Connect with us


Professor Sotunsa Mobolanle: Breaking Down The Walls Of Patriarchy In African Scholarship



Professor Sotunsa Mobolanle: Breaking Down The Walls Of Patriarchy In African Scholarship
Professor Sotunsa Mobolanle


Toyin Falola

From the 21st to the 23rd of June 2021, Professor Mobolanle Sotunsa will be co-convening the 6th J. A. Atanda Lectures and Conference, which will bring 400 speakers to Babcock University, Nigeria. Her talent and managerial capability are the driving force behind this success. Prof. Sotunsa does not find this new, as she has achieved comparable feats in the past. She has stories to tell, with drums and songs to accompany them; however, she must first listen to us introduce her.

Prof. Mobolanle Sotunsa is one of the most versatile women breaking academic frontiers in Nigeria. Her place in the knowledge production sector of the country remains firmly sustained because of her rounds of stimulating academic engagements, which can be ascribed to her zeal, dedication, and hunger for success. The Nigerian, and then African, academic sector is dominated by males so much that women, in some settings, are almost synonymous with ignorance and docility, despite their impressive contributions in cognitively shaping and developing every child. Therefore, Sotunsa’s valiant academic feats are informed by the decision to showcase the deep-seated immersion of African women in knowledge production and how their efforts are worthy of intellectual recognition. Her fame as an academic leader is strengthened by the groundbreaking intellectual additions she has made to scholarship since her rise to academic recognition. Sotunsa has not only contributed to the education system through her wide-ranging research and knowledge, but she has also erected for herself a sturdy image whose foundation cannot be threatened by any factor.

Born when the country experienced unprecedented economic growth, the impact spread to her as she had access to valuable content during her formative years. Sotunsa started her academic journey as a child at Moremi Nursery and Primary School, where she acquired elementary education to guide her in her advancement. Her extraordinary performance as a pupil fast-tracked her journey and placed her on the right pedestal on which she built her career. After her secondary school education at Command Secondary School, Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria, Mobolanle proceeded to the premier university, the University of Ibadan, where she obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree in English within the stipulated time.

Her interest in education was cemented by her quest to immediately progress to graduate studies so that she can consolidate the already acquired knowledge with a more sophisticated academic engagement. But before this, she decided to sharpen her communications skills by gathering expert information in appropriate fields. This led to her enrollment into a journalism school, where she became a certified journalist within a year. More importantly, she continued with her pursuit of academic excellence at the University of Ibadan, where she obtained Masters of Arts in English Studies, before finally capping the whole engagements with a doctorate in the same school in 2005.

READ: Islam: The Buried And Untold Stories

One should be impressed by Sotunsa’s academic feat in earning her Ph.D. In that case, there is hardly anyone who can deny or resist her elegance when they are treated to the vast academic engagements she has pulled in the course of her teaching career. She has written books, made sound contributions to journals, edited books of enthusing contents, written articles in many publications, organized conferences, and offered many other impressive academic insights. Generally, she has made impressive contributions to academic discourse so much that one cannot contest that she is worthy of national and international accolades.

Although her Ph.D. was got in English (Literature), Sotunsa has not failed to address sociocultural, sociopolitical, socioeconomic, and cultural matters through the literary lens of which she is an expert. The scent of her academic beauty percolates different spheres of influence, which explains why she has been continually celebrated, respected, and revered in the academic circle and the general social network of powerful essence. She has proven herself to be versatile and has made contributions to gender issues. Her efforts to expand the frontiers of language education cannot also be sidelined.

