Stepping Stones Nigeria’s Director Attempts Corrupt Deal With Ex-AG.
Strong facts have immerged indicating that the Programme Director of Stepping Stones Nigeria (SSN) Mr Gary Foxcroft approached the immediate past Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, of Akwa Ibom State, Bar Ekpenyong Ntekim with N15m to assist him to lobby the governor of Akwa Ibom State Chief Goodwill Akpabio to reverse its resolve to blacklist the UK charity organisation which claims to be one of the organisations that protect the right of children branded witches in Akwa Ibom State and other parts of Nigeria.
An impeccable source in London revealed that cold tremor was in the atmosphere after an investigative report was published in different dailies which showed how Stepping Stones Nigeria kept children in an unprotected, unroofed and filthy abandoned hotel apartment; and an open shack, in the ambience of the Eket sport stadium, while claiming to take good care of them and using them to solicit for funds to line their pockets.
This news did not however go down well with the SSN boss as the Akwa Ibom State government responded swiftly to the report and rescued the children from the hazard prone locations of the Stepping Stones Nigeria. In a press release written by Mr Foxcroft and jointly signed by the SSN attorney, Barr James Ibor and Mr Lucky Imo-Inyang, Program Director of the Nigeriaarm of SSN called Stepping Stones Nigeria Child Empowerment Foundation (SSNCEF) accused Akwa Ibom government of abducting children in their 'care'. This development severely infuriated the government which moved to blacklist the UK charity and distanced itself from the organisation's activities, in Akwa Ibom State.
'It is evil for any organisation to keep children in unsafe and unprotected place where those children are abused, raped, impregnated on a daily basis, and trafficked out and without protection while sitting in UK to make money in their name… Government cannot fold its arm and see how this goes on unabated. We have to act and rescue the children from the hands of their predators where Stepping Stones Nigeria claims to care for them,' the statement said.
In view of the foregoing, Mr Foxcroft therefore approached the former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Ekpenyong Ntekim while in London on a trip with the Commission of Inquiry into Witchcraft Accusation and Child Abuse which went to get testimony from him on his organisation activities with children of Akwa Ibom State. The source said the SSN boss pledged to ditch out N15m if the former AG, now Commissioner for Transportation, succeeded in persuading the governor, and create an enabling environment for him to meet with governor.
Reports strongly indicate that Gary Foxcroft had arrived Nigeriatwo weeks later to meet the ex-AG for the sordid deal. But the AG's inability to convince the governor to pave way for the Briton to have a dialogue with the governor is giving serious cause for concern; as it was likely that the ex AG was be very busy in Abuja then jostling for ministerial appointment which did not however, yield dividend. It is therefore unlikely that the fund for the deal was released by Foxcroft as hope to meet the governor finally crashed.
It will be recalled that the child witch Panel which had its sitting in Uyo was already rounding up its assignment when Ntekim strongly persuaded the chairman to relocate its sitting to London. Though the chairman of the Commission, Justice Godwin Abraham had initially asked his members of their opinion, a source from the Commission said the secretary of the then commission, Barr. Theresa Obot, the commission's secretary had raised a strong objection to taking the Commission to Londonas there was 'nothing practical to be done in the overseas trip' which was widely described as a goose chase by analysts. But the strong persuasion of Ntekim did not allow the good sense of reasoning of Mrs Obot to prevail even as she refused to accept the bogus cheque dangled to each member as hotel and feeding allowance for the four days trip.
A legal practitioner in the State, Barr Jude Ekere, expressed surprise at the arrival of Mr Foxcroft to AkwaIbom Statetwo weeks after the Commission of Inquiry into Witchcraft Accusation and Child Abuse left London. He argued that ''...for a man who said no place in Nigeria was saved for him to stay even a day for the interview to be conducted could suddenly arrived and stayed for three weeks leaves a lot to be desired.''
Foxcroft left Uyo for Uquo, in Esit Eket where he visited Stepping Stones Model School (SSMS), a school which was initially built for stigmatised and abandoned children but strategically converted to a private school which charges fees 70% higher than the highest paid private school in the entire area. The Uquo community in a petition letter written to the chairman of Esit Eket Local Government Chairman, Pastor Victor Isanghedighe called on the Chairman to urge Foxcroft to reduce the amount of tuition fees being paid by pupils of the school, even as it described it as ''a huge exploitation,'' or risk their wrath
The petition states in parts, “The school is advertised in the Stepping Stones Nigeria's website as a charity school for less privilege children of Esit Eket Community where only a small amount is paid by 30% of the pupils. And the children too are advertised in their website and used to solicit for fund. This is unacceptable!'' the petition maintained.
