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Funmi Olonisakin: The Mainframe Of Global Success

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Adulthood na scam

By Toyin Falola

It was at a dinner with the late J. J. Rawlings, the late President of Ghana that I knew who Olufunmilayo Olonisakin is. Rawlings was boasting about her, how he planned to make a Nigerian woman a Minister in Ghana. He was right! I began the journey of discovery, and the path led me to learn more, interact more with her, and accept her leadership. When Professor Paul Zeleza, Vice-Chancellor of United States International University Africa, invited her to Keynote the 2018 TOFAC conference in Nairobi, the decision was warmly greeted.

Many had sought her services, including at the United Nations. Last week, she received an honorary doctorate at the University of Pretoria, and the excitement at the honor and celebration generated this piece. I could not hide my joy as we spoke on her glorious day, and I am converting her honor into a collective joy for us all. She has contributed more than anyone else to peace studies, building peace institutes in different parts of Africa, with firm imprints in Senegal, Kenya, South Africa and London, where she is now a Vice-President. In a way, she was my boss at the Thabo Mbeki Leadership Institute, where she served as the Chair of the Advisory Board and I, a member. When her term ended, and I was asked to succeed her, I trembled, and I knew that I could not match her in her capacity and efficiency. As you read this piece, I am in Pretoria, where I will formally praise her—the primus inter pares—for handing the baton to me. Her nobility is also at work when she chairs meetings, with a capacity to summarize and reflect, listen and process, digest and suggest.

Funmi Olonisakin: The Mainframe Of Global Success

Prof. Olonisakin

The continent of Africa boasts of an impressive number of illustrious sons and daughters, spread around all areas of human endeavor (in medicine, administration, finance, technology, theology, academia, etcetera), whose hard work and excellence in their various fields of activity have won them many individual laurels—both locally and internationally—and contributed a positive image, as well as other critical developments, on the continent. In academia, where the African intelligentsia constitutes an immutable global presence, they have made indelible contributions to the quest for the improvement of the progress of humankind—educating and correcting erroneous perceptions, contributing groundbreaking research and lending their expertise to solving problems wherever and whenever they have been called to serve. Hence, it comes with little surprise that they are to be found occupying important offices in prestigious institutions worldwide.

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In the ranks of Africa’s intellectual exports, Nigeria has been blessed with personalities who have successfully established themselves as indispensable assets in their communities, both in Africa and abroad, where many of them ply their craft. One such intellectual gem from Nigeria is Professor Oluwafunmilayo Olonisakin, “the first black woman to be named a full professor at King’s [College London].” A scholar par excellence, she boasts of a long and successful career as a teacher, researcher, author, administrator, and policy adviser in peace and security.

Professor Olonisakin is currently the Vice President (Global Engagement) at King’s College London, where she also doubles as Professor of Security, Leadership and Development at the African Leadership Centre, School of Global Affairs. Before rising to this prestigious office she has held since December 2017, the Nigerian-British scholar had worked in different capacities in Lagos, Pretoria, Nairobi and New York. In Nigeria, where she earned her first degree (B.Sc. Hons. in Political Science) from the University of Ife in 1984, Prof. Olonisakin worked as an assistant lecturer at the Department of Political Science, the University of Lagos between 1984 and 1986. After earning a master’s degree in War Studies from King’s College London in 1990, she stayed with the College as a research associate at the Centre for Defence Studies. Upon completing her doctoral degree in War Studies at King’s College London in 1996, Prof. Olonisakin spent some time as a research associate at the Institute for Strategic Studies, University of Pretoria, South Africa, before returning to her alma mater in London.

During what can only be described as a busy and illustrious career, Prof. Olonisakin has written and published extensively about peace and security, governance reform, women’s rights, and youth vulnerability and marginalization. She has authored and edited more than ten books on security and peace-keeping, contributed many chapters to books on the same subject, written and published numerous articles, developed policy papers, presented papers at numerous international conferences and has provided advisory and consultancy services to the United Nations (UN) on peace-keeping and peace-building initiatives. As a testament to the importance of her research and her outstanding qualities as an academic and practitioner, Prof. Olonisakin was appointed a member of the Advisory Group of Experts for the Review of UN Peacebuilding Architecture in 2015 by then UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon. Even now, she serves on several international advisory boards, including the Advisory Group of Experts for the UN Progress Study on Youth, Peace, and Security.

