Yes, witchcraft accusation is a prosecutable offence in Nigeria

feminist coven

Nigerian feminists have been at the receiving end of accusations of witchcraft for a very long time. It didn’t start with a popular influencer tagging them ‘coven members’ – a tag many of them reclaimed well enough to make it ineffective as an insult, nor did it stop thereafter.

Witchcraft accusation targeted mostly against women dates back centuries and spans multiple civilizations. In Africa, where many cultures have what English settlers called ‘witch doctors’ at the center of their social order, the phenomenon is only as old as the arrival of Christianity on the shores of the continent. The industrial revolution – whose impact swept Africa in the form of European exploitation of natural resources to feed the burgeoning industries in Europe, did not bring an end to it nor the arrival of the information age that is the 21st century.

While the infamous ‘Feminist Coven’ is able to reclaim a tag that is grave in its implications, the hundreds of Nigerian children abused and tortured – many of whom are also homeless, over accusation of witchcraft are not so privileged.

The Niger Delta region remains topmost in mass witchcraft accusation against children and women, with many infirmed women and helpless children tortured – even killed – in a bid to ‘make them confess.’

Much like the Salem witch trials of the 17th century which was based on ignorant faith and mass hysteria and cost some 20 lives, and its earlier Scottish iteration that cost an estimated over 1000 lives, accusations of witchcraft in Nigeria are based on no evidence and a ton of fiery rhetoric.

A common hypothesis on the aim of witchcraft accusations is that it is often to punish those who do not cooperate with local norms. Tagging and punishing these untrustworthy elements within society, the majority hopes, will encourage others to conform out of fear of being the next target.

The theory has played out many times in the particular case of Nigerian feminists, with broadcast messages being shared admonishing parents to pay close attention to their kids so they don’t end up catching the dreadful malaise of feminism.

There is nothing original about this.

Suffragettes in the late 19th century to early 20th century were widely tagged witches, lesbians, and child killers because they tenaciously demanded their right to vote as their male peers. It is however a grave phenomenon that shouldn’t be taken lightly in a country like Nigeria where:

1.       Over 15, 000 children were accused of witchcraft in just over a decade and in one region alone – the Niger Delta.

2.       Elderly women remain at risk of witchcraft accusation and murder over it.

3.       Girls as young as 3 years old are tortured with blazing hot machetes over witchcraft accusations.

The demand for the equality of the sexes – which remains the greatest crime of Nigerian feminists, is no reason at all to want to punish anyone for non-conformity.

Nigeria’s criminal code prohibits accusing – or so much as threatening to accuse, someone of being a witch. 

Section 210 (b) of the criminal code provides that any person who “accuses or threatens to accuse any person with being a witch or with having the power of witchcraft is guilty of a misdemeanour, and is liable to imprisonment for two years.”

Additionally, the Child Rights Act of 2003 makes it an offence to subject any child to physical or emotional torture or submit them to any inhuman or degrading treatment. 10 states are still yet to ratify it, and the 26 that have are still dawdling in enforcement.

Perhaps if individuals begin to press charges on accusations of witchcraft over differing opinions people will start rethinking throwing ‘feminist coven’ as a go-to insult for unapologetically vocal women. 

It is an idea worth exploring.

Featured image: The Skinny

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