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Modern-day witch hunts are inspired by the same brand of ignorance and evil that fueled the burning of supposed witches at stakes in the early modern period. In one of our older articles, “The Sexist Rhetoric of Witch-Hunting”, we examine how the title “witch” has been and continues to be weaponised against women. These days, the criteria for who is deemed a witch has shifted from women of science to older women and women living with mental illnesses.
Recently, a man was accused of using ‘juju’ to transform two children into tubers of yam and he was brutalised and publicly humiliated. His offence? Later, it was revealed that there were no missing children; this shows how accusations of witchcraft are fueled by religious beliefs, misogyny, ageism and ableism.
In the case of the man accused of transforming children, the baseless accusation was quickly disproven after it was established that he was on an errand and no children were missing. Before this was discovered, he had already been paraded on social media, tied and beaten. This sort of inhumane treatment is visited on innocent people constantly if they are thought to be witches.
Women tend to be accused of occultic practices and in these instances, group ignorance prevails. The lynch mobs of today are made up of people who attribute everything to supernatural forces, usually evil, and who throw logic to the wind when such accusations arise.
Vulnerable groups like people living with mental illness, older people and women are primarily targeted by such accusations and are often defenceless against the horde of violent accusers. People living with mental illnesses like schizophrenia, conditions like dementia and any other physical or mental conditions that affect behaviour are vulnerable and at-risk because of accusations of witchcraft.
The role of religion in these practices can not be overstated. People of God have sent countless people to their graves or subjected them to violent and degrading treatment off of baseless accusations of witchcraft.
In Nigeria, people are quick to attribute anything they do not understand to evil supernatural forces and it is their go-to in seemingly unexplainable situations. This, coupled with religious bias and lack of understanding about mental illnesses, drives them to harm innocent people simply because they do not understand their behaviour.
If you ever come across people accusing someone of witchcraft, know that said person is a victim, always. There are no witches plotting evil with magical powers. All the evil there is is present in the people who hurt and kill other people based on false, ridiculous, ignorant accusations.