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Owu-Ogbo And Superstition-Based Abuses In Opobo

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Discrimination Against Non-Muslim Students In Northern Nigeria

By Leo Igwe

Recently, an advocate in Rivers State drew the attention of the Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AfAW) to a post on the Facebook page of the Opobians Blog. The Opobians Blog publishes news and information for and from the Opobo communities. The post highlighted an incident of witch-hunting in Opoboland. It stated that an alleged witch had been caught in one of the communities. The post had a photo of about 9 men, one of them, the alleged wizard, was kneeling on the ground. The page also had a video and a comment in pidgin English. The person who made the post stated that an alleged wizard, who went to do some juju, was “caught” at Aaron Jaja. The post said that the accused had taken some “plenty oath”, apologized and promised not to indulge in those activities again. It stated that a local cultural group, called Owu-Ogbo handled the matter. I contacted the owner of the page for more information and an explanation of what transpired. He agreed to communicate only via Whatsapp. He explained that the alleged wizard was an elderly man from the Owujie compound. The youths caught him at Aaron Jaja compound. I inquired to know specifically what the man did.

He said the elderly man was pouring some drink and making incantations. Some persons who saw him raised the alarm. Then, some members of the Owu Ogbo came and administered an oath. As part of the oath, the accused pledged not to indulge in those actions again. I found the explanation unsatisfactory. It was not clear to me the infraction that the man committed. What was wrong with making incantations? How did an incantation translate into witchcraft? I inquired to know more about the incantations and the oath-taking, about the exact offence of the man but the Opobians blogger could not disclose any more information. Through another contact, I got in touch with the president of the Owu-Ogbo cultural group. He provided me with some background to the incident. The president told me that the Owu-Ogbo cultural group was the ‘traditional police’ for the Kingdom of Opobo. That their role was to ensure law and order in the communities. He confirmed that the alleged wizard was caught in the “act” around 1 pm on March 12, 2021. At this time, many people had gone fishing. He was pouring some saltwater on the ground and making incantations. The president noted that saltwater had a lot of magical significance in the community because it “comes and goes”!

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He further explained that any incantation made with some saltwater would come back to haunt and harm the individual or community. He linked the incantation with cases of death in the community. In a particular case, a young man in his 40s, who had a Ph.D., suddenly passed away. Some people suspected that someone in the community might be responsible; that someone must be using juju to kill other members. So when they caught this suspected wizard, they made him swear an oath. He promised to be of good behavior, and not to indulge in ‘witchcraft activities’. According to the president, from time to time, the group purges the community of evil, malevolent occult individuals. He recounted another incident that happened last year. Sometime in 2020, they noticed that many people were inflicted with elephantiasis. Look, elephantiasis is a parasitic infection that is caused by a filarial worm, not by juju or witchcraft. Unfortunately for the Owu-Ogbo and many Opobians, this is not the case. Now after some investigation by Owu-Ogbo members, they found out that someone in the community was using charms to cause elephantiasis in the community. They accosted the man, but he flatly denied it. The president said they took the man and two other suspects to a local shrine, known as Amakiri, where they made him take an oath.

The man died weeks after taking the oath. After the death, people refused to bury him in Opobo. I asked him what happened to the man’s corpse. And he said he did not know, that very likely the corpse was buried somewhere else outside Opobo or was thrown into the river. Thrown into the river? I kept wondering what could have led to the man’s death. Did somebody secretly murder him making it seem as if it was the oath that killed him? I was curious to know the details of the oath-taking, especially the content of the concoction that the man was given as part of the oath-taking. Was he given some poison in the name of oath-taking? I asked the president to tell me the content of the drink that was given to oath takers. But he said that it was a secret. I pressed to get him to disclose it to me. He later stated that they used some sand from the Amakiri shrine, or some sand from the foot of the suspect or the sand and leaf of the Ichite plant. They mixed these with some local gin. I asked him if that was all that they used to prepare the concoctions. He said that the rest was a secret that he would not disclose to me. I inquired from another member of the Opobo community and he said that sometimes they used some saltwater, human urine, or feces. I wondered if that was the secretive part of the oath-taking process that the president refused to divulge.

