The statement claims VOM-USA “had already ceased supporting VOCM-Nigeria’s work when we became aware of these accusations” in June 2016, but allegations of sexual abuse have been surfacing for years, say former employees and students in Nigeria.
Newton-Wusu denies all the charges against him, telling me they are “absolute nonsense.” He says the charges were part of a campaign led by people with grievances against VOCM, and he claims former staff members were the ones involved with financial irregularities. (He showed me email conversations where one former employee admitted to stealing and refunded more than 2.4 million naira—$6,600—allocated to assist widows and victims of Boko Haram attacks near the Cameroon border.)
He won a victory in June, when a magistrate court in Nigeria threw out charges against him—but the accusations come from multiple former students, and the students are not backing down. I spoke with 13 of them in Abuja, the nation’s capital, where they had traveled in January to ask the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria to weigh in on their accusations.
Bala told me about encounters with Newton-Wusu that she says began in 2010, when she was 12. She said Newton-Wusu once sent her to arrange his bedroom in the classroom block, then entered the room behind her. Bala said he asked her to sit on his lap and kiss him. She said, “I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it was something bad. I tried to drag myself away.” She fled when one of her schoolmates, Friday Adamu, knocked on the door.
Bala and Susan Rayner, another former student, both said Newton-Wusu had bedrooms in his offices in the classroom block and on the second floor of the girls’ hostel. Bala said Newton-Wusu once asked her to sleep in his room in the VOCM headquarters during a trip to Lagos.
In another incident, Bala said Newton-Wusu drugged her with a medication that tasted like sweetened vitamin C. She said the orange tablet came in a packet with no description. Bala said she later agreed when Newton-Wusu asked her to go and take a shower in the tub, adding, “I wouldn’t say no to my dad.”
She said he entered the bathroom in his towel and joined her in the bathtub. “We bathed together. I don’t remember anything after that.” She woke up at about 7 p.m. and returned to the hostel, saying she felt physical pain that night.
Bala said abuse happened two other times before she finally spoke about it. “The last time I felt penetrations. I didn’t have the strength to move or shout.” Bala said she told Kemi, the director’s relative who served as a matron in the girls’ hostel. She says when Newton-Wusu found out, he started to single her out for punishments and told her peers she was a thief.
In a similar case, Rayner, now 23, first arrived at the center in 2007 from Dutse, capital of northeast Jigawa state. At the time, the 12-year-old had lost her mother in religious attacks staged by Islamic extremists, who targeted Christians and burned down churches.
Rayner said Newton-Wusu asked her to bring food to his house opposite the school once in 2011. She said he started to touch her breasts and made a sexually inappropriate request. Rayner said she escaped when Newton-Wusu’s wife, Yetunde, entered the house.
Other former students speak of financial corruption. In 2013, VOM-USA sponsored Oklahoma-based prosthetist Jeffrey Arnette to start a center providing prosthetics for children wounded in conflict in Jos, Plateau’s capital. Nicodemus Baggi-Bawa, a Stephens Center graduate, returned in 2015 to work with the prosthesis center as a lab technician.