Saving Child Witches: a Nigerian Perspective
Leo Igwe is the executive secretary of the Nigerian Humanist Movement.
Some months ago, a British film-maker drew my attention to the plight of children in Akwa Ibom State who had been accused of being witches and wizards and thrown out of their homes by their families and relatives. In August, I travelled to the city of Eket to meet with these kids and the individuals helping to look after them, to find out how my organization could offer help and support.
First of all, I met with Luckyimoh Inyang of Stepping Stones Nigeria. The UK branch of his organization is raising money to support these children. Mr. Inyang told me how they had been rescuing children who had been beaten, burnt and brutalized by their own parents, and he took me to a school block and a football field which some of these children had taken as their home. They sleep there at night and roam the streets during the day in search of food. We also met some of the kids on the streets, who were carrying plastic bags filled with rice, garri and soup. Mr. Inyang told me that was how the children were trying to survive: donations were not enough, so some of them try to support themselves by taking left over food items from ceremonies, even though they are sometimes physically attacked when they do this. The children looked sick, malnourished and unkempt.
After meeting with Inyang, I went to see Mr. Sam Ikpe-Ituama of the Child’s Rights and Rehabilitation Network. Sam and his wife manage a camp where some of the kids live. Sam had been taking care of these children in his house, but eventually he had to set up the camp, with a school and a dormitory, to accommodate the increasing number of child victims. Right now the camp has over 130 children; most of them are less than ten years old. I interviewed some of them and they told me about their horrible and traumatic ordeals. Two girls described how they had been chained to a window for days, before being starved, beaten and thrown into the bush to die by parents and relations who accused them of causing diseases and death in the family by bewitchment. Other kids explained how they had been taken to churches and subjected by pastors to various forms of torture, and inhuman and degrading treatment, all in the name exorcism and deliverance. Most of the children had scars on their bodies. Some were still nursing wounds which they sustained in the course of this terrible experience. I was totally shocked and dumbfounded by what I saw. Particularly, I was stunned to hear that many of the kids had been in the camp for over three years. It was obvious that the local authorities had neglected and completely ignored this tragic situation. I was told that some officials of the Akwa Ibom State Government had visited the camp, but that nothing had been heard afterwards. So the camp and children were surviving on the limited donations they were receiving from overseas.
So I was delighted to hear that on November 4, the documentary Saving Africa’s Witch Children was broadcast in the UK, on Channel 4. This documentary has brought to the attention of the world the pain, agony, abuse and trauma which these children have suffered and endured over the years. It has exposed to the world the intellectual anomie, cultural darkness, social stagnation, moral decadence and primitive mentality that prevail in Nigeria as a result of ignorance, poverty, superstition and religious fanaticism. It has also demonstrated graphically the greed, thievery, mischief and charlatanism of pastors and other men and women, who deceive, debase, defraud and degrade human beings in the name of God. Witch-hunting is history in the western world, but in Nigeria and in Africa it is an ongoing experience.
Now, the question is: How do we save these children?
First of all we need to raise money to support them and provide them with basic necessities of life: food, shelter, clothing and education. The children need medical care, counselling and rehabilitation programs. The government of Akwa Ibom State must wake up to its duties and responsibilities. The police should investigate and ensure that parents and the persons who perpetrated these atrocities – including the pastors who aided and abetted these criminal acts – are adequately punished.
More importantly long-term, we need to launch a nationwide campaign against superstition and belief in witchcraft. Nigerians should be told that witches are not real, and that witches and spirits are imaginary entities created by primitive minds during the infancy of human race to explain situations and issues they could not understand or resolve commonsensically. This campaign should be taken to all Nigerian schools, colleges and universities. It should be publicized over the radios and television, in the newspapers, in market places, in churches and mosques.
In particular, we need to check the activities of our so called pastors and other self styled men and women of God who use the Bible or Holy books to perpetrate and justify atrocious acts and human right abuses. These religious charlatans continue to act and preach in ways that reinforce the belief in witches and provoke acts of witch accusation, persecution and killing. This has been the driving force in Akwa Ibom State, and until Nigerians learn to reject superstition and irrationalism such tragedies will continue to occur.
In most cases pastors invoke the Biblical verse Exodus 22:18, which says “Thou shall not suffer a witch to live”, to justify their position, so we also need combat this wave of Pentecostalism that promotes literal interpretation and blind faith in the “word of God”. To save the witch-children in Nigeria and rescue this nation from witch-believing forces, we need to get all Nigerians to exercise their common sense, reason and critical intelligence when practicing or professing their religion or belief. This is especially important when they are reading, preaching and interpreting messages and doctrines contained in their holy books.
(c) Leo Igwe 2008. Permission granted for non-profit re-publication, although please acknowledge authorship. The author asserts his moral rights.