The year 2020 has witnessed an exponential rise in witch-hunts in Africa, especially in West Africa. Within this context, the elderly and children, who constitute a helpless and vulnerable category, have suffered indifferent, cruel, sadistic and/or barbaric treatment from people – including family members – who accuse them of being responsible for one form of ill luck or death of another person or people. It is, on this note, that the Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AFAW) was established by Nigerian humanist, Dr. Leo Igwe, with the vision to end witchcraft persecution by 2030. Since its inception, the Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AFAW) has been able to track and intervene in several life threatening witch accusation and persecution cases.
In this report, therefore, you will read more about the objectives of Advocacy for Alleged Witches and the challenges that it faced, as well as cases handled so far by the organisation.
In this century, it would be expected that humans view the events of earlier centuries like items in a museum, given the advancement of reason and science. While this is the case in other parts of the world such as the industrialized part of Europe and America, Africa, Latin America, and some parts of Asia tell different stories. One issue that has survived the old world and still happens in contemporary Africa is witch hunting.
In Africa, cases of death, diseases, poverty, and/or ill luck are often interpreted as witchcraft related. The superstitious belief that physical events are manipulated by an older relative or person in the community is widely accepted. This is why, in communities, there are witch hunters or doctors, with assumed traditional powers, to identify witches and to exorcise witchcraft. Sometimes, as in the case of Hassan Patigi ( http://saharareporters.com/2020/08/13/group-urges-niger-state-government-police-stop-hassan-patigiswitchcraftexorcismmokwa), these self-acclaimed healers and witchcraft exorcists move round communities healing or identifying alleged witches through unhealthy, humiliating and unorthodox means. The class of people who are mostly affected are women and children. When accused, this class of people stands a high chance of being lynched or burnt by community members. There are recorded cases where families have cast out children who are accused of belonging to covens. Some accused persons are banished from their homelands and deprived of possession of whatever properties or investments previously had in such lands. Given the grounded belief in witchcraft in Africa, members of these communities support and even join in the persecution of alleged witches. And when alleged witches are harassed, stigmatized or lynched, family members actively involve themselves in the maltreatment of these perpetrators of occult harm.
Over the years, governments in Africa have done little especially to address these persecutions or to enlighten the people about the falsity of these ideas. Often, when an alleged witch is killed, the government makes condemnatory statements which are not followed with expected concrete action – the arrest and prosecution of the guilty and education of the people. Witchcraft is not real. It is a baseless unverified illogical belief. If it were real, those accused would employ their supernatural powers to defend themselves from these persecutors. As Nowak says: “there is no such thing as witchcraft. But there are accusations and stigmatization designed to demonize people; indeed to discredit in order to gain selfish advantage for others”( https://www.dw.com/en/witch-hunts-a-global-problem-in-the21stcentury/a54495289).
As related by the founder of the Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AFAW), Dr. Leo Igwe, in response to the existing outrageous situation, he launched the advocacy for Alleged Witches project earlier this year, with the vision to end witch persecution in Africa by 2030. ( https://peoplesdailyng.com/the-real-witch-hunting-in-africa/).
The following has been identified as the objectives of the Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AFAW);
i. Defending and empowering alleged witches
ii. Educating and enlightening witchcraft accusers and believers
iii. Pressuring state authorities to protect citizens and maintaining law and order.
iv. Fostering critical thinking in schools.
NEWS ITEMS/ACTIVITIES OF AFAW
At its inception, AFAW organized two campus seminars at the University of Ibadan and Nsukka on the theme: who is afraid of witches/witchcraft on campuses? Christian students at the University of Nigeria Nsukka opposed the organization of an academic seminar on witchcraft at the university as they claimed that it was a solicitation for witches to take over the university. The Christian students later organized a parallel prayer conference to spiritually counter the seminar. In fact, the organizers had to change the venue as the initial venue was cancelled. The organizers also changed the theme of the seminar from, Witchcraft: Meaning, factors and Practices to Dimensions of Human Behaviour”. ( https://peoplesdailyng.com/the-real-witch-hunting-in-africa).
AFAW has also intervened in a numbers of cases;
- AFAW intervened in a case where a man was almost lynched for ‘stealing the destinies of youths in the community through occult means”. ( https://peoplesdailyng.com/the-real-witch-hunting-in-africa).
