Leadership is an often-discussed term in theory, practice, criticism, and activism. However, the practice of leadership is the most difficult of all these phases. Criticism and activism are sisters acts in that they are both endeavors that seek to bring about change, although one requires less physical effort than the other. Any citizen who moves to support criticism and activism with affirmative action deserves double respect. The head of a nuclear family knows how exerting–physically, mentally, financially–it is to steer the ship of the household. What then shall we say of the head of a local government area, a state, or a country of over 200 million people?
Nigeria is a nation-state cursed with bad leadership. The bulk of the problems the country is facing can be tied to its crop of leaders. And despite the criticism and activism of some notable Nigerian activists and critics, their efforts have not translated to a sense to lead for change or a need to rise to the challenges in the country. In a time when people are better off as armchair critics and activists, Omoyele Sowore, one of Nigeria’s most vocal activists, has taken his agitation beyond the call for change. He has taken up the challenge to bring about the change he wants to see in Nigeria. When people write about Nigeria’s problems, they conclude that the problems are insurmountable. Some others believe that the youth need to rise to the task and take the mandate to solve Nigeria’s problems. However, it often never goes beyond the discussion level. Elections come and go, and we recycle the same set of leaders, with the same promises, nonsensical plans, and perhaps just a switch of political parties–from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), or vice-versa. Two parties, same people, and a singular ambition of converting politics to kleptocracy.
Omoyele Sowore has strived and continues to strive to get the people’s mandate. He is not new to governance, a change-propelling and people-focused form of governance. The earliest memories of Sowore’s stepping into politics come from his days at the University of Lagos. Yele, fondly called at the University of Lagos, proved that he got his mandate from the people–the students–and would, therefore, be loyal to those who trusted him with the mandate. He focused on advocating better students’ welfare, which cost him two added years as a student.
READ ALSO: Omoyele Sowore And Today’s Nigeria
In the individualistic and lackluster nature of the average Nigerian in matters of public good and governance, many might have wondered why Sowore keeps surfacing in national news–leading protests today, advocating for a better Nigeria the next day, exposing the rot in the political class in Nigeria this evening, and calling for a revolution tomorrow. What these nonchalant Nigerians have failed to consider in all their disregard of Sowore’s genuine efforts is that activism and people-focused advocacy are innate for Sowore. These things are what flow in his veins. He has always been like that, never able to keep quiet in the face of oppression and continuously rising to the occasion.
Omoyele Sowore has been advocating since the 1980s, and the 2019 RevolutionNow Protest was not his first major protest. Nigerians familiar with the nation’s political environment in the 80s and 90s would remember the protest of Nigerian students against the then government. This protest, which was ignited as a result of the leadership’s move to take over a $100 million loan from the International Monetary Fund, shook the nation and lighted a fire under the seats of government. In their typical repressive nature, the government arrested and tortured some of the students’ leaders, while some other protesters lost their lives to the cause. Clearly now, the planning and organization of the 2019 RevolutionNow Protest were not fueled by demands for personal gains or recognition but from an innate push to act.
For this founder of Sahara Reporters, an online news agency, activism can take different forms, and one which he has been deploying since 2006 is the use of the media. The press, and in some other cases, the media, is a powerful tool for change. It is a tool that is used in activism against repressive and backward governments. Sadly, this tool, especially the free press, often falls into the hands of the powerful–the nation’s leaders. Brown envelopes are shared, active and vocal journalists are bought over with assigned portfolios and a promise of never-before-seen wealth. Media houses are bought, and the unbuyable ones are clamped down. In other words, some media houses become technically powerless, as the bulk of their annual revenues comes from advertisements sponsored by the politicians against whose evil deeds they are expected to speak. It then becomes scary that the press, the known last hope for the masses, has been won over, leaving the country at the mercy of ravening wolves in the guise of politicians and national leaders.
