I was drawn into reading a small beautifully designed book that treated dangerous themes. Then I saw an entry on the Tokyo Earthquake (1923) that occurred on Sunday, 2 September 1923, whereupon the author confessed that on the said date, a news report came via Shanghai from Osaka, Japan. It read: “Yesterday, Yokohama and most of Tokyo totally destroyed in devastating earthquake followed by fire. Heavy loss of life.”
For some days, because of shattered communications, news of what had happened reached the outside world only in fragments.
On 3 September, more reports trickled through: “100,000 people reported killed, 200,000 buildings destroyed, including all Tokyo’s business quarter and most government offices. A power station collapsed, killing 600. Tokyo arsenal exploded. Water system completely destroyed. Food warehouses burned to the ground. Fires still raging.”
On 4 September: “Casualties mounting, possibly 150,000 killed. Railway station in ruins; Japan’s longest tunnel at Sasako caved in, suffocating a trainload of passengers. Sumida River burst its banks, drowning hundreds.
All bridges down. Almost all schools, hospitals, factories wrecked. Summer resorts on Sagami Bay (20 miles south-west of Tokyo) obliterated.”
On 5 September: “Many passengers and goods trains derailed with heavy loss of life. Tidal waves, 40 feet high, swamped Sagami Bay, causing massive destruction, then receded, baring the ocean floor. Oil-storage tanks at Yokohama exploded. 40,000 people burned to death by fire cyclone in Tokyo Park. 1,600 crushed, then burned in subsequent fire when Fuji cotton mill collapsed.” (The World ’s Worst Disasters of the Twentieth Century by Hamlyn).
I read with trepidation and considerable shock the above summation of the Tokyo 1923 Earthquake which in the scientific estimation of record keepers turned out to be one of the worst disasters in recorded history to have occurred to humanity.
Well the one disaster that is nearer to us locally would definitely be the thirty months fratricidal civil war between the then breakaway Eastern region and Nigeria in which a considerable genocide occurred with nearly three million civilians slaughtered in the then Biafran Republic which actually tried to secede from the newly Independent British Colonized territory known as Nigeria.
In that war, it was said that the Federal Forces imposed food embargo against the Eastern region then called Biafra and this apparent War Crime led to the death of millions of children.
In the context of our reflection today, we can also say that Nigeria is currently undergoing one of the worst forms of human disasters because in most parts of the country as we speak, children cannot go to school in safety without being attacked by terrorists that President Muhammadu Buhari have chosen to only address as armed bandits just as most of these terrorists are Fulanis with the same ethnicity with the president.
The live disaster that is taking place in Nigeria also has to do with the fact that the political authority in Abuja has prioritized the welfare of cows much more than those of human beings.
This tendency offends both natural law and the Nigerian Grund Norm which clearly states the sanctity of life in many sections including section 33 (1) that says: “Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.”
It is indeed a thing of unfathomable worry that President Buhari talks more about how to protect cows and the seemingly lawless herders who share the same ethnicity with him than about human beings who are at the receiving end of different kinds of terror attacks.
Recently, he decided after a long while to speak to Nigerians via the media of mass communication.
First, he spoke with Arise television before he also spoke to the publicly owned Nigerian Television Authority.
In all of these interactions characterized by negative assertions and threats targeting the South East of Nigeria because of the raging agitation for self- determination by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), the president devoted a substantial part of those monologues to talks about cows.
He categorically made a statement insisting that open grazing of cows is the only option he would accept. His conclusion on open grazing contradicts the democratic decision of both the Northern and Southern governors.
But President Buhari stood behind his kinsman who is his justice minister to direct that grazing routes be demarcated and handed over to Fulani herdsmen even without saying how his government will handle the many cases of mass killing of farmers by Fulani herdsmen who wield Ak- 47 but he faintly asserted that the Fulani that bear and brandish assorted weapons are from Mauritania and central African Republic.
Imagine a President whose primary lawful duty is to protect lives of citizens and their property now abdicating from that constitutional role under the guise that those doing the killings of his citizens are not his kinsmen from Nigeria but his Kinsmen from outside Nigeria.
This is outrageous and reprehensible.
Over and above all, the president spoke about cows and concluded with cow business by saying that he would be retiring to his farms to tend his cattle in Katsina.
Another disaster being inflicted on Nigeria is the demolition of all values that seek to defend free speech just as the Federal Government has consistently deployed armed security force to crush civil protests and has used full force against only the South East-based Indigenous Peoples of Biafra whom he categorized as terrorists by obtaining exparte order of Abuja federal High Court declaring them (IPOB) as a terrorist group just as the matter challenging that proscription has never been heard and the lawyer representing IPOB has been physically attacked thrice by armed security forces and two of his brothers assassinated by the Nigerian State just for being a legal representative of IPOB in the law courts.
