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No Bobo! No Zobo!! (Part II: Merchants of Salvation)



Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

By Toyin Falola
“For the love of money is the root of all evil” seems not to apply to a “man of God” who collects five offerings in one service and uses his eyes to scan who has given bountifully or not. Is it that the root of the tree that grows evil is cut off from money collected in the church? Or is it just another bobo to lure more Naira into the pockets of these merchants of salvation?

But before we delve into these contemporary bobos, are we sure that modern religions in Nigeria were not the results of different bobos and zobos in the first instance? Our people were not without religions before they were introduced to Islam and Christianity. “Power pass power,” so goes a street proverb expressed in pidgin language. Several of the practices of the traditional African religions were regarded by the missionaries of the new religions as pagan worship and, as such, evil. The Nigerian gods and goddesses collected palm oil and hens to deliver salvation. The Christian God wants a nice car and a house to save you from sin. The goat of the Babalawo is now replaced with ten percent of your monthly income. A once-and-for-all single payment to the Babalawo has now been replaced by a weekly payment of offerings and seeds. The Babalawo lives a life of wants, and the Pastor and the Imam enjoy opulence. The Satan of the Bible and the Shaitan of the Quran are conquerors who need constant money to be assuaged and pacified. Esu, mislabeled as Satan, is a god of forgiveness: his only demand is not to wish or plan evil against your fellow humans. Esu continues to live in heaven, but Azazil, also known as Iblis, the devil, was expelled from there and sent to the world, where he became the father of calamities, still sucking blood and collecting sacrifices. You have replaced a benevolent Mistress with a wicked Master. It sounds like a paradox of the highest order!

While scholars have repeatedly pointed out how bobo-laden the assertions on African religions are, there is a need to go on an imaginative voyage. Imagine that African civilization was properly advanced and taken to Europe before major civilizations were there. Imagine it was Africa that took the rest of the world into slavery, colonized countries, and spread African cultures and traditions as the standard definition of the modern world and globalization. After establishing these imaginative influences, imagine that the African Traditional Religions were spread across those areas through their respective missionary endeavors and trade. Without the bobo, who will be the pagans of today? Muslims, Christians, or still traditional worshipers? Whichever your answer, I leave you to ponder while we address contemporary bobos and zobos in Nigerian religious settings.

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Religion in Nigeria forms a basic determinant of the Nigerian social construct and creates an ethical system to define people’s moral convictions. This makes religious heads powerful and influential in people’s lives, representing the vanguard of moral standards. The result is a repository of trust and respect for religious heads from everyone, for the former “see and hear” God, His Spirit and angels, and Satan and his demons faster than others. The trust and respect that are automatically attributable to them in Nigeria have made many religious leaders “men of their guts” rather than “men of God,” what Fela Anikulapo-Kuti lampooned as “Imam na enjoyment, Pope na miliky.” They dish out bobos to make you believe their lies and serve full cups of zobos to mitigate the effects of failed predictions and make you do more.

A Pastor can climb the Olumo Rock in Abeokuta, which I have done several times. On declimbing, the Pastor brings messages from God and the Angels, words that must turn into cash to enrich him. A stream at Ibadan becomes the sea Moses crossed to deliver the Israelites from the hands of the Pharaoh. An assassination attempt that killed seven members of a church leader became a message presented as the power of Pastor Sule-Zazu to escape death by his Bible and not by the power of the bulletproof car made possible by the Whiteman. Our lovely Pastor Sule-Zazu was clever enough to give the Bibles to the seven dead disciples while keeping the bulletproof car to himself, his wife and his children.

Did you get the message?

Bobo and zobo found their way into churches, mosques, and shrines through mischievous and disingenuous channels, including lies and evil acts of religious leaders. Owing to the country’s economic situation, it is understandable that people seek solutions after many failed attempts at attaining minimal survival. These “men and women of God” try to provide explanations even if they are non-existent. They make their bobos and zobos through patterns, sequence, and logic from people’s lives, the nation’s general problems, and the likelihood of events. The Yoruba would say, “It’s the wise one who professes the Ifa for us.” They also add a small amount of the words of the Most High, twisting the Bible, Quran, or Ese Ifa to bolster their assertions. The followers or “clients” gullibly gulp these zobos because, one way or the other, they are connected to their lives.

For instance, when one of the boboists, maybe zoboists, says to a 40-year-old man that there is a “woman” in his life, there is indeed a high possibility that he has a wife, a sister, or a mother. Your appearance or representation of yourself to these individuals determines the type of zobo and bobo that will be offered to you. A recent investigation by Fisayo Soyombo, “Prophets of their Pockets,” highlights several processes of spiritual bobos and zobos. Soyombo presented himself as a homosexual and dressed to create an impression. The prophecies aligned with these misrepresentations, even though none were true.

