Nigerian Child Witches: Inquiry into Abuses in Akwa Ibom, but Pastors Stigmatise Children Elsewhere

The News has the latest on child witches in Akwa Ibom, Nigeria:

Governor Godswill Akpabio has set up a six-man Commission of Inquiry into witchcraft accusations and child rights abuses in Akwa Ibom State, charging it to help government bring justice to bear on the society.

…At the swearing-in of members of the Commission headed by Hon. Justice Godwin Abraham, on 22 November, the governor urged the Commission and all Akwa Ibom people to “rise up to this challenge because injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Let us cooperate with this Commission and let anyone who has useful information see his giving same to this Commission as a civic duty and social obligation. We must remember that a society that kills on suspicion and superstition is neither safe for the saint nor for the villain”.

…He therefore urged the Commission, set up on the authority of Section 2 of the Commission of Inquiry Law Cap 33 Laws of Akwa Ibom State 2000, to among other things determine the veracity of the allegations of witchcraft against children and infliction of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment upon such children.

It is also to determine the number of those stigmatised, abused or killed on suspicion of involvement in witchcraft; identify the shallow graves and the particulars of children affected under paragraph 5 (e) and also identify those who maltreated, stigmatised or caused their deaths and make appropriate recommendations.

The idea that the court needs to consider “the veracity of the allegations of witchcraft against children” is disturbing, since it leaves open the possibility that children might really be witches who cause harm by supernatural means, but perhaps this is just a device to have the whole notion put to bed. Overall, though, it seems to be an encouraging development, if Akpabio means what he says; however, back in September, he claimed that reports of witch-stigmatisation were “propaganda against the state”, and he vowed to act against organisations highlighting the problem. And just a couple of weeks ago, the charities Stepping Stones Nigeria and the Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN) were complaining of harassment:

The two groups claimed that the Akwa Ibom State government has launched a media campaign against them, stating that SSN and CRARN are fraudulent organisations who have used the children under their care to extort millions of pounds from the international community and demanding that the President of CRARN, Sam Itauma and the Programme Director of Stepping Stones Nigeria , Gary Foxcroft should both be arrested.

“I am genuinely living in fear for my life,” Mr Ituama said. “I know there are people who would like to see me dead because I have stood up and told them that it is wrong to torture and murder innocent children who have been accused of being witches. I have had to leave my home and family and go into hiding. How can this be right?”

The issue was discussed in the UK House of Lords a few days ago.

However, the problem of child-witch stigmatisation is not just confined to Akwa Ibom; the Vanguard recently highlighted the case of a teenage girl named Comfort Sunday, who had been doused in acid in Nasarawa State by her father after a pastor (unnamed) accused her of killing her grandfather with witchcraft (warning: distressing photographs). The paper has an interview with Tashi N Tashi, of an NGO named Better Leven; he explains that:

The accusation against her is that she has been responsible for all the bad luck that had befallen the family.  That she is involved in witchcraft or “secret society”. That the only solution for the lack of progress in the family was to kill her.

…My brother, it is a common occurrence here. All the time you have children between the ages of five to 15 being accused of belonging to secret cult. They are made to suffer untold brutality in the hands of the family or in the hands of some pastors or someone who claims to have the powers to remove the magic in the children.

Tashi blames pastors from Abuja:

…They believe here that the local pastors do not have enough powers to clean these children. So they bring the prayer people from Abuja, usually at an agreed price per child. Sometimes the children are taken away. We do not know what usually happen to  some of the children, whether they ever return or not.

Click on the picture below for further details about a campaign to end this situation.

4 Responses

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  4. […] behaviour is particularly troubling given the context of on-going violence against children accused of witchcraft in Nigeria and elsewhere and his status within African Neo-Pentecostalism. Oyedepo is not just […]

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