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Witchcraft/juju allegations as reason for dissolution of marriages

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Sir: This is an open letter to the Chief Justice of Nigeria and other chief judges. It has come to the notice of our organisation – the Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AfAW) that our courts, particularly customary courts in many parts of the federation now recognise and base their reason for the dissolution of marriages on “witchcraft.” This trend is alarmingly gaining unwarranted and may I also add, unlawful recognition, including a wide reportage in the media in our various communities.

AfAW campaigns to end abuses linked to witchcraft allegations and witch persecution. So such stories are usually of interest as AfAW tries to correct misinformation and disinformation in the name of witchcraft. From our little research, we understand that the Nigerian law does not recognise witchcraft/juju and a person cannot use such claims to justify the commission of a crime or any illegality. So it was quite a shock that our courts in recent times seem to be indirectly endorsing and acknowledging such flawed belief.

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Your Lordship, we as an organisation have monitored and followed some judgements emanating from various courts and the media reports in that area. Going through the court proceedings, an ordinary man on the street will not be otherwise persuaded that witchcraft was not the reason for the dissolution of the said marriages even where it was not directly stated.

In one of the judgments we recently monitored, the judgement was silent on the ‘‘witchcraft evidence’’ where the petitioner claimed that the wife was a fetish and asked a herbalist/witch doctor to kill him. The recording of the conversation between the wife and the so-called herbalist/witch doctor was presented as evidence during the hearing. In the “Findings” of the court, the judge rules thus “Having heard the evidence given by both parties and the defendant has admitted the claim through her evidence, the court ruled thus: Dissolution of marriage is hereby granted forthwith.” This was sadly given a wide reportage in a national newspaper of January 14, 2021.

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Your Lordship, since the Nigerian law does not recognise witchcraft and in fact, witchcraft allegation is a crime under the law, we thought that it would have been helpful if the court had made the parties to know that witchcraft claims were not admissible.

It was due to the fact that the court made no comment or clarification of the ‘‘witchcraft evidence’’ that was presented that made the journalist in the above case and like several other such cases, to publish the misleading report that reinforces the notion that witchcraft is real. The report certainly created the impression that witchcraft evidence is recognisable and admissible in court. 

Kindly use your good office to educate and chart a new policy for our various courts to always make efforts towards using their judgments to properly guide, educate and enlighten the people on the position of the law regarding witchcraft imputations.

Leo Igwe, Ph.D (Religious Studies, Bayreuth) and chief executive officer, Advocacy for Alleged Witches.

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