Witch Persecution And Miscarriage Of Justice In Adamawa, Nigeria

By Leo Igwe
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The Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AfAW) urges the Adamawa state government to take urgent measures to tackle witch trials and persecution in the state. This appeal has become necessary following reported cases of abuse linked to witchcraft allegations and the failure of state institutions to address this menace. Through the office of the National Human Rights Commission in Yola, AfAW has received reports of witch persecution in Adamawa.

In one case, a 17-year old girl, Ms. Remigius was accused of witchcraft and subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment. According to a local source, the incident took place sometime in October/November in 2018 in Gaya district in Adamawa-Hong local government. The district head, Idris Abdullahi presided over the witch trial. Mr. Abdullahi invited some traditional 'witch doctors' after a girl fell ill. The witch doctors gave her some concoctions and she mentioned the name of Ms. Remigius and two other girls who initiated her.

The district head invited these girls and asked if they were responsible for the girl's ailment but they denied it. The girls were told that they would return on a particular date when they would be tested and confirmed if they were guilty or not. As part of the trial, the traditional witch doctor would give them some concoction to drink. A rope would be tied around their neck, while the other end of the rope is placed inside a hole that was dug purposely for this trial. The witch hunter would tie their hands behind their back. Anyone who is guilty would be unable to stand after taking the concoction. If the accused is guilty, he or she would fall into the hole.

A date was agreed when the girls would undergo the trial. However, out of fear, a mother to one of the accused girls asked her to accept so that she would not be subjected to this ordeal. And she accepted. The witch doctor fined her 50,000 naira (110 dollars) But Ms. Remigius stood her ground. She maintained her innocence and agreed to go through the trial. Her father opposed the trial but the district head and the traditional witch doctor insisted that the trial would go ahead.

On the said date, which was a market day, the witch doctor stripped Ms. Remigius naked and made her stand before the public. He gave her some concoction to drink and left her under the hot sun from 9.00 am to 4 .00pm. The grandmother and her sister went to the scene, which was the residence of Mallam Shuaibu but they did not allow them to see her.

According to a family source, others who also drank the concoction were vomiting in the night but Ms. Remigius did not. She inquired from the traditional witch doctors who stated that she had not been fully initiated, that she was six months away from being fully initiated into the witchcraft world. The witch doctor asked Ms. Remigius to pay 150,000 naira (330 dollars) to stop her full initiation but she refused. Since the witch doctor was unable to confirm her guilt, Ms. Remigius' father asked the district head and the witch doctor to release her daughter but they declined. They state that they would take to the prison.

Ms. Remigius' reported the matter at the local police station in Hong. The police met with the traditional witch doctor and the girl at the house of the district head. They released Ms. Remigius and she went home with the father. Ms. Remigius' family took her to a local hospital where she was medically examined and treated for the injuries. The rope bruised her neck and hands. In addition, Ms. Remigius' family filed a complaint with the state police command in Yola, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, and the office of the National Human Rights Commission. According to family sources, the police told the complainants to report back several times and nothing came out of the process. The commissioner of Justice and the NHRC office in Yola invited the district head but he did not honor the invitation. After going through the complaint, the office of the NHRC in Yola awarded a compensation of 50,000 naira to the accused. However, family sources revealed that the said amount had yet to get to the accused.

In a related development, another woman, Mrs. Wisdom (55), has been subjected to torture, inhumane and degrading treatment in the name of witchcraft in Njoboliyo in Yola south. According to a relative, Mrs. Wisdom was severally accused. A Christian pastor, Imani Gideon was the main driver of the accusations. Pastor Gideon used to conduct prayer sessions at his residence and during the program, some people go into a trance to make some confessions. The pastor has some teenage girls, called the angels, who claim to have supernatural powers and they usually reveal those who have occult powers in the community. On one occasion, a woman confessed during a prayer session that Mrs. Wisdom wanted to kill her family member through occult means. Another man attempted to murder Mrs. Wisdom with a machete and javelin in the night. The daughter claimed that Mrs. Wisdom wanted to kill her in the dream. Fortunately, some neighbors intervened and the man could not harm him. Shortly after that another man, Absalom Ausa, broke into Mrs. Wisdom's house and attacked her. He hit her with a big stick and injured her on the hand and head. But Mrs. Wisdom managed to escape to a local police station. From there she was taken to a local hospital where she was treated. On her return from the hospital, the elder brother of Absalom, Babangida saw Mrs. Wisdom at the premises of the police station. He held her on her clothe and slapped her. The police did not arrest or punish this man. Mrs. Wisdom continued to live in fear for her life and at a point, she fled the village and went to live with a relative in Yola North. While she was living there, Pastor Gideon through the village head invited her to his residence for some prayers but she refused to go fearing that they would harm her. After some time, the pastor sent some thugs in a car with a police officer and they came and abducted her.

