Witchcraft, the new epidemic in Nigeria by Sarah Udoh-Grossfurthner
It seems to be the growing trend that whenever attention-grabbing news comes out of Nigeria these days it invariably must be of the negative kind. It has become so bad that whenever I spy the word 'Nigeria' in any story my heart does a double-take and my first inclination is to skip that particular news altogether. Either that or I put off reading it long enough to collect my thoughts and ready myself for the negative onslaught I know I am bound to find.
Recently a friend in London sent me a BBC News link with the title, Is Witchcraft alive in Africa?' As can be imagined, I did not open that link (which had other links attached to it) for several days. I was afraid that Nigeria would figure prominently in it. When I eventually got up the nerves to open it, I was not disappointed. Blaring out in bold enlarged fonts were the words 'Child-Witches,' of Nigeria Seek Refuge. ' The articles which followed, went on to howl the increasing menace of witchcraft in Nigeria and its most virulent by-products – abuse and torture of children purported to be witches.
As with everything else negative concerning Africa, witchcraft has become the latest 'Cause Celebre' of the international community. In Akwa Ibom, one of the States in Nigeria most affected by the issue of witchcraft, the State Governor, Chief Godswill Akpabio is said to be very angry over the issue and he is laying the blame for these tortures squarely on the shoulders of churches and spiritual homes. To that effect, he has promised to 'destroy and demolish every church that is engaged in any stupid vision in Akwa Ibom State.' Although I can understand the Governor's anger and his need to solve this problem quickly, monitoring churches and possibly closing down some that are found guilty, is not going to engender any long-term solution for the simple reason that churches and spiritual homes (though constituting a portion of the ills) are not the root cause of the problem.
I come from a village, not quite up to 20km from Ikot Ekpene – the biggest transit town linking Abia State and Uyo the capital of Akwa Ibom. Up until now there's neither electricity nor pipe born water in my village. The electrical poles that are mounted have been bought with money, collected on an annual basis, from indigenes of the village. The electricity, that one sees occasionally, is transmitted by individually-owned power generating set. Same goes for the pipe born water. Besides these two very basic unmet needs, I have witnessed dire poverty in the homes of people who basically spend 12 hours a day working under extreme weather, at farms jobs which does not bring in enough at the end of their labour to feed, cloth, much less pay the school fees of their children. In the last two years alone Akwa Ibom State is said to have received more than N186 billion as its share of the oil revenue, from the federal account.
If a village that is less than 45km from the capital city of a State that received such an amount (N186 billion) in less than two years, lacks the most basic of fundamental needs like water and electricity, how then will its citizen not turn to those who promise to offer them a semblance of relieve from their seemingly endless daily woes? The fundamental law of economics says that supply can only flourish where there is demand. In Nigeria today extreme hardship and poverty has led to an explosion of churches and spiritual homes. People want to be able to live with a degree of dignity, to afford their children the basics of life, but their country cannot afford them this simple want. So what do they do? Here come phoney churches and their equally phoney pastors all promising 'in the name of Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit' to give these people relieve from their hardships. A show of credibility is often mandatory for these churches and their pastors. Simply put, the promises they make to their congregation must be delivered if they are to draw the huge crowd necessary to getting stupendously wealthy in the shortest time possible. And so, to engender that credibility and deliver on those promises, they often resort to demonic and occultic practices to bring about their 'miraculous' powers. In other words, there's a strong correlation between poverty and the proliferation of bogus churches and spiritual homes. Solve, or at least alleviate, some of the hardship and poverty and you reduce this supply-demand chain.
Furthermore, development in any area of course brings not just the positive but also the negative. We've heard of the mind-blowing wealth enjoyed by some churches in Nigeria. It stands to reason therefore, that all kinds of undesirable institutions posing as churches will try to share in this wealth. What do they usually offer their congregations? An ability to cure all ills, engender financial windfall, relieve hardship and restore general well-being. Juxtapose that with a highly superstitious society desperately seeking for ways out of its hardship. And you have avaricious individuals posing as pastors who will do anything - including accusing innocent children of witchcraft and torturing them – to join the exalted ranks of those wealthy churches.
As is often quoted in Nigeria, one bad child can tarnish the reputation of the most virtuous of mothers. With the out-lash that is bound to arise following the declaration of the Governor to 'make examples out of some people' and 'chase out some churches in the State which are found wanting' genuine churches in Akwa Ibom State are going to be under suspicions because of the nefarious activities of wolves in their midst. The saga that is known as Nigeria continues.
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