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OPINION: Stopping Witch Killing in Kaduna, By Leo Igwe

BALTIMORE, MD (AFRICAN EXAMINER) – An eruption of witchcraft related violence has claimed the lives of two men, Yohanna Kaburat and Kaburat Adang, in Kaduna in Northern Nigeria. This is according to a report by the Leadership Newspaper, July 10, 2016. The report says that the two men were beaten to death after being accused of killing through witchcraft a university student at the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria. The two men were relatives (uncle and grandfather) of the supposedly bewitched person. According to the report, the undergraduate student suddenly took ill and died after a week.

The sudden death angered the youths in the community and they pointed accusing fingers on the two family relatives. The report does not say whether a pastor or a traditional healer was involved in identifying the accused as those responsible for the sickness and eventual death of the university student. However, the angry youths went and apprehended the two family relatives and locked them up in the room with the corpse. They urged them to bring the dead back to life but the accused could not. The practice of compelling accused person to heal the sick or raise the dead is common in communities in West Africa. The ‘logic’ behind it is that the witch is believed to have the power to harm and the power to heal.

If the accused person is unable to heal the sick or raise the dead it is often seen a sign of wickedness and as in this case, the accused person is treated without mercy. The alleged witch is killed out of vengeance. So as in this case, the raging mob usually beat accused persons to death. According to the report, both of them and the undergraduate who died were buried the same day that was on July7.

It is unfortunate that cases like this are becoming a frequent occurrence in communities across the country. The police in Calabar are still investigating a similar incident in the region. As in this case, youths in the community avenged the death of their colleagues by accusing two other men who were subsequently lynched. However, the Calabar incident happened with the help of a ‘native doctor’ who served as the witch pointer.

Due to poverty and the high cost of medical treatment, many youths do not go to the hospital whenever they are sick. Instead, they either take herbal treatment which they can prepare locally or seek out a native doctor who would provide them with some therapies. Some would be praying and wishing that the illness would suddenly disappear. Due to lack of effective treatment, the sickness worsens and the sick person or the family and friends begin to suspect witchcraft. They begin to point accusing fingers on neighbors whom they claim are responsible and if there is no intervention from local authorities the accused persons are attacked or as in this case they are kidnapped and subjected to trial by ordeal or lynched. Very often no arrests are made as this case and the matter dies a natural death till another.

Now let us look at the main issues at stake. First of all, there is the issue of poor health facilities in the communities. There is an urgent need for primary health care services in the communities. These programs already exist in some communities but they have not been able to tackle misconception about the cause of diseases in the communities. Part of this facility should be a program that informs people and let me know that people cannot make other sick or kill them through witchcraft.

There is a need to emphasize and let people understand that there is no causal link between illness and witchcraft and charlatans, whether they are native doctors, pastors and mallams who peddle such narratives should be arrested, prosecuted and penalized. This is because these faith healers and quacks are often those who identify witches and induce local mobs to tackle the alleged witches. We need an effective health care response to the problem of witch killing. The youths in the communities are mainly illiterates and have virtually no professional knowledge of medicine and disease. They need guidance by health experts, not native doctors or pastors and prophets, but trained health personnel to address health related issues. In the absence of competent leadership in health matters, witchcraft becomes the order and disorder of the society. In addition, health care should be available and affordable. Lack of effective and affordable health care often drive sick people to patronize charlatans who diagnose illness using the idiom of witchcraft.

Lastly, the police should rise up to their duty of enforcing the law and protecting lives and property. As in this case, the police often do not make an arrest whenever alleged witches are killed; they do not prosecute witchcraft accusers and witch killers. At best they threaten to make arrests or they go to the community, and arrest some people and release them after extorting money from them. Witchcraft accusation is a crime under the Nigerian law and trial by ordeal is a crime that is punishable by law. But the police is reluctant to enforcing these provisions in our law. Unfortunately, the political will is lacking. State actors shy away from their responsibility to protect and provide for the people. For instance, the governor of Kaduna state, Mallam Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, was elected on the platform of change. However, his program of change seems not to apply to issues related to witchcraft accusation. I am appealing to the governor to put in place urgent measures to address witchcraft accusation and witch killing. Witchcraft accusation will not stop unless we stop it. Yes, witch killers must be stopped.


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