A forty-year-old man, John Friday Akpan, from Akwa Ibom State but resident in Calabar, the Cross River State capital, is now explaining to the police how he allegedly heeded the advice of a herbalist, one Dr Okokon, and tagged his two children, Elisha Udobong and Esther, as witches.
Akpan, who allegedly subjected the two children, aged 12 and 6 respectively, to harrowing treatment by nailing them to a plank and locking them up without food for days, was said to have told the police the children took his money to their “master in the witchcraft world and therefore deserved no mercy”.
The children, whose emaciated and dirty appearance replicated the images of starving children in famine ravaged Somalia and war torn Sudan following weeks of starvation, said they survived on water supplied by one of the man’s kids by another woman. “Our sister, Peace, usually brought us water inside the hut when our father and our mother had gone out”, Esther said.
The father, the kids said, used to reside in Akpabuyo with the family where he sent them to a private school, Regent Nursery and Primary School, Ikot Nkanda, but when their mother died and the man took another wife, Iquo, the story changed.
Elisha, in JSS1, said: “My mother (stepmother ) said the woman who used to live near our house in Akpabuyo gave us food and she put something in the food and when we ate it we changed to birds at night and took out father’s money to our master in the witchcraft world”.
According to the boy, he was alleged to have taken 4 000 naira while Esther took 2000 and that angered their father and step mother who started beating them and denying them food “because they said we took the money to our master”.
The maltreatment became worse when they relocated to Calabar and took up residence at 23 Akpandem Street, off Edim Otop Street at the municipality.
“He (father) nailed us to one big plank and beat us that we should bring back the money but we had no money to give to him”, Esther said.
Unable to get back his money from the children, Akpan allegedly went for the final onslaught against the kids by locking them up in an abandoned hut where he lived so that they could die.
“When the situation became too bad, neighbours, worried that the children may die and the police descend on them, raised the alarm and reported to the police at the Airport Division who swooped on the parents and got them arrested”, Mr James Ibor, a child rights activist, told Sunday Vanguard.
He said the DPO of the Airport Division called him “at about 11 am on Friday, March 8 that there was another case of children stigmatisation as witches and I went to the station and behold, what I saw made me weep”.
Ibori said the children were so hungry and weak that it was apparent that they would have died if they had not, been rescued.
“They were so weak that we had to give them water first, then some fruits; even at that the system of the girl could not accommodate the fruits and she had to visit the toilet a few minute after she ate the banana I gave to them”.
DSP John Umoh, the spokesman of the Cross River State Police Command, said efforts were on to arrest Okokon the herbalist so that “he and the parents can appear in court to answer charges on felony”.