In the face of these revelations, Omoyele Sowore founded the Sahara Reporters in 2006 as a media house whose sole aim is to look into, probe, and bring to public glare the corruption and shady deals at the corridors of power. Knowing the Achilles’ heel of media houses, Sowore and his Sahara Reporters swore not to take adverts from politicians and the people in power, who may come today, bearing gifts and goodwill, and then hold you at ransom tomorrow by that same thing which they called a gift in the past. Since then, Sowore’s Sahara Reporters has flourished, serving as one of Nigeria’s foremost vocal and government-checking media houses.
READ ALSO: Omoyele Sowore Shot
The above is another side to Sowore’s activism and advocacy for good governance. But then, does there not come a time when a man leaves the armchair, dons his coverall, and gets to work on the faulty engine? Fulfillment comes through activism and advocacy, but the true advocate, at one time or the other in their life, feels the deep-rooted urge to call for change and get involved in the change-delivering process.
In 2019, Omoyele Sowore made the first official attempt to lead Nigeria as its president and steer its ship away from the troubling sea of corruption, disunity, and inter-ethnic hatred. He founded the African Action Congress (AAC) on the platform he contested in the 2019 election. Although Omoyele Sowore did not win the 2019 polls, his significant pull of votes made him rank among the top 10 contestants at the 2019 presidential polls. Factoring the absence of considerable party funding and structure, which corrupt but old parties like the APC and the PDP enjoy, Sowore’s performance at the 2019 presidential election is a pointer to the fact that the people are beginning to know him and recognize him as a force strong enough to lead the nation to its deliverance.
Unavoidably, advocates who desire to liberate the nation from corrupt leaders and internal strife will always face persecution. An activist or advocate who has not faced persecution needs to rethink their activism and advocacy. This is not a case of a sufferer’s mentality. The practice and deeds of activism and advocacy attract hatred and intimidation, especially from the ruling class. Such is the fate of those who choose to challenge the status quo. Should anyone doubt this, let them think of Ken Saro-Wiwa, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Wole Soyinka, Gani Fawehinmi, and a host of other Nigerian activists and advocates. All these men were persecuted–incarcerated, tortured, and some were even killed. Another thing they have in common is that in the face of intense oppression, they never failed to speak and fight for the people’s rights.
Omoyele Sowore has faced similar persecutions at the hands of the government, not once, not twice. He was first incarcerated and tortured following a full-blown protest against the annulment of the 1993 presidential election. In recent times, he has faced persecutions that can best be summed up as the “Travails of Omoyele Sowore.” The Department of State Security arrested him in August 2019, following well-publicized plans of a nationwide RevolutionNow protest. At the heart of Sowore and his fellow protesters’ demands is a call for a system change in Nigeria. Anyone who has genuinely devoted time to study Nigeria and its problems would realize that the most feasible solution to the country’s problems is systemic change. However, in its usual repressive nature, the government clamped down on the RevolutionNow protesters and arrested Omoyele Sowore.
There was a surprising turn of events that soon brought the spotlight on the pseudo-democratic nature of Nigeria. Although Sowore was granted bail, the Department of State Police refused to release him. Two court orders for bail, yet he was not released. That incident proved that there are people above the law in Nigeria, among whom are the staffers at the Department of State Police. As to the confidence that fuels their disregard for the law, one may never know its source. Nonetheless, in the case of Sowore’s arrest, the Department proved that they could address court orders as they so wished. It took the protest of Mrs. Opeyemi Sowore, the Nigerian American wife of the activist, at the United Nations Plaza in New York, and the message passed to the world, before Sowore was finally set free.
The arrest and detainment of the vanguard of the protest never for once deterred other protesters. The RevolutionNow Protests have since been held three times in the space of two years–in August 2019, August 2020, and October 2020. These protests have been held relentlessly, with the aim that they would get the government’s attention and drive for change. Cliché as it may seem, there is no gain without pain. This is indeed true for those who wish to bring about change. Change is never welcome; humans, by nature, are complacent. Change is disruptive, and hardly anyone likes disruption, especially if they are in power.