Few hours after he spoke about cows and what he intends to do using Abubakar Malami to protect the business interests of private cow owners, the government unleashed the police who brutally attacked protesters who gathered in Abuja and Lagos on June 12th 2021 to demand good governance and accountability.
A typical media representation of the repressive state of the Nigeria of today is going viral on social media. There is a photographic depiction of armed police operative brutalizing a peaceful protester on June 12th and another photo showing a police man admiring armed Fulani militia member who attended one of the many meetings staged by Katsina and Zamfara governors to try to win the terrorists that Muhammadu Buhari has so far refused to call terrorists, over to embrace dialogue.
What we then see is a tyrant who is in Abuja making use of armed security forces to clamp down on peaceful protesters but has failed to crush armed Fulani herdsmen who have continued to kill and maim citizens all across Nigeria.
Now let us return to the speech by President Buhari in which he apparently was communicating to the world that all he cares about as president is the welfare of cows and his Fulani kinsmen who tend these cows.
Already his threat to revive the so-called cattle routes has unleashed intellectual battles on two fronts.
President Muhammadu Buhari said he plans to revive cattle grazing routes and grazing areas set across the country in the 1960s, suggesting an opposition to the open grazing ban announced by the 17 southern governors.
The southern governors had in May declared a ban on open grazing, asking the mainly Fulani herders to practise a settled form of livestock production to control their incessant violent conflicts with farmers and host communities over resources.
But in the wake of that declaration, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister for Justice, Abubakar Malami, controversially challenged the governors and set an equivalence between banning open grazing and banning auto parts trading in the north.
Malami’s comparison was as reported by an online medium seen as a false equivalence and disguisedly targeting the Igbo group, who are known for auto parts trading, prompting protests on the social media.
After Mr Malami, Garba Shehu, presidential spokesperson, also said the ban by the southern governors was lawless and his principal had a better plan.
“I have asked to dig up gazettes of the First Republic,” Mr Buhari said in his Arise TV interview aired on Thursday morning, referring to the documents that in the 1960s set hundreds of routes and areas for free range cattle grazing across the country.
The routes traverse Nigeria’s states and neighbouring countries, thereby allowing foreign herders to seasonally explore Nigeria for pasture. But the foreigners have been blamed for being particularly violent, a point the president also made in his interview. However, indigenous herders also fight with farmers over access to shrinking resources amid growing population and need for land, so reports the press.
“There are cattle routes and grazing areas,” the president further said. “You have to stay there and if you allow your cattle to stray into another person’s farm you will be arrested.”
He added that “the routes and the areas are known,” and warned that encroachers “will be dispossessed.”
Immediately he made the above remarks, governors kicked and maintained that there was no going back on their ban on open grazing.
Also, the Senator representing the Osun Central senatorial district, Dr Ajibola Basiru, said that President Muhammadu Buhari lacked the powers to revive the old grazing routes, anywhere in the country.
The lawmaker also said he wondered if the president had been receiving correct legal advice from the attorney-general of the federation, Abubakar Malami.
Basiru, who holds a doctoral degree in property law, said he spoke to The Punch in his capacity as the senator representing the Osun Central Senatorial District, and in his personal capacity because the upper chamber had yet to take a position on the matter.
The lawmaker said the issue of grazing routes was not known to the Nigerian constitution and that Buhari did not have any power to direct the implementation of any law that was alien to the country’s legal books.
He explained that the gazette that Buhari was referring to was a product of a decree promulgated in the northern Nigeria in the 1960s.
He argued that the Land Use Act, which is recognised by the Nigerian constitution, had rubbished the so-called grazing routes gazette.
He explained that the Land Use Act had transferred to state governments, the sole power to legislate on the use of land for any purpose, including grazing.
Basiru said it was only governors of the northern part of the country that could individually make laws to identify grazing routes because the gazette, which Buhari referred to, had become obsolete.
He said : “Nigerians do not need to criticise the president for making that statement, rather, they should find out whether the president has actually been properly advised by his attorney general and the legal team.
“Nigerians should be concerned over whether the Nigerian president is actually getting the correct legal advice from his attorney general and the legal team.
“As far as I am concerned, as a legal practitioner, there is nothing like grazing routes or grazing reserve law, in the laws of the Federation of Nigeria. There is nothing like that.
“There is no federal legislation that the president can implement over such matter.