- AFAW has continued to draw the attention of local authorities in Nigeria to the disgraceful witch-hunting activities in Mokwa, Niger State, where a local self-acclaimed healer and witch exorcist, Hassan Patigi, performs witchcraft exorcism using sachets of water, torture, inhuman and degrading methods. ( http://saharareporters.com/2020/08/13/group-urges-niger-state-government-police-stop-hassan-patigis-witchcraft-exorcism-mokwa).
AFAW intervened in a case where an elderly woman in Akamkpa, Cross River State was nearly lynched by her family members and community. She was accused of using witchcraft to kill her relatives. The founder of AFAW, Dr. Leo Igwe, was attending an event in Lagos when the news reached him. He was being interviewed by a renowned Nigerian journalist, Funmi Iyanda at her Lagos studio where she featured the issue of child witch persecution in one of her public eye episodes. The Advocacy for Alleged witches, have been in touch with the accused who was banished from the community, and provided her with funds to rent a new apartment as her case is being processed in court. ( https://www.modernghana.com/news/1027633/witch-persecutionandcourtsysteminakamkpa.html)
The Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AFAW) issued a statement strongly condemning the practice of sassywood, the drinking of concoctions and other witch-detecting rituals which resulted to the death of an alleged witch, Sarah Togbe, in Grand Gedeh County in Liberia. Togbe had collapsed and died after taking local concoctions made from the bark of the Erythrophleum Sauveolens tree. She resorted to self-administering the poisonous-drink to clean her name” of all accusations that she killed her father. The Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AFAW) have asked the authorities in Liberia to take measures to stop persecution and trial by ordeal of suspected witches and wizards, and sanction community leaders who condone such unhealthy practice. ( https://www.modernghana.com/news/1025431/sassywood-and-witch-persecution-in-liberia.html).
AFAW is supporting victims of witch-burning in Cross-River State, and child witch victims in Plateau and Ogun States.
In Cross River, AFAW issued a statement condemning the burning of alleged witches and calling for the arrest and prosecution of Thomas Obi Tawo AKA General Iron, an adviser to the Cross-River State Governor who ordered the burning of about 20 persons alleged to be witches. Some of the victims have died while others are in hospitals nursing their wounds. It was discovered that the alleged witches were identified using a mirror. Among the burnt persons is the uncle of General Iron, whom he claimed that he saw in his dream trying to kill him. Another relative of General Iron said that the fire affected his private organ which has made it difficult for him to urinate.
In response to the above, AFAW has called on the Inspector General of Police and the Governor of Cross-River, Prof. Ben Ayade to arrest and prosecute Thomas Obi Tawo (General Iron), his Special Adviser on forest security. AFAW has also asked the government to compensate victims and families of victims/survivors for their losses. https://in-sightjournal.com/2020/06/03/afaw-condemns-witch-burning-in-cross-river-state-calls-for-arrest-and-prosecution-of-thomas-obi-tawo-aka-general-iron/amp/
In Plateau State, AFAW reached out to two children accused of witchcraft and burnt. These children were accused by a sick family member of being responsible for his illness. A Christian evangelist, who came with a fuel in a gallon was invited to question the children, and when the children denied the allegation and started crying, someone in the crowd poured the fuel on them. Another person set them ablaze with a box of matches.
AFAW is working with the family of the victims to support and rehabilitate them. The program focuses on two areas – medical treatment and education. ( http://saharareporters.com/2020/08/12/children-burnt-witchcraft-central-nigeria-leo-igwe).
- AFAW has also condemned the murder of an accused witch in Ghana. 90-year old Akua Denteh, accused of witchcraft in Kafaba, East Gonja in Northern Ghana, was killed in public. A video showed how people gathered and watched her hit with objects and finally set ablaze. Akua Denteh was accused of being responsible for several misfortunes in the community. This accusation was confirmed by a local diviner called Tindana. AFAW has called on the government of Ghana to put in place effective and proactive mechanisms against witchcraft allegations and witch persecution. https://www.modernghana.com/news/1020142/akua-denteh-last-witch-to-be-murdered-in-ghana.html
AFAW strongly condemned the banishment of a woman in Ezi Akani Ukpa in Afikpo North for allegedly using charms. In the statement, AFAW stated that the case of this woman illustrates the ravaging impact of superstition based abuses. Accordingly, AFAW regards the banishment as an act of cruelty, and a debasement of humanity.
