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Nonetheless, Leo Igwe continues to incur substantial legal fees defending himself and his family from these malicious prosecutions.
Commenting on the case, IHEU president Sonja Eggerickx said, "Leo is fearless and selfless in fighting for justice for others. He is never afraid to speak truth to power, even when he is the lone voice and knows that the powerful may hurt him. It is up to the global Humanistcommunity to show that he does not stand alone and that we will work together to ensure justice for him."
Please make a donation now by clicking on the credit card logo on any page of this web site. To ensure that your donation is allocated to the work of IHEU representatives, please send us a message using our contact form, with the text "My donation for GBP (amount) is for the Defence Fund. (Your full name.)"
If IHEU receives more money than is needed for Leo Igwe’s defence, the surplus will be used by the IHEU Human Rights Defence Fund to support other Humanists who are being persecuted for championing their beliefs.
Help any way you can.