Monday, 23 July 2012

"That witch must die!" Resurgence of Pentecostal witch-hunts in Nigeria

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A poster for the "Koboko Night" anti-witchcraft
Pentecostal event in Calabar, Nigeria,
declaring "That witch must die""
This is a guest post by Leo Igwe. Leo is a representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), and campaigns tirelessly against the persecution of people accused of witchcraft by Pentecostal pastors is in his home country of Nigeria. You can read more about him in the report on witch-hunts in African that appeared in the May 2011 issue of New Humanist.

On July 27, a local penticostal church is planning a ‘crusade’ at the Cultural Centre in Calabar in Cross River State, south-eastern Nigeria. The theme of the event is: "Koboko Night: My Father My Father This Witch Must Die". The same church has, in March, organised a similar event in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state.

Witch belief is strong in Akwa Ibom and witchcraft-related abuse is common and widespread. The activities of churches and prayer houses have been linked to the problem of witch hunting in the region. But very little has been done by local authorities to call these religious extremists to order.

Once again I want to draw the attention of the authorities to the activities of this church and other churches in the region which are fuelling witch hunting in the name of spreading the gospel. These religious entrepreneurs have found a market niche in witch beliefs and are busy exploiting it at the expense of the rights and dignity of our children and elderly persons. They fuel witchcraft fears through their books, films and deliverance sessions, and spread the false gospel that people's problems are caused by witches and wizards in their families and communities.

I submit that these faith groups be sanctioned without delay.

The authorities cannot continue to look the other way, ignoring the havoc being caused by these evangelical throwbacks. The governments of Cross River and Akwa Ibom should act swiftly and bring to justice all witch-hunting pastors, god men and women in these states. They should prohibit all church programs that incite hatred and violence in the name of witchcraft.

The states of Akwa Ibom and Cross River cannot afford to go back to the times when the streets were dotted with children abused and abandoned for being witches and wizards. They should monitor the programs of churches and pastors in the region and ensure that they are not propagating the poisonous gospel of witch hunting or inciting hatred and violence in the name of witchcraft.

For instance, the theme of this latest crusade literally incites violence, and could lead to an upsurge of witch persecution and killings in the region. The title Koboko Night implies torture and abuse of any alleged witch. This could cause some people to go home and start beating up their children or ageing parents whom they suspect of witchcraft.

And adding "this witch must die" makes it more horrifying. It clearly sanctions death and execution of any alleged witch. This clause alone can cause people to murder or commit atrocious acts against family or community members whom they believe are witches. This is particularly worrisome because the Bible  says in Exodus 22:18, "Suffer not a witch to live". Obviously this biblical verse constitutes the evangelical basis of this crusade.

This event, if it goes ahead, will certainly be a big blow to the efforts of the government to address this problem and curb the cultural scourge of witch hunting. It will be a clear sign of lack of political will and commitment on the part of the authorities to tackling the problem. The government and people of Cross River should not allow this program to be held. They should arrest and prosecute those behind it. That will serve as a deterrent to other witch-believing churches and pastors. Witchcraft accusation is a crime under the law. Also inciting hatred and violence in the name of witchcraft is a criminal offence. So the law is very clear on this and should be employed by the authorities to bring these evangelical rascals to book.

Witch hunting must stop. Witch-hunting churches and pastors must be stopped.

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