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Ending Elder Abuse and Murder for Witchcraft in Nigeria

Feature Article Ending Elder Abuse and Murder for Witchcraft in Nigeria
TUE, 18 JUN 2024 LISTEN

"It is confirmed. She is dead". Bukky, who directs an NGO based in Akure, messaged me, breaking this sad news. She traveled several kilometers to help confirm a case of witch burning in Ondo West. Since June 15, the Advocacy for Alleged Witches has been trying to get some emergency help to an 86-year-old woman, Iya Sunday. She was battling for her life. Unfortunately, it was a weekend, and the Sallah holiday had started in Nigeria.

Offices were closed, and many people were not in the mood and position to offer support. As usual, advocates tried reaching the Commissioner of Police, the Police Public Relations Officer, the coordinator, the National Human Rights Commission in Akure, the FIDA office in the state, and other agencies, without success. Either they were not picking up calls, or numbers were switched off. Some responded that they had traveled for the Sallah holiday and could not help.

Following a random search of NGOs in Akure, we contacted Bukky. Her organization focuses on children. But on hearing the story, she readily agreed to visit and made sure Mama got some urgent help. We contacted her on Saturday. She promised to travel to Ondo West on Monday, and she did. Bukky went straight to Enu Owa police division, where they reported the matter.

The police were not cooperative at the beginning. But she did not give up. The police were not forthcoming with information about the woman. She later met a police officer who was aware of the case and who broke the sad news to her: "Mama ti ku" meaning "Mama has passed away". The officer told her that Grandma died the previous day. Iya Sunday reportedly sustained serious injuries after the daughter, Abiodun, accused her of witchcraft and subsequently set her ablaze. Photos of the burns all over her body were heart-wrenching. At the Advocacy for Alleged Witches, we hoped she would pull through. That we would help her pull through. But she didn't. Our help got there too little too late. The news of her passing devastated us. Much more painful was the fact that her daughter, who should have protected and defended her, killed her. Her daughter set her ablaze like a piece of rubbish.

When they interviewed the daughter, she said: “I went to my mother’s house around 4 a.m. and sat outside. When it was 5 a.m., I called out my mother from the house. Immediately after she came out, not knowing what was happening, I poured petrol on her body and set her on fire".

The daughter noted that she killed the mother because the pastor said that the mother was responsible for her problems: "What started it is that I went to one pastor for prayer, and he told me that my mother is behind what is happening to me. I did not believe it at first. My mother also took me somewhere to see a woman. After my mother left, the woman also said the same thing. I burnt my mother because of what I heard from the pastor and the woman, that I can only be free from bondage when my mother is dead”.

This story illustrates how pastors damage family relationships; how they exploit people's gullibility. Pastors incite hate, murder, and violence in many families. They turn children against their parents. It is unfortunate that in the absence of something reasonable to tell those who consult them, pastors, diviners, mallams, and other religious actors make up things. They make people believe that other human beings can harm or kill them, that relatives cause illness, accidents, or death through magical or spiritual means. Unfortunately, many believe this irrational and superstitious nonsense. As in this case, they attack and kill other human beings, including relatives as a result of this irrational belief. Older persons are usually the target.

It is pertinent to note that the news of this incident reached us on June 15, a day set aside by the United Nations to encourage the world to pay greater attention to the well-being and adequate health care of older persons. Elder abuse and murder for witchcraft are rampant in Nigeria especially in poor families where children cannot afford to cater for their ageing parents. And in communities where homes for the elderly are non existent.

To honor the memory of Iya Sunday and other older persons who have been targeted and killed for witchcraft, the Advocacy for Alleged Witches calls for the prosecution of Abiodun and others implicated in this horrific crime. The police should not abandon the matter as often the case. They should ensure that justice is done. That Iya Sunday did not die in vain. Elders are human beings and should be treated with dignity and respect. The police should arrest and investigate the so-called pastor, who stated that Iya Sunday was responsible for the daughter's problems. Pastors who peddle misconceptions, and superstitious narratives should not go scot-free.

They aid and abet crimes; they endanger lives and should be held accountable and responsible for their actions and claims.

Let us join hands and end elder abuse and persecution in the name of witchcraft.

Leo Igwe directs Advocacy for Alleged Witches

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Started: 02-07-2024 | Ends: 31-10-2024

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