Omoyele Sowore is raw gold, currently passing through fire. There is every proof that he will come out unscathed but rather refined, polished, and fit for the occasion. Sowore’s advocacies and activism are proof that he is people-focused. He has seen beyond the often-preached financial deliverance, economic stability, transportation solutions, and other promises that other presidential hopefuls often make. He has preached systemic change because he has seen the trustworthy source of Nigeria’s problems.
Omoyele Sowore’s actions tell of one thing–he is the president Nigeria could have had two years ago, but we relegated him to the tenth position and gave the mandate to a man whose first term of office was not at all promising. Indeed, Sowore could have done better with his campaigns and publicity, as the grassroots matter a lot, and they are rarely ever reached, except by the two dominating parties in the country. The clock is ticking, and with each tick, 2023 gets closer than before. Relentless and daunting, Omoyele Sowore has again disclosed his intentions of contesting the nation’s presidential seat come 2023. What is the significance of Sowore’s return to the battlefield? What message do his protests and activism pass to us? This man has continually thrown himself in the face of government-manned attacks in a bid to call for change. What should we make of that? Who is Omoyele Sowore? What should we see him as?
On September 5, 2021, Omoyele Sowore will be our guest at the Toyin Falola Interviews, where he will shed light on several issues, his motivations, true intentions, thoughts about Nigeria and its problems, the best ways to solve the problem, and whom he thinks he is to Nigerians. To listen to the ideas of this activist, do please join us on:
Sunday, September 5, 2021
5:00 PM Nigeria
4:00 PM GMT
11:00 AM Austin CST
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Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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How To Enter Sapele And Warri From Benin Now (1)
By Tony Afejuku
Sapele and Warri are two significantly important Nigerian cities that need no introduction, special or un-special, from the historic, realistic and imaginative imagination of this creative creator whose impression of things is often – if not always – determined by features which fit the descriptions that convey meaningfully what must be conveyed – meaningfully. Sapele and Warri, as very many people know, are two unique cities, two uniquely nifty cities, from whichever dominant or un-dominant impressions or perspectives open to us to define the cities. Of course, the cities’ dense and denizenly denizens and brought-ups where-ever they are always have something, something beautifully beautiful, to say about them in the same way that those of Benin, the antique city, allow their imaginations and conceptions to beautify it. Indeed, I have since accepted these three cities for different reasons as my rococo cities: Warri, the rock-oil city of a kingdom that produced the first university graduate in sub-Saharan Africa, Sapele the rock-and-roll city housing the Athletic Club, the first European recreation club in West Africa, at least, Benin, the un-lucidly lucid city of unforgettably rich antiquity. In the beautifully good old days we could comb the three great cities in one day. As a matter of fact, we combed them in one day as we hopped into different cars and jalopies and traversed different latitudes and longitudes in Benin, Sapele and Warri at the same time. Going to Safi and Wafi and Bafi and vice versa to do what we must do show-business-wise, play-hunting-wise, dame-hunting-wise, solid business-wise, education-wise, research-wise and otherwise was a peruked experience, so to say, of a classical theme in our years and years of how we enjoyed and took ourselves seriously. Everything we tried to see, everything we tried to feel, everything we tried to touch, everything we tried to bite and eat, everything we tried to experience proved beautifully un-disappointing – because the centuries we knew and did not know tried to maintain themselves in our imaginations and memories.
But as at today, as at now, time has since travelled by and has assumed a dimension of space that has jeopardized and shattered our compassion for the dead and gone centuries. Why couldn’t they stand still and maintain themselves in the present?
Let’s terminate the sweet rigmarole that remains ever sweet in our recollections of the then and then decades that rolled into centuries.
