Lynching in the name of witchcraft
For a country ravaged by senseless killings of innocent citizens by terrorists, bandits and kidnappers, it is pathetic and totally unwholesome that some Nigerians have decided to embark on exterminating people they call witches. Such was the case, the other day, where two elderly women were killed tragically after they were branded witches and tortured to death by some youth who accused the old women of witchcraft practices in Ebbaken community in Boki Council of Cross River State. Although such incidents are not new, they remain barbaric, illegal, criminal and unconstitutional. The Ebbaken killing is not one that should be treated with kids’ gloves, nor should the culprits be allowed to go scot-free. Punishing them for taking the laws into their hands and depriving fellow citizens of their fundamental right to life is a sure way to stem the gale of jungle justice pervading the polity on ground of religion, cultural belief including witchcraft and any other reason for that matter. On the other hand, to allow the killers escape justice is a recipe for future killings outside the purview of the country’s constitution.
The existence of witches remains a socio-cultural belief driven by an idea that has been taken for granted across African societies and several communities in Nigeria. However, it has become a serious concern that in the twenty first Century, witchcraft belief has refused to die across societies and communities in the continent and particularly in Nigeria where people, irrespective of age, have been accused and persecuted as witches. It is worrisome that as the years go by, jungle justice on persons accused of witchcraft practices has become a major issue in sub-Saharan Africa and particularly so in Nigeria. The continued lynching of persons accused of witchcraft reveals that accusation of witchcraft in this modem age seems to provide a means to express or resolve social tensions irrespective of the different consequences it has on society.
In the case of the two murdered widows, Mrs. Martina Osong, a farmer and Mrs. Rose Akom, a retired nurse from the same Ebbaken community in Boje, according to their children Victoria Ogar and Lawrence Osong, the Ebbaken youth acted on allegations by another woman that the old women appeared in her dream to initiate her to witchcraft. Of course, such accusations have no basis in law or in science. Most often, those accused of witchcraft are not even conscious of possessing any super natural power or wishing anyone ill; nor do they nurse such plan, thus making it impossible to take them as witches. In any event, if they are witches, do they stand for evil against other persons? Even if they do, how can this be proven given the lack of scientific or legal basis? And in such circumstances, will innocent persons not fall victims of wrongful accusation and persecution? These are matters that should worry both the people and government.
Yet, in a world where people take the reality of witchcraft for granted, it remains difficult to explain the barbaric treatment of persons accused of witchcraft in torture and inhuman treatment. Reportedly, the elderly women were waylaid on their way back from church and tied to a wood with nails on top of their legs and by the side, just like the way garri is tied locally in the village. They were hit with sticks, causing the break of the hand of one of them. Indeed the treatment meted to them amounts to a gross violation of the constitution and their rights.
Whatever may be the basis behind witchcraft practices and belief, it is high time the government intervenes by educating the society to recognise that there is no proof that witches cause all manner of disaster or sickness and even death and a host of other misfortunes.
Ordinarily, in this age and time, every citizen should know that no one has a right to willfully take the life of another no matter the suspicion against the person. It is not only curious but laughable that in some parts of Africa, epidemics and natural disasters are sometimes attributed to or interpreted as acts of witchcraft. Sadly, some unhappy students or candidates in underdeveloped countries in Africa and Asia ascribe their failure in examinations or elections or difficulties in gaining employment to witchcraft activities of relatives or persons who do not want their progress. Such belief elevates lack of vision and understanding to realities of the modern age. Those still harbouring the witchcraft belief trivialised the finest essence of life and old age that everyone crave for as they torture or lynch accused persons to death for alleged witchcraft practice.
The continued persecution of elderly women and people generally as witches has been identified as one the most important obstacles to attaining the 1993 declaration of the UN elimination of violence against women on the continent. Indeed, torturing and various forms of violence against elderly women accused of witchcraft practices without evidence against them suggest an infringement of their fundamental human rights as enshrined in Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which stipulates that no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The continued persecution of persons as witches reflects a failure of value system in the society. Also, it reveals that the government has done little or nothing to address the issue by way of enlightening the public that there is no link between ones’ misfortune to the misinterpretation and ignorance associated with witchcraft.
Therefore, the habit of African societies and indeed communities in Nigeria using culture to explain the existence of witches and justify their ill treatment should stop. Also, the unhealthy belief has exposed the Nigerian society to so many ills and abuse by witch hunters. It is the duty of government to break that misconception. If witches exist, what they stand for, and what they do remain in the realm of conjecture; and it cannot be proven that they are responsible for any misfortune of others, whether such misfortune is real or imagined. The idea of witches or witchcraft practices are creation of human imagination and helps to fuel ignorance as it lacks evidence-based information. It is for this reason that government should stand firm against hunters of supposed witches; and culprits should be made to face justice. Otherwise, the society risks chaos and anarchy from the abuse that will emanate from witch-hunting.