“The executive powers of the president merely rely on the powers of the National Assembly to make laws, when you look at Section 5 of the Constitution.
“Any area where the National Assembly cannot make laws, and there are no express grants of powers to the president under the Constitution, a purported exercise of power by the president in that regard, will be null and void because it is inconsistent with the Constitution by Section 1(3) of the 1999 Constitution.
“I have painstakingly looked at the laws of the Federation of Nigeria and I did not see a copy of any law that is called federal grazing law, or grazing Act or any other title relating to the issue.
“I am aware that there is a northern Nigerian law on reserve and grazing routes which was promulgated by a 1964 decree by the premier of the defunct northern Nigeria region.
“It is not a federal law unless the legal adviser to Mr President is equating a northern Nigerian law, which is not applicable in the West, Mid-West, and Eastern region or in anywhere in the southern part of Nigeria, to be a federal or a Nigerian law.
“The president does not have the power to implement that law because it is not a federal law.
“He can only implement federal legislation made by the National Assembly or deemed to have been made by the National Assembly.
“The grazing routes law is not a National Assembly law, so there is nothing for the president to implement.
“It is regrettable that the president has not been properly advised by his attorney general and the legal team.
“If anybody will implement any law, it is the states where those routes are applicable that could do so.
“Grazing routes law is not applicable in any state in the southern Nigeria. The southern Nigeria has its own law on cattle.
“It is unfortunate when we have a situation whereby the president of Nigeria is being misadvised by his legal and policy team, for whatever reason it is.
“There has been informed legal opinion on this issue. So there is no federal law regarding grazing routes.
“Even by the allocation of power, under the Nigerian legislation, the National Assembly and by virtue of that, the president does not have power to do anything about grazing routes.
“This is because the management of land in the entire territory of a state, by Section one of the Land Use Act, is vested in the governor.”
There is also another research circulating on social media which says that the cattle routes are mostly in Northern Nigeria and do not affect Southern states.
The author told fellow Nigerians, that following President Buhari’s decision to reclaim all officially gazetted grazing reserves/routes, that he “decided to conduct my own findings as to where exactly these gazzeted cattle routes are located. What I found was rather interesting and I will present it here for the purpose of enlightening the public.”
He said: “My research focused only on the gazzeted cattle routes as that was what PMB said he would reclaim.
Do you know that in the entire south, it is only Oyo State that has 2 gazzeted cattle routes/reserves? The rest don’t have. See below the breakdown of the officially gazzeted cattle routes in Nigeria;
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There are 140 gazetted grazing reserves (Adamawa—31; Bauchi—27; Borno—15; Gombe—4; Jigawa—2; Kaduna—2; Kebbi—1; Kogi—1; Kwara—1; Nasarawa— 7; Niger— 2; Plateau— 1; Sokoto— 8; Taraba—9; Yobe— 17; Zamafara— 6, FCT— 4 and Oyo— 2.
I am not very sure PMB is aware of this distribution. He may be aware that there are gazzeted grazing reserves, but if he now discovers that what is officially gazzeted does not even include almost the entire south, I am not sure he will still pursue the agenda of reclaiming these reserves.
“I also found out that as far back as the time these reserves were created, the committee recommended the adoption of a more sedentary method of cattle rearing or ranching.
In a paper written by S.A. Ingawa, C. Tarawali and R. von Kaufmann, ILCA Subhumid Research Site(1989) available at: https://www.google.com/url sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://cgspace.cgiar.org/bitstream/handle/10568/4349/x5516e.pdf%3FisAllowed%3Dy%26sequence%3D1&ved=2ahUKEwjM99OqvZbxAhXKEWMBHRnaCEEQFjAAegQIAxAC&usg=AOvVaw1y8BFWlPYpvbgFx53pnwIZ, the authors listed some of the problems with open grazing of cattle and the need to implement a solution that is both beneficial to the pastoralists and the farmers.
“The research is an eye opener and also a deep revelation as to how government can indeed resolve any problem if they intend to, with honesty and fairness.
” As for the gazzeted grazing reserves in question, there are only 140 which I have listed. Although, there are some that were never officially gazzeted, I have excluded them from this post because the focus is on the officially gazzeted ones.”
Unfazed by the controversies he generated the president say he will return to look after his cows. His words: “I have never abandoned my farm. I still have a number of cattle. I will go to my farm daily. I will try to keep myself busy,”
My honest plea to Nigerians is to stay away, stay vigilant and campaign vigorously for the government to prioritize human beings and lives of citizens much more than cows. Government officials have the legal obligations to take steps to keep Nigerians safe.
The president must not be allowed to continue to give us all kinds of excuses on why Nigerians are killed and who is doing the killings.