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As a scholar, Prof. Olonisakin’s research focus—Peace and Conflict Studies—reflects an understanding of and commitment to the plight of Africans, especially in the twenty-first century, where a spate of civil wars has bedeviled the continent. Perhaps it is the fact that the beginning of her sojourn into an academic career coincided with a period (the 1990s) when civil wars were raging in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Sudan, which inspired her decision to commit her future to finding lasting solutions to violent conflicts on the continent. Whichever was the case, Prof. Olonisakin’s unrelenting commitment to this task, over the years, has left no doubts as to the strength of her resolve and the adeptness of her skill in identifying the proper peace-making measures necessary to mitigate such conflicts. In this regard, she has been instrumental in identifying the fundamental issues behind the changing nature of peace and security in Africa. And her research is among the first to bring about a reconceptualization of peace-keeping as a viable measure for checking defiant intra-state conflicts.

Olonisakin’s time at the UN proved advantageous both for the international organization and the people at the receiving end of her innovative contributions. Her contributions to the UN peace-keeping modus-operandi in Africa are nothing short of revolutionary. Drawing from the experience of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)—as the first regional body to deploy a peace-keeping force to restore peace in a civil war—in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea Bissau, Prof. Olonisakin identified lessons for a UN co-deployment in such conflict setting. Similarly, her research into the UN peace-keeping operation in Sierra Leone produced the first inside account of a UN peace keeping operation. And the book generated from that research has become somewhat of an operational guide, as it has been widely disseminated among UN practitioners.

Acting on insight gained during her time in the United Nations, Prof. Olonisakin identified two important gaps in the UN intervention operations. First was the dearth of reliable data on the role of youths in the armed conflict situations the UN was involved in. The second was the shortage in women’s representation in the leadership of peace and security processes, despite the adoption by the UN Security Council of Resolution 1325, which pursued an increase in women’s participation. To that effect, she researched two emergent areas: youth, militancy and violence, and on women, peace and security. Her research on youth vulnerability and exclusion revealed inadequacies in the approach to education and youth development in Africa. Finding that Africa’s burgeoning youthful population (with a mean age of 19 years) was neither equipped nor poised to respond to the continent’s security and development challenges, the African Leadership Centre (ALC) was initiated in June 2010 as a collaboration between the Kings College London and the University of Nairobi, Kenya. The goal was to establish a trust that would support the training of the next generation of African scholars in peace and security studies. Hence, the overall impact of Prof Olonisakin’s research is evident, not only in the collaborations and policy outcomes she facilitated but also in grooming a community of next-generation scholars who would advance knowledge on these emerging research vacuums.

READ ALSO: Retrieving The Philosophy In The ‘Doctor of Philosophy – PhD’ Degree In Nigeria

In recognition of her innovative and impactful contributions to promoting peace and security on the continent and beyond, Prof. Olufunmilayo Olonisakin has received numerous awards, a couple of which will be listed. In 2010 she was recognized with the Award for International Collaboration of the Year, at King’s College London, for her role in establishing the African Leadership Centre. She was also awarded the 2013-2015 Mellon Foundation Distinguished Scholar on Peace and Conflict at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. In 2015, she received the Award for Teaching Excellence at King’s College London. In 2016, she was appointed an Extra-Ordinary Professor by the University of Pretoria.

The decision to honor Prof. Oluwafunmilayo Olonisakin with a Doctor of Philosophy (honoris causa) is both timely and befitting of a scholar of such pedigree. As I congratulated the University of Pretoria, as if speaking on their behalf, I said they had taken a good decision to reward excellence, appreciate the brilliance, and recognize a solid and human global figure. I am proud to call her my Sister.

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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ASUU’s Rightful Battle Of Moral Conscience Against Financial Realities

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ASUU’s Rightful Battle Of Moral Conscience Against Financial Realities

By
Tony Afejuku
I am suspending my focus on your Speaker of House of Representatives. I hopefully will re-touch next week, barring the un-expected, the first among equals in our House of Polifoolicians (H of P). For now I am yielding space to a reader who introduced himself to me as an un-employed Nigerian graduate – a delightfully articulate fellow. He is Dele Owolowo. Enjoy his peculiar rhythm on the ASUU-FGN’s intangible and tangible battle of wits and bluffs.