As a marker of her academic journey, the professor’s inaugural lecture spotlights what she has been doing for many years as an academic. The lecture titled “Gender Matters and Cultural Dilemma in African Literature” dives into the politicization of gender roles in Africa, using African literature as her professional practice laboratory. She indicates that the excessive concentration on the contributions of the male folks in every human endeavor has uncharacteristically sidelined, if you will, silenced women’s voices. In most cases, it is not a deliberate act, but the proliferation of a single voice naturally eclipses the others. For instance, when one considers how roles are allocated to women in most of the works authored by African males, there is a glaring inequity perpetuated by the patriarchal system allowed to go on for so long without any recognizable impediment. This particularly works especially in the oversimplification of African women because the failure to report their contributions to the general development and advancement of the continent automatically positions them negatively where undue generalizations about them are excused. Perhaps Sotunsa’s diligent research is informed by the understanding that the continuation of such a trend would ineluctably downgrade women.

The marginalization of women creates a cultural quandary that becomes an impediment to the true emancipation of the people. We should be attentive to the avant-garde piece by Sotunsa and not allow something remarkable about her research to evade us. Considering that the scope of her work is African literature, one would see the basic association of social and gender stratification that emerged in Africa as a brainchild of the colonial relationship. This, for one reason, is occasioned by the understanding that the conversion of the African experiences into orthographical narrative coincided with the emergence of colonialism in the continent. The cultural difficulty that emerged comes because of how gender is favored while the other is disrespected in the same medium of information sharing–the literature. Africa thus came to the level of a cultural dilemma because the narratological style offered in the creative engagement does not conform with the existing socio-cultural arrangement. In other words, promoting one-sided narratives in African texts creates a gap that cannot be immediately covered in the social environment. While they take their actual role in the development of African children, women are underrepresented in the novels written about them. Sotunsa’s input became known by her ability to establish a connection between these experiences.

READ ALSO: How Army Arrested Ikonso’s Second-in-command

There is the likelihood of making ideologically inaccurate generalizations about Sotunsa if you are not familiar with her intellectualism. But as you get closer to her works, there will be a change of mindset. Would it not be impressive to understand her incredible role in diaspora politics and how it is evolving? In one of the books Sotunsa jointly edited with Akinloye Ojo, Expressions of Indigenous and Local Knowledge in Africa and its Diaspora, we are treated to the diaporization of knowledge that has been historically linked to Africa from time immemorial. Africans, wherever they are in the world, confidently express their indigenous knowledge, which helps to indicate the fluidity of knowledge production in general terms. The awareness that people move with their knowledge epistemologies discountenances the general egoistic charade of Eurocentric narratives laying claims to universal knowledge-making as if Africans are passive and inordinate in generating knowledge to better themselves and improve their human conditions. The fact that recent and contemporary Africans demonstrate their indigenous knowledge wherever they are and whenever possible gives substantial evidence about the transportation of knowledge with individuals to places they migrate.

In essence, Africans have benefited through the generation of knowledge that is done to improve their sociopolitical and sociocultural conditions in the continent, and they have also corroborated this by transforming other places where they find themselves with the knowledge that is indigenous to them. To a degree, this corroborates what Lawrence Barham and Peter Mitchel stand on in their very stimulating academic work, The First Africans: Archaeology from the Earliest Toolmakers to Most Recent Foragers. As a result, one understands very pointedly that the association of knowledge and human experience, expertise, and excellence to Africans, as indicated in Sotunsa’s work, is born from the understanding that Africans are a continually impactful people with a record of influence and contributions made in the course of migration and movement. Apart from this underlying implication of her work, it cools the spirit to know again that the place of the diaspora in the facilitation of knowledge expansion is sacrosanct. While the cross-border relationship and intermingling help provide the atmosphere for the display of cultural knowledge and framework, it also allows expanding one’s information horizon. This confirms the mutuality and duality of importance and purpose ascribed to the said diaspora environment.

Contrary to the wrong assumption about the supposed homogeneous nature of African culture, there are many cultures in the continent, each with its distinctive oral legacies. Generally, Africans have been said to document their history and experience in oral archives from where everyone or succeeding generations draw knowledge to continue in a predicted fashion. However, an outsider would be weaned off the knowledge that the African oral traditions and cultures are almost limitless or interminable. The vastness of this oral tradition places limitations on what a researcher can cover at a stretch in an academic engagement. However, it is documented that very many African scholars have made strenuous efforts to record impressive feats in this regard. Fortunately, Professor Sotunsa is grounded in African oral legacies and remains one of the credible researchers who have done extensive and impressive research in this trajectory.