A member of the Opobo community who advocates against witch persecution and other superstition-based abuses told me that he started questioning the oath-taking and witch finding process some years ago. That was in 2005/6. The incident took place at Fubara’s compound. According to this Opobian, somebody died, and on the day of the burial, those carrying the corpse suddenly hit the house of another member of the community. The owner of the house was accused of being responsible for the death. But the man said that he did not know anything about the death. Subsequently, he was forced to take an oath and was later banished from Opobo land. According to this Opobian, the belief was that if the man set foot on any Opobo community, he would die. After some years, the man returned to the community. Not too long after his return, some people accused him again. This time, the man did not wait to take the oath or to be banished. He fled the community. After some years, he came back to the community and remained there until his death. AfAW’s Opobian contact believes that people who are accused of engaging in witchcraft activities, of killing and causing diseases through occult means, are innocent. He pointed out that unlike in other communities, the victims of witch persecution in Opobo are predominantly men, adult males.

It is pertinent that all Opobians begin to question witchcraft beliefs and other narratives of causing misfortunes through occult means. As this piece has illustrated, superstitious notions can lead to egregious human rights abuses. Opobians who object to witch-hunting and other harmful traditional practices should speak up and speak out against these misconceptions and related violations. Many Opobians should become advocates against witch persecution and other superstition-based abuses. They should start mobilizing and campaigning to stamp out these primitive and horrific rituals. Inhumane and abusive practices should not be condoned or tolerated in the name of culture or tradition.

Oath-taking and traditional autopsy/carrying of corpses should be banned in Opobo communities and beyond. Case of diseases, accidents or deaths should be taken to health and police authorities, not to Owu-Ogbo. Owu-Ogbo is not a medical association and should not be allowed to manage health-related issues or administer oaths to any suspects in the community. Members should not investigate the causes of death and diseases. The Owu-Ogbo society should desist from trying and punishing any suspects because they lack the expertise, diligence, and constitutional powers to do so. The group should work with the state police, not as the police in the community. Owu-Ogbo should focus on promoting and fostering humane and civilized aspects of Opobo culture and society. The government should take all necessary measures to eradicate oath-taking, witch persecution, and other harmful traditional practices in Opobo and the entire Rivers State.

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Opinion

Professor Ayo Olukotun, My Eyuze

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Readers’ Showers Of Encouragement
Prof Tony Afejuku

 

By Tony Afejuku

My bosom friend, Professor Ayo Olukotun, a man and personage for whom I placed considerable respect, who died recently, was committed to mother earth last Friday. The ever-delightful Professor Kayode Soremekun, the immediate past Vice Chancellor of Federal University Oye-Ekiti pointed my attention to this in his tribute to Professor Ayo Olukotun symbolically captured in The Punch newspaper of Friday, 27 January, 2023. After reading his tribute on the very day Ayo Olukotun normally appeared on the back page of The Punch as a five-star columnist, I nodded my head in painful pain. Kayode Soremekun’s tribute essentially captured aspects of our friend’s public life, and I gave some long thought to our departed humanist of humanists’ hurried committal to the brown earth of Ibadan which was not near his homestead, geographically speaking, in Egbe Yoruba of Kogi State. Was an injustice done to him in his prompt burial in Ibadan of cultural and poetic seven hills?  Perhaps circumstances of his demise compelled his remains to be committed to mother earth in Ibadan of JP Clark’s “broken china in the sun.” (How my memory is failing me as a result of my emotional state!) The one who was supposed to get back to me for accurate information on and about the event did not when I was putting my words together. Another common friend and my friend’s course-mate at Obafemi Awolowo University (formerly University of Ife, Ile-Ife), did not divulge this information in his similarly public picture of my friend in his The Guardian’s roaring tribute of Tuesday, 31 January, 2023. I am of course referring to Barrister Alade Rotimi-John who was one of the early bringers of our gone hero’s demise to my poor attention. The other person was Suyi Ayodele, Tribune’s Tuesday ace columnist.

