OP-ED Opinions 

Child Witch Persecution And Police Intervention In Ogun State By Leo Igwe

The news that a couple tortured their granddaughter for witchcraft circulated widely on social media. Someone drew my attention to the report in The Nation newspaper. That was late on July 9, 2020. I tried reaching the correspondent, who reported the news through the online editor of The Nation, without success. I rang up the Ogun State Police Command spokesperson, Abimbola Opeyemi, but he did not pick or return my calls. I checked the time and found out that it was 10:45 pm.

I decided to try contacting him the following day. Early on July 10, about 7:45 am, I called the police spokesperson again, and he did not pick or return my calls. I called the Commissioner of Police and he answered. I told him about the case of the child witch persecution at Awa Ijebu and the interest of the Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AFAW) that is supporting the victim. The CP told me that they had not briefed him. He said he would contact the Divisional Police Officer in the area immediately. He asked me to call back in 10 minutes. The CP called in less than 10 minutes and the DPO of Awa Ijebu was on another line. He asked the DPO to give me his number and instructed him to provide me all the necessary assistance. And the DPO did.

I later called the DPO and he invited me to come over to the station for a meeting. I arrived at Awa Ijebu Police Station at about 11:00am the same day. The DPO was not on seat. I called him on the phone, and he asked me to wait for him. He arrived at the station 10 minutes later and ushered me into his office. He invited the Divisional Crime Officer to join in the meeting.

The DPO explained what happened. The station received a report of a seven-year-old girl, who was tortured and abused by the grandparents on July 7. The police arrested the couple. In the course of the investigation, they found out that the girl was tortured for being a witch. The father of the girl died in 2017. And the mother brought the girl and her younger brother to Awa Ijebu. She abandoned them with the father and stepmother and disappeared. The grandfather took the girl to two pastors and an imam who said that the girl was a witch. That the girl was responsible for the death of the father and was also planning to kill him. 

They told him that the girl was responsible for the financial difficulties that he was encountering. To exorcise the witchcraft, the grandfather tied up the girl on several occasions and applied burnt rubber/plastics all over her body- on the head, hands, back, and the private parts. While the step-grandmother flogged her in the course of the torture. The alleged girl witch had wounds all over the body and the younger brother, six, was malnourished. The DPO said they tried to get the suspects to disclose the full details of the pastors and the imam, who stated that the girl was a witch without success. The suspects said that one of the pastors had died while others were roadside practitioners. The suspects also refused to disclose the whereabouts of the children’s mother. The police liaised with the office of the Social Welfare Department of the Ministry of Women Affairs in Ijebu-Igbo and charged the matter to court. The DPO told me that during the court session, the local magistrate was shedding tears while listening to the story of this girl. The magistrate remanded the couple in custody at Igbeba. The court handed the children over to the Social Welfare Department until the conclusion of the case. 

The DPO drove me to the Social Welfare unit in Ijebu-Igbo, and the officer later took me to an orphanage where the alleged witch girl and the brother were staying. The two children had been taken to a hospital for a medical check-up and were hospitalised later the same day. During a brief meeting with the manager of the orphanage, he asked for more support for the medical care, education, and overall development of the children. We discussed ways that AFAW could help in supporting the children and the orphanage. 

The police in Ogun State must be commended for the diligent way they handled the case of this girl. Also, in 2018, the police in Ogun State arrested and prosecuted those implicated in a case of witchcraft-related murder. Unfortunately, this kind of professionalism has not been displayed in other parts of the country in processing cases of witch persecution and killing. For instance, in Cross River, the police have yet to arrest those who were implicated in the burning of alleged witches in the Boki Local Government Area. A father, who set the children ablaze in Plateau State has not been arrested. But this case in Ogun State has illustrated the importance of institutional synergy in combating witch persecution. It took the combined efforts of the police officers in Awa Ijebu, social welfare in Ijebu-Igbo and the Ministry of Justice to realise this prompt and effective response to a case of child witch persecution in the state. This institutional synergy is needed in Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Plateau, Abia, Lagos, Delta and other parts of the country where victims of witch persecution and killing are crying for justice.

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