By Leo Igwe
The attention of AFAW has been drawn to an incident of witch persecution in Cross River State. In this case, a local mob lynched the alleged witches. Some of the victims have died while others are in the hospital nursing their wounds. The unfortunate incident took place in Boki LGA in Central Cross River State. At least a dozen persons, mostly women who were alleged to be witches and wizards were set ablaze at the instance of an adviser to the state governor who hails from that area. This adviser has been identified as Thomas Obi Tawo (aka General Iron). This incident happened on Tuesday May 19. A report in a local newspaper says that three chiefs were among those who were lynched. General Iron warned the police in the area to stay away. A local source said that Tawo went around the community with some boys. One of them had a mirror which he used to identify those who were witches.
Some traditional priests claim they can look into the occult world using a mirror to find answers and solutions to individual and community problems. People invite these supposedly spiritually powerful persons to point out witches and wizards and other evil persons in their families. They usually place the mirror in front of any suspect or ask the person to look into it as they try to certify if the person is evil or not. These charlatans are hired and paid huge sums of money to come and identify witches and wizards.
In response to the incident, I called the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) in Calabar but she did not pick the call. It was almost midnight. I decided to wait until morning. The following day, I called the AIG, CP, and PPRO several times but they did not pick the call. I eventually got through to the PPRO and informed her about the incident. She decried the issue of witch burning in the state. According to her, the challenge was how to eradicate witch persecution and wondered if AFAW could be of help. I told her that AFAW could help but it would need the police to guarantee security. I made it clear that in a situation like that of the Boki LGA, the organization could not fulfill its objective of educating and enlightening witchcraft accusers and believers, and supporting the victims without the cooperation of the police. Interestedly, the PPRO told me that in her place in Edo state, people suspected of witchcraft were taken to the community leaders. And the community leaders would give the suspects something to drink. That she could not understand a situation as in the Boki LGA where suspected witches were set ablaze.
I told her that the practice of giving suspected witches some concoction to drink was illegal and should be abolished. The said concoctions are usually toxic substances that lead to health damage or death. The PPRO later said that they were waiting to be briefed by the divisional police officer in the area, that all those who were implicated in the murder of the alleged witches would be brought to book. I promised to call back for some updates. The police had made such a promise like this in the past and at the end of the day, they did nothing. Some years ago, some hoodlums set ablaze two alleged witches in Akpabuyo also in Cross River and when I contacted the police, the then PPRO said that the police would bring all perpetrators to justice. Later I was informed that the police arrested some suspects but released them after a while. That was the end of the matter. If the pressure is not brought on the government and the police, the perpetrators in this case would go scot-free especially in a situation where an aide to the governor of the state is the lead perpetrator.
Through an associate of AFAW in Cross River I contacted a relative of one of the victims. She confirmed that the incident took place on Tuesday May 19 by 2 pm. She noted that before this day, there had been tension in the community due to suspicions of witchcraft. General Iron has been suspecting some family members of trying to kill him through occult means. In fact on one occasion, last year, Tawo slapped and wounded his uncle, Chief Kekong. He claimed that he saw the Chief in his dream. Weeks before this latest incident, Thomas claimed once again that he dreamt and saw Chief Kekong and his mother in his dream. He claimed that he went to a man of God who confirmed that Kekong wanted to kill him. That the chief wanted to take over the land that he had sold to him. Chief Kekong denied the allegation. The matter was presented at a community meeting and it was agreed that they would go somewhere to consult and cross-check. But General Iron refused and insisted he would not go anywhere. On this fateful day he arrived with about ten young persons. One of them reportedly had a mirror and used it to identify the witches and wizards in the community.
A relative to one of the victims told me that the father was sleeping the time Tawo and his thugs arrived at the compound. He went inside the house and dragged the father out, poured fuel on him, and set him ablaze. He did the same thing to other suspected witches and wizards including his mother. The situation in the community is tensed. It is not yet confirmed the exact number of persons who were set ablaze following this witch-hunting incident. One of the national dailies reported at least 12 people. A relative of the survivors said there were over 13 victims. Another local contact said victims could be up to 20 persons.
Some of the survivors including General Iron’s mother are currently at various hospitals in the region receiving treatment. The police in the area did not intervene while this attack was going one. One of those who were set ablaze Chief Bernard, was taken to a hospital but he later died as a result of the wounds. Another survivor, Chief Kekong is at another hospital battling for his life. A relative said the fire affected his private organ and he is now unable to urinate. AFAW is discussing with local partners and exploring ways to support survivors of this violent campaign.AFAW strongly condemns the lynching of alleged witches and wizards in Cross River and urges the state government to take measures to stop these heinous criminal activities. Allegations of witchcraft including persecution and killing of children are widespread in this region. Witch hunters operate in the area with impunity. And culture of impunity must end for justice to prevail in the state.
Calls on the Inspector General of Police and the governor of Cross River State, Prof. Benedict Ayade to arrest and prosecute Thomas Obi Tawo (aka General Iron), special adviser to Gov Ayade on Forest Security and all who were involved in this witch-hunting activity in Boki LGA
Requests the police to enforce the law against witchcraft accusation, the perpetration jungle justice and trial by ordeal in the state
Urges the police to ensure the security of life and property of the people in Boki community
Appeals to the government to expose and sanction all witch hunting pastors and traditionalists in the state
Urges the government to defray the cost of medical treatment for all victims of this mindless violence
Asks the government to compensate victims and families of victims/survivors for their losses.
AFAW reminds the government that it is their primary responsibility to protect the lives and property of citizens in the country.
Leo Igwe Ph.D