Hearty greetings to you, Sir and thank you, for the excellent pieces on ASUU.

On the ASUU-FGN issue ASUU would remain on the back foot while the government calls the shots.

READ ALSO: Trickster Gbajabiamila’s Cleverly Packaged Deception Bait

The main reason our education sector can be belittled and seemingly betrayed is because it is a sector with few economic aces to play and for this reason it brings little to the economic table (kindly clip the education sector I sent to your WhatsApp). We are running a knowledge-based rather than a productivity-based education value chain with the tertiary sector at the top of this economically unproductive value chain.

To now beam our searchlight on our tertiary sector and their legacy and lasting economic contribution to their communities, how many of our tertiary institutions have financially buoyant alumni? How many of them are able to convince companies to invest in meaningful ventures with them? How many of them can attract substantial grants from NGOs, or are able to run commercially viable IGR ventures? And how many of them can charge realistic and reasonable student fees or can use government funds for mostly building infrastructure as opposed to simply paying salaries and pensions?

READ ALSO: Adulthood Na Scam!

In almost all the universities in Nigeria today, apart from accommodation, transport and commercial food activities, and some consulting jobs here and there, what else can they provide in their communities? UNIBADAN, our premier university, for instance, if I were to take it out of Ibadan today, what would Ibadan miss outside of the aforementioned sectors after domiciling there for more than seventy years?

The educational disconnect of most of our outputs to our economic requirements is why ASUU are on the back foot in these ongoing negotiations. Until there is a measure of financial independence where the government’s contribution should ideally not be more than thirty to forty percent of university finances covering mostly infrastructure, the government would ceaselessly and mostly be calling the shots.

ASUU for now are in a rightful battle of wits pitting moral conscience against financial realities. Moral compass versus brutal financial dependence is why the government can call their bluff and hence the language and posture of the Ministers of Labour and Education. Who is holding who by the neck?

Nigeria, led by the tertiary education sub-sector, needs to realign itself to the economic requirements and advancement of the nation via its curriculum, and our universities need to increase their IGR ventures, partake in commercial partnership ventures (be they agricultural, agro-industrial, purely industrial, tourism and hospitality and entertainment – we are spoilt for choice basically) and then they can detach themselves from the wholly apron strings of the government. Only then can they truly have any worthwhile bargaining chips. UNILAG’s recent foray into automobile partnerships (thankfully after mostly just being domiciled for decades in Akoka) is a massive step in the productive direction beyond accommodation. Transportation, food provision activities and the consulting jobs within the Lagos environs it is geographically fortunate to have access to are to the advantage of the institution which the runners should put to its maximum benefit.

All other universities should borrow a leaf from this productivity-driven and employment-generating initiative. This same template should be cascaded down to the polytechnics, colleges of technical education, including the secondary and primary sub-sectors where our masters and doctoral research students could be of more productive use than the prevailing orientation geared towards producing countless theses and publications for citations in (usually foreign) journals. How this education template adds to Nigeria’s economic productivity is open to debate.

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Our education outputs should be driven more by creativity, independence, entrepreneurship and productivity values and ethos rather than the current majorly knowledge and theory-oriented graduates mostly tailored towards the management, administrative and professional streams of the economy. It is the surplus of these graduates that are the unemployed, underemployed or misemployed outputs of the current education template. One can almost make the claim that if no graduates come out of our university conveyor belts, we have enough graduates out there for a decade to run Nigeria’s current economic template which is overwhelmingly civil service and corporate sector-driven with minimal agro-industrial productivity.

Outside of the previously mentioned groups are those fortunate enough to be employed but now feel so overused or unappreciated that those of them who can afford it are increasingly japaing out the country in droves for greener pastures abroad. Ironically, many of them are doing well out there with the most notable of them being those from the health and information technology professions. Of what use then are they to us after our scarce educational resources have been invested in them? Beyond their diaspora remittances (thanks be to them for not forgetting us o…), the countries abroad get the best out of our investment in them.

Until a paradigm shift in the end-goals of our education orientation takes place, ASUU (and the whole education sector) would continually be fighting a morally justified and conscientious battle but devoid of the nation’s economic requirements and their own financially untenable realities.