Four years ago, I did a piece, an engaging piece, on the lamentable condition of the Benin-Sapele Road. Then – if my recollection is not losing its plume – I put the federal government and the governors of Edo State and Delta State respectively on the radar of the deplorable deplorableness. I did that in the hope that the federal government and the respective governments of the two Niger Delta States would do something memorably drastic to return the Benin-Sapele-Warri Highway to its time of artful and civil engineering agreeableness. The deplorability of the road then was such that induced from the eyes of all those living in Benin, Sapele and Warri and inter-city and inter-state travellers tears of unhappiness. The tears compassionated the ever-busy highway/road which I then christened Ouagadougou which I deliberately employed to alter the original meaning of the capital of Burkina Faso (“Land of Upright Men” or “Land of Incorruptible people”). I altered the original name that depicts its beauty to mean Benin-Sapele-Warri hole and hell of a road on account of the useless and hopeless hours of delays of travellers and commuters on that road whose rottenly rotten portions have become far more rottenly rotten than they were then. The jaw-breaking or mouth-twisting pronunciation of “Owa-ga-do-gu” or “Wa-ga-do-gu” compellingly makes ugly the essentially original name of merriness in a land of people of revolutionary colour, fervor and flavour.
On Friday, September 15, 2023 I had to make a trip I could not avoid to Warri the once merry rock oil city of ogbologbos and cherishers of decent decency. My plan was to make a brief stop-over in Sapele, Papa’s land of rock-and-roll ogbologbos of ogbologbos who nor dey fear kain. But how would I navigate my way through Benin our Benin where the once popular Benin-Sapele Road has turned itself into a baser and baser road day by day by government’s neglect of it? The terrifyingly and horrifyingly base road has been emboldened by our respective calamitous rulers over the years of calamitous nastiness.
Two days before my expected trip I contracted a driver who I was going to hire to take me to Warri aforesaid. I was away in one of the Western States. I got to Benin at an ample time a day before my trip to firm up my agreement with the chap who was to take me to my destination(s). For the one-way trip he was going to squeeze from me sixty-five thousand naira. I pinched myself. The guy-man don catch mugu wey nor be mugu. I tried to bargain with him as best as I could. He was not ready to come down. He mentioned what the trip would cost him petrol-wise and dwelt agonizingly on the condition of the road – especially the condition of the Benin by-pass and the Ologbo stretch before the cross-over to Delta State. I gaped with amazement. The journey via any transport company would not cost me as a single passenger more than three thousand five hundred naira. In my determination, I suggested that we should go to Warri via Agbor. He said that the Agbor route was even worse than the Ologbo one. In any case, if I was seriously serious about embarking on the trip via the Benin Agbor route he would accept from me nothing short of eighty-five thousand naira. In my desperation I suggested the Benin-Jesse route. He smilingly kept quiet. But when he eventually spoke to open his thought he said he would not dare to take that route even if I or anybody offered him the world. Herdsmen had kidnapped, captured, maimed and killed a number of persons on that axis. I could feel myself swept back through time as when an ancient memory of the Warri wars or the Benin massacre comes back to mind. I jettisoned the chap and reduced my reality to making my trip very early not later than six o’clock in the morning of my trip by a commercial vehicle.
By 5:45 AM on the dot I was at “Warri-by-air” motor-park on the day of my trip. Only one Sienna car was available. On enquiry, I was told that other vehicles and their drivers that were not at the park would likely not go to Warri on account of the road-less road at the Ologbo stretch which no road-rollers could immediately redeem. Before long the vehicle was ready to take us to Warri. In fact, by 7:30AM that morning we were already at Ologbo. O my dear readers, we were held and holed up there even though our road-hog on the steering performed all the magic he could possibly perform. There was no movement to and from the opposite direction. Almost everyone on the steering of each vehicle was a road-hog after all! I lost my sense of arithmetic, algebra and geometry as our dare-devil driver tried to meander his way without gaining any advantage. By four o’clock in the afternoon we were still glued to the muddy mud of a wet road of gullies upon gullies. All the vehicles were plugged into a single outlet-less outlet and charmed, compelled to remain there. And the trucks (trailers) that conservatively numbered well above three thousand appeared to me to have caused a magnetic storm. It was a cloudy day when the rains did not pour down, yet muddy and ugly Ologbo remained muddily muddy and watery Ologbo of wetness. A Benin-Warri journey that ordinarily should not exceed one hour even on a bad traffic day was already taking me ten hours plus! I must do something. My slight luggage and I embarked on a fresh journey on a motor-bike trip of not up to two kilometres from Ologbo to Koko junction in Delta State and which ordinarily should not fetch the Hausa Okada rider two hundred naira squeezed from me one thousand naira. But I was happy to hop on the Okada pontoon taking us – my luggage and I – to the other side – Koko junction aforesaid – where there were several waiting vehicles taking passengers to Warri and Sapele respectively. On the Okada leaping and snaking through the devilish waters of the unfathomable gutters of a wicked road, I made sure that the Okada rider did not mock the storm and spirit of gravity. I compelled him to make his motor-bike to maintain its/his road-holding. No limb must I lose! Others who did what I did boarded the same vehicle that flew us to Warri where a stormy rain welcomed us. The rain beat me and hammered away the sticky potopoto all over me as I boarded a keke that took me to my Warri special haven. When did I arrive? Your guess is as good as a guess that is both right and wrong. My return journey was smoother and better, I now being a thorough expert on how to enter and get out of Warri without the fear of darkness unleashed on us by wickedly wicked or demonically demonic leader-less leaders: the Nigerian man’s burden.
