Mobilising church leaders against witchcraft allegations in Nigeria
Christian church leaders have reportedly been blamed for harmful practices linked to witchcraft (HPW) beliefs in contemporary Nigeria. These religious leaders use witchcraft narratives to make sense of everyday misfortunes especially sickness, death, and accidents. They give credence to witchcraft notions and incite hatred and violence against suspected witches in families and communities. Some of these church leaders have established churches and special programmes that focus on identifying witches and exorcising witchcraft.
Witchcraft exorcisms often entail torture, inhuman and degrading treatments, and horrific abuses. Witches are believed to be wicked, evil and destructive, and no compassion is extended to any alleged witch. Thus, Christianity has been a major force in the violent campaign against suspected witches in Nigeria.
Unfortunately, there has not been any major initiative to forge a religious alliance against witch-hunting or to enlist the support of progressive church leaders in the effort to stamp out HPW in the country. Such an effort is critical to the eradication of HPW in Christian Nigeria.
Indeed, many people are not optimistic about realising a witch-hunting free Nigerian church. They think that such an initiative would be futile because witchcraft belief is in the Bible and constitutes a pillar of Christianity as understood in Nigeria. Christian witch believers use the Biblical verse, Exodus 22:18, to justify and legitimise witch finding, witchcraft exorcism and to resist embracing a witch hunting-free Christianity.
In response to this situation, the Witchcraft Human Rights Information Network (WHRIN) has launched an online petition, the Witch Way Forward Campaign to collect signatures and mobilise faith leaders against witch persecution. In addition, WHRIN is exploring a mechanism within Christianity to address this challenge. It seeks to build a religious alliance against witch-hunting and to get churches in Nigeria to be a part of the solution, and no longer the problem. WHRIN is partnering Christian NGOs that are campaigning against child and elderly witchcraft allegations and related abuses.
WHRIN is in alliance with a Christian organisation, Stop Child Witch Accusation Coalition. As part of this partnership, WHRIN will use a model that identifies the root causes of witchcraft accusations and facilitates change of behaviour and practices among church leaders. This model has five steps. The first step requires the development of relationships with church leaders who support the elimination of abuses that result from accusations against children.
The second step entails the formation of a local network of church leaders to plan and conduct research in the communities. In step three, the research findings will be used to facilitate dialogue with key stakeholders who are committed to taking action against witchcraft allegations. In step four, an interactive training workshop will be organised to inspire action and get church leaders to create and implement child protection policies. In step five, the wider community will be targeted with messages to support victims of child witch allegations and to reduce the incidence of accusation and abuse within churches and communities.
This project presents an important opportunity for the church in Nigeria to change its course and direction, and for church leaders to rally together against a violent campaign that has seriously dented the image and reputation of the Nigerian, nay, African Christianity.