The job of the president is to prevent these killings from ever happening and to bring the perpetrators to justice swiftly. Government must not be permitted to continue to run Nigeria like a ROGUE and police state whereby the lives of Nigerians are sacrificed on the altar of satisfying the needs of private cow owners.
Onwubiko is the head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and was a federal commissioner at the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria.
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How To Enter Sapele And Warri From Benin Now (1)
By Tony Afejuku
Sapele and Warri are two significantly important Nigerian cities that need no introduction, special or un-special, from the historic, realistic and imaginative imagination of this creative creator whose impression of things is often – if not always – determined by features which fit the descriptions that convey meaningfully what must be conveyed – meaningfully. Sapele and Warri, as very many people know, are two unique cities, two uniquely nifty cities, from whichever dominant or un-dominant impressions or perspectives open to us to define the cities. Of course, the cities’ dense and denizenly denizens and brought-ups where-ever they are always have something, something beautifully beautiful, to say about them in the same way that those of Benin, the antique city, allow their imaginations and conceptions to beautify it. Indeed, I have since accepted these three cities for different reasons as my rococo cities: Warri, the rock-oil city of a kingdom that produced the first university graduate in sub-Saharan Africa, Sapele the rock-and-roll city housing the Athletic Club, the first European recreation club in West Africa, at least, Benin, the un-lucidly lucid city of unforgettably rich antiquity. In the beautifully good old days we could comb the three great cities in one day. As a matter of fact, we combed them in one day as we hopped into different cars and jalopies and traversed different latitudes and longitudes in Benin, Sapele and Warri at the same time. Going to Safi and Wafi and Bafi and vice versa to do what we must do show-business-wise, play-hunting-wise, dame-hunting-wise, solid business-wise, education-wise, research-wise and otherwise was a peruked experience, so to say, of a classical theme in our years and years of how we enjoyed and took ourselves seriously. Everything we tried to see, everything we tried to feel, everything we tried to touch, everything we tried to bite and eat, everything we tried to experience proved beautifully un-disappointing – because the centuries we knew and did not know tried to maintain themselves in our imaginations and memories.
But as at today, as at now, time has since travelled by and has assumed a dimension of space that has jeopardized and shattered our compassion for the dead and gone centuries. Why couldn’t they stand still and maintain themselves in the present?
Let’s terminate the sweet rigmarole that remains ever sweet in our recollections of the then and then decades that rolled into centuries.
Four years ago, I did a piece, an engaging piece, on the lamentable condition of the Benin-Sapele Road. Then – if my recollection is not losing its plume – I put the federal government and the governors of Edo State and Delta State respectively on the radar of the deplorable deplorableness. I did that in the hope that the federal government and the respective governments of the two Niger Delta States would do something memorably drastic to return the Benin-Sapele-Warri Highway to its time of artful and civil engineering agreeableness. The deplorability of the road then was such that induced from the eyes of all those living in Benin, Sapele and Warri and inter-city and inter-state travellers tears of unhappiness. The tears compassionated the ever-busy highway/road which I then christened Ouagadougou which I deliberately employed to alter the original meaning of the capital of Burkina Faso (“Land of Upright Men” or “Land of Incorruptible people”). I altered the original name that depicts its beauty to mean Benin-Sapele-Warri hole and hell of a road on account of the useless and hopeless hours of delays of travellers and commuters on that road whose rottenly rotten portions have become far more rottenly rotten than they were then. The jaw-breaking or mouth-twisting pronunciation of “Owa-ga-do-gu” or “Wa-ga-do-gu” compellingly makes ugly the essentially original name of merriness in a land of people of revolutionary colour, fervor and flavour.
On Friday, September 15, 2023 I had to make a trip I could not avoid to Warri the once merry rock oil city of ogbologbos and cherishers of decent decency. My plan was to make a brief stop-over in Sapele, Papa’s land of rock-and-roll ogbologbos of ogbologbos who nor dey fear kain. But how would I navigate my way through Benin our Benin where the once popular Benin-Sapele Road has turned itself into a baser and baser road day by day by government’s neglect of it? The terrifyingly and horrifyingly base road has been emboldened by our respective calamitous rulers over the years of calamitous nastiness.
