The irresponsible witches of Nigeria

234next.com, Nov 17, 2010, Tolu Ogunlesi

From penis-stealing and ‘killer’ GSM calls in Lagos, to the mindless exorcism of ‘child-witches’ in Akwa-Ibom, to the bone-strewn forest shrines of Okija, to the stories of Abacha’s and Turai Yar’Adua’s armies of imported marabouts, to the principalities-and-powers fixation of much of contemporary pentecostalism; the role of the supernatural in everyday life in Nigeria is undeniable and unassailable.

The existence of supernatural malevolence never goes without explicit acknowledgement in Nigeria. The sudden death of Adegoke Adelabu (opposition chieftain in Western Nigeria) in a car crash in March 1958 sparked riots by his supporters, who claimed that the government had done him in with juju.

In January 2005, students at the University of Lagos rioted, attacking the residences of the Dean of Student Affairs and the Vice Chancellor, after rumours began to circulate that an anti-establishment Student Union executive had collapsed and died after receiving a mysterious phone call.

Two years ago, a witch-doctor, Perekabowei Ogah, alleged that, on his instructions, the then Chairman of the NDDC, Sam Edem, stripped naked in a Port Harcourt graveyard, set fire to 270 million naira in cash, and then smeared his body with the ashes. (Ogah also said that Edem had paid him for services which ranged from hexing opponents to manipulating a State Governor into favouring him with lucrative contracts. Edem acknowledged paying more than 500 million naira into Ogah’s account, but claimed he was the victim of extortion).

Why is it that when you hear of witches, wizards, witch-doctors and sorcerers in Nigeria, it is never to do with anything good. There are apparently none amongst the clan who have read Kennedy, and are kept awake asking what they can do for their country, instead of how they can destroy it?

Don’t you ever wonder why, with how Nollywood movies are not complete without at least one scene where someone puts their back against the wall and dematerialises, the traffic situation in Lagos remains as bad as it is?

Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to boast that Nigeria Airways collapsed, not because of corruption, but instead because Nigerians no longer needed planes to transport themselves through the air?

What kind of witches and wizards exist in Nigeria who cannot generate a single megawatt of much-needed electricity?

Did Mr. Edem ever bother to ask Sorcerer Ogah if he could help conjure up a supernatural pollution-control mechanism – one that magically sucked up oil spills in the Niger delta and vengefully deposited them in the lobby of Royal Dutch Shell’s headquarters in the Hague?

Either those witches and wizards are useless, like many of our leaders, or they are irrevocably wired only for malicious, self-serving deeds – like many of our leaders, and even citizens (who, like Edem believe in the ability of sorcery to make their lives and finances – but not their society – better).

Defending the decision to host an international convention of witches in Nigeria in 1983, Dr. Adinkwuye, then Secretary-General of an international Witches’ Association, told the Sunday Times (30th January, 1983 edition): “The purpose is to educate the lower witches, especially in Nigeria, to use their powers to help the nation technologically and stop being destructive.” I don’t know if that Convention eventually held – there was considerable opposition from the famous “metaphysician” Godspower Oyewole (now deceased), who threatened to disrupt the convention – but what is clear is this: those pleas fell on deaf ears.

I’m not trying to insinuate that a fervent belief in witchcraft and sorcery is limited to Nigeria, or even the developing world. Pop culture in the West is laden with tales of Witches and Wizards and Vampires and Restless Ghosts and Haunted Houses. In the distant past: for four hundred years, until the middle of last century, Britain’s statutes included a Witchcraft Act that prescribed jail or death as punishment.

But because governments and government institutions work quite efficiently in these countries, there is no obligation upon the supernatural clan to prove their positive utility to society. When hospitals and schools and electricity and water and welfare systems and justice systems work there is little incentive to spend your life wondering what fresh malevolence is being plotted by invisible forces.

It is a different matter, however, when those systems are in a permanent state of failure. In that case, hard questions become necessary. In a letter published in the Sunday Times of January 9, 1983, metaphysician Oyewole lamented: “It is my humble opinion that the witches do no good to Nigeria and whoever does not produce any good should be discarded.” That puts the witches and sorcerers in the same category with the political class.

No doubt, in a country where governments daily invent new ways of failing the governed, can we afford ‘Witchcraft’ that sees no shame in attempting to kill (according to popular belief) by means of mobile phones, a device it cannot create?

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