To be continued.
Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.
The Witch, The Pentecostal, And Jungle Justice
By Claire P. Ayelotan
In July 2023, Martina Okey Itagbor was brutally murdered in a gruesome lynching incident. She was dragged out of her home and set on fire in the streets opposite the Catholic Church she attended regularly. Witnesses reported that her perpetrators stood by and watched as she writhed in agony until her body was reduced to ashes.
Afterwards, her remains were swept into a nearby gutter with a broom. The victim’s daughter, attending the church then, attempted to intervene, but was restrained by other congregation members. Among these members, some were Martina’s accusers.
Prior to this incident, other women had experienced a similar fate. For instance, on 27th August 2022, two widows in the Ebbaken community in Cross River State were killed by local youths for alleged witchcraft. No arrests were made. In 2022, Amarachi Okechi, a widow, was accused of witchcraft and publicly beaten by 30 youths in her village after claims from her brother-in-law’s wife. The incident was filmed as Amarachi was tied up overnight and abused for days. The wife of Abia State’s Governor eventually intervened. Four men in Adamawa State killed Martha Mamman on 4th December 2022, accusing her of witchcraft and causing three deaths. After a forced confession, they burned her. Love Nwanyanwu barely avoided a similar fate for alleged witchcraft on 8th November 2020. Prompted by her husband’s nephew, she was attacked by her in-laws. In 2017, in Adamawa State, pregnant Ayina Afraimu was bound and beaten with sticks to death after accusing her of causing some deaths and sickness in the village.
(c) Claire Princess Ayelotan
The month following Itagbor’s demise, two Nigerian police officers in Adamawa State were dismissed for their role in lynching two women accused of witchcraft. Neither faced legal repercussions, highlighting societal tolerance for such actions and underscoring the persistence of patriarchy.
As mentioned earlier, the individuals who were victims of such heinous acts were not merely strangers, but they were someone’s grandmothers, mothers, sisters, aunties, friends, and neighbours. Tragically, some of these individuals had their lives cruelly taken away, leaving behind their heartbroken beloved families. For those who survived, the trauma and stigma associated with the accusations of witchcraft will forever alter their lives. The label assigned to them is permanent and carries a heavy weight of discrimination and social exclusion.
Despite their differences, these women share a common experience as individuals who have been labelled as witches. They were often viewed with suspicion and fear, and their reputation as evil bearers was a source of constant stress and hardship. The accusations of witchcraft have put their familial loyalties to the test, causing irreparable damage to familial relationships. In some cases, family members may openly support their accusation and lynching, while others strongly oppose it. The emotional toll of such conflicts is immeasurable and serves as a painful reminder of the deep-rooted social problems plaguing our society.
Is witchcraft a curse in Africa?
In an article published a decade and a half ago by Professor La Fontaine in The Guardian with the headline “Witchcraft Belief is a Curse on Africa” effectively conveyed the detrimental effects such beliefs can have on societies. It is a fact that witchcraft belief is a bane to Africa and its people.
