Helen Ukpabio is the founder of Liberty Gospel Church. She is noted for her preaching which focuses on delivering people from witchcraft, but ever since the documentary on how children branded witches by pastors in Akwa Ibom are maltreated, the evangelist has been at the centre of the storm following allegation that her movies encourage the stigmatisation of witches. She spoke on this issue with Emmanuel Uffot, assistant editor Excerpts

There are lots of write-ups posted on the Internet saying your film, ‘End of the Wicked’ promoted the branding of children as witches in Akwa Ibom State.

Ukpabio: End of the Wicked came out in 1999. It is surprising that nine years after, somebody is having a problem with a film that has delivered a lot of families. The story line of End of the Wicked has nothing to do with children. The film simply says if a child is greedy – the type that says give me this, give me that, give me puff-puff, akara or sweet in school, he or she could be easily contaminated with witchcraft. So, saying that the film branded children witches, I didn’t see the people that the film branded witches. Rather, we saw children who were greedy and were contaminated by other children who were witches in the school. That is what the film did. It is worrisome that people can be carried away just because of one wizard. Itauma is a wizard and is trying to preserve the posterity of witches, such that in the near future, Akwa Ibom will become useless.

So, if he says that the film branded children witches, I don’t know about that. Is it people that the film branded witches that are in his orphanage that has suddenly turned into home for witchcraft children? He has been running that thing as orphanage but suddenly, because the United Kingdom government voted so much money to fight child abuse over the problem that the Congolese government had with children, he decided to tap into it.

Did you say his Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network centre was an orphanage?

Ukpabio: You know that in Nigeria people are very smart. He has now turned those children to become witches for the sake of money. Let it be so for him and whoever is supporting him. I don’t see anything in End of the Wicked that brands a child a witch. I have even seen a child that says to the mother, ‘I am a witch’ and the mother did not kill him. The mother took no action. There is witchcraft in Nigeria. There is witchcraft in Africa. There is witchcraft all over the world. So I will not join the campaign that says there is no witchcraft, because that is the devil speaking. And when the devil speaks, he makes a lot of people powerless and intimidates them. So I am not going to be part of that campaign. There are witches and those witches have to be delivered as they come for it.

You have been conducting deliverance for these people. It is alleged that you charge a fee for their deliverance. Do you?

Ukpabio: I do my deliverance every year. I wonder why people don’t walk in to see for themselves. How would I charge a fee? In my deliverance service, people could be up to 1,000. So, I will be telling them, if you are coming for deliverance, pay or what? If I charge, what name do I call the money? Deliverance fee or what? I don’t understand. Somebody should be able to say, “when I went to her church, she said, I should pay this or that amount.” Without being boastful but trying to be very modest, I have conducted deliverance for well over 20,000 people on this issue of witchcraft without charging a dime. In April 2004, I spent N18 million to hold a programme of witch deliverance at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos. I posted 16 billboards, did 20,000 giant posters and 150 banners that were erected on streets. I hired a house, I hired the stadium, I hired their generating set and it was consuming two drums of fuel everyday. I chartered vehicles for about 1,000 members of our church from Cross River and Akwa Ibom states. I did not go and pick anybody and say you are a witch. But when we got there, people flooded the place. People came all the way from Abeokuta. One woman said, “I have five witchcraft in me, madam please deliver me.” She came with the son and said “this my son will never have a child because of what I did, the other son of mine is in the UK. He will never marry or be stable. He will just be wasting his money. I am an Alhaja, I have a witchcraft I took from Mecca.” So what should I have told her, that you are not a witch?

Do people invite you to conduct witchcraft deliverance programme for them?

Ukpabio: We plan our own programmes but often people come to request. Somebody went to my pastor in Abuja, Excellence Sambo, and said “witches will kill us all in the village. Please tell your madam to come and hold deliverance programme for us.” I said where and he said in Benue State. I said so I should carry my money and come to do the deliverance? The man brought one million naira to carry the choir members, rent a place for the programme and hire some equipment. The money was not enough I added N300, 000 to it. And behold a lot of people came out, adults, old men and women and I conducted deliverance for all of them. Today, they are happy with their lives. Now, that is what Akwa Ibom State should have done. Akwa Ibom State has somebody that can handle witchcraft matters but the state is busy trying to call the light they have darkness. The man that said that he killed children, what have they done to him? Have they projected his name? It is me that they are projecting in bad light.

The man is now in detention.