The push-has-come-to-shove question we should endlessly be asking ourselves is, what would Nigeria lose, or to be more contemporary in thought, what has Nigeria lost economically with all the strikes to date outside of the accommodation, transportation and food marketing activities of the university communities? Whenever their economic impact starts becoming nationally fruitful, via more productive ventures, then universities can truly flex their economically oriented educational muscles.

Other than the above happening, with the post-strike ‘no work no pay’ agenda still playing itself out, it is impossible not to feel for ASUU – we are all human and with family members among them – but the brutality of economic realities portends otherwise and this determines (or rather has been determining) the language and posture, albeit downright unpleasant sometimes, of these negotiations.

I am deliberating withholding my real comment to this contributor’s daring message. His tangible and intangible dancing steps don’t move me; so also are his delightful rhythm and rhetoric. Why essentially? He is afraid to call a bad spade by its rightful name. And the bad spade is the current central government in particular. It is the wholesome woe of Mr. Owomolo and all those in his unwholesome category of the un-employed. Has this central government of wickedly wicked and maliciously malicious and vindictively vindictive officials, ministers and their supremely supreme Mr.-horrible-in-chief kept its pre-election promises to Nigerians? Has it kept all its agreements with ASUU? This vile central government of hollow tricksters and polifoolicians is the cause of our sorrowful sorrows and woeful woes. We must put the blame squarely where it belongs. ASUU’s moral battle against the unjustly unjust central government must be called by its rightful name. And we, dear compatriots, shall overcome those who are multiplying our pains day by day. ASUU forever!
Hooray! Hooray! Hooray! Thot! Thunder!!!!
Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.

 

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Adulthood Na Scam!

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Adulthood na scam

By Toyin Falola

Nobody go ask if you don chop
Nobody go send you free money
If you no get na you sabi
Adulthood na scam!
Lade

Nigerians have always been able to express their thoughts and views in the most straightforward and humorous ways. They accomplish this in terms of their actual conditions by using slangs, other gestures, or even dance moves. Slangs like “Adulthood na scam”, “Japa”, Sapa, Shege, and Las Las are sociolinguistic expressions that capture Nigerians’ thoughts and realities. When talented Lade created the “444” jingle for Airtel, perhaps only her close friends and family were aware that she was the composer of the catchy tune that had people bobbing their heads and lip-syncing whenever the commercial jingle played on the radio or television (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQHTY0FZins). I love the song so much that I went in search of her!

In Adulthood na Scam, Lade, in her melodic voice, sang about how things are for grownups in the country, and the song quickly gained popularity among Nigerian young people and even adults. Being an adult includes the hustle and bustle, the need to have good financial standing, getting less attention from others, and eventually yearning to revert to childhood. Many individuals identified with the song and concurred with the singer that life as an adult is not as idyllic as they had imagined or would experience it, and they wish they could go back to being kids. The phrase “Adulthood na scam” was largely agreed upon by the populace.

READ ALSO: An Encounter With Toyin Falola: Between Celebration And Canonization Of Intellectuals

Mo gbe o!
My landlord wants my overdue rents
Baba Isola is dead!
I don’t have his number in heaven
I drank gari this morning
I smoked gari this afternoon
I don’t have gari left for the evening

Mama mi Isola is dead!
She gave me iresi for breakfast
Amala for lunch
Iyan for dinner
She does not pick my calls in heaven

My best friend at Unilag has sold his computer to buy rice.
He is a Lecturer 1
Better paid than Lecturer 2
Is 2 not greater than 1?
Mo gbe o!

I know Bose, a secondary school teacher at a high school that belongs to my friend. She only hopes for a meagre amount of thirty thousand naira at the end of each month. She is a graduate and a single mother, and also battered with enumerable responsibilities from her family, being the first child. From the N30,000 (taxable), she feeds herself and her innocent little boy. She pays her rent and struggles to do her duties as the eldest sibling of her low-income family. This is not only a sad story but one that tears the heart apart. Hurting, isn’t it? She begs friends and colleagues for money now and then. She is ashamed; her benefactors are tired.

