In the year of our Lord 2022, 53 years after the first humans walked on the moon, folks in Naija are still accusing women (most notably widows) of witchcraft, sometimes with fatal consequences. On August 2, in Ebbaken community, Boje, Boki LGA of Cross Rivers State, two widows, Mrs. Martina Osom and Mrs. Rose Akom, were allegedly beaten to death by some youths for “initiating a community member into witchcraft.”
According to the report, the women were returning from morning mass when they were accosted by an irate group. Up until now, I haven’t seen anything to suggest that any of the murderers has been arrested. In Umueghu (Amaegbuato autonomous community, Nkpa Bende Local Government Area, Abia), a witchcraft vigilante group held a widow, Mrs. Amarachi Okechi, whose relative had allegedly reported for sorcery, hostage and flayed her for being a ‘witch.’ “Even when the woman was begging and telling them she is (sic) innocent, they tied her hands to her back, tied her two legs, flogged and filmed her.”
The good news is that some organisations, the traditional ruler of the community, its local government representative and the wife of Governor Ikpeazu intervened, and the woman is getting medical treatment. It never occurred to those doling out justice that if these women were indeed witches, they’d use their powers to turn into bats or whatever and fly off? If they had all that power, why would they succumb to humiliation and/or death when they are not Jesus Christ? On a more serious note, how are we still so medieval?
Many of us still remember the ‘bird woman.’ In 2014, a viral video went round of a badly burnt and bloodied woman, victim of an angry mob who’d accused her of witchcraft. She was said to have been a black bird flying above Oshodi before hitting an electric cable and plummeting down to earth where her human form was revealed. The police eventually rescued her but she died on the way to the hospital.
Even our newspapers sometimes proudly cover these stories that seem to have come out of the dark ages without any sense of irony: Armed robbers with invisible bullet proof vests prepared by juju men; thieves transmogrifying into goats to elude arrest etc. In the case of the man to goat transformation, the police arrested the goat. And yes, the journalist truly believed that not only was this possible but that the incident had happened as was reported. There was no skepticism, no interrogation of the story, mba. Hearsay was enough to validate it.
In 2018, Philomena Chieshe told us that a snake swallowed JAMB’s N36 million. She thought her story was plausible because if great swaths of our society believe that a bird can metamorphose into a human, that a human can turn into a goat, that one can become immune to bullets due to a charm worn around the waist; why wouldn’t they believe in the existence of a money-thieving snake?
Some of these Pentecostal pastors whose prayer points begin and end with “village people stealing your destiny” or those who encourage women (and it is always women) looking for love to bring the pictures of the men they desire to church to be prayed over so that “their hearts will belong to you” do not help. Or those who not only join in accusing children, especially, of being witches but sometimes are the instigators of it. Nor do Nollywood movies of folks blowing powder in the air and disappearing magically. We are a hugely superstitious lot. My husband still tells the story that was told him when he lived in Nsukka of a man in the area whose creditor would not return the money he owed him. The former, having exhausted all rational attempts to get his money, hired some dude to go one morning to the creditor’s house and without saying a word to anyone, empty some powder outside the door of the creditor. For dramatic effect, the ‘juju man’ was to hold a feather between his teeth. That same day, the creditor paid his debt and begged the man he owed money to please have whatever curse he’d put on him removed. Now, I don’t know if this really happened but the fact that it is plausible is bad enough.
The world is moving on and we are here holding ourselves hostage to harmful, archaic beliefs that cause damage to mostly our women and children. In the case of Mrs. Amarachi Okechi, apparently, “several stakeholders were involved in securing the woman alive which was the first action that needed to be taken. This has been done. Now, the next stage will be to address the issues surrounding the matter. The law enforcement agencies have been duly notified and have commenced appropriate investigations…For now, what is important is the rescue of the woman and she is being treated.” Mbao o. She can both be receiving treatment as well as justice at the same time. One doesn’t preclude the other. Find those responsible and punish them accordingly biko. As long as perpetrators keep getting away with it, they’ll keep committing the crime. Enough is enough.