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Witch Persecution and Penis Disappearance: Why We Need Critical Thinking Corners in Nigeria

By Leo Igwe

I bring you all greetings and salutations from the Humanist Association of Nigeria and from all who value critical thinking and reasoned inquiry across the world. We commend you all for this initiative, and for staging the first edition of the hangout of the Critical Thinkers Corner in Ebonyi State. Bravo! We believe this hangout is the first of many more events to come. It is the beginning of critical things and more profound initiatives to promote a more rational and scientific approach to life in Ebonyi state. As you may be aware, critical thinking is one thing that is lacking so much in our society. Critical thinking is something that we need in a large dosage and proportion. We need to vigorously promote the ability to analyze, evaluate, and interrogate issues, beliefs, and claims. 

To this end, I founded an organization, the Critical Thinking Social Empowerment Foundation, that fosters critical thinking skills in schools, and the society at large. We cannot overemphasize the fact that there is power in thinking critically; that people can be empowered, emancipated and liberated through the application of these mental habits. At the Humanist Association, we place a great premium on critical thinking abilities. Because due to the lack of critical thinking, humanity suffers. To phrase it differently, due to the lack of critical thinking corners, people perish. Our society is smoldering away. Many people cannot breathe. Families and communities are suffocating to death. People suffer terrible abuses. People are murdered with impunity. People are dying needlessly. As a matter of urgency, the Nigerian society needs critical thinking corners.

And this event is happening at a crucial time in the history of the country, at a time when the people of Ebonyi, Nigeria, and Africa are grappling with superstition and religion-based abuses in many ways, and on different fronts.

It may interest you to know that I came in for this event from Calabar, where an exhibition is ongoing at the state museum. This exhibition is the first of its kind. A Nigerian artist, Etinosa Yvonne, staged the event in partnership with the National Geographic Society and the Basic Counsel Rights Initiative in Calabar. The exhibition titled, It’s All in the Head, is an educative and enlightening program. The exhibition uses photos, images, and illustrations to show the devastating impact of witchcraft accusations and witch persecutions. We had a case here in Ebonyi state where an accused person was tortured and then thrown into a river. Nobody has seen the corpse to date. Efforts to bring the suspects to justice have been unsuccessful. Many people have died or disappeared that way without a trace. Peddlers and entertainers of witchcraft imaginaries silently eliminate many persons, parents, children and other family and community members. Superstitions have made us look our humanity Our sense of compassion for one another. And here at the Critical Thinking Corner we should it loud and clear: Enough is enough. Based on what transpires in one’s head, people are brutally attacked, tortured, and murdered with impunity. People are living with traumas for the rest of their lives. As the exhibition rightly said, it is all in the head. It is all in our heads. Yes. witchcraft is all in the heads of the believers, the heads of accusers, hunters, and persecutors. And the time has come to begin the surgical process to expel and disable this social, cultural and mental virus.

As you may have heard, another superstitious ill wind is blowing across the country as we gather here.  Another imaginary bug is eating up the heads, minds, and conscience of Nigerians with devastating impact on the suspects. That is the so called magical disappearance or thieving of penises. Do penises magically disappear? The answer is No. There is no evidence that people’s private disappear following a touch or a handshake. But to many Nigerians the answer is: Yes. Like all magical or superstitious beliefs, the idea of the magical disappearance of the penis is absurd. The notion of the magical theft of private part is a figment of the mind, a mind petrified by fear, and anxiety, ignorance and superstition. It is a supposition in the ‘head’ with a external impact that is brutal. This week, a lecturer was accused and mobbed in Makurdi, Benue state. He sustained serious injuries. But you know what? He was lucky. He survived. The police intervened and rescued him. Many people accused of this imaginary offense have been beaten to death in some parts of the country. In Adamawa, the police stopped students from lynching some suspects. So our educators and educational institutions are not spared. Even in schools, colleges, and universities, people can be accused, attacked, and lynched for the magical disappearance of the penis in 21st-century Nigeria. What a shame!

So, we need to take what goes on in our ‘heads’ seriously. We need to critically examine what goes on in the minds of people around us. We need to interrogates narratives that are used to sanction and sanctify cruelty and savage acts in the communities. That is why, from time to time, we need to break, hang out, pause, reflect, and congregate at critical thinking corners. We need to create forums where we examine, ponder, and interrogate ideas, claims, and beliefs that often inform our actions and behaviors. Humanity cannot progress without a vibrant culture of skeptical rationality. Skepticism unlocks human possibilities, and guarantees hope for the future. Humanity’s best and brightest cannot manifest if we cannot interrogate ideas and beliefs.

So, skepticism is the handmaid of humanism. The skeptical outlook provides a springboard for the flourishing of the humanist cosmology. Skepticism is the driver and propeller of humanist values, and undergirds a progressive ethical living. As humanists, we need to work and campaign for a more critical thinking society. We need to invest in the promotion and application of critical thinking skills in all areas of human endeavor. At the Humanist Association, we encourage the creation of critical thinking spaces to help beat back the tide of dogma, blind faith, and superstition-based abuses. In the months ahead, the Humanist Association of Nigeria will follow, with keen interest, the activities of the Critical Thinkers Corner in Ebonyi state. The association will endeavor to provide you with all that you need to grow and develop this resource. Be assured of my personal support and that of other humanists and critical thinkers in Nigeria and beyond.

We hope you have a socially nourishing, thought provoking and intellectually stimulating fellowship.

Leo Igwe is a board member of the Humanist Association of Nigeria

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