As the deal of persuading the governor did not work out, Foxcroft who was accompanied to Nigeria by the Director of Street Invest and new Stepping Stones Nigeria's Chair of Trustees, Ms Felix Holman headed for Abuja where they organised a Film show for oil exploration and children of Nigeria at a Silver Bird Auditorium which witnessed an abysmal attendance due to the cynicism that is beginning to trail the activities of SSN.
One of such cynics is an Uyo based Mr Victor Umoh, a brother to the former co-ordinator of Stepping Stones Nigeria who said he was becoming pieced off with the activities of the Stepping Stones Nigeria since they stopped supporting the stigmatised children but are still using the children to solicit for funds using video documentaries, pictorial news of the stigmatised and ostracised children.
'You cannot understand him. He will use Nigerians who work hard for the children, praise them; but as soon as he achieved his aim, he ditched them and looks for another set of Nigerians and children use and dumped when he gets what he wants. He will even use helpless children solicit for fund and still abandoned them. This is crazy using children to make millions of pounds then divert to personal use. We are really sick of hearing about the phantom reports given to the charity commission.” Mr. Umoh charged.
He further revealed that Foxcroft has employed the services of one Ms Grace Ekong fondly called Adia Tom to tour around Europe, US and other parts of the world to launch image laundry for Foxcroft's Stepping Stones Nigeria and possibly black mail any group and persons that Gary's SSN has used and ditched including those that disagreed with his views and activities, like the Akwa Ibom government. Ms Ekong, who is in her mid seventies, is a British-Nigerian with Eket descent, married to a Briton and has a female child who has just completed her medical studies in London.
The choice of Ms Ekong for this sordid job is described as 'well apt and attainable' given her age as an elderly lady, her soft spoken and persuasive style of approach to people and issues; and her ability to speak, Ekid, Ibibio, Efik and English languages fluently. She is said to have concluded her tours in US and UK, last two weeks and will be heading for Germany in a matter of weeks from now. Though, a trustee of the Stepping Stones Nigeria in UK, the special contract she signed to do an extraordinary image-laundry job, will undoubtedly, earn her much money than her previous job.
Umoh hinted at a plan that is underway: “We are consulting with stake-holders to expose the nefarious activities of Mr. Foxcroft that is using the Nigerian children to enrich himself. Why is he using funds he made from the heads of Nigerian vulnerable children to run a scam campaign against environmental and oil degradation; using Nigerian children to run a private company called Jolly Phonics in UK? If the Nigerian government cannot do much to investigate him, don't you think it is wise for individuals or civil society organisation to do so?” Umoh queried.
In the Stepping Stones Nigeria's website, Foxcroft describe Nigeria as the most fraudulent and corrupt nation in the world. He went further, ''Unfortunately, having the word “Nigeria” in our name has negative connotations with many people associating Nigeria for its less positive traits such as fraud and corruption''
But recently, the UK Guardian reported that “the anti-corruption group, Transparency International, has issued a "wake-up call" as it believes that key government departments are too complacent or even in denial about the increasing threat of corruption” which is now gripping the Britain. It raises huge concern over the corruption scandal rocking– prisons, parliament, political parties and sport. It specifically took a swipe at the £100m drugs trade scandal within prisons and its officials. This is not leaving behind the phone hacking and police bribery scandal which forces the Britain's News of The World paper to shut down with its CEO, Rupert Murdoch, a former media chief to British Prime Minister, David Cameron being grilled by the parliament while his aide Rebecca Brooks was arrested by police in London. This the SSN boss does see as brazen corruption in his country, Britain.
Yet, Anie Udofia, a Nigerian based in Londonthinks differently. “Gary Foxcroft should be investigated without further delay. If proven not guilty, we can now tell him thank you for a job well done; this is the time for you to go and tackle the problem like corruption and child witches or trafficking in your own country, Britain. If otherwise, he should be prosecuted under the law. This is what the new attorney general should be interested in'' Udofia maintains