Perhaps the valiant efforts of Sam Itauma of Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN) coupled with the honourable actions of Gary Foxcroft of Stepping Stones Nigeria brought home the stark reality of the wicked phenomenon called child witches in Nigeria. However, to most of us, the phenomenon of children being accused of witchcraft remains something read on the internet or various news media. We found it easy to empathise being human beings that could see through the ignorance and superstition which remains the bedrock of this arcane practice. Transforming the written words into stark reality would probably be too much of a shock to most of us. This was the feeling I had when by the hand of fate, a mutual contact introduced a “child witch” to me in London. The hen has finally come home to roost!
The documentary by Gary Foxcroft titled: Saving African Child Witches, was like a jolt that brought home the hidden truth that Africa still exists in the pre-Medieval age. Our attempts at civilisation remains a smokescreen hiding the uncomfortable fact that our society still operates on codes and creeds better suited to the pre-Neolithic era. This documentary naturally evoked worldwide condemnation and righteous indignation. It led to the article I wrote titled: Persecuting the African Child. Little did I know that fate had a role in the whole scenario. A child witch in London? This is definitely not the stuff of fantasy. It is real and this “witch” is in flesh and blood, alive but definitely not hale and hearty.
Before I proceed any further, may I state that as much as every effort has been made to create anonymity around the identity of the victim involved in the tale you are about to read, I still took the pains to obtain his full consent before writing this article. May I also stress that you are about to read a true account of what happened to a fellow Nigerian. The aim is not to pre-empt your opinion, please allow your conscience to be the judge here. Something is however certain; the concept of child witchcraft is a phenomenon that must not be allowed to continue to flourish in our continent. Every one of us must ensure that a pragmatic change is effected, not just in words but also in deeds. A society that neglects its young ones has mortgaged its future.
I met Adam on a day the British weather decided to be temperate. He was casually dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. Did he look like a witch? In the first instance, I do not know what a witch looks like. He did not present with horns sticking out of his head. Suffice it to say that Adam came across as an emaciated youth whose demeanour reeked of nothing but sorrow, despair, illness and sadness. I was left dumbfounded by Adam’s tale. And many hours after he had left, I was still numbed by the inhumanity of man to man.
Adam complained of difficulty with sleeping with recurrent nightmares. He also complained of hearing voices; voices of children who lost the battle for life while detained by a witch doctor in an attempt to cleanse them of supposed witchcraft. Adam remains a patient of a major psychiatric hospital in London but informed that he had not benefitted from numerous prescribed medications. Adam is an Urhobo boy who hailed from one of the numerous Urhobo settlements in Delta State of