From the Editor: According to a large percentage of Nigerians, witchcraft is the root cause of all their problems. Parents, children, extended family members and whole communities have been abandoned because of this spiritual problem, David surmised the problem of witchcraft perfectly in the piece he wrote for 9jafeminista, “witches were wicked … witches were just bad luck.”
Two weeks ago, Nigerian Twitter was abuzz with the news of an old woman who was caught ‘shapeshifting’ from a BIG BLACK BIRD into an old woman, and a few days ago, another old woman was accused of witchcraft because she was caught on the rooftop of a church, the question being asked was ‘how did she get there except she flew?’ – nobody considered this, that maybe – she got on there because she climbed a ladder, she climbed the ladder because she was suffering from dementia…
Although The Spanish Inquisition, was originally instituted by Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of
Castile in 14th Century Spain to regulate orthodoxy (aka killing Jews), one of the ways it helped was by also cleansing country of witches. A lot of women were tortured and often hung once they’ve been accused of witchcraft. The Great Witch Craze took place across modern Europe and their Colonies in North America (it peaked between 1580 and 1630) in which over 40,000 people (mostly women) were killed for being ‘satanic witches’ (this brings to mind the great David Oyedepo who slapped a young girl across the face in 2011 for claiming to be a ‘witch for Jesus’ – so you see, whether you’re a satanic witch or a witch for Jesus, you simply can’t win).
The point of this whole story, is that over the centuries women all over the world have been on the receiving end of death sentences and lynchings once the accusation of witchcraft has been leveled against them.
The root of the problem of course is power, because most people accused of witchcraft are the powerless – poor women, old women, people suffering from one form of mental health disorder or the other, single ladies defying the society and remaining unmarried, women considered prostitutes, non-conformists, and even people that do not meet with the society’s standards of beauty during that period (aka you’re damn too ugly not to be a wintch!).
Although young children are also regularly accused of practicing witchcraft,(in Nigeria they are referred to as Ogbanjes), in most cases parents resort to spiritual means to ‘cleanse’ their wards and children of witchcraft. However, between 2008 and 2011 there was an intense hunt for ‘child witches’ in Nigeria, specifically in Akwa Ibom, a state in the Eastern part of Nigeria. The hunt was led by Helen Akpabio, a self-proclaimed evangelist and ‘deliverance minister’, who specialized in ‘delivering’ children from the spirit of witchcraft through several means, including prayers, whippings, starvation and imprisonment. The ‘delivered’ children are often returned to their parents, but the ones who refuse to ‘vomit’ witchcraft are often driven from their homes, poisoned or taken to orphanages.
9jafeminista was able to find one of such accused children who was barely 10years old when he and his sisters were accused of being witches by their father because he was going through a difficult financial period (which is commonplace in a Nigeria suffering from economic woes and over 60% of its citizens are living in poverty, a poverty whose root cause is corruption).
David contributed a piece about his and his sister’s experiences in this blog. During which he talked about what they went through after they were diagnosed with witchcraft by their Pastor’s wife. We decided to have a chat with him … read on.
9jafeminista: Tell us a little about yourself
David: Well, there’s not too much to tell. I’m 22 and in the final year of an undergraduate programme in Electrical/Electronics Engineering, I’ve almost always lived in Uyo and when I’m not busy with schoolwork (which is like always), I stroll around the internet, read and listen to the radio.
9jafeminista: Radio, that’s a new one, It’s difficult to envisage a young netizen listening to the radio. Is there any special reason why?
David: I’ve always been around radios. First, because Deeper Life people didn’t own TV sets (my dad was one for a while), then later because I discovered the BBC world service and I fell in love with their programmes and documentaries.
9jafeminista: Future plans include the radio?
David: Not really. Right now I co-host a weekly tech show with a friend on Akwa Ibom state radio but what I’d really want to do is work as a researcher or scriptwriter. Presenting is not my biggest strength. Or so I think. But first, we chase oil company job with our engineering degree (smiles)
9jafeminista: I must say your creative non-fiction piece is so well written, some of our readers might think it’s actually fiction. It has all the ingredients of a good story and the right amount of suspense. But there’s also a wealth of anger and sadness between the lines… so how did you cope? With your parents after they accused you and your sisters of witchcraft, with missing your sisters for ten years. How did you manage to survive it all?
David: Thing is I was quite young [when it happened] and for a while I lived in denial. People would ask where my sisters disappeared to and I’d immediately push out some nice story I’d cooked up. So, I didn’t really feel it. As I grew up though and spent more time talking to my sisters, I grew very angry. I didn’t understand why a parent would ship their kids off to an “orphanage” simply because of some prophecy or whatever it was. I didn’t think of it then too much. I just survived. I still saw my sisters once in a while when we’d visit
9jafeminista: What about your mum? Did she just fold her arms and watch it happen? Didn’t she protest?
David: I didn’t really know. Adults didn’t share too much with children then. What I remember is she warning me not to discuss the issue with the neighbourhood kids. Something about maintaining family pride or so.
9jafeminista: So how are your sisters doing?
David: Good really. Elder sis is graduating from pharmacy this year. Not planning any party for my own graduation but my sister’s will be major. Real tragedy was with my younger sis. You see my younger sis came back from this orphanage pregnant. She hadn’t even turned 18 then. When I found out, I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. Kept blaming the old man for exposing her to such dangers by keeping her there for so long and in my head I was like ‘why is it okay for her to return now? It’s not like she was delivered from the witchcraft or anything. Why is she suddenly not dangerous now?’
9jafeminista: Did she tell you how she got pregnant?
David: There was a boy who’d grown up there too. That’s what she said.
9jafeminista: Did she keep the pregnancy?
David: She did. Baby turned two this year so I’m hoping she’ll get admission next year to resume school
9jafeminista: I’m so glad she’s trying to get her life together. Actually you sound so much like their dad… You’re very protective of them.
David: My sisters are the real heroes. I just do the occasional roforofo [translation: troublemaking] here and there (smiles)
9jafeminista: Has this in any way affected your relationship with your parents?
David: (laughs) hope this won’t sound like too much tragedy but my mom passed when I was in JSS3. Me and the big man are not too particularly close. He tries as a dad. But we’re not too close
9jafeminista: It’s not a tragedy because you all survived it. Getting on with your lives. And you are a better man and your sisters are strong women and that’s what’s important. This is a story of triumph. What would you say is the greatest lesson you’ve learnt from this?
David: Well like I keep saying the danger witches portend, if they exist (I’ve since become agnostic) is nothing compared to the evil that goes on because we’re scared of witches/witchcraft. And no, religious bodies do not have all the answers. Religious organizations should stick to what they were originally called to do and leave matters outside their purview to the professionals trained to handle such. Apart from witches, there was a mad chap chained to one of those deliverance churches they took us to. I don’t know what eventually happened to him. The prayer warriors were trying to deliver him from his demons too. Funny now remembering that they would minister to him chained. Nobody wants to test their Jesus before a raging unchained mad man. I think they moved us to another church shortly after then.