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Following these bobos and zobos are the usual prolific offerings, items, and other financial or physical commitments. It is the house of the Lord; how can you not obey the directives of the man of God? They rely on these established speculations to have their way with those needing spiritual guidance. On June 16, 2022, a Pastor, Ayodeji Olorunfemi, was reported to have allegedly scammed an 88-year-old Tawakalitu Ilumoka of N36.5 million. Ilumoka approached the Pastor to pray for the healing of her sick 64-year-old son, having faith in the Pastor whose prayer she believed had caused her to sell a piece of land for a large sum of 100 million Naira. The Pastor took advantage of this opportunity to dupe her, and her son died from the same sickness. This is the same bobo the supposed religious heads use to deceive people into raping young girls and women. There have been several reports of Babalawo, Alfa, and pastors sleeping with married women looking for the fruit of the womb to “clear the path” for their husbands and the baby. Children as young as five months are raped or injured in the name of deliverance and other spiritual activities. There is no end to the litany of woes inflicted by those “priests” in the name of religion, where the shepherd derives satisfaction not in leading but in eating the sheep and desecrating the “temple!”

When those who should be the moral guardians of society have become bobo Pastors or Imams, having a good conscience that prevents social vices becomes a herculean task. Unfortunately, religious centers have become the comfort zones for “children of the dark” as long as they have enough money to tender. Rather than using whatever is left of their bobos to prevent crimes, these spiritual heads use it to help and attract criminals like Yahoo boys. Internet fraudsters engage religious leaders as spiritual backups to progress from Yahoo-Yahoo to Yahoo Plus. They prepare soaps and do spiritual cleansing and head washing to attract fortune or enchant their victims. Ironically, what should be a forte of morality is fast becoming the pillar of immorality. To whom do the thieves, fraudsters, and kidnappers who find spiritual refuge pray? God, Allah, or Orunmila, who represents everything but evil? Every prayer or iṣẹ́ for a Yahoo boy is bobo, nothing less, nothing more.

Depicting some religious institutions as the backbones of societal vices will not exhaustively express the level of decadence in those institutions. Today, social vices live in churches, mosques, and shrines. Religious leaders who wear bobo appearances in the day to cause evil in the night have changed the face of religion in the country. On July 2, 2022, a pastor was reported to have been responsible for the kidnapping of 77 members in Akure. The Pastor allegedly confined 26 children and other adults in his church’s dungeon, hypnotized them, and boboed them into believing that Jesus Christ was coming in September 2022. This is November 2022, which proves that the Pastor is either delusional or serving some unexplainable zobos to the people in “the name of the lord.” The bobo men at the altar have also become frequent ritual killers, putting price tags on the souls they are supposed to convert.

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Nigerians have grown too religious to discern spiritual bobo from the truth; they easily idolize any cleric without pausing for critical thinking. This automatically attracts victims to these wolves in sheep’s clothing waiting to pounce on their next victims. The fear of religious heads is implanted in the minds of Nigerians from childhood, making divinity, no matter how and from whom it comes, more important than commonsense.

The background of this bobo loving attitude extends to tertiary institutions where there is supposed to be enlightenment. Students become “Brothers” and “Sisters,” falling into the traps of some “Papa,” “Mama,” “Ameer,” and “Ameera” who have carefully established their influence and control over the lives of fellow students. With their bobo lifestyle, fellow students, possibly from senior classes, run after them and take their bags with respect.

Bobo! Zobo!! Gullibility!!!

Do not get me wrong; I do not mean that the Spirit does not work on campus, but it does not erase common sense and would not ask you to sacrifice your primary goal in school to follow the bobo of another student who you might be doing better than. This social arrangement and orientation extend to other stages of life and workplaces, obscuring people’s reasonability and making them potential victims of spiritual fraud.

We must not forget how a man sits over thousands and millions of followers who work their sweats out, only for that man to enjoy the fruit of others’ labor. They say, “the Lord wants to bless the first 100 people that run to the altar to donate N100,000 each.” People who need solutions to different problems rush out to give away their money. What about the Alfa, who turns Nikkai and naming ceremonies into personal crowdfunding? Everyone pays for the childbirth thanksgiving—for each name given to the child, for the ceramic bowl the parents gave him to use, for every verse of the Quran he reads, for the good health of the parents, the child, and each guest, for every prayer said, for every song and everything possible that he wishes. When owo adua has not filled the bowl during a ceremony, the bobo-Alfa may decide not to proceed until everyone pays double. Trust me, there is nothing spiritual about these but clear-cut bobos and zobos!

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How about the billionaire pastors who have created mega businesses their members cannot afford, even though they are funded from church members’ offerings? The bobos of those “led by the spirit” to build high schools and tertiary institutions, whether for the benefit of humanity or the spirit and 90 percent of their members cannot afford the school fees, must not be excused. It may be hard to accept, but this is cold, diabolically calculated, and undiluted bobo and zobo. Importantly, the effect of spiritual bobos and zobos on society cannot be underestimated. The nation’s biggest challenge is insecurity, sometimes caused by individuals boboed into fanaticism who now terrorize the nation, including those who give bobo-laden spiritual justifications for social vices like ritual killings. This piece is not to question the credibility of religions in Nigeria but to point out how vulnerable their dogmatic adherents have been.

There is a need for the government and the umbrella bodies of the different religions in the nation to wake up to curb the dangerous bobolization and instrumentalization of religion in Nigeria. It has become critical to sensitize Nigerians to discern and be extra careful so they can stop being victims of their supposed spiritual fathers and mothers. Government, religious organizations, and the nation as a whole must come together to say:
No Bobo! No Zobo!

Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.


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



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.

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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’?

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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.

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