Two days before my expected trip I contracted a driver who I was going to hire to take me to Warri aforesaid. I was away in one of the Western States. I got to Benin at an ample time a day before my trip to firm up my agreement with the chap who was to take me to my destination(s). For the one-way trip he was going to squeeze from me sixty-five thousand naira. I pinched myself. The guy-man don catch mugu wey nor be mugu. I tried to bargain with him as best as I could. He was not ready to come down. He mentioned what the trip would cost him petrol-wise and dwelt agonizingly on the condition of the road – especially the condition of the Benin by-pass and the Ologbo stretch before the cross-over to Delta State. I gaped with amazement. The journey via any transport company would not cost me as a single passenger more than three thousand five hundred naira. In my determination, I suggested that we should go to Warri via Agbor. He said that the Agbor route was even worse than the Ologbo one. In any case, if I was seriously serious about embarking on the trip via the Benin Agbor route he would accept from me nothing short of eighty-five thousand naira. In my desperation I suggested the Benin-Jesse route. He smilingly kept quiet. But when he eventually spoke to open his thought he said he would not dare to take that route even if I or anybody offered him the world. Herdsmen had kidnapped, captured, maimed and killed a number of persons on that axis. I could feel myself swept back through time as when an ancient memory of the Warri wars or the Benin massacre comes back to mind. I jettisoned the chap and reduced my reality to making my trip very early not later than six o’clock in the morning of my trip by a commercial vehicle.
By 5:45 AM on the dot I was at “Warri-by-air” motor-park on the day of my trip. Only one Sienna car was available. On enquiry, I was told that other vehicles and their drivers that were not at the park would likely not go to Warri on account of the road-less road at the Ologbo stretch which no road-rollers could immediately redeem. Before long the vehicle was ready to take us to Warri. In fact, by 7:30AM that morning we were already at Ologbo. O my dear readers, we were held and holed up there even though our road-hog on the steering performed all the magic he could possibly perform. There was no movement to and from the opposite direction. Almost everyone on the steering of each vehicle was a road-hog after all! I lost my sense of arithmetic, algebra and geometry as our dare-devil driver tried to meander his way without gaining any advantage. By four o’clock in the afternoon we were still glued to the muddy mud of a wet road of gullies upon gullies. All the vehicles were plugged into a single outlet-less outlet and charmed, compelled to remain there. And the trucks (trailers) that conservatively numbered well above three thousand appeared to me to have caused a magnetic storm. It was a cloudy day when the rains did not pour down, yet muddy and ugly Ologbo remained muddily muddy and watery Ologbo of wetness. A Benin-Warri journey that ordinarily should not exceed one hour even on a bad traffic day was already taking me ten hours plus! I must do something. My slight luggage and I embarked on a fresh journey on a motor-bike trip of not up to two kilometres from Ologbo to Koko junction in Delta State and which ordinarily should not fetch the Hausa Okada rider two hundred naira squeezed from me one thousand naira. But I was happy to hop on the Okada pontoon taking us – my luggage and I – to the other side – Koko junction aforesaid – where there were several waiting vehicles taking passengers to Warri and Sapele respectively. On the Okada leaping and snaking through the devilish waters of the unfathomable gutters of a wicked road, I made sure that the Okada rider did not mock the storm and spirit of gravity. I compelled him to make his motor-bike to maintain its/his road-holding. No limb must I lose! Others who did what I did boarded the same vehicle that flew us to Warri where a stormy rain welcomed us. The rain beat me and hammered away the sticky potopoto all over me as I boarded a keke that took me to my Warri special haven. When did I arrive? Your guess is as good as a guess that is both right and wrong. My return journey was smoother and better, I now being a thorough expert on how to enter and get out of Warri without the fear of darkness unleashed on us by wickedly wicked or demonically demonic leader-less leaders: the Nigerian man’s burden.
To be continued.
Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.
The Witch, The Pentecostal, And Jungle Justice
By Claire P. Ayelotan
In July 2023, Martina Okey Itagbor was brutally murdered in a gruesome lynching incident. She was dragged out of her home and set on fire in the streets opposite the Catholic Church she attended regularly. Witnesses reported that her perpetrators stood by and watched as she writhed in agony until her body was reduced to ashes.
Afterwards, her remains were swept into a nearby gutter with a broom. The victim’s daughter, attending the church then, attempted to intervene, but was restrained by other congregation members. Among these members, some were Martina’s accusers.
Prior to this incident, other women had experienced a similar fate. For instance, on 27th August 2022, two widows in the Ebbaken community in Cross River State were killed by local youths for alleged witchcraft. No arrests were made. In 2022, Amarachi Okechi, a widow, was accused of witchcraft and publicly beaten by 30 youths in her village after claims from her brother-in-law’s wife. The incident was filmed as Amarachi was tied up overnight and abused for days. The wife of Abia State’s Governor eventually intervened. Four men in Adamawa State killed Martha Mamman on 4th December 2022, accusing her of witchcraft and causing three deaths. After a forced confession, they burned her. Love Nwanyanwu barely avoided a similar fate for alleged witchcraft on 8th November 2020. Prompted by her husband’s nephew, she was attacked by her in-laws. In 2017, in Adamawa State, pregnant Ayina Afraimu was bound and beaten with sticks to death after accusing her of causing some deaths and sickness in the village.
