Witchcraft persecution and land disputes in Amuda Isuochi
Sir: There is a link between disputes over land and allegations of perpetrating occult harm in Abia State in Southern Nigeria. This connection, reinforced whenever some misfortune befalls any of the parties, has amply been illustrated by the case of Obioma Ubani from Amuda Isuochi, a village in the northern central part of Abia State. In May, an advocate drew the attention of AfAW to the case of Mr. Ubani. He is in his 70s. His villagers banished him for killing a family member through witchcraft. Videos and photos of Ubani wearing some palm fronds, locally known as Omu and being publicly disgraced and driven out of his community circulated on social media. In one of the videos, Obioma could be seen swearing and insisting on his innocence while a mob was charging and threatening to kill him if he returned to the village.
For some days, AfAW tried to reach Ubani without success. Calls were made to random numbers linked to persons and institutions in Amuda Isuochi and the surrounding villages. In recounting what happened, Ubani made it clear that his banishment was connected to a dispute over family land. The other party in the dispute was a younger family member that he helped train and support while he was in school. Mr. Obioma Ubani is the eldest in the family and the custodian of the family estate. A family member who was lecturing at a university wanted to build a house and asked Obioma to show him a piece of land where he could erect his building. Obioma told him to have some patience. While he was trying to decide which piece of land to give him, this lecturer went and started building on a piece of land which Obioma said belonged to him. Obioma went and put some Omu on the land.
According to Mr. Ubani, placing palm fronds on the land (Igba Omu) was to tell this family member to cease further action until the matter was resolved. This relative reported the case to the village council. Obioma Ubani was asked to remove the Omu. He told the village council that he placed the Omu because he would not stand by and watch this relative take over his land. He went ahead and removed the Omu from the land. That was in December last year.
In May, some community members invited him to a meeting. They informed him that this relative had died and that he was responsible for the death. No medical autopsy was carried out to ascertain the cause of death. Community members based their decision on the fact that Mr. Obioma Ubani placed Omu on the disputed land. Obioma said that the community members misquoted him; they twisted what he said to suit their intent to hold him responsible for the death of this relative. The village mob eventually drove him out.
Following his expulsion from the community, Ubani has been living with his family members in Enugu. AfAW will monitor the process of investigation to ensure that the police do not compromise the case and will ensure that those behind the persecution and banishment of Ubani are brought to justice.
• Leo Igwe.