Andy Esiet, Calabar
A coalition of UK and Nigeria based Human Rights Groups have appealed to the International community, Nigerian Federal Government and Cross River State Government to ensure that the murderers of five innocent people (3 women and 2 men), last week after being accused of witchcraft, are brought to book.
A statement yesterday by the Chairman of Trustees of the UK registered charity – Safe Child Africa, Mr. Gary Foxcroft, said the tragic incident was triggered by a motorcycle accident that took place on the evening of October 13, in Ndon Nwong community in Odukpani Local Government, Cross River State and flowing this, two children were tortured and forced to identify five suspected “witches” that were behind the accident.
The youths of the community according to the statement took the five suspected witches to the village square where they were tried by a kangaroo court made up of local chiefs and youth leaders and they were tied up, tortured, and eventually beaten to death.
One of the victims identified as a widow, Mrs. Iquo Edet Eyo, after telling the youth that she was not a witch was beaten mercilessly with machetes, sticks and cudgels and was also sexually assaulted, cut along her stomach, hand , and with multiple blows to her head.
The statement said the five victims were subsequently dragged by these youths and so-called village leaders into the forest away from the growing crowd of village folks and on-lookers where the final executions reportedly took place, and their bodies dumped in a shallow grave. As of October 23rd, arrests are yet to be made and the bodies are yet to be exhumed by the authorities for autopsy and proper burial.
In a reaction, Mrs. Eyo’s USA based son-in-law, Marshall Umanah, a student doctor according to the statement has called for justice to prevail, saying, “it is incomprehensible that innocent people are still being accused of witchcraft and killed in the 21st century. My dear mother-in-law would not hurt a fly and was certainly not a witch. I call upon the international community to put pressure on the Nigerian authorities to ensure that her death is not in vain and those behind this heinous act are arrested and prosecuted immediately”
Cross River and neighbouring Akwa Ibom State have become well known throughout the world for the deeply entrenched beliefs in witchcraft and subsequent horrific abuses of human rights, most notably with regards to children accused of witchcraft.
These issues were widely condemned after activists raised awareness of them in documentary films and various UN reports, leading to the UN Human Rights Council passing an historic resolution in 2021 on the elimination of harmful practices related to accusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks.
The UN resolution urges States to condemn the widespread discrimination, stigma, social exclusion and forced displacement experienced by those accused of witchcraft, and to ensure accountability and the effective protection of all victims of witchcraft accusations. This is the first resolution of its kind, calling for a more holistic approach in addressing harm resulting from accusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks.
Foxcroft, one of the activists who spent six years working intensively to pressure the UN to pass this resolution said, “It is extremely disheartening to see that, despite our best efforts, Governments are still failing to protect the most vulnerable members of society from such horrific acts. Mrs. Iquo Eyo was a grandmother, mother, sister and friend to many in her community. She was not a witch.
“The Nigerian Federal Government and Cross River State Government need to do more to ensure that their names are not further tarnished by the ongoing killings of people due to erroneous beliefs in witchcraft. This should include arresting those behind such crimes and regulating those faith leaders who promote the malevolent beliefs that drive such evil acts”.
A prominent human rights activist based in Calabar, Mr James Ibor, whose NGO emergency children’s shelter in Calabar regularly provides protection for children accused of witchcraft, tortured and abandoned recalled that “in 2020, 20 elderly men in Oku community in Okundi town in Boki LGA of Cross River State, were rounded up, beaten and burnt alive on suspicion of witchcraft. Three of the men died before help came.
He said, “we have dubbed those innocent people killed in this attack the “Another Calabar 5” as sadly, this is just one af many similar cases that Basic Rights Counsel has worked on over the last ten years. The Nigerian Police Force, lawyers and judiciary need to redouble their efforts to ensure that justice is served in such cases”.
The Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AfAW), led by Dr Leo Igwe as the Director, has criticised religious bodies, especially pentecostal churches for fuelling such witch-hunting activities inciting violence and hatred against family members through their alleged witch-hunting crusade.