However, it should be noted that this issue is not confined to the African continent, but is a global problem, with historical evidence demonstrating that beliefs in witchcraft have never contributed to the advancement of human personal or societal development on any continent.
While it is one thing to acknowledge the existence of such beliefs, it is quite another to employ them during times of stress, which often leads to accusations. Accusations of witchcraft are a social mechanism utilised to both control and evade personal responsibilities. It thrives in a tension-filled environment and may be used to explain any situation, regardless of its relationship with existing tensions. Individuals with any gender orientation, age, or background are not exempt from such accusations. While women are mostly victims of accusations, children are increasingly being labelled as witches or wizards in various parts of Nigeria, leading to an upsurge in the number of private NGOs that provide shelter to victims in cities and States such as Akwa Ibom. Given its endemic nature, many accusations remain concealed, and cases similar to those of Martina Itagbor only come to light when someone publicly discloses them.
Any accusation of witchcraft that results in the death of a woman is considered a form of femicide, also known as feminicide, and is gender-based violence. Femicide is what Diana Russell coined as “the killing of females by males because they are females”. Although men (and children) were not immune from falling victim to an accusation, as detailed in my research, what set apart femicide because of the charge of the crime of witchcraft is the typology of the targeted women. These are primarily women with aggressive characteristics, widows, single mothers, women with disabilities, older women, and other vulnerable female groups.
Understanding the mind of the perpetrator
Public lynching linked to witchcraft accusations is gradually becoming part of Nigerian extrajudicial attacks, popularly known as ‘jungle justice’. This is self-effect justice perverted to those suspected of wrongdoing by the group of people or the community without involving law enforcement agents. A lack of trust in the judiciary system often compels many people to take the law into their own hands. Plus, to the perpetrators, the police are irrelevant and might release the victims. In addition, where such beliefs are upheld by members of the police officers themselves, the chances of the victims being released or vindicated may be minor.
Most jungle justice in Nigeria is often executed by youth; however, it shows no regard as the universality of jungle justice linked to witchcraft accusations has shown disparities in the age and gender of the perpetrators. As explained in the media journals, some perpetrators were in their 60s. Moreover, the perpetrators were mainly men, suggesting a disguised aspect of misogynism. However, this does not exclude the involvement of women. The mothers of the boys who died and other women validated Martina’s lynching, as some of them came out of the church and stood watching the attack with no remorse or action to prevent her death.
Jungle justice imposes accountability on all parties involved in extrajudicial punishment, which constitutes a form of collective violence that undermines the rule of law. However, the concept of “equal responsibility” can become complicated, particularly when seeking to understand the motivations and cognitive processes of those who participate in such actions. First, moral disengagement is a crucial factor in these situations, as ethical principles are disregarded and acts such as lynching Martina and other women are deemed morally justified. In this instance, jungle justice, as a form of communal purging, is an ideal means of eliminating elements that are considered evil within the community. Second, it is of utmost importance to comprehend Philip Zimbardo’s contribution to the theory of deindividuation, which posits that individuals may lose their sense of self-awareness and accountability in group settings and engage in behaviours that deviate from social norms. In situations where religious fervour is present, it may exacerbate the effects of deindividuation, leading individuals in group settings to be more inclined to engage in extrajudicial actions, such as jungle justice. Combining firm religious beliefs and group dynamics can diminish individual accountability and increase the likelihood of such acts being perpetrated.
Jungle justice, often associated with poverty, may have less to do with economic conditions and more with religious or spiritual beliefs. This is evidenced by the fact that many individuals participating in these acts of violence are not necessarily impoverished. In fact, within a religious context, such as the biblical account of the stoning of Stephen, it can be seen that economic status may not be the primary motivator for these acts of violence. Instead, religious beliefs and doctrinal issues may be more significant in motivating such action. For instance, Martina’s lynching in front of a Catholic Church adds a layer of symbolic spiritual meaning to the church’s setting of the act of jungle justice. Often considered a place of sanctuary and moral guidance, the church becomes a backdrop for an action that contradicts legal and, arguably, ethical norms. This juxtaposition can create powerful emotional and cognitive dissonance for observers and participants, affecting how the act is interpreted and remembered. Similarly, in cases of jungle justice related to accusations, my analysis in the following section suggests that religion may be a more significant factor than economic disadvantage in motivating these acts of violence.
