Witchcraft Hysteria in Nigeria Highlighted

London Observer notes role of film director/evangelist

Bad news from Nigeria, via This Day:

Two women have allegedly been killed by angry youths in Warri, after they were reportedly accused of causing the death of a two- year old girl through witchcraft…A large and wild mob of angry youths stormed homes of the two women, dragged them out and later beat them to death. One of the women, who eked out a living from fishing, reportedly bled to death, after being stabbed in the breast, while the second was burnt alive.

This comes six months after three women were burned to death in Uganda for the same reason, and a couple of weeks after the UK Observer ran a story – and an accompanying video piece – on the rising number of Nigerian children being abused by relatives who have come to believe that their children are witches:

In a maddened state of terror, parents and whole villages turn on the child. They are burnt, poisoned, slashed, chained to trees, buried alive or simply beaten and chased off into the bush…This is becoming commonplace.

The author of the story, Tracey McVeigh, places the blame for this on “besuited Christian pastors and their hours-long, late-night services”. She also points out that foreign influences have been at work:

…Although old tribal beliefs in witch doctors are not so deeply buried in people’s memories, and although there had been indigenous Christians in Nigeria since the 19th century, it is American and Scottish Pentecostal and evangelical missionaries of the past 50 years who have shaped these fanatical beliefs. Evil spirits, satanic possessions and miracles can be found aplenty in the Bible, references to killing witches turn up in Exodus, Deuteronomy and Galatians, and literal interpretation of scriptures is a popular crowd-pleaser.

This is something I’ve blogged on previously. The abuse of children accused of witchcraft is also an alarming development in Congo, where teachings hysteria about witchcraft has been particularly promoted by a mega-church called Combat Spirtuel. I noted that the leaders of this church enjoy links with an American neo-Pentecostal leader who in turn has a position on an “Apostolic Council” of prominent neo-Pentecostal figures.

McVeigh tells us that many people blame the witch-hysteria in Nigeria on the Liberty Gospel Church, which has 60 branches across the Niger Delta and beyond (including, apparently, Rome):

It was started by a local woman, mother-of-two Helen Ukpabio, whose luxurious house and expensive white Humvee are much admired in the city of Calabar where she now lives. Many people in this area credit the popular evangelical DVDs she produces and stars in with helping to spread the child witch belief.

Ukpabio has a website which lists numerous videos and books. These include The Coven 1 (“Is a revelation of a typical witchcraft planning, manipulation, monitoring and eventual execution of their evil devices against the unsuspecting victim”); Married to a Witch; and Unveiling the Mysteries of Witchcraft:

There is hardly any family without witchcraft possession or attack with many held in deep fear of witchcraft operations. This book is extremely unique as nothing in it is extracted from any other source but all information is based on God’s dealing with his servant, Evang. (Mrs.) Helen Ukpabio.

One of her films to have received some exposure in the West is End of the Wicked; one review can be seen here:

One of the most popular Nigerian directors is Teco Benson, a former civil servant who took to film making in 1996 and has been hugely prolific since, specialising in the sort of melodramatic religious films typified by End of the Wicked: A Witchcraft Movie [1999]. He frequently works with Helen Ukpabio, owner of Liberty Films, itself associated with the Liberty Evangelical Ministry, a woman who has had a hand in a significant number of Nigerian genre films – when she’s not leading crusades against Nigeria’s apparently large population of “witches”.

…End of the Wicked is crude, unpolished, utterly baffling and yet strangely compelling…No two adjacent scenes actually seem to have anything to do with each other…The film’s strangeness just keeps on getting stranger as it progresses – gore fans will be rewarded with a tacky scene in which a child demon forces a victim’s eyes to fall out and just about everyone will do a double take when one of Beelzebub’s female followers suddenly reveals that she has a monstrous penis, given to her by Beelzebub so she can make love with her own daughter-in-law!

The film was featured in the “Compass of Horror” film festival held in Bristol (UK) in November last year, and the evangelist was game enough to take part:

Nothing I have ever seen can compare to End of the Wicked. This subgenre of Nigerian evangelist horror (“Nollywood” if you will) is shot on video and the nearest comparison I can think of would be Borat’s home movies…As the panel discussion would later reveal, the notion of family oriented witchcraft is still very much at the heart of Nigeria’s social problems.

…The panel discussion with director Helen Ukpabio and Professor Onookome Okome reveals that over a thousand of these video films are made a month in Nigeria and are spread on videotape as the country has no cinema distribution to speak of. This Nigerian cultural phenomenon outsells Hollywood product several times over in the local market. Mrs Ukpabio also helps put the film in a political context by discussing the very unpredictable nature of government censorship in regards to supposedly state-funded industry. Eye opening is an understatement.

Another Ukpabio movie, The Rapture, was banned by the Nigeria board of film censors for alleged anti-Catholicism.

Ukpabio trained as a nurse before becoming an evangelist, although according to her own account she also managed to fit in an early career as a occultist:

I was initiated into Olumba cult [i.e. The Brotherhood of the Cross and Star] at 14 years of age, I was also betrothed to Lucifer as would be wife. This automatically qualifies me to attend a spiritual school for the Royals. I was trained in concepts of mysticism, occultism, spiritism, Satanism, demonism and general cultism. The idea of developing strategies that will aid in keeping activities of the cult alive and seeing more human registering with the occult kingdom is the number one goal of the occult kingdom.

The practice of witchcraft, necromancy, familiar spirits, and other spiritistic activities in order to multiply them thereby causing confusion multiplying wrong altars are Satan’s strategy to help water down the true churches are some of their activities…

Perhaps Ukpabio may like to reflect on whether a hysteria which is claiming lives and ruining the lives of children might also be “Satan’s strategy to help water down the true churches”. I doubt that Ukpabio approves of what is happening to “child-witches”, and I’m sure she would be appalled by the murders of the two women in Warri – but after instilling so much fear over occultic conspiracies, might she not think it would be a good idea to moderate her message? And might not some of the big-name Western evangelists who regularly visit Africa and purport to demonstrate the reality of spiritual forces – in particular Reinhard Bonnke and Benny Hinn – also consider having either a quiet word or making a public statement on a problem that now requires urgent attention?

(Hat tip: Bulldada Newsblog)