Boy wizards are all the rage around the world. In America, a few religious loonies seem to believe that waving a stick and shouting “Accio!” really will make their children’s broomsticks wobble towards them before they go out for a bacchanal in the night, but mostly those in the first world seem to agree that it’s all in good fun. (Unless you’re Kathleen Duey, out to write the most grim, bleak and awesome book about boy wizards ever penned).
And then we come to Nigeria:
Evangelical pastors are helping to create a terrible new campaign of violence against young Nigerians. Children and babies branded as evil are being abused, abandoned and even murdered while the preachers make money out of the fear of their parents and their communities
Sam Ikpe-Itauma is one of the few people in this area who does not believe what the evangelical ‘prophets’ are preaching. He opened his house to a few homeless waifs he came across, and now he tries his best to look after 131.
‘The neighbours were not happy with me and tell me “you are supporting witches”. This project was an accident, I saw children being abandoned and it was very worrying. I started with three children, then every day it increased up to 15, so we had to open this new place,’ he says. ‘For every maybe five children we see on the streets, we believe one has been killed, although it could be more as neighbours turn a blind eye when a witch child disappears.
In a nearby village The Observer came across five-year-old twins, Itohowo and Kufre. They are still hanging around close to their mother’s shack, but are obviously malnourished and in filthy rags. Approaching the boys brings a crowd of villagers who stand around and shout: ‘Take them away from us, they are witches.’ ‘Take them away before they kill us all.’ ‘Witches’.
The woman who gave birth to these sorry scraps of humanity stands slightly apart from the crowd, arms crossed. Iambong Etim Otoyo has no intention of taking any responsibility for her sons. ‘They are witches,’ she says firmly and walks away.
I’ve visited Nigeria. I drove from Port Harcourt through Lagos to Accra, Ghana in a taxicab during the height of the Harmatan winds. It took us over two days, and I will never forget my experiences there. I saw many things that I’d previously only encountered in novels: child amputees from tribal wars, lepers, polio victims, endless corrupt public officials, and a particularly violent, bloody form of animistic Christianity. I also loved it– the people we encountered, the fufu and kenke sold on the side of the road, the kola nuts, the women selling water and live fowl and anything else they could find from baskets on their heads. Nigeria is a beautiful country, but most of its people are numbingly poor, in a way I’m sure I still don’t understand. They are also very religious. When we first left Port Harcourt, our taxi driver was a taciturn man with a particularly gory crucifix hanging on his rear view mirror, and a bumper sticker in a cheesy-yet-disturbing blood drip font that read: “The blood of Jesus drenches this car.” I had the strangest feeling that he meant it literally.
And so, horrifying as it is, this story doesn’t really surprise me. Nigeria has the perfect combination of extreme poverty and extreme religiosity that makes it sadly easy for unscrupulous child-murderers like these pastors take advantage of their “flock”. Imagine, these parents are paying the pastors to murder their children! I’ve emailed the Observer to ask if there is any method of donating to the child refugee farm referenced in the story. I’ll post the details here if I get them.