What factors contribute to the escalating incidence of witchcraft allegations against vulnerable populations in Nigeria?
To assert that witchcraft beliefs are not prevalent and flourishing in Nigeria is to disregard the tragic fate of those accused and ostracised, including women, children, and men. This belief system has infiltrated various segments of society, ranging from ordinary folk to educated, religious institutions to the political sphere, university communities to local markets in bustling urban areas.
Two intertwined elements, among others, played a significant role in this phenomenon: Beliefs and Christianity. It is noteworthy that Christianity, as a religion, cannot subsist without the endorsement of beliefs. It is important to note that labelling occurs in other religions; however, Christian missionaries and the Saros aided the promulgation of witchcraft beliefs and eventual accusations during colonialism. For clarity and to inform those unfamiliar with the term, the Saros comprised Western-educated Nigerian Creoles, who, in collaboration with Western missionaries, introduced Western cultural and religious practices to Nigeria and Yorubaland. This led to the dehumanisation of local religions and reinforced beliefs such as evil, evil spirits, demons, and witchcraft. The Saros, along with their counterparts in other regions of Africa, were successful in anglicising several traditional socio-religious rites, artworks, gods, and personalities as witchcraft or witchcraft practices, making witchcraft a generic term throughout the continent.
By the post-imperialist era, Christianity had gained considerable traction in Africa. However, in the 1970s, the emergence of Pentecostalism gave rise to a syncretistic fundamentalist movement. It is indisputable that the foundation of Nigerian Pentecostalism is grounded in concepts from various sources, including traditional religions, Nigerian-initiated local churches, and Western, Asian, and Judeo-Christian beliefs. It is a matter of great concern that some Pentecostal churches today openly promote teachings on witchcraft and its connection with malevolent forces. Furthermore, such ideologies have infiltrated the doctrinal principles and convictions of several traditional churches. Any attempts to discuss witchcraft-related topics are often met with hostility from Christian organisations, primarily due to a fear of the perceived phenomenon.
Consequently, this fear is an exploitative tool by these churches, especially the Pentecostals, in accumulating members, as witchcraft beliefs have become ubiquitous in Nigerian households, states, regions, ethnic groups, academic settings, and the political sphere. The practice of witchcraft is believed to be a manifestation of demonic influence, and those who engage in such practices are considered the emissaries of the devil. Since the spiritual controls the physical, nothing happens by chance. Thus, every misfortune, comprising accidents, job losses, barrenness, illnesses, marital issues, exam failures, disabilities, poverty, and other socioeconomic incapacities, is blamed on witchcraft.
Labelling an individual as a witch systematically means projecting blame onto an external source, rather than engaging in introspection or examining one’s contributions as the root cause of any misfortune. Regular attendance at places of worship in an excessive and compulsive manner can often function as a means of avoiding personal responsibility for one’s decision-making. Individuals who are overweight and spend a considerable amount of time participating in church activities may regrettably attribute their subsequent health issues to the intervention of a witch, despite their own lifestyle choices, such as excessive eating, being a contributing factor. Although they may not all be Pentecostals, those who set Martina alight and the mothers of the boys who died in the accidents were convinced Martina was responsible for their sons’ demises. It is unlikely that they would believe that overspeeding or dangerous driving was the cause of the accident, as someone must have told them that the witch was responsible. Another consideration is that many individuals within the legal justice system may also be members of religious organisations that emphasise witchcraft. This adds a layer of complexity to why the act of jungle justice, which involves sidestepping legal norms, may not be viewed as problematic by some members of these churches.
