A 44-year-old woman, Ms. Mercy Ekwere from Edo Esit Eket escaped death this week after police dispersed witch-hunters who cordoned her, tied her hands and legs, then tortured her with sticks and machetes to a state of coma.
Ms. Ekwere who is married to a man in a small community in the main Eket town was lured by two emissaries who visited her in the early morning of Monday to inform her that the village head was looking for her with matters related to family disputes.
Unknown to her, her brother’s daughter who’s about 12 years old was dragged to the town hall and was undergoing trials by ordeals over allegations of witchcraft as a result of the death of a 5-year old child.
After a lengthy torture, the twelve years old girl was forced to tell the witch-hunters that her aunt, Ms. Ekwere, took the deceased child to the coven and strangled her to death.
Ms. Ekwere said that as she arrived the scene, she was hurled with insults and abuses by a mammoth crowd and was not given a chance to say anything, only for a mob to descend on her mercilessly with any available weapon in their hands.
“I was shocked to see a big crowd who started calling me uncanny names, spat and threw stones at me. They did not allow me to say anything.
“A group of young men with sticks and rod gathered around me and began to hit me… I begged them to stop but my plea fell on deaf ears.
“They’re asking me different questions. ‘Why did you kill that small child?’ ‘Who’re your colleagues in the coven?’
“How many people have you tied in the witch coven?’
“They brought the corpse of a little child and place on my body and asked me to resurrect her.
“They put the dead child in a small open container, bathed and gave me the water to drink. Meaning that, if I was responsible for the child’s death, I would also die soon.
“In spite of that, they continued to beat me. A man came with a big stick and hit my head, the whole place became dark and I fainted.
“Policemen, invited by my brother Emmanuel Ekwere, to rescue his child who was making the false confession came and woke me up.
“I did not see those who were beating me again. I got a bike and returned to my husband, but he told me to leave his house as he has no room for witches,” Ms. Ekwere narrated.
When she returned to her husband, she was not allowed entrance to the house. Her five years old son from her late ex-husband was also asked to join her.
But the man kept the eleven-month-old child which is the only child that they both have together
Ms. Ekwere said since she did not have a place to sleep, she went and slept in a small local market with open shades.
To her chagrin, three men who were among those who wanted to kill her came there on a motorbike with matches and sticks.
On spotting them, she ran into a bush with her son and made her way to the CRARN Children Centre in Ikot Afaha, Eket, where she has been given a temporary refuge.
That is because there’s no sanctuary in Nigeria for such older people stigmatized as witches or brutalized and rendered homeless in the name of witchcraft.
Sadly in this vicious cycle, three children’s fates are hanging in the balance.
The child who was tortured and put under duress to make spurious confessions, the eleven-month-old unweaned child who’s been segregated from her mother’s warm and the five years old child who roamed the street with her mother and without any hope of food, let alone going to school.
Cases like this are not an uncommon phenomenon.
They are weekly occurrences, if not daily in Nigeria, mostly the South-South, South-East, and South-West regions.
This is an area where the federal government has turned a blind eye and people, mostly, women and children are allowed to be victimized in the most barbaric ways unimaginable and killed over a fantasy and unfounded belief of witchcraft.
The government of Nigeria does not need a gadfly to wake her up to address this unending cruelty to humanity. And the time to act is now.
By Sam Itauma
President and Founder, Child’s Right and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN)
www.CRARN.net, Eket – Nigeria