Akwa Ibom Witchcraft Panel Finally In London

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The Akwa Ibom “witchcraft” panel set up by the state government to investigate all forms of child abuse and neglect relating to issues of child “witchcraft” in the state, has finally arrived in the United Kingdom.  It is supposed to hold sittings at the Nigeria High Commission.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it has emerged that members of the panel may be more interested in the travel allowances associated with the trip than the actual “assignment” that has taken them to London.  Panel members and state officials accompanying them are set to enjoy enhanced estacodes as their stay in London has been extended.  They cancelled public sittings scheduled for yesterday and today without any obvious justification.
SaharaReporters gathered that the Commission was scheduled to arrive in London on May 1 and hold sittings for 3rd and 4th May but in a desperate ploy to earn more travel allowances, the Commission inexplicably shifted today’s sittings, thereby accumulating extra days in London, including the weekend.
The London trip has attracted widespread criticism from political observers and child rights activists who see the trip as a scandalous waste of public funds that would have been better channeled into the welfare of thousands of children in the state who are stigmatized and abandoned on grounds of witchcraft allegations.  Many of them are currently in various private and public orphanages but are not adequately cared for.  
Analysts have questioned the rationale and consequence of the London trip with reference to the plight of Akwa Ibom’s stigmatised children especially those being supported entirely by the NGO’s.  Those organizations have voluntarily turned in their account books for scrutiny.
“It is absolutely a waste of time and money to move the commission to London even when the UK charity has pledged to make all information available and even offered to appear before the panel in Nigeria and said that its accounts were public documents as statutorily required under British laws,” said Akpan Ndiong, a Child Rights Activist.
He reflected: “What new information would they get that is not readily available: the funds they will spend on the trip would have improved the condition of these children!  One would then ask, whose interests are the Commission and its members protecting, is it not to use the stigmatised children to accumulate estacode?” 
A member of the commission, Barrister Mrs. Theresa Obot, who also serves as the director of Akwa Ibom State Family Court, reportedly objected to the London trip and indeed opted out but she was said to have been pressurized by Justice Abraham, the Commission chair, and other members of the panel.
Obot, who maintained that the trip was a waste of public funds, had to soft-pedal when the commission members told her that the trip would only be for ‘few days’.
But on getting to London, the panel reverted to its earlier plan calculated to enrich government officials on the trip including Akwa Ibom Attorney General Ekpenyong Ntekim.
The Commission was earlier billed to spend one week in London to listen to the testimony of Stepping Stones Nigeria (SSN), the much-maligned United Kingdom based charity organization.  The Akwa Ibom state government frequently accuses SSN of exaggerating the child witch syndrome in Akwa Ibom; they have also claimed the organization had engaged in fraud.
Governor Godswill Akpabio had ordered the arrest of officials of Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network and SSN in September 2010 during a radio phone-in programme while reacting to a news report by Cable News Network (CNN).  He accused the NGO of exaggerating the child witch syndrome in the state for monetary gain.
The panel is also expected to visit the Charity Commission of United Kingdom and Wales to verify the amount of donations received by the Non Government Organisation, SSN.
Checks by SaharaReporters indicate that the Commission has had a chequered history of requesting deadline extensions request from Governor Akpabio, whose intention is to use the Commission to nail ‘enemies,’ that have embarrassed his government by drawing attention to the child witch syndrome.  He has always granted those requests.  The panel was initially given a six week deadline on inauguration in January, but that has been shifted three times already, with “volume of work” being cited as the justification.
Sahara Reporters sources at the Nigerian High Commission said that the venue of tomorrow’s sitting had yet to be determined.  That, again, may signal further postponements that Governor Akpabio’s bloated delegation is certain to be happy about.

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