(c) Claire Princess Ayelotan
The month following Itagbor’s demise, two Nigerian police officers in Adamawa State were dismissed for their role in lynching two women accused of witchcraft. Neither faced legal repercussions, highlighting societal tolerance for such actions and underscoring the persistence of patriarchy.
As mentioned earlier, the individuals who were victims of such heinous acts were not merely strangers, but they were someone’s grandmothers, mothers, sisters, aunties, friends, and neighbours. Tragically, some of these individuals had their lives cruelly taken away, leaving behind their heartbroken beloved families. For those who survived, the trauma and stigma associated with the accusations of witchcraft will forever alter their lives. The label assigned to them is permanent and carries a heavy weight of discrimination and social exclusion.
Despite their differences, these women share a common experience as individuals who have been labelled as witches. They were often viewed with suspicion and fear, and their reputation as evil bearers was a source of constant stress and hardship. The accusations of witchcraft have put their familial loyalties to the test, causing irreparable damage to familial relationships. In some cases, family members may openly support their accusation and lynching, while others strongly oppose it. The emotional toll of such conflicts is immeasurable and serves as a painful reminder of the deep-rooted social problems plaguing our society.
Is witchcraft a curse in Africa?
In an article published a decade and a half ago by Professor La Fontaine in The Guardian with the headline “Witchcraft Belief is a Curse on Africa” effectively conveyed the detrimental effects such beliefs can have on societies. It is a fact that witchcraft belief is a bane to Africa and its people.
However, it should be noted that this issue is not confined to the African continent, but is a global problem, with historical evidence demonstrating that beliefs in witchcraft have never contributed to the advancement of human personal or societal development on any continent.
While it is one thing to acknowledge the existence of such beliefs, it is quite another to employ them during times of stress, which often leads to accusations. Accusations of witchcraft are a social mechanism utilised to both control and evade personal responsibilities. It thrives in a tension-filled environment and may be used to explain any situation, regardless of its relationship with existing tensions. Individuals with any gender orientation, age, or background are not exempt from such accusations. While women are mostly victims of accusations, children are increasingly being labelled as witches or wizards in various parts of Nigeria, leading to an upsurge in the number of private NGOs that provide shelter to victims in cities and States such as Akwa Ibom. Given its endemic nature, many accusations remain concealed, and cases similar to those of Martina Itagbor only come to light when someone publicly discloses them.
Any accusation of witchcraft that results in the death of a woman is considered a form of femicide, also known as feminicide, and is gender-based violence. Femicide is what Diana Russell coined as “the killing of females by males because they are females”. Although men (and children) were not immune from falling victim to an accusation, as detailed in my research, what set apart femicide because of the charge of the crime of witchcraft is the typology of the targeted women. These are primarily women with aggressive characteristics, widows, single mothers, women with disabilities, older women, and other vulnerable female groups.
Understanding the mind of the perpetrator
Public lynching linked to witchcraft accusations is gradually becoming part of Nigerian extrajudicial attacks, popularly known as ‘jungle justice’. This is self-effect justice perverted to those suspected of wrongdoing by the group of people or the community without involving law enforcement agents. A lack of trust in the judiciary system often compels many people to take the law into their own hands. Plus, to the perpetrators, the police are irrelevant and might release the victims. In addition, where such beliefs are upheld by members of the police officers themselves, the chances of the victims being released or vindicated may be minor.
Most jungle justice in Nigeria is often executed by youth; however, it shows no regard as the universality of jungle justice linked to witchcraft accusations has shown disparities in the age and gender of the perpetrators. As explained in the media journals, some perpetrators were in their 60s. Moreover, the perpetrators were mainly men, suggesting a disguised aspect of misogynism. However, this does not exclude the involvement of women. The mothers of the boys who died and other women validated Martina’s lynching, as some of them came out of the church and stood watching the attack with no remorse or action to prevent her death.
