Barely three weeks after I wrote about the harmful effects of witchcraft superstitions on our society, an ill-looking woman with a massively protuberant tummy has been killed in Delta State for allegedly stealing another woman’s pregnancy through witchcraft. Judging by the appearance of her emaciated body and massively swollen tummy, the woman could have had any of the following conditions: advanced ovarian or stomach cancer, tuberculosis, liver or kidney disease. In a country like the United Kingdom where I practise, her condition would have been diagnosed much earlier and she would have benefited from world-class treatment without paying a dime. Unfortunately, she lives in Nigeria where our thieving leaders fly abroad to treat themselves and their families, and the ordinary citizen is left at the mercy of faith healers, charlatans and a poorly resourced healthcare system. But if you think life couldn’t be any more complicated for the weak and defenceless citizen, then think again. It’s not uncommon for children and elderly women to get labelled as witches and suffer social ostracism, emotional trauma or be even beaten to death.
This graphic video documents the degree of harm caused by witchcraft superstitions in African societies. The victims were accused of being witches, severely beaten and burnt alive. Their assaulters are doing precisely what the bible says in Exodus 22:18 - "Do not allow a witch to live." As the predominant religions in Africa, Christianity and Islam have perpetuated the superstitious beliefs in demons, evil spirits, genies, witches and wizards - and even highly educated Africans believe these entities are real.
On two separate occasions in 2014, someone reported they saw a low-flying bird crash into a live electric pole and transform itself into a woman sustaining severe burns in the process. The large crowd that gathered around these bird-women was more interested in taking photos to post on social media later than helping them get medical treatment. This is the extent of our depravity and the value we attach to life. Did I mention that, on both occasions, no proof was provided for the transmogrifications?
Every now and again, an individual would allege that someone on a crowded bus or some other crowded space has touched their crotch and caused their genitals to disappear. The accused person is usually beaten blue-black by a mob, and many have died from their injuries. At the heart of this problem is the willingness of people to take action on poor evidence. The accuser is never asked to pull down their underpants for inspection. Till date, no one has caught the disappearance of genitals on camera. This is pretty much the case with witchcraft - the believer usually knows someone who knows another person who has seen a witch transform into an animal but these transmogrifications have never been caught on camera or video. Do you know why? Precisely because witches, just like evil spirits, demons, gods, unicorns and Santa Claus, do not exist!
A documentary by Stepping Stones in 2009 exposed how children in Akwa Ibom state are subjected to gruesome physical and psychological abuse when they get labelled as witches. In one case, a nail was driven into the skull of a 9-year-old girl. Nollywood, Mount Zion Film Ministries (famed for productions such as "Agbara nla") and Pentecostal preachers like Helen Ukpabio have entrenched the belief in witchcraft and evil spirits in the minds of our people through their film industries. The entire doctrine of churches like Mountain of Fire Ministries is hinged on the notion of spiritual attacks and generational curses. These have done nothing but produce a generation of paranoid Christians. Therefore, it is refreshing to know that Hope, the two-year-old boy that was snatched from the grips of death recently by a Danish care worker, Anja Loven, has been rehabilitated and doing well. He was labelled a witch and abandoned by his family and community until Ms. Loven found him. From what I have heard, Ms. Loven is an atheist – someone that Christians and Muslims would refer to as an unbeliever or an infidel. According to their scriptures, this Danish infidel will burn in hell for eternity unless she accepts the claims made by certain characters in those scriptures. Yet, it is she who gave a child (that the righteous believers abandoned to die) a second shot at life.
I have decided it's futile to be mad at those who refer to us (Africans) as backward people. We are still murdering people in 2016 for the imaginary offence of witchcraft. By implication, we are at least 500 years in development behind Europe where witch trials used to hold and people found "guilty" of witchcraft were summarily burnt to death. We are so backward to the extent that we arrest and detain animals in the belief that they are actually humans (in animal form) trying to escape police arrest.
I received a lot of emails from Nigerians at home and abroad in response to the article where I discussed the absence of evidence which support the claims that witches exist. They wrote to say that witches exist for a fact but not one person brought forward a piece of verifiable evidence to support this claim. Their convictions usually rest on a story told by parents, grandparents, friends, pastors, imams, school teachers, lecturers, elders in the village, a pseudoscientific paper, or simply because the word, "witch", exists in the dictionary and the bible. Going by this logic, unicorns, Santa Claus and dragons are also real since they appear in dictionaries. Using the Bible or the Koran as evidence to support the claims it makes about itself is very problematic - it is like telling a judge in court that your evidence is true because you said so. The argument from authority is also problematic. Whilst we can learn a lot from the wisdom of our parents, grandparents, teachers, lecturers or even pastors and imams, we must remember that these individuals are humans too and can be wrong about many things. Dr. Ben Carson achieved fame as one of the best paediatric neurosurgeons in the world but his views about the pyramids in Eqypt are unsurpassed in their idiocy. I once joined a legal pyramid scheme on the recommendation of one of my doctor colleagues. I paid the registration fee and attended their conference in Birmingham. The people I met at this conference were highly educated (doctors, lawyers, engineers, researchers) and mainly of African, Indian and Pakistani origins - the type of people you don't expect to be so easily deceived. But don't underestimate the power that the herd instinct has on a crowd of gullible people. I joined the scheme and stayed for a few months because of the calibre of people I met there. The company later ran into legal trouble in the U.K. This experience taught me vital lessons - to never be afraid to ask for evidence, to take the risk of thinking for myself, and to be wary of herd instinct. If I were to die in a car crash tomorrow or become diagnosed with cancer, I know many believers will rejoice because of my criticism of their spiritual leaders and for saying there's no evidence witches exist. Interestingly, they won't be able to decide who should take credit for punishing me - their God or the witches. The truth is neither event proves that God, witches, demons, evil spirits, ogbanje, mammy water, the devil, the queen of the cost et al exist. Pastor Bimbo Odukoya and Rev. Myles Munroe both died in plane crashes in their primes. And everybody, including those wishing something evil happens to me, will die at some point.
Apostle Helen Ukpabio has been quoted as having said in one of her books, 'Unveiling The Mysteries of Witchcraft': "If a child under the age of two screams in the night, cries and is always feverish with deteriorating health, he or she is a servant of Satan." This statement is too silly for refutation but has profound consequences for the children that become labelled as witches. These children are ostracised by their families and communities, and are forced to live on the streets with no protection from the elements. They become malnourished and suffer from all kinds of preventable diseases. They may get sexually abused and contract sexually transmitted diseases like HIV, hepatitis B and C from which they may die. They drop out of school and are denied the opportunity of education and employment later in life. These children become damaged physically and emotionally if they survive. The belief in witchcraft destroys lives. But the sad reality is that many pastorpreneurs are making money from preaching and selling books, audiotapes and film productions that promote witchcraft superstitions. Every religious leader who propagates the notion of witchcraft is contributing to the destruction of innocent lives.
Only one set of people benefit from entrenching the belief in witchcraft in our society - pastorpreneurs and those like them who seek power, influence and wealth in order to control others. The belief in witchcraft has no other useful purpose. The most important difference between progressive and backward nations is: the MINDSET of their peoples. We will remain backward for as long as we wallow in superstitions. How much longer will our society look away as ignorant zealots murder children and elderly people for imaginary offences? Our governments must act now to make witch-hunting a criminal offence. Those who have the ears of our president, governors and law makers will do well to tell them, "enough is enough!"
Ijabla is a medical doctor and he writes from the U.K. contact him at: [email protected]