Coming back around 8:30pm from a stroll to the nearby market to get my son some diapers, I was confronted with an upsetting sight: seated alone at the side of the dark road was a little girl not more than 7 years old. All the guys that passed her at that time stopped to inquire what she was doing there. She could not speak a word of English so Two men that understood Hausa started to talk to her. No sooner had they started that the rest of us left them and moved on. As I made my way home I thought to myself, what would Anja have done in this situation?
Anja Ringgren Lovén is a Danish lady addressing the plight of the “Witch Children” of Akwa Ibom State. These children are being dumped by the road side, tortured, given concoctions to drink, and exposed to a whole lot of medieval “solutions”. She has so far saved over 35 of them.
|Anja and Hope|
Picture courtesy: Anja Ringgren Lovén Facebook page
No Nigerian history curriculum is ever complete without the story of Mary Slessor and her magnificent deeds in saving the lives of twins in Calabar and Arochukwu areas. Fast forward 100 years later, Anja is doing something similar. Different women, same problem: culturally sanctioned violence against children. It is hard to believe that in the 21st century this kind of atrocities being perpetuated against children in the name of exorcism still exist, George Santayana puts it aptly, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”; we are sadly repeating the past.
To my chagrin, the government saddled with the responsibility of looking after these children seems not only helpless in dealing with this situation but also preferring to live in denial of its severity. Godswill Akpabio appeared on CNN some years back to say "it's a very, very minimal situation, the report is part of the media propaganda against the state and it was done for pecuniary reasons” (http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/africa/08/30/nigeria.child.witchcraft/). Well the question is, how many children does it have to affect before it is worthy of serious consideration?
People are making a living from exorcism, charging as much as Five Hundred Thousand Naira for “casting out” evil spirits; children are being killed and abandoned daily, and yet we continue to turn a blind eye to this simply because we have viewed it as a “minimal situation”, a regional problem. Boko Haram started as a regional problem.
In this time of change, this too must CHANGE. It is time we started to do something on a national level to condemn these acts, to educate those involved that this is wrong, and hold people (parents inclusive) accountable for their actions and make them pay for harming these children.
Godswill Akpabio claimed that he signed a bill into law in 2008 that makes it a criminal offense, punishable by up to 15 years in prison, to label a child a witch (http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/africa/08/30/nigeria.child.witchcraft/); but this seems to be more effective as dried ink than it is in dealing with this situation. The greatness of a society is hinged on how well it looks after its members, especially its children. The sense of belonging the people of that society possess directs their selfless commitment to maintaining and improving the society for themselves and future generations. The people make the place.
I believe in God and angels, I also believe that witches and wizards do exist, in addition to demons and other fowl spirits as one cannot believe in God and deny the existence of the devil. The Bible mentions the existence of “powers and spiritual wickedness in high places”.
It is not mentioned in the Bible where Jesus attacked any fowl spirit physically. Even when they were many (legion) he cast them out by exercising spiritual authority over them (Mark 5:1-20). Physical assaults on individuals in a bid to cast out evil spirits can only serve to torment the container while the content remains untouched; I see it as joining forces with the evil spirit to torment the possessed.
So while the rest of us are consumed with our personal issues, our religious leaders consumed with their church growth and other pecuniary activities; the government pays lip service at best, Anja and those like her continue saving these children, giving them a new lease on life and slowly adding hers and their story to the history curriculum of tomorrow.
Anja I salute your love, strength, courage and that of your team also.
|Pictures courtesy: Anja Ringgren Lovén Facebook page.|
God bless you and yours.