Right on the Lagos highway in Ikorodu, Joseph lives in a one-bedroom apartment with three other roommates. I know him through a friend who hired his brother. He is well-paid. The joyful news is that Joseph is a very talented computer guru who works with a top tech company in Lagos. Recently, he was moved to one of their branches on the Island in Lekki. But the sad story is that the company has no plan to provide accommodation or transportation allowance. He earns N400,000 monthly but struggles to save N10,000 at the end of the month, so he goes from Ikorodu to Lekki every day, spending a lot of his salary on transport fares and nearly as much as the time he spends in the office to commute to work and back. He sleeps in his office from time to time. Luckily, or maybe not so luckily, for him, he impregnated his girlfriend, and now they have to live together. This means he will pay for the entire apartment if he asks the three other roommates to leave. He will also take care of his newly unwed wife and the baby. Sadly, the parents of this school-dropout girl have been demanding. Last week, he had to send N50,000 to his father-in-law, who is yet to make up his mind about the dowry list—all these responsibilities from a seemingly huge looking N400,000.

READ ALSO: No Bobo! No Zobo! (Part 3)

You, reading this, know more people than I do. You know their incomes. You know their stories. These are the lucky ones with jobs!

The National Bureau of Statistics and the United Nations Office have been conducting the “Corruption in Nigeria Survey” since 2017, and they successfully did so in 2017 and 2019. This was done after receiving responses from 33,000 Nigerians at least 18 years old in the 36 states. In the study, they listed the main issues facing the country, which impact the realities of Nigerians. These include ethnic animosity, drug trafficking, corruption, high living expenses, unemployment, and issues with infrastructure, housing, health care, and education.

The slang Adulthood na scam! raises concern about how the low standard of living in the country affects citizens, as growing up means you will have to start taking responsibility amid a high unemployment rate and the low probability of getting a job that allows you to live comfortably. Unemployment is one of the most pressing problems in Nigeria. Thousands of youths with qualifications have to endure years at home doing nothing despite the responsibilities that come with age. According to Trade Economics, the youth unemployment rate in Nigeria increased to 53.4 per cent from 40.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2020. An increase like this impacts adulthood in the country; many youths are stranded or unable to shoulder the responsibilities and expectations of this stage of life.

There are three stages to life; first, you are a child, then you become an adolescent, and later an adult. According to an Encyclopaedia, childhood begins at age one and ends circa age 12-13, after which adolescence begins, where individual transitions from childhood to adulthood. This Encyclopaedia puts adolescents between 10 and 19 years; it is the shortest of the three stages of life. Adulthood takes a larger share of one’s life. In many countries, individuals are considered adults when they reach the age of 18. Wahala arrives!

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As a child, one lives a relatively easy life, and the major difference between most rich and poor children lies in the care they receive. At this stage, you can play as much as you want. Your parents would be happy to have you away so you can have fun, and as long as you do not suffer bodily harm, everything is fine, and you can always come home to ready-made meals. During this stage, you earn ridiculous amounts of money, material gifts, and love, especially if you are a cheerful, smart, and witty kid. Children are unconditionally loved, and their only nightmares would be the lack of freedom of speech, thought, and choice, as well as the numerous errands they are made to run.

During adolescence, youngsters try to prove to others around them that they are no longer children but are now grownup. This is where the suffering begins. You are put in many rough situations to demonstrate that you are no longer a child and can face life’s challenges. At this stage, your wants and needs increase geometrically, and the rate you get free money and other gift items decrease arithmetically, putting you in a tight angle. Also, the unconditional love you receive as a child reduces gradually, and the love you get will now be determined by your looks, behaviour, and efficiency. However, the joys of being an adolescent lie in the fact that you can now access more freedom of speech, choice, and thoughts, and most of the time, you are in charge of younger people and can lord over them like a real adult.

The adulthood stage is the last. It begins around 18 to 20 years of age and is maintained for the rest of one’s life, making it the longest stage. This time, you are as free as the birds in the sky; there is total freedom of speech, thought, and choice. At this age, you either receive love or hate, depending on what kind of grownup you are. This age can be tasking as adults like you, adolescents, and children expect you to make things happen. Your finances will largely depend on how you earn, how much, and how you spend. Your wants and needs, which now include that of the children, adolescents, and adults under your care, will never end. Do not expect material or monetary gifts at this period of your life because they will reduce geometrically.