Jungle justice imposes accountability on all parties involved in extrajudicial punishment, which constitutes a form of collective violence that undermines the rule of law. However, the concept of “equal responsibility” can become complicated, particularly when seeking to understand the motivations and cognitive processes of those who participate in such actions. First, moral disengagement is a crucial factor in these situations, as ethical principles are disregarded and acts such as lynching Martina and other women are deemed morally justified. In this instance, jungle justice, as a form of communal purging, is an ideal means of eliminating elements that are considered evil within the community. Second, it is of utmost importance to comprehend Philip Zimbardo’s contribution to the theory of deindividuation, which posits that individuals may lose their sense of self-awareness and accountability in group settings and engage in behaviours that deviate from social norms. In situations where religious fervour is present, it may exacerbate the effects of deindividuation, leading individuals in group settings to be more inclined to engage in extrajudicial actions, such as jungle justice. Combining firm religious beliefs and group dynamics can diminish individual accountability and increase the likelihood of such acts being perpetrated.
Jungle justice, often associated with poverty, may have less to do with economic conditions and more with religious or spiritual beliefs. This is evidenced by the fact that many individuals participating in these acts of violence are not necessarily impoverished. In fact, within a religious context, such as the biblical account of the stoning of Stephen, it can be seen that economic status may not be the primary motivator for these acts of violence. Instead, religious beliefs and doctrinal issues may be more significant in motivating such action. For instance, Martina’s lynching in front of a Catholic Church adds a layer of symbolic spiritual meaning to the church’s setting of the act of jungle justice. Often considered a place of sanctuary and moral guidance, the church becomes a backdrop for an action that contradicts legal and, arguably, ethical norms. This juxtaposition can create powerful emotional and cognitive dissonance for observers and participants, affecting how the act is interpreted and remembered. Similarly, in cases of jungle justice related to accusations, my analysis in the following section suggests that religion may be a more significant factor than economic disadvantage in motivating these acts of violence.
What factors contribute to the escalating incidence of witchcraft allegations against vulnerable populations in Nigeria?
To assert that witchcraft beliefs are not prevalent and flourishing in Nigeria is to disregard the tragic fate of those accused and ostracised, including women, children, and men. This belief system has infiltrated various segments of society, ranging from ordinary folk to educated, religious institutions to the political sphere, university communities to local markets in bustling urban areas.
Two intertwined elements, among others, played a significant role in this phenomenon: Beliefs and Christianity. It is noteworthy that Christianity, as a religion, cannot subsist without the endorsement of beliefs. It is important to note that labelling occurs in other religions; however, Christian missionaries and the Saros aided the promulgation of witchcraft beliefs and eventual accusations during colonialism. For clarity and to inform those unfamiliar with the term, the Saros comprised Western-educated Nigerian Creoles, who, in collaboration with Western missionaries, introduced Western cultural and religious practices to Nigeria and Yorubaland. This led to the dehumanisation of local religions and reinforced beliefs such as evil, evil spirits, demons, and witchcraft. The Saros, along with their counterparts in other regions of Africa, were successful in anglicising several traditional socio-religious rites, artworks, gods, and personalities as witchcraft or witchcraft practices, making witchcraft a generic term throughout the continent.
By the post-imperialist era, Christianity had gained considerable traction in Africa. However, in the 1970s, the emergence of Pentecostalism gave rise to a syncretistic fundamentalist movement. It is indisputable that the foundation of Nigerian Pentecostalism is grounded in concepts from various sources, including traditional religions, Nigerian-initiated local churches, and Western, Asian, and Judeo-Christian beliefs. It is a matter of great concern that some Pentecostal churches today openly promote teachings on witchcraft and its connection with malevolent forces. Furthermore, such ideologies have infiltrated the doctrinal principles and convictions of several traditional churches. Any attempts to discuss witchcraft-related topics are often met with hostility from Christian organisations, primarily due to a fear of the perceived phenomenon.
Consequently, this fear is an exploitative tool by these churches, especially the Pentecostals, in accumulating members, as witchcraft beliefs have become ubiquitous in Nigerian households, states, regions, ethnic groups, academic settings, and the political sphere. The practice of witchcraft is believed to be a manifestation of demonic influence, and those who engage in such practices are considered the emissaries of the devil. Since the spiritual controls the physical, nothing happens by chance. Thus, every misfortune, comprising accidents, job losses, barrenness, illnesses, marital issues, exam failures, disabilities, poverty, and other socioeconomic incapacities, is blamed on witchcraft.