In her work, “Fieldwork in Nigerian Oral Literature,” Sotunsa made very impressive efforts to understand some oral traditions in Nigeria. Her findings reveal that there are many people and identities that have beautiful oral legacies that can be looked into for professional purposes. There is “Ijala” among the hunters in Yorubaland. This oral tradition is performed as acts of celebration and adoration of their profession. The hunters take pride in the job because they are logically one of the earliest cognitively evolved beings who make available the materials needed to navigate their human environment. Therefore, to understand them and their songs is to understand the history and also to be able to trace the historical trajectory of Yoruba people along the lines of their technological development and their scientific skills and contributions that can be linked to the globalization age.

There is also “Ekun Iyawo” among the Yoruba, which is done specifically to welcome the bride to adulthood and tell a story of the cultural conception of marriage. Human society evolved from the individual to social arrangements, and the marriage institution is one of the methods devised to keep this social bonding going. Marriage is encouraged among individuals with no immediate familial ties and affiliation so that the grouping of the society would be kept intact and rotating. Therefore, “Ekun Iyawo” provides the social opportunity to recount the experiences and relationship of the parents with the would-be bride. There are many other oral traditions explored in this work too.

Meanwhile, in all of Professor Sotunsa’s engagements, she has not for a bit forgotten her academic first love, literature, as her continuous academic researches are a romanticization of the subject. For example, in one of her papers titled “From Theory to Practice: Advanced Literary Text Analysis,” the professor opens up the discourse around literary theories and their place when interrogating texts. Ordinarily, the average individual goes about reading texts without being aware of the socio-historical and socio-temporal issues that have necessitated and mandated their emergence. In the most basic form, the non-theorist reader evaluates literary productions based on their aesthetic importance alone, whereas several things are unknown to this type of reader, and they would have evaded important information in the course of their reading. To educate such innocent readers who read without the proper systems of theories to understand the work, Sotunsa has bridged the gap between the theories and the texts in the highlighted paper. We are extensively educated on the cardinality of the theories to the evaluation, interpretations, and interrogation of literary materials. The knowledge of each theory gives the direction to follow when reading the texts and, as a result, brings out the beauty of the work.

READ ALSO: Elite Nationalism And The Salvation Of Nigeria

During the textual analysis undertaken by the scholar, we understand the pretext of the materials in most cases. In other words, readers are usually unfamiliar with the economic, psychological, social, and political circumstances that give birth to the work they read. In essence, when conflict or struggle arises between two or more characters in the text, we are unaware that they are perhaps reacting or responding to the country’s economic system that the elites of such an environment have configured. Without appropriating the Marxist theory for reading such a text, one would not understand why people’s frustrations triggered the conflict. On some other occasions, we come across characters who are not stable and who refuse to settle within themselves. At one point or the other, they are usually fazed by the external challenges that confront them to the level that they are unsettled internally. Unless one brings up the psychoanalytical theory that provides the basis for understanding this form of literature, one obviously would not be kept abreast of the appropriate information that pushes characters to act in certain ways.

It is important to know that Sotunsa’s versatility does not end with discussing intellectually exclusive topics that thrust into the professional trajectory she has taken. Instead, she touches on areas that have continental and global imports. For example, in one of her collaborations with other good minds, she produced one significant knowledge content in the book, Emerging Discourses on the Future of Higher Education in Africa, where they address issues around the transformation of the African educational system. Despite having strong human resources, the continent is lagging in the speed of academic productions they have made in recent history. Members of the African political elite refuse to merge their energy with what those in intellectual circles have done through their energetic zeal and mental investment to move the continent forward. The political system’s failure is observed in its inability to provide the necessary facilities in African schools to enhance learning.

