Religion, as well as all its trappings/ceremonies/dogma, is a big deal in Nigeria. It informs many people’s opinions, decisions, and actions so much so that sometimes, they sit patiently waiting for God himself to come down and turn their lot around.
In discussing the issues facing Nigeria, “God will save us” can be heard from every corner. In arguments, God/religion is wielded as the ultimate trump card.
I find it puzzling that for a country so religious, iniquity abounds in different forms, but that is a discussion for another day. Along with this strong belief in religion comes the belief in witches, spirits, demonic possessions, and everything dark. People blame their bad behavior and choices on “evil forces,” while conveniently absolving themselves of any personal responsibility. This deep belief in the “occult” and its power enrages me to no end. This may be because of my personal experience with the ignorance this deep conviction can create.
When I was about eight or nine years old, this woman, who I will call Mrs. A, that lived in the same apartment complex as us, accused me of demonic possession and witchcraft. It was a hot sunny afternoon and my friends and I had escaped the blazing heat by seeking shade in the corridor of another friends ground floor apartment. While we waited for her to finish eating so that we could confront the heat and resume our play, we teased each other. It was in the middle of this that Mrs. A came to drag me away from the group, claiming that she had something to tell me. Taking me to a corner, she told me that she wanted to warn me to “come out” of the coven/secret society I was in. She claimed her son had had a dream about me and she was just warning me to leave her son/family alone and not try to initiate them. To say I was stunned would be an understatement, but I recovered quickly. I was a bratty kid, so I defiantly told her that I was not in any coven. “I have warned you o” she tossed my way as she walked away. Naturally, my friends wanted to know why she called me aside and I told them. I decided to forget that insanity ever happened.
If this madness had ended there, it may have been tolerable and I may not be writing this, but Mrs. A decided to make me a target. She asked her children not to play with me. I didn’t mind because I had other friends to play with. She asked some other parents to warn their children against playing with me. Their parents were not around 24/7 to monitor them, so we played together anyway. However, just trying to make me a pariah was not enough for her. One day, an adult bought packets of biscuits for the children playing. When the packs did not get to each child, we were asked to share with others. As I opened mine to share, this woman loudly announces, “Kambili, don’t share yours. You have touched it and you are not good enough to share anything with anyone [she said this in Igbo, so this is the closest I can get to in English: I diro mma I ke ihe with onye obuna].” I thought, “yay! More for me,” but I was still dejected. I am sure I was the subject of many a vigils and crusades for Mrs. A. Boy, was she surprised when I wasn’t consumed by holy fire.
As an adult now, I think about this and see so many things wrong with this level of insanity. How does someone process the thought of confronting a freaking eight year-old about being in a coven and then proceed to make her life miserable? If she was convinced I was possessed, why didn’t she speak with my mother or any other adult in my life? I don’t know why I never actually told any adult what Mrs. A did to me. I merely avoided her and developed an intense dislike for her.
This is just one story; my story. However, a lot of Nigerians think and behave like Mrs. A. As far as I am concerned, this deep belief in witchcraft/secret society-ism is another form of religious fundamentalism. It allows people to not evaluate their own lives and provides them with a convenient scapegoat for all their sufferings/actions. If this level of ignorance was benign, maybe I would just say. “ignore it,” but the truth is that it is dangerous. It has destroyed, it is destroying, and will continue to destroy lives if left unchecked. The destructive evidence is all around us.
Just last month, I read the plea for help of a young woman who was single-handedly torpedoing her marriage, but has somehow convinced herself that dark forces are to be blamed: “My intuition tells me this issue is spiritual and someone is trying to ruin my marriage.” Could this someone be a witch? We never can tell. People commit heinous acts and then blame it on “dark forces” in order to avoid any consequences. A while back, I watched a Battabox video where women were asked what they would do if their husband raped their daughter. The majority were quick to claim the act would be a result of “spiritual demonic attack” and professed that they would not report their husband to the authorities as it would be their duty to “save” him with prayers. What nonsense.
Just last week, I read the story of a Danish woman rescuing a little boy that had been abandoned by his family after being accused of witchcraft. Say this with me: Some. Lunatics. Abandoned. A. defenseless. Child. And. Left. Him. To. His. Own. Devices. Because. They. Were. Convinced. He. Was. A. Witch. My heart broke for the poor child. He was malnourished, all bones, and probably starving.
The kicker is that it is not just children who are targets. Women suffer too. Cases of women who clearly have some kind of mental illness are always recorded and posted on social media. Often, it is claimed that these women are witches that have landed on a rooftop after reverting to human form from a bird, changed from snake to human, or any other insane story anyone can concoct. You watch these videos closely and realize that these women are in distress and need immediate help. Any sane person would, but these loons convince themselves that these women are demons and proceed to treat them as such. How do we cure this level of ignorance and fanaticism?
These stories are just a tip of the iceberg when it comes to the insanity that is the fanatical belief in “dark spiritual forces.” It knows no gender, age, or creed. People see it every day and think nothing of it. In fact, some actively participate in it. This is why a renowned mega pastor can slap the bejesus out of a young girl on NATIONAL TV all in the name of delivering her from demonic possession and the majority of Nigerians do not blink. This is why learned people can confidently claim that someone from their village is trying to “do/charm” them through Facebook pictures. This is why people get sick and refuse to seek medical treatment because they believe it is a spiritual attack and can be prayed away. When they die, others then want to claim they died after a “brief” illness. Puh-leeez.
I may be biased due to personal experience, but witchcraft, coven-ism, secret society, and ogbanje-ism are all one big farce. There is no spiritual attack of cancer/other illnesses on anyone. Nobody is flying on a broomstick at night. Nobody is changing into any animal and crawling around at night. Defenseless children are not witches that are bringing bad luck to the family. People that are clearly mentally ill are not witches.
This brand of fanaticism is a madness that we must work diligently to eradicate.
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