Those who can make you believe absurdity can make you commit atrocities – Voltaire
With technology we get regular updates of this ancient display of cruelty melted on innocent people in our communities.
Around Christmas last year there was a photo of an elderly lady circulated around, she was thin and frail. She was found climbing an electricity pole and in no time people gathered and made up their stories about her – the easily believed one was that she got tangled up in electric cables as she was returning from a witch meeting, so turned back to human as the cables were too strong for her feather. Thankfully, there were enough sensible people in the crowd as the woman was helped down the electric pole.
Dementia is not widely understood/talked about in Nigeria. I have heard people saying it is àrùn àwon alákọ̀wé (disease of the educated ones) as if something in our DNA is changed just by being educated.
There are always hints to many madness in our society – publicly humiliated ones are often elderly, poor and more often than not, are women.
I knew just one man ever that was accused of being a wizard, he was feared, no one ever thought of hurting him, people can only gossip and never to his face. A few years ago when I asked my dad why that chief was accused of being a wizard despite no evidence of him doing bad thing to anyone. My dad’s explanation shed more lights to the dark side of how women are perceived in our society. He told me that this man who inherited substantial farmland was a bully and selfish. He had four wives and more than a dozen children, he used his children to work the farm from very early age. OK. His sin? People could not understand how someone who had so much wealth refused to support a few children in school, who does that if not a wicked person? The most educated ones amongst the children only had primary school certificate at the time when others with less wealth are doing more for their children.
I grew up to know this man in his 70s and of course the rumour of being a wizard so I learned to look at him with side eye and never think anything bad because he was so powerful and capable of reading thoughts.
But why didn’t people stone this man because of unfounded rumours and yet the same group of people are eager to humiliate, shame and ready to kill a woman for similar wild imaginary tale?
Nigeria christianity and witch hunt:
Today I came across another incidence of an old lady, this one, according to Olofofo adugbo ‘neighbourhood gossip’ it happened at The apostolic Gospel Church somewhere in Lagos. The woman looks old and thin. She was on the floor rolling around to hide her face from the stones being thrown at her. Video clip too upsetting to post here.
The crowd were yelling:
Ki lo wa se nibi? Ta lo ran e wa? – What have you come to do here? Who sent you?
Here people calm one another down:
E duro na, e ni suuru – Wait, be patient.
E je ka gboro l’enu re – Let us hear words from her mouth.
This last line is telling. Because these church goers are somehow convinced that lack of electricity, jobs, fair distribution of wealth, security can now be blamed on this helpless old woman – they now talk to her as one would a child or worse, inferior. What a people.
Church accused witches get the worse treatment because ministers spend time reciting bible passages as if it was written yesterday. I like to remind myself that the Oyinbos that introduced christianity to us stopped the killing of women on the basis of rumours long time ago – ‘1716 was the last time a woman was hanged publicly in England and 1747 was the last time a woman was burned for being a witch anywhere in Europe’ (Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature).
This was possible for the Europeans due to substantial research that proves that anyone would say anything under pressure and when facing death. So why do we still allow our people to be brainwashed into humiliating innocent old people like this? I will never understand.
One way of ‘connecting the dots’ is to understand that we are not all perfect, and that old age has its many surprising sides – it is a whole new challenges for many of our elderly regardless of gender. Disease such as Dementia, a gradual deterioration in ability to think and reason like younger years is very common.
As Steven Pinker pointed out in his book that witch hunts is vulnerable to common sense – I totally agree with this sentiment, especially in a country like Nigeria with so many social and economic challenges, it is pointless trying to cite obvious objective examples.
All I can say is that since we will all grow old one day, a little act of kindness will go a long way to treating old women who come our ways, men too of course but I know we seldom torment old men.
We are no longer in isolated world, symptoms can be researched to educate one another rather than leaving all our fate on faith leaders.