An average child wants to leave the childhood stage and be an adult. They envy the adults’ freedom. One of the biggest pains for a child is waking up early when school is in session while the adults relax and do their things at their own pace and time. Children want to grow quickly to that level and be free of the school burden. They envy adults who are rich and long to get to this stage of life where they have their own money (not as gifts). However, these children fail to realise that adulthood comes at a steep price. Adults only give out money after taking care of a long list of bills and responsibilities, and being present when their children go to school is also part of their duties as parents. Since no one explained this to the young ones, adulthood looks like a paradise to them, so when they get to that stage and face the reality that adulthood is not what they thought it would be, frustration sets in.

This type of frustration inspired Lade’s “Adulthood na Scam,” which means being an adult is a fraud. Lade sings about how adults do not get free money, how no one cares about an adult’s well-being, how they have to hustle all day to make ends meet, and that they must manage their finances and pay bills. If we are being realistic, is adulthood a scam? Or is it that some adults do not know how to manage their affairs? Or is it the environment that has made life torrid for adults?

READ ALSO: Nigeria: Hushpuppi For President

Firstly, the hustling part of adulthood is non-negotiable. It is the backbone of adulthood. As an adult, you need a source of income, if not several, to sustain your life. This does not make adulthood a “scam,” as it is just normal. As an adult, you become the giver rather than the receiver; therefore, you should expect the rate at which you receive freebies to reduce significantly, and you should start giving more. This is another reason the hustling part of this stage of life cannot be negotiated.

Secondly, how adults manage their finances will determine whether they consider adulthood a scam. Many people cannot make a scale of preference or even differentiate between wants and needs; they just spend on anything and everything. Most times, people spend on things that do not add value. Expensive clothes, jewellery, alcohol, and so on, all on a relatively small budget that would cover their needs and take care of their younger ones. This means they must work extra hard to tick all their boxes, and surely, this set of people will believe that adulthood is a scam.

Lastly, society or the environment plays a major role in this matter. More developed societies like the United States of America and China have better economies, unlike Nigeria; therefore, it will be easier for adults to survive in these societies than in Nigeria. In America, for instance, one may get a job and a car at 18 (a fresh adult), even if it is on loan. Sadly, such is not the case in Nigeria, where adults in their late twenties struggle to secure a job that does not take care of their needs, let alone secure a loan for a car.

“Adulthood na scam” is largely based on the adult’s perspective and the realities of their localities. To some, adulthood is the survival of the fittest! They have chosen to kala and daju, ignoring every responsibility of being an adult. Instead, they adopt the stance that las las everybody go dey alright!

Adulthood is not a scam; scamming is for adults! I still have space for adoption if you want to end adulthood and become my baby. Not babe!

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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Understanding And Misunderstanding Advocacy For Alleged Witches In Africa

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Understanding And Misunderstanding Advocacy For Alleged Witches In Africa

By Leo Igwe
The formation of the Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AfAW) has continued to generate reactions from the public. The purpose of this piece is to highlight these reactions, clarify the misconceptions, and properly situate the mission and objective of AfAW. Recently a well-meaning Nigerian asked us to change the name of the organization. He was not the first to do so. He stated that the caption, Advocacy for Alleged Witches) was repulsive. Repulsive? He said: “The goal of saving the elderly with medical challenges and stigmatized children (all ignorantly and wrongly dubbed witches and wizards) can still be achieved with a far more creative and imaginative title or caption”. Interesting. I wondered what could be more creative than the title, Advocacy for Alleged Witches. What else could be more imaginative than this clear and crisp name? No ambiguity as to what it stands for and what it meant to achieve. I mean, how is this focused title nauseating to anyone unless the person is mentally held hostage by occult fears and anxieties?

I asked the person who made the post to clarify and further explain so that we could review or consider revising the name. He responded: “All I advise is that you rethink that name for you to make the desired impact. With that name, your otherwise good intentions will grossly be misunderstood”. Indeed I understood his point even though I disagreed with it. I pretended not to have understood and inquired if he wanted us to change the name of the organization. And he answered in the affirmative stating that the name, Advocacy for Alleged Witches, would be misunderstood by the Nigerian public. He said: “An average Nigerian will misconstrue that to mean you are advocating for witchcraft! The prefix “alleged,” won’t change anything. You can still go ahead, but have this in mind”.

As I noted in my reply to him, his was a valid point. And many campaigners have tried to avoid being misunderstood and have ended up choosing a vague name that obfuscated their objective and mission. At AfAW we have chosen a different pathway to address the problem.

