Say you’re one of them is a collection of short stories written by Father Uwem Akpan It won this year’s commonwealth writer’s prize. When I first saw the title, I thought it had got to be about child witches, particularly as Father Akpan is from Akwa Ibom state. It is not, it is about child abuse in different forms and in different parts of the continent. But I haven’t stopped thinking about the title, and in my head insisting that the book should have been about child witches, it is a perfect title, a perfect description of these horrendous act committed on children.
Say you’re one of them, this is what the pastors ask the children to say, they are forced to admit that they are witches or face dire consequences. And so children that they are, trusting that adults can only mean well, admit that they are witches so that they may be freed, but instead they are thrown into the lake of fire.
I first read about the Akwa Ibom child witches on Jeremy’s blog. I thought it was the usual western propaganda so I dismissed it. Then I read it on Headandaround’s blog and I know her to be very thorough so I thought there had to be some truth there. And there was.
Some children in Akwa Ibom, mostly Eket and Oron have been labelled witches by some men parading as pastors. These pastors often require a certain amount of money to deliver these children. The amount can range from NGN50,000 to NGN250,000. In a predominantly civil service state, this money is hard to come by forcing parents to abandon their children in fear of the havoc an undelivered child may cause in the home. The abandoned ones may actually be the more lucky ones as the ones who can afford to be delivered are taken through an atrocious routine of beatings, starvation etc. The parents pay money to get their children flogged.
On the part of the pastors it is sheer greed mixed with a criminal mind. It is business, pure and simple. A means to make money. Deliver your children and you will be free. All your problems will end. On the part of the parents, it is ignorance, foolishness, poverty. There is a high level of illiteracy and poverty in Akwa Ibom state, the people are desperate for something, anything and so these men have provided them with the solution. We have always believed in witches in Akwa Ibom state, probably more than any other part of Nigeria, if you have an accident, it’s witchcraft, even if the driver was drunk, and if you die during childbirth, it’s witchcraft too, never mind that there was no mediacal aid available. And so it’s easy for the ‘pastors’ to take advantage of an already polluted mind.
Unfortunately, the situation hasn’t generated as much coverage on blogville as one would have thought. Initially several bloggers covered it but it has died down. Perhaps people are too shocked to speak. But Jeremy has been consistent. I am not a big fan of his but on this one, I doff my hat for him. He has followed the progress of Stepping Stones Nigeria and CRARN(the NGO’s working for the children) closely. Recently there have been several attacks on them but thankfully the government intervened.
It may take a long time, but the child witches will eventually become child leaders through everyone’s collective effort. The ‘pastors’ will be brought to book but more importantly, my people need an education as only knowledge can truly set us free.