As a result, the future of the African educational system is clouded not because the people lack intellectual capacity but rather because they have not been properly equipped with the necessary instruments that can drive knowledge into them. This action has systematically hindered them, and the absence of facilities in the contemporary world, in particular, means that people suffering from this lack would have predictable progress. However, the degree of knowledge production in any clime cannot be used as a factor to predict their intellectuality and versatility. This is underscored by the awareness that immediately they set their feet on other civilizations, swelling numbers of Africans do academically fine in international communities. Therefore, we are safe to say that the despoliation of African intellectualism is deliberate because nothing can absolve a government who fails to invest brilliantly in their education from the blame and embarrassment resulting from their inactions. As such, the works by these brilliant minds x-ray the African present to predict their future academic trajectory.

All these contributions, regardless, Professor Sotunsa has made additional important input in the development of academics generally. This explains the recognition she has been accorded in the time past. Without a doubt, she has been identified as one of the most successful Nigerian women who thrive exceptionally in areas that have hitherto been delineated as men’s terrain. She has been honored with different awards of excellence and has been designated to function in different socio-academic capacities–Travel Grant by the University of Birmingham in 2018; Scholar in Residence by the University of Georgia in 2013; and Visiting Scholar by the School of Oriental African and Studies (SOAS) in 2009. All of these have consolidated the vibrant and energetic works that she has put in place.

Beyond this, Professor Sotunsa has been given recognition in different places as an appreciation of what she has grown to become as an academic in this part of the divide. The number of Ph.D. and Masters graduates that she has seen to their development is a testament to one of her achievements as an academic. Undeniably, Professor Sotunsa has established herself in Nigerian scholarship because of the outstanding contributions credited to her name. All these can only corroborate the conclusion that she has singled herself out among the class of scholars who have made commendable efforts to transform themselves and the people around them.

Toyin Falola is Professor of History, University Distinguished Teaching Professor, and Humanity Chair, the University of Texas at Austin

Read more authentic news on our social media platforms

Continue Reading
Click to comment


How To Enter Sapele And Warri From Benin Now (1)



Readers’ Showers Of Encouragement
Prof. Tony Afejuku

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.

Continue Reading


The Witch, The Pentecostal, And Jungle Justice



Dr. Claire Princess Ayelotan

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.

Any Remedy?

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’?

Continue Reading


Poisoning And Witchcraft Accusations In Africa



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

By Leo Igwe

A recent incident in Malawi illustrates the link between witchcraft accusations and poisoning. A lot has been said about how allegations of witchcraft manifest in various African communities, but enough attention has not been paid to how these accusations lead to the poisoning of the accused. It has been reported that two women, Tilise Kapaya, 55, and Stelia Kapaya, 64, have died after being accused of witchcraft in Malawi. The two women were not beaten to death or lynched. They took some poisonous concoctions following the allegations. The two sisters took the harmful substance because they could not bear the shame and stigma of being accused. The Police Spokesperson, Jacob Khembo, said the women went to a funeral in a nearby village, and while at the event people accused them of witchcraft. Some attendees started calling them witches. In response to this disturbing and embarrassing development, Tilise and Steila went home and took some local concoctions believed could cleanse them of witchcraft. They started vomiting and died before they could get some medical help.

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.

The Advocacy for Alleged Witches condemns the poisoning of these two women in Malawi and calls for an end to the process of administering concoctions to alleged witches anywhere in the region. There is no link between witchcraft imaginaries and these concoctions. The administration of these concoctions is rooted in superstition-based socializations. As is usually the case, these women could not have taken these health-damaging concoctions without the involvement of family members. The police should investigate and ensure that those implicated in the murder of these women are brought to justice. The government should sanction the community head in the Ntcheu district where this incident occurred. The authorities should punish any person, traditional healer, or witch hunter who recommends or administers any harmful substance to suspected witches.
Dr. Igwe directs the Advocacy for Alleged Witches.

Continue Reading

Top Stories