Witch burning, impunity and abuses linked to witchcraft beliefs in Benue State

Feature Article Witch burning, impunity and abuses linked to witchcraft beliefs in Benue State
JAN 20, 2023 LISTEN

On Wednesday, January 18, 2023, an advocate drew the attention of the Advocacy for Alleged Witches to a Facebook post that recounted a horrific incident of witch burning in Benue state in Central Nigeria. The post says "Viewer Discretion! This act is barbaric and condemnable Mr. Justin Gyado is over 70 years and hails from the Mbaivur community of Gwer East LGA of Benue State. According to findings, some youths in his community accused him of being responsible for the death of one of their fellow youths in the community through witchcraft, the reason for which the youths resorted to jungle justice. On Friday evening(13th January 2023), the youths accused the old man, tied him up, set fire to him, and roasted him intending to get a confession from him. All efforts to rescue the poor man proved abortive as even the Police were chased away by these Youths who threatened mayhem. However, on Saturday afternoon, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps NSCDC reinforced and went to the community and rescued the old man after being badly hurt by the furnace of the fire. He is said to be currently receiving medical attention in one of the hospitals in Makurdi. Should this kind of barbaric act be allowed to go unpunished by relevant authorities in the 21st century? We pray God heals him".

As soon as the news reached us we tried to contact the family and relevant agencies in Benue state and beyond. We send the message to the police public relations officer but she did not reply. We contact the DSS officer in the state who sent us the contact of the director of NSCDC in Makurdi. The director eventually sent us the contact of the family member who was looking after the victim at the hospital. The AfAW contact person visited them at the hospital. Here is what we know about the incident. Pa Justine Kyadoo is 89 years. He hails from Mbakese Mbagyor Gbemacha Gwer East LGA of Benue State. The incident took place between January 13 to 14 2023. He was accused of killing a 30-year-old man, Terzungwe Agena. Following the death of Agena, some people consulted a seer who identified four elders as responsible for the death of Terzungwe Agena. The four elders are; Mbater Adawa, Ukeyima Ukuma, Ikuraga Agena, and the accused, Justine Kyadoo. However, only Justine was singled out for persecution. The mob abducted him from his residence at Ikpayongo. They dragged him to the village, to the house of Mbater Adawa, one of the 4 elderly men identified by the seer as being responsible for the death of deceased Terzungwe Agena. They beat Pa Justin and tied him up to be burnt. He pleaded with a community member, Mbater Adawa, to intervene, and help rescue him. But Adawa shouted him down and vowed to burn rubber on his fingers. By midnight of the 13th of January 2023, they set him ablaze. He was burning and screaming for help. The local chief, Zaki Clement Akendetagher, pleaded and urged his tormentors to set him free but the group refused. They reminded him that his kinship was not legitimate; that it was not a reflection of their choice. That the chief was not in a position to tell them what to do. While this was going on, Justine's daughter, Ann, was going around pleading with policemen, soldiers, etc to save the life of her father, and arrest his persecutors. She succeeded in getting some, after paying some bribe. The Police were able to rescue Pa Justine, who was already severely burnt. They brought him to the station before transferring him to the hospital, the Federal Medical Center Apir. According to family sources, those who took part in beating and lynching Pa Justine include Ushahemba Agena, a relative of the accused, Eric Lorchir, Teryile Utso, also a relative of the accused, Gbetar Acho, Angbiandoo Akaaya AKA Aneko, Sunday Ahambe, Ushahemba Kombo, Teryile Tarboo, Terzungwe Iornumbe, Terkimbir Tsedir, Aondona Utee, Ahamgba Tarza, and Akeve Agena. A family member told AfAW that, while in the hospital, one of the persecutors, Ushahemba Agena, came to attack him. But someone identified him, alerted the security and they chased him away.

The family is living in fear because Pa Justine's persecutors reportedly met and resolved to murder him. The AfAW urges the police should take necessary measures to protect Pa Justine and ensure that he suffers no further harm. The police should arrest the suspects and bring to justice all who perpetrated this crime including the seer who identified Pa Justine as the person responsible for the death of Terzungwe Agena. Mob violence against alleged witches has persisted because perpetrators get away with their crimes. Those who attack or lynch accused persons are not arrested investigated or punished. The police have yet to arrest anyone linked to the murder of two elders for witchcraft in October. From the reports, the two cases happened in the same local government, Gwer East. So there is a pattern of killing alleged witches in the area. And this pattern must be broken. This culture of impunity must end. The Advocacy for Alleged Witches will work with relevant agencies to educate and sensitize the people, and help reorient and reason them out of this primitive superstitions and savagery. The AfAW further donated 20, 000 naira towards Pa Justin's medical bills. Victims of witch persecution need support and care. The AfAW will pressure the police, ministry of justice, and other agencies to ensure that justice is done in this case.