It’s 2022, but ‘killing for witchcraft’ is still is a conversation

The Ibibio people used to kill twins, but that was as far back as the 19th century. According to the custom at that time, it was considered a taboo to have twins. Twins were seen as spiritual beings, perceived as bad luck and mini-gods.

The parents and families were also treated as outcasts. And banishment from the town was usually the punishment for being a ‘forbidden being’.

That monstrousity ended when Mary Slessor, a Scottish Missionary, was assigned to Efik Land in Calabar, in 1876. She changed the perception of the locals and that is now perceived to be history. But, she may not have changed the perception of people towards witchcraft.

Belief in witchcraft is central in Nigeria society – particularly in Southern Nigeria. Anthropological research has shown how most Ibibio believe that certain people are witches, who use supernatural means to harm or kill other people.

It is this that informed Ayanime Udo, a Nigerian father who killed his twin daughters on suspicion of witchcraft.

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Ayanime has been sentenced to death by hanging by a Cross River High Court. The Judge, Agnes Onyebueke, said, “Udo’s act is satanic, demonic, and beyond human comprehension.”

The judge said Ayanime willfully and gruesomely murdered his two 11-year-old daughters, Mfoniso Ayanime and Emediong Ayanime, in 2017 after accusing them of witchcraft.

Some research notes the trend of tagging children as witches has become widespread since the early to mid-1990s. As a result thousands of children have been accused of being witches. Many have been tortured, others killed.

A researcher has argued that the religious discourse of the new Christian Pentecostal movement has heightened the belief that child witches exist. The movement generally attributes failure and misfortune to the devil. This is a means to generate funds and definitely not a genuine way to fight ‘principalities and powers’.

Sometimes, it is just poverty leading people to places where they should not be, listening to damaging messages and acting on them. Ayanime is on his 50s and may have probably heard stories from the ‘kill the twin’ era or from a spiritual mentor.

Sensitisation is good in that instance, poverty alleviation, spiced with education is better. We usually assume that ‘adults’ should know, but ignorance is a big deal, and while we argue that people should pay for their crimes – yes they should, we can prevent the crimes by educating people around us.

Fortunately for the human race, Pentecostal churches have started to join the fight against child-witchcraft stigmatisation. Besides, people are more enlightened than before and understand that killing for such reasons is murder.

Added to that is an urgent need for legislative reform to prevent such incidents in the future.

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