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Before Soremekun’s and Rotimi-John’s well-crafted tributes found me, Professor Olu Obafemi’s great elegiac poem of immortal diamond had galloped and gasped to me. The poem by our National Laureate, a Nigerian National Order of Merit winner, clearly made its mark on my mind. The privately circulated poem to a select audience was one in which Professor Olu Obafemi tried successfully to crowd Olukotun’s career with conquest in Olukotun’s years and years of eventful events. I never knew that Obafemi knew Olukotun until I read his afore-said poem entitled “Ayo, Omo Olukotun, Odabo!”

Professor Olukotun’s “Yagba homestead” and ancestry and scholastic biography right from “Titcombe College, Egbe in Kogi State” up to the “forest of Knowledge” in Ile-Ife and beyond as “hero of the Globe” were/are movingly and movingly rendered in the poem. But why was the dazzling adventurer “Okun, Son of Jege” committed to the red soil of Ibadan when his eyes finally and eternally closed? I tried in vain to reach Professor Obafemi, another worthy friend, and  my friend’s close kinsman, for an answer. All I got was prophetically rendered in the poem as follows: ”It is doubtful that this adventurer into/the forest of knowledge/Shall return to these shores again.” Another common friend, Professor Ademola Da Sylva, who knew Ayo in their Ife days, was similarly moved by Obafemi’s elegy.

    Professor Ayo Olukotun was no Professor Ayo Olukotun to me. He was simply to me – until he breathed his last breath Eyuze as I was to him Tone Baba. We first met in 1977 in Zaria now in Kaduna State. We were lecturing colleagues (Graduate Assistants – later Assistant Lecturers) at Ahmadu University. He was my tightest pal. Our other tight friend was the sociologist/criminologist Basil Owomero (a fellow Graduate Assistant) from Ozoro town in Isoko-land in Delta State. Basil died a pretty long time ago after earning a doctorate in Criminology. Of the three of us I am the only living one now. As I am reflecting on this confusion of thought, emotion, and vision of our then years a void stares at me pitilessly. The vastness of the then years of youthful youthfulness up to when we left Zaria at different times blurs and time becomes hollow. I am in the moment of writing remembering only one or two or three things of the happy and unhappy events we shared. 

    I remember that Eyuze Baba brought Adebayo Williams and me together. Adebayo Williams is now a Professor of Literature and a novelist and columnist of no mean repute. He and Eyuze were together as under-graduates in those years of tempestuous student unionism of patriotic patriotism when Eyuze made hay and held sway in Ife as President of the Students’ Union. But it is not this I am recalling and remembering. I am recalling and remembering… I am recalling and remembering Bayo Williams’ visits in his ever-faithful Passat to Eyuze (and then eventually to us) from Kaduna (where he was teaching at Federal Government College and at the same time working on his Master’s degree in Ife as we were doing in Zaria) when we dreamed dreams of Nigeria and our tempestuous love affair with your country my country our country. We dreamed the dreams of writing and of how to help this country to constitute ethical or moral or whatever science and knowledge of growth to shape it and humankind. Each of us endeavoured to adopt the method which would make him the peerless master of positive criticism of our country. Then we really had and held lofty dreams of enlightened patriots as young as we were with the whole world before us. Until he died Eyuze did not betray the dream and did not deviate from its anatomy.  Our man was a stammerer and stutterer in private conversations but in his public speeches and lectures he was a brilliant and very brilliant orator and analyst of acute dialectical proportions who always was an orator’s orator. He always reminded me of the late famous socialist novelist Professor Festus Iyayi of the University of Benin (who famously led the Academic Staff Union of Universities in the military era that in hindsight is hundred percent better than this civilian democratic regime of rotten rottenness). And in Professor Olukotun’s shining and shiny writings you would not notice any stammering and stuttering. Let me refrain from citing numerous examples. Eyuze was simply and more than simply audaciously brilliant and courageously courageous. He stood on a very high moral ground which his elegant writings are evidence of.