Ukpabio: I don’t care about that. The man’s name is not known. I went to London and was almost killed because of the lies that BBC, Channel O4, told the world about me. We have been able to solve a lot of witchcraft problems, we know there is this problem on ground. But who is genuine? That there is a counterfeit coin does not mean that there is no genuine one. You can speak against the counterfeit but allow the genuine one to continue.

You have just told me that my name is being projected; they have not pinpointed anyone that says ‘Helen said I am a witch, I should be tortured and should be killed. How can I do that when the power to cast out demons has been given to me? We don’t use carnal weapons to cast out demons. So when you bring in money, pay money, it means it is carnal weapon and is no longer from God. When in trying to cast out demons you used cane on somebody, then it is no longer spiritual. When you cast out demons and use matchet or nail, then it is no longer spiritual. In our church, we do not even use olive oil. I don’t like it. There is a book I am writing on Inconveniencing the Devil. It is criticising the use of addictives. There are churches that ask people to bring cloth, oil and other things for prayers, we don’t.

What support are you receiving from fellow ministers of God in this crusade against witchcraft?

Ukpabio : You people missed it. What I do is preach the gospel. Now you cannot preach the true gospel without casting out demons. And you don’t need the support of anybody because nobody sent you but God. In fact, other ministers of God say to me, “you have tried. That thing is hard –o. They can kill your children.” They tell me that when they tried it, their children took ill and they withdrew. It is battling the powers of darkness. And the powers of darkness see that you have conquered them spiritually, they bring the battle physically. I think it is what I am seeing now. Because branding children witches, does not exist for me. Asking parents to give money, I am just hearing that recently. Since I started my ministry in 1992, I have never had a scandal. I have members of my church who are in top positions in government. They should have reacted since. People should come to the church to see what we are doing.

The issue is not only that of branding kids witches, but also the dehumanised treatment meted out to them.

Ukpabio: Where do they see the children, because I don’t see even one?

There is a girl with a big scar on her head. The wound was said to have been caused by a nail driven to her head with the intension of killing her after being branded a witch.

Ukpabio: Who put the nail? Who did they say put the nail on her head?

It is part of the maltreatment of the children said to be witches.

Ukpabio: By who?

The parents and the communities at the instance of the prophecy of the pastors, so we learnt.

Ukpabio: Now, why don’t they show the parents so that, people will believe that this story is true. The government has the machinery to contact the parents of these children and find out. Why is the government acting on speculations and rumours?

Do you agree with the figure given by the arrested pastor that there are 2.3 million witches in Akwa Ibom state?

Ukpabio: I am not part of those speculations. I do not practice spiritism. So I will not seek the voice of demons. I am a child of God and I speak the voice of God. I don’t want to be part of what they are saying. Then, if that is what they claimed the pastor said why am I the target?

It is said that when the foreign journalist came,they sought interview with you on this matter but you declined. Why did you do that?

Ukpabio: When they came to interview me here, I said to them you have seen a lot of things on the Internet, are you coming on account of that? They said no and lied that Cletus Bassey, an apostle and chairman, Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria in Akwa Ibom told them that I was looking for money. But Bassey who had invited Angela Ashong, another prominent Uyo-based preacher, to join him in his interview with them said they never mentioned me until towards the end of the interview when they said End of the Wicked encourages people to call their children witches. Bassey said he told them he has not watched the film but that he believed in what I was doing.

Nobody says you torture or kill children. I did not read that on the Internet but they argue that your mode of preaching and your film promoted the current crusade targeting children in the name of a pastor having prophesied that they are witches.

Ukpabio: But why are they targeting me? Ever since the documentary, people have sent all kinds of mails to me calling me names, maligning my image. Some have tagged me “A bloody murderer”, that God will punish me, that my end will be sad and terrible sorts of abuses and curses you can think of. I have asked my lawyers to write to the BBC and The Guardian of London.

What really happened in London? We heard you were harassed at the airport during your recent visit.

Ukpabio: They almost mobbed me in London when I arrived on November 13, after the people watched the mischievous documentary by BBC Channel O4 which was aired for two hours on the night of November 12. I arrived Heathrow Airport on 13 and as I walked pass to pick a taxi, somebody stopped and said, “You are Helen, right?” when I said “yes”, she went on, “You are very wicked. You kill children in Nigeria. Oh my God. You are the real devil. They were showing you on TV yesterday. As she was talking, a crowd gathered and all the people were very angry. They almost killed me in London. One man rescued me. He and his wife told the mob that they watched my film, End of the Wicked and that it was the same film that helped deliver his family from a lot of problems. He called the wife and asked where in the film they tortured children. The woman said there was no such thing. They man put me in a taxi and said I should leave the place immediately.