Labelling an individual as a witch systematically means projecting blame onto an external source, rather than engaging in introspection or examining one’s contributions as the root cause of any misfortune. Regular attendance at places of worship in an excessive and compulsive manner can often function as a means of avoiding personal responsibility for one’s decision-making. Individuals who are overweight and spend a considerable amount of time participating in church activities may regrettably attribute their subsequent health issues to the intervention of a witch, despite their own lifestyle choices, such as excessive eating, being a contributing factor. Although they may not all be Pentecostals, those who set Martina alight and the mothers of the boys who died in the accidents were convinced Martina was responsible for their sons’ demises. It is unlikely that they would believe that overspeeding or dangerous driving was the cause of the accident, as someone must have told them that the witch was responsible. Another consideration is that many individuals within the legal justice system may also be members of religious organisations that emphasise witchcraft. This adds a layer of complexity to why the act of jungle justice, which involves sidestepping legal norms, may not be viewed as problematic by some members of these churches.
Moreover, congregants often seek counsel from religious leaders who are aware of the demands for such services. However, this guidance comes at a cost, notably financial contributions through various offerings, tithes, and church-building projects. The relationship between religious leaders and their followers involves a transactional business arrangement. It is important to note that special prayer and deliverance sessions cannot be conducted without the eventual purchase of anointing oils, handkerchiefs, sermon materials, or a monetary contribution to the pastors through cash or bank transfers, if necessary.
When the notorious Dick The Butcher suggests to his boss, Jack Cade, in William Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 2, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”, it is considered a dark joke that killing all the lawyers for their absence @highlighted the importance of authority figure in maintaining or disrupting social order. Given the potential connections between Dick’s response to Pentecostal leaders, it is crucial to acknowledge their role in perpetuating witchcraft-related beliefs. While they may not directly participate in acts of jungle justice, they cannot be absolved of their complicity. Their teachings and beliefs about witchcraft unleashed Pandora’s box of events and attitudes that were challenging to reverse. The question remains: How many families and households have been torn apart due to their ideologies? Prayer points such as “all witches in my family must die, die, die” indicate their contribution to enabling jungle justice. How many witches are members advised to be caught? Their mothers, aunties, sisters, or grandmothers?
Were these pastors in question aware and willing to acknowledge their role in perpetuating the witchcraft accusation phenomenon, and did they exhibit a genuine understanding of the harm caused by their actions? By preaching on these topics, they create a narrative framework in which others may be interpreted as tacit endorsements of extrajudicial measures against alleged witches. Their pastoral authority gives credence to these beliefs, and their influence can extend far beyond the church walls, affecting community attitudes and actions and lending weight to the ideology that motivates collective violence. This can lead to unintended but severe consequences, such as acts of jungle justice, which are challenging to contain once unleashed. In this way, they bear indirect responsibility for the results, much like Shakespeare’s lawyers, whose absence upends the social order.
Unlike Shakespearean Dick, we cannot kill these pastors because we do not want to end our lives in jails. However, we can curb them. How, then, do we curb them all? Regulating the teachings and contents disseminated by churches could serve as a remedy to curb the prevalence of witchcraft accusations and associated acts of jungle justice. Such regulations can offer a framework for promoting socially and ethically responsible teachings and influencing community attitudes and actions. However, this remedy might be complex to implement, given the issues of religious freedom and autonomy, as it poses ethical, legal, and societal challenges that require careful consideration.
The question is, who has the guts to do that without ‘dying by fire’?
Poisoning And Witchcraft Accusations In Africa
By Leo Igwe
Witchcraft accusation is a form of death sentence. The accused are often attacked and killed. As this case has illustrated, the accused poison themselves or are poisoned. Alleged witches are forced to drink poisonous concoctions, which lead to their death or health damage. The belief is that this concoction removes, or disables witchcraft powers. The concoction supposedly cleanses suspected witchcraft. The taking of this substance is an exoneration process to establish the guilt and innocence of the accused. Some local medicine men or women administer the concoctions. The recipe for preparing these concoctions is known in many communities. As in this case, alleged witches do not wait to be given the concoctions, they prepare and take the substance themselves.
In many cases, family members pressure the accused to take these substances, to cleanse themselves, to free and exonerate themselves. The belief is that if they took the concoction and died, then they were witches. The concoction could make them vomit, and the belief is that the vomiting helps expunge witchcraft particles and powers. Sometimes, the concoction makes suspected witches hallucinate and begin to make utterances often mistaken as confessions. Most often those forced to take this concoction are elderly women and men who can barely resist the process. Poor people in rural communities, widows, and aging persons living alone with limited social support are usually the target.
This form of witch-hunting is pervasive in the villages. It is difficult to know the number of alleged witches who poison themselves, or are poisoned each year. They would be in their tens of thousands because these poisonous concoctions form part of the witch-hunting accessories. In witch hunting, the motivation is to eliminate the suspected witches, to murder and get rid of them. Cases of alleged witches who were poisoned have been reported not only in Malawi but also in Nigeria, Liberia, and Gambia.
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