Thursday, November 27, 2008

Pentecostal Christianity, infanticide and Child abuse in Nigeria

Abandoned and abused children in a shelter (all photos courtesy of The Guardian, London)

In Nigeria (especially in Akwa-Ibom State) families now routinely abuse, maim, banish and kill their blood children on the grounds that these innocent souls are "WITCHES." And, according to reliable reports, we are not talking about rare incidents but what amounts to an epidemic, a descent to new barbarism sponsored by new-age Christianity.

In recent decades, the mixture of material poverty made worse by the depredations of the political leadership and predatory dogmas of new-age Christian pastors, have led to a tremendous altering of cultures and societies in Nigeria and many parts of Africa. Built around a theology of fear, these fundamentalist Christian churches (much like their medieval counterparts in Europe) earn their relevance by spreading the fear of infernal forces--the scope of which is determined by the Church elite--as the basis of religious and social life. I daresay that not even that racist tribe of European Missionaries of yore, for whom my postcolonial self feels no charity, have done as much damage in the social life of communities in Southern Nigeria. You only need to see the physical abuse of old men and women declared "pagan" inhibitors of communal progress by their kin; or burning and looting of cultural heritage sites and art forms, and general onslaught against anybody or group perceived to be promoting "paganism," which often refers to anything related with indigenous social and cultural practices.

Etido (9) with nail driven into his skull, now brain-damaged

Udo (12) victim of machete attacks by his own community

What makes these developments so dangerous is the apparent complicity of the political leadership in these matters, especially in cases where there ought to be criminal prosecutions. Like in these infanticides and gross child abuse, for instance. Frequently, children are doused with acid, impaled with nails, slashed with knives, buried alive, or poisoned because a so-called Christian pastor diagnosed them as "witches"! In one pathetic if not diabolical instance, a popular "prophetess" made a film, in which she declared the symptoms of a Child-witch: high fever and late-night crying, which as any parent knows is the same symptom for virtually every childhood illness. And this coming from a mother of three children! Can someone tell me why these so-called pastors, including one who declared on camera to have killed more than 100 "witches," should not be prosecuted for mass murder. While the children-killer's action may not be as spectacular as Jonestown, it is no less serious, and should be investigated. At best he would be found a liar (which should serve his congregation well); at worst he may found to be one of the world's worst child killers (which should be a blight on humanity).

Gerry (8) with petrol burns inflicted by father

Given the mandate bestowed on Akwa-Ibom state and Nigerian federal governments, to guaranty life and safety of each and every citizen of the land, including and especially the most vulnerable, I cannot understand why scores of parents, and their conniving pastors have not yet been prosecuted for abusing the human rights of these innocent children. If Nigeria cannot acknowledge and aggressively move against these terrible crimes, pressure must be applied from outside to put a stop to this madness. It is not enough to pass Child Rights Act, as the Nigerian government did some years ago, when child murderers, torturers and abusers regale in their crimes in their churches, in documentaries and public programs.

If the government and civil society organizations in Nigeria cannot save these children from the tyranny of new-age Christianity, and if the Christian Association of Nigeria (the umbrella Christian organization) does not take the initiative to bring the perpetrators of these growing crimes against our children to justice, or actively work against the socio-religious and economic basis of these crimes, they cannot claim any moral justification for the existence of both Church and State.

A society that sacrifices its children to religious faith, is a damned, cursed society.


Anonymous said...

Chika, it is another sad day for Nigeria. To think that Nigerians are spread all around the world as intellectuals, Doctors, great Artists, etc. Yet there is so much retrogression and decay back home. Sad, sad day.
Whatever happened to the proud people and hopeful a Nation?

Anonymous said...

As for the child burnt by the hand of his own father, one imagines that the mental scarring from that experience can only be worse than the physical. The psychic damage exported from generation to generation is alarming. The muted response from government suggests that these beliefs hold sway right up to the top.

Chika Okeke-Agulu said...

Of course people in and out of government are equally in thrall of these superstitions. That is why anti-witchcraft crimes are often ignored by the police and state officials. It is for the same reason that the police and the media get so excited, even overzealous, when it comes to reporting about or punishing anyone who is alleged to be involved in crimes linked to "paganism." Think of the media coverage, and quick response by federal police, when on raiding the Okija Shrines a couple of years ago--following the allegation by a fraudulent politician that the "Okija cult" was after his life--they found human skulls at the site. Compare that with the current situation where there is countless evidence of extreme torture, maiming, and allegedly killing of (so-called witch/pagan) children by people convinced of their supposedly Christian faiths. Has anyone been prosecuted or seriously investigated?

The feeling you get is that quite a significant part of the population believes in, and supports, these crimes. The perpetrators are just helping the sick society by exterminating the children responsible for all the problems of their families and communities. This, sadly, is why it won't be easy putting a stop to the infanticides and child abuse.

My fear is that it may spread beyond Ibibio land, as other equally distressed communities seek quick faith-based solutions to the worsening socio-economic, spiritual and environmental crises they face. Clearly this tragedy suites the government, for as long as the "child witches" are seen as the enemy, no one will take the politicians to task for overseeing the systematic impoverishment and devastation of the land and people.

Unknown said...

I am a christian, grew up in Ghana and ivory coast and my parents lived in Nigeria for 20 something years and run an orphanage, I have adopted 3 kids form Uganda. So africa is close to my heart. This blog sickens me that people would call themselves christians and hurt the least of these. That is not christianity but something disguised as such. Real Christianity would take these kids and love them with the love of Jesus.