I must admit that since the foundation of AfAW, we have been wrestling with issues regarding the perception of the organization. Many Nigerians think AfAW is an organization of witches. Our meetings have been designated as meetings of witches. Our events have been described as activities meant to promote witchcraft. Let me share a few experiences.

In 2020, we had a hard time convincing journalists that AfAW was not and should not be described as a witches’ group. Many news outlets described AfAW as an organization of witches. Do an online search and you would see some news headlines like “witches’ group says so so and so” “Witches rejoice..”. At some point, I had to confront a journalist from a major online newspaper over this and he explained that describing AfAW as a witches’ group made a catchy headline. A catchy headline indeed. Now in the quest to attract more online traffic or readership, these media organizations sacrifice truth and facts about an important issue. They misinform the public, misrepresent the organization and reinforce a misconception.

READ ALSO: Advocacy For Alleged Witches And Freedom Of Religion Or Belief Misunderstood

In September, an incident buttressed the concerns raised by this gentleman. The police invaded and stopped a seminar of AfAW in Benue state. They claimed that they received some intelligence that witches were meeting and had been instructed to stop the meeting. I mean, police officers were at the venue of the event with their guns and vans to stop a meeting of witches. Is that not absurd? I guess some of them must have been there with charms to protect themselves against the witches. Even when they were properly informed about the event, the police insisted the program would not hold. They asked the organizers to reschedule for another date on one condition. That they should come before the next date and state clearly that they were not witches. Incidentally, the following day, a journalist from the state newspaper, who was at the event, published a report stating that the police disrupted “a meeting of witches and wizards”. Just look at that! I was very furious. When I confronted her over the misleading headline she claimed that her editor chose the title so that more people could read the story. You see that? A case of a media outlet choosing to publish a misleading title to only attract readership.

At a workshop on gender and religion that was held in Cape Town in November, I introduced myself as the director of the Advocacy for Alleged Witches. I did not know that the introduction did not go down well with one participant. On the last day of the event, this woman from another African country came to me and said she would like to confess something. And I suddenly turned towards her. She said she had been looking at me with some suspicion since I introduced myself as coming from the Advocacy for Alleged Witches. That she resolved not to come close or associate with me because I must be one of them! But she was surprised that when she asked for my phone number I readily l gave it to her. And she thought: “Ah so these people (witches) also have telephone numbers”. At that point, we all laughed out very loud. She told me that she was serious, she thought I was a wizard. I believed her and I knew there were others at the event who viewed me the same way but who could not say so.

READ ALSO: Advocacy For Alleged Witches Petitions NHRC Over Witchcraft Markets Event

Some days ago, I phoned one of the contacts of the Federation of Women Lawyers in Delta state to inform her about an upcoming event. I wanted the organization to send a representative. I phoned her at about 10 pm, which was quite late. Immediately I introduced myself as calling from the Advocacy for Alleged Witches, she burst into laughter. And then she said, “And you are calling this night?” We laughed together. I want ahead to explain why I called. I get that kind of response very often. Any time I introduce myself as coming from the Advocacy for Alleged Witches, people’s faces lighten up with some strange smile. Not necessarily out of excitement. More out of suspicion.

At AfAW we are aware that the mention of the name “witches” or “witchcraft” evokes fears and anxieties. Many people have been socialized to think and react that way. But this mode of reaction has to change. The name, Advocacy for Alleged Witches creates the impression that the organization supports and promotes witchcraft. Meanwhile, that is far from the truth. At AfAW we believe that witches as popularly known in Africa are superstitious imaginaries that people use to make sense of misfortune.

Part of the objective of AfAW is to tackle the misperception of witches, and witchcraft whether alleged or not. AfAW seeks to address associated fears and suspicions. It aims to correct the pervasive misconceptions and fears associated with the term witch or witchcraft because these misperceptions are at the root of witch persecution. Saving alleged witches cannot be realized until Nigerians disabuse their minds and free themselves from fears and suspicions that the term witches or witchcraft engenders. So the mission of combating witch persecution and supporting victims starts in the mind. It starts by demystifying the term witchcraft or witches. It starts by clarifying misconceptions and misperceptions that are linked to terminologies such as witches, witchcraft, and supposed occult forces.

Dr. Igwe directs Advocacy for Alleged Witches.

 

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