Moreover, congregants often seek counsel from religious leaders who are aware of the demands for such services. However, this guidance comes at a cost, notably financial contributions through various offerings, tithes, and church-building projects. The relationship between religious leaders and their followers involves a transactional business arrangement. It is important to note that special prayer and deliverance sessions cannot be conducted without the eventual purchase of anointing oils, handkerchiefs, sermon materials, or a monetary contribution to the pastors through cash or bank transfers, if necessary.
When the notorious Dick The Butcher suggests to his boss, Jack Cade, in William Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 2, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”, it is considered a dark joke that killing all the lawyers for their absence @highlighted the importance of authority figure in maintaining or disrupting social order. Given the potential connections between Dick’s response to Pentecostal leaders, it is crucial to acknowledge their role in perpetuating witchcraft-related beliefs. While they may not directly participate in acts of jungle justice, they cannot be absolved of their complicity. Their teachings and beliefs about witchcraft unleashed Pandora’s box of events and attitudes that were challenging to reverse. The question remains: How many families and households have been torn apart due to their ideologies? Prayer points such as “all witches in my family must die, die, die” indicate their contribution to enabling jungle justice. How many witches are members advised to be caught? Their mothers, aunties, sisters, or grandmothers?
Were these pastors in question aware and willing to acknowledge their role in perpetuating the witchcraft accusation phenomenon, and did they exhibit a genuine understanding of the harm caused by their actions? By preaching on these topics, they create a narrative framework in which others may be interpreted as tacit endorsements of extrajudicial measures against alleged witches. Their pastoral authority gives credence to these beliefs, and their influence can extend far beyond the church walls, affecting community attitudes and actions and lending weight to the ideology that motivates collective violence. This can lead to unintended but severe consequences, such as acts of jungle justice, which are challenging to contain once unleashed. In this way, they bear indirect responsibility for the results, much like Shakespeare’s lawyers, whose absence upends the social order.
Unlike Shakespearean Dick, we cannot kill these pastors because we do not want to end our lives in jails. However, we can curb them. How, then, do we curb them all? Regulating the teachings and contents disseminated by churches could serve as a remedy to curb the prevalence of witchcraft accusations and associated acts of jungle justice. Such regulations can offer a framework for promoting socially and ethically responsible teachings and influencing community attitudes and actions. However, this remedy might be complex to implement, given the issues of religious freedom and autonomy, as it poses ethical, legal, and societal challenges that require careful consideration.
The question is, who has the guts to do that without ‘dying by fire’?
Poisoning And Witchcraft Accusations In Africa
By Leo Igwe
Witchcraft accusation is a form of death sentence. The accused are often attacked and killed. As this case has illustrated, the accused poison themselves or are poisoned. Alleged witches are forced to drink poisonous concoctions, which lead to their death or health damage. The belief is that this concoction removes, or disables witchcraft powers. The concoction supposedly cleanses suspected witchcraft. The taking of this substance is an exoneration process to establish the guilt and innocence of the accused. Some local medicine men or women administer the concoctions. The recipe for preparing these concoctions is known in many communities. As in this case, alleged witches do not wait to be given the concoctions, they prepare and take the substance themselves.
In many cases, family members pressure the accused to take these substances, to cleanse themselves, to free and exonerate themselves. The belief is that if they took the concoction and died, then they were witches. The concoction could make them vomit, and the belief is that the vomiting helps expunge witchcraft particles and powers. Sometimes, the concoction makes suspected witches hallucinate and begin to make utterances often mistaken as confessions. Most often those forced to take this concoction are elderly women and men who can barely resist the process. Poor people in rural communities, widows, and aging persons living alone with limited social support are usually the target.
This form of witch-hunting is pervasive in the villages. It is difficult to know the number of alleged witches who poison themselves, or are poisoned each year. They would be in their tens of thousands because these poisonous concoctions form part of the witch-hunting accessories. In witch hunting, the motivation is to eliminate the suspected witches, to murder and get rid of them. Cases of alleged witches who were poisoned have been reported not only in Malawi but also in Nigeria, Liberia, and Gambia.
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