    What else am I remembering? When I was leaving Zaria finally, with my all-what-not, Eyuze accompanied me to the Mid-West. This attests to the measure of our tight friendship. We spent three days together in Sapele and Warri before we travelled back together in order for me to tidy up my disengagement from Ahmadu Bello University. I can write a treatise on the pure geometry of our healthy relationship. But it is immaterial now. Yet let me say this. In later years, in much later years, after we were fully committed to marital duties – with the vagaries of our politics and economy not helping matters – the cruel wind and breeze of boisterous Nigeria roped, wrestled, beat bare our friendship but we never ignored the generosity of our closeness through ample calls. In one of those calls I related the gloriously memorable one night I spent with him in the Lagos Daily Times estate/quarters he was staying in then as an editorial staff  member of that once famous global newspaper before he was a faculty member of University of Lagos. He enjoyed it all then. I can imagine how he and our elderly GG Darah, who is also now a Professor, cordially and graciously – and very warmly, welcomed me to the editorial office when I visited Kakawa! Or is memory failing me again? No, no, no.

    Is there anything further I want to recall about Eyuze? Of course, there are many more things to say about my kind and joyfully-minded Eyuze. But I must hold my breath here. In despair, of course. And my despair is not the vigorous pleasure of despairing. Our gone revolutionary humanist was every revolutionary’s humanist. He should not have left us now. But his time was surely up. I say this as a revolutionary mystic and peace activist – if you permit me to say so.

Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.

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Opinion

Witch Persecution And Dream Experiences In Nigeria

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Witch Burning, Impunity And Abuses Linked to Witchcraft Beliefs In Benue State
Dr Leo Igwe

By Leo Igwe

The Advocacy for Alleged Witches welcomes the arrest of a young man, Joseph Friday, who allegedly murdered his father for witchcraft in Akwa Ibom. The development represents some of the best ways the police could help end impunity and beat back the tide of witch-hunting in the country. The suspect told the police that the father used to appear to him in a dream. He said that the father would hypnotize him before depositing a spell in his body. Mr. Friday said, “My Father used a charm on me; he appeared in my dream and hypnotized me. Whenever he appeared, something like a tortoise entered my body, and I would start to behave abnormally”.

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Akwa Ibom is one of the states in Nigeria where witch persecution is pervasive, and abuses linked to witchcraft beliefs are widespread. As in this case, many cases of witchcraft accusations are linked to dreams, mystical interpretations of dreams. It will take more than arresting suspects and perpetrators to end these savage acts.

In Akwa Ibom, people are taught to take their dream experiences seriously. They believe or are made to believe, that those who appear in dreams are witches or agents of the occult. People are taught that dream experiences are revealing; they disclose potential harm and harmers. So people believe that their dreams point to what would happen to them or their families. So, whenever a person sees someone threatening or attacking them in a dream, they confront, attack, or kill the person when they wake up. Some people have noted cases where they have seen people pursuing them with a machete, or pressing their chest in the dream. And they felt horrified upon waking up. People who see others in a dream prefer to expose and kill them before they wreak further havoc. People take the dream experiences as real-life experiences. Incidentally, this mistaken idea of dreams is real and dangerous. And as this case has illustrated, the mystical idea of dreams leads to horrific abuses.

To end witch persecution, Nigerians need to change their attitudes towards dreams. Nigerians should understand that dreams are natural, not supernatural phenomena. Dreams are a stream of images and sensations that well up in the mind whenever a person is asleep. They have nothing to do with witchcraft or magic as popularly believed. People dream because their brains are not dead. Dreams are rooted in thoughts and imaginations that the mind entertained while awake. It is grossly mistaken to attack or kill someone based on another person’s dream experiences.

Dr. Igwe is an executive director of the
Advocacy for Alleged Witches.

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Opinion

Where Did All The Money Go?