On September 3, 2020, an advocate drew the attention of the founder of AFAW, Dr Leo Igwe, to a video that was circulating online. In the video titled, A Woman Accused of Using Evil Charms Was Banished from Her Village Ezi Akani Ukpa Afikpo Ebonyi State, video and posted on a Facebook page called Palace of Justice , a woman was expelled by members of her community of a woman for allegedly using charms. In the video, the woman was carrying a baby, about two years old, and holding a handbag, a sack, a calabash containing the so-called charms. While been driven out, commentator said: "The woman that has been affecting the community for some time in Ezi Akani Ukpa. She has been told to leave the community for good". By 'affecting', the commentator meant that the woman had used the charms to kill or harm people in the community. After being rejected by a neighboring community, she was forced to relocate to her father’s hometown. AFAW notes that ‘it is shocking to know that this form of maltreatment is going on in 21st century Nigeria. There is no evidence that the so-called charms harmed anyone in the Ezi Akani Ukpa community. And nobody has the right to banish another human being.’
AFAW has resolved to ‘trace this woman who has been scapegoated by people in Ezi Akani to support her and her children. AFAW will explore ways of engaging the leaders and youths of Ezi Akani community and help dispel superstitious beliefs and fears that often motivate these abusive treatments. AFAW believes that if people do not abandon superstitious notions and magical beliefs and embrace scientific outlook and critical thought, such acts of cruelty and abuse will not stop.
Again, recently, the Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AFAW) urged the government of Niger State to immediately prevail on the traditional ruler of Mokwa, the Ndalile of Mokwa, Shaba Aliyu Mohammed, to immediately stop the inhuman and abusive healing practices of Mallam Hasan Patigi, an exorcist, in Niger state. The Founder of AFAW, Dr. Leo Igwe, has called on the Ndalile of Mokwa to discontinue his support and endorsement of Patigi’s fake healing and inhuman treatment of the people of Mokwa. He stated that “some revulsive images and videos of Patigi’s healing activities have been circulating online, showing scenes of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment of alleged witches, and others he claimed to be healing. In some of the videos, Patigi forced alleged witches to go naked, fight and urinate on themselves. In one video, Hassan Patigi was seen maltreating an old woman, accused of witchcraft in the community.’’ Sadly, the Ndalile of Mokwa has refused to retract his support for Patigi who uses his compound for healing sessions. AFAW will continue to explore various legal ways of stopping Patigi from carrying out his abusive healing sessions.
Finally, AFAW has also written and petitioned the authorities in Ghana, Zambia, Nigeria, and Malawi, drawing their attention to witch persecution in these countries. ( https://peoplesdailyng.com/the-real-witch-hunting-in-africa/)
- AFAW recommends that governments in Africa should place effective and proactive mechanisms against witchcraft allegations and persecution.
- AFAW appeals to the government in Africa, to expose and sanction all witch hunting pastors and traditionalists.
- AFAW urges the police to ensure the security of life and property of every person.
- AFAW request the police to enforce the laws against witchcraft accusation, the perpetration of jungle justice and trial by ordeal in all African countries.
- AFAW requests the governments in Africa to defray the cost of medical treatment for all victims.
- AFAW asks the governments in Africa to compensate victims and families of victims/survivors for their loss.
- AFAW requests the government to sponsor public health education and science literary programs. AFAW also recommends the mandatory acceptance of evidence based knowledge to expose the falsity of superstitious beliefs.
To do this, AFAW recommends the setting up of a team tasked with the goal of intensive education and enlightenment of communities. It must be made known, and accepted that, witchcraft is a baseless accusation or belief. It has no basis in reason, science, or reality.
The campaign against witchcraft persecution in Africa is an costly activity. It requires support to alleged witches, transportation, litigation, security, education, etc. To this end, AFAW is appealing to the public to support the project and help eradicate witchcraft persecution in Africa by donating to the project via the link below.