On reaching the pastor's residence, they forced her to lie on the floor and tried to pluck out the eyes. They accused her of killing the first wife of the pastor. And the second wife alleged that Mrs. Wisdom used her mystical powers to stop her from getting pregnant. They beat her and broke her leg. They removed her wedding ring claiming that it was an occult ring. In the presence of villagers and a police officer, they stripped her naked and flogged her with a power cable, and put some pepper on her private part. In addition, they hit her on the head with heavy metal and continued to beat her with a cable and a big stick that they call Gora in Hausa language. They also gave her some concoction to drink. In the cause of the trial, the Pastor's wife said that God told her that she would give birth to twins named Paul and Paulina. But Mrs. Wisdom prevented her from getting pregnant. One of those torturing Mrs. Wisdom told her to make the pastor's wife pregnant before November otherwise they would kill her anywhere they found her. According to family sources, they tortured Mrs. Wisdom to the point that she agreed to all the allegations so that she could remain alive. A man was the community later intervened and they stopped torturing. The following day they brought the woman back to her residence. Some family members took her to the hospital where she has been receiving treatment. They later reported the matter to the National Human Rights Commission office in Yola. After examining the complaint, the commission awarded a compensation of 300,000 naira (530 dollars). Family sources told AfAW that the alleged witch has yet to receive the compensation. Here is a copy of the submission which the family made to the NHRC office in Yola: "Torture, Inhuman, Cruel and Degrading Treatment/False Accusation: The whole incident started with series of accusations from some of the members of her community. Then one Rejoice claimed that the victim tried to kill her elder brother when the prayer was going on. Also on a subsequent occasion one with the name lovely a male, came and attempted to kill the victim with javelin and machete in the night when he was told by his daughter that she dreamed that the victim came with a knife wanted to kill her. But fortunately for the victim, her neighbors stop him and he went away.

After some months from the precious incident then one Absalom Ausa, a male, came to the victim house and hit her with a big stick on her head and even injures her and cut both her finger and her palm, and broke the door of the par-low and main room into pieces. Seeing that the victim ran to the police station of the village and she was taking to the hospital where she was been treated. On the same day after they left the hospital and return to the police station then the elder brother to Absalom with the name Babangida Ausa held her shirt and rapper and Slap her and tore it. After three weeks after the incident at the police station, when the pressure on the victim got high she ran from the village to her elder sister in Rumde Makera, yola north, with the help of some people. Then the Village Head sent one of his guard, S.O (Station Officer) and vigilante to her elder sister house to come with the victim but she refused to go with them, then they called the pastor on phone and told him, after hearing that the pastor sent his car and some strong men to come with her. And they came and took her away with the promise that the pastor will only pray for her. On reaching the pastor’s resident they laid her down trying to plug out her eyes they said she is the one that killed the first wife of the pastor. And his second wife said that she was the one who prevented her from getting pregnant. And because of the pastor’s wife, they broke the victim's leg and they even removed her wedding ring that which’s an occult ring Still in the presence of the village Head the pastor his Wife, S.O and many other people who came to see what was happening, the stripped her naked, tortured her with electrical wire and they also put/applied pepper on her private part. Only God and she knew the pains she was going through at that time and even after. But that’s was not even enough, they took one heavy metal with it the have been hitting her head with it. After that, they continued beating her with electric cable on her body, and with another big stick known as Gora in the Hausa Language, they hit her leg hard which lead to a fracture in the leg. Whenever they asked her to agree to the accusation when she says no they continue beating and torturing her, they even gave her Acid to drink which she did, when she prayed in her heart unknowingly to them, and to the glory of God she didn’t die as expected by them. The wife of the pastor said God told her that she will get pregnant and give birth to two children with the name Paul and Paulina but the victim prevented that from happening. And one of the torturers by the name Gabriel Clair who broke her leg said if she didn’t make her get pregnant before November last year, Anywhere they see you they will kill you. They did a lot of atrocities to her and damage her health physically and psychologically, with some of the pictures attached herewith will prove to you beyond all reasonable doubt, not when you even see her physically the scars are evident. The pastor has some teenage children who they refer to them as angels they are the ones who claimed to have supernatural powers who can see beyond human eyes, they are the ones that told the pastor who is an occult person and witchcraft. They tortured my mother to the point that she had no choice but to agree to their accusations so that she will live. And what they do is, they will call the name of someone and said are you the one that killed that person she will answer yes, just anything they said she will agree to it. Lastly, the most painful thing is that no single prayer has been done to her which is what they said they will take her there for, but they ended up beating, torturing, and threatening her life. They tarnished her image, making almost 90% of her own community people and other people outside, see her as a witch"

Local sources have noted that witch trials and persecution are pervasive in Adamawa. District and village heads often invite traditional doctors and pastors to carry witch finding and witch cleansing in the communities. Witch hunters administer concoctions to alleged witches. These concoctions are poisonous and sometimes lead to death or permanent health damage. Victims of witch persecution largely suffer in silence. They resign to their fate and do not speak out or seldom take action against their accusers and persecutors. As the two cases have illustrated, even in situations where they seek redress, justice is elusive. The police are unable to carry out arrested and investigations. The attorney generals cannot ensure that justice is done. Even compensations that the NHRC promised have yet to get to the victims. AfAW concerned over the inability of state institutions to protect and defend alleged witches in Adamawa AfAW is outraged that sometimes state agents such as police officers are complicity in horrific witch abuse and trials in the communities.

AfAW asks the police and government of Adamawa to arrest and prosecute district and village heads, Christian, Muslim, and traditional witch doctors, and other perpetrators of witch-hunting in the communities. The government should ensure that there are serious consequences for indulging in witch persecution and trial by ordeal of alleged witches.

AfAW enjoins the NHRC to make good its promise of compensating victims of witch persecution. The Commission should ensure that the compensation of 50,000 naira and 300,000 naira reaches Ms. Remigious and Mrs. Wisdom respectively. Compensations are pointless and empty promises and if the recompense is not delivered to those who suffered harm or loss. AfAW appeals to the people of Adamawa to abandon superstitions including misconceptions about the cause of misfortunes and embrace science and critical thinking. Dream experiences are fantasies informed by wishful thinking and anxieties. People of Adamawa should become advocates against witchcraft accusations and witch persecution. They should join efforts with AfAW to dispel witchcraft fears and anxieties and make witchcraft accusations and witch-killing history in 2030.