When I got to the hotel, I decided to find a shop and buy recharge card for my phone. Again, another girl, this time a Nigerian screamed, “Oh you, you parade yourself as an evangelist but you kill children. God will punish you. She now called her friend and before we knew it, people gathered. I left them. When I went to another shop to get some materials for the programme, another girl saw me and said, “Helen? Oh those children, those children, how do you sleep?” As she was talking, other customers gathered and said but we have watched her film. We did not see any torture or killing or harm on children, that was how I was able to get out of the shop. I had to cut my stay short in London. I left just after three days and left for Los Angeles. There the same scenario repeated itself.

When I got there, I went to a shop to buy something. What I saw was horrible. Someone said she watched a documentary on me and I asked what she saw and she said they said that you promote the killing of children. I asked whether they showed me speaking. Whether they said I kill, torture, starve them and she said no. I asked what they said, she replied that they said I refused to grant them interview. I told them how the woman said End of the Wicked is a horrible film and I now asked her, “How about the reporter? She did not talk about children, she just said that it was a horrible film, and I asked whether it was worse than the Reporter. In the Reporter, they initiate villagers into witchcraft. I told her that I don’t give in to the whites. When people come to interview me, I believe that they should respect me in my land. Can our journalists easily have access to them? Why are those in authority giving more attention to foreigners? People are using us to make name abroad. No, they won’t use me to make name. I won’t allow it. If you want to make your name abroad, use some other avenues don’t use me, I am called by God. I am ordained and commissioned by God to do what I am doing for humanity.

They said most of your movies are on witchcraft.

Ukpabio: I have done 21 movies. My movie story lines are either on deliverance or evangelism. Those are the two aspects I write. So when you hear of another Helen Ukpabio story, it is ordinary evangelism story. When you hear Helen Ukpabio revelation they have to do with mystery, and witchcraft is a mystery.

What have you to say about the torture of witches?

Ukpabio: I am not in support of the torture of witches whether adult or children. I don’t subscribe to that. I have well over 10,000 children in my ministry and they are being handled the way children should be. I have done a film called, Child Rescue in 2001. Itauma has not watched that film. In the film, I said if you have any problem and are tortured anywhere, call me or come to this address. I put the address there at the end of the film.

Most Pentecostal pastors are preaching about destiny, prosperity and miracle, what informed your focus on deliverance, particularly from witchcraft?

Ukpabio: God sent me to go and deliver the people. When he called me, he told me that very soon people would no longer be committed to God; they would rate themselves like the people of the world. They will want to acquire wealth like the people of the world. They will want to be like them in appearance. There was an article in the newspaper when Ekaette Ufot, now a senator, was advocating for a bill to check indecent dressing by women. Her greatest critics were so-called Pentecostal women Christians.

Are you disturbed by the plan by the Akwa Ibom State government to clamp down on churches that preach the existence of witches and brand children witches?

Ukpabio : Helen Ukpabio is not disturbed by any plan by government to clamp down on churches that brand children witches, but if there are such churches, that is their own. I am only angry that the government of Akwa Ibom State is projecting me negatively in foreign media. I am a daughter of the soil and I am doing many good things for my people. I have 149 churches in Nigeria and over 50,000 members. We have three churches each in Lagos and Abuja. We have at 102 Adetola Street, Aguda. We have at Ogba bus stop and at Okokomaiko, all in Lagos; you can walk into our churches and find out things for yourself.

What do you have to say about the Child Rights Act passed recently by the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly at the instance of the governor?

Ukpabio: I believe in that but my only reservation is whether government will have the willpower and sincerity to implement it.

How did your calling come looking at your background?

Ukpabio: Well, it is not something that somebody can really explain. I was a nurse then in 1989 and I had a vision that actually lasted for two weeks. And if I wanted to pray, I would be interrupted in the spirit and the Lord would show me people who are into witchcraft and how they invaded homes and churches killing people. And pastors did not have solution to witchcraft matters. If a pastor knew that the elder was a witch, he would rather worship the elder. If Akwa Ibom now says there is no witch in their midst, they got it wrong. I will not accept it. I will make sure that I fight witchcraft in Akwa Ibom until I deliver the witches. If you don’t deliver a witch, the family can never be at peace.