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Mike Hunder

By Mike Hunder

For eight straight years, the Buhari administration had been turning up the “no money” rhetoric.  Added to the puzzle, at a time when oil-producing countries were reaping sustained windfalls from high oil prices, at above $100 per barrel on average in 2022, following the Russia-Ukraine war, the NNPC made zero remittance to the federation account for most of the year. 

Now, a series of striking revelations have contradicted the administration’s “no money” claim, at a dramatic speed.  

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First, the Auditor General, in a 2022 letter to the Senate revealed that “a total of 17,877,705 barrels of crude oil valued at $1,020,969,281.12 (over one billion, twenty million dollars), were exported between 2016 and 2020, without proper records. This perhaps explains the non-remittance of funds by the NNPC into the federation account that characterized the administration. 

Second, things got so bad that, the then Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, locked horns with NNPC over shortchanging the government on several occasions. In one instance, in June 2018, there was a standoff between the National Economic Council and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), when the then Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, pointedly accused the NNPC of short-changing the government.  She declared NNPC’s account to the federal accounts allocation committee (FAAC), “unacceptable” and asked that they render the full account of the “missing billions”!

What happened there after?  The “deep state” clipped her wings, with allegations that she forged her NYSC certificate. Three months later, she resigned, and life went on.

Another revelation came to fore on the floor of the Senate in December 2022. That about 100 federal MDAs failed to account for the sum of #1.9 trillion naira from 2017 to 2021, despite several invitations. More shocking, most of the agencies involved, report to the presidency. This included the State House, Presidential Fleet, Ministry  of Finance, the armed forces, Police, Accountant General office,  NEMA, Ministry of Defence,  Special Assistant to the President on Niger Delta Affairs and many others.

The fourth was a bigger problem than many first thought. The CBN embarked on unfettered “printing of money” for the Buhari administration since 2015, in repeated disregards of the laws. Under the CBN Act, “ways and means” facility (a code for printing money for government), should not exceed 5% of the previous year’s revenue of the government and must be paid within the financial cycle. Then again, Section 38 provides that, “ways and means”… must be refunded before the collection of another one.” Yet, the Buhari administration kept collecting “ways and means” from the CBN, without making a refund, in a zeal not seen before, hitting #23.7 trillion by December 2022.

When the Edo state governor, Godwin Obaseki, first spilled the beans about CBN’s printing of money for the federal government back in April 2021, the government denied it. Now, realizing that the “ways and means” account, cannot possibly be kept way from the public beyond May 2023, the president has sent a request to the Senate to give it a second life. Asking for a legislation to restructure it, and pass the repayment to future generations over a period of 40 years! Added to the puzzle, the request contained no records of how, when and what the #23.7 trillion was spent on.

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Until recently, the administration claimed that Nigeria does not have a debt problem, but a revenue problem. Then, it embarked on constant external borrowings, increasing external debts by 300% between June 2015 ($10 billion) and June 2022 ($40 billion), without a corresponding increase in foreign currency earnings.  Now, Patience Oniha, the director general of the Debt Management Office, when appearing before the House of Representatives to defend the 2023 budget, revealed that Nigeria does have an external debt problem. To the extent that Moody’s and Fitch downgraded Nigeria to a Category ‘B’ economy in 2021, the international market has closed its doors of borrowing against Nigeria, making it difficult for the country to borrow.

On top of this, fell the huge national debt stock, at seventy-seven trillion Naira.

Thus, an ugly spiral has developed: huge sums of money that are unaccounted for, constant external borrowings without a corresponding increase in foreign earnings – and a gigantic national debt of seventy-seven trillion Naira, completes the circle!

In the current climate, what is puzzling to people is, where did all this money go? Many who have defended the administration on financial prudence, now say they cannot go beyond this caricature. Then again, post-May 2023, things will probably get worse, before they get better. So, now comes the hangover! 

*Mike Hunder, an economist and business-training consultant based in Lagos, is a former General Manager at Union Bank Plc and Oceanic International Bank, respectively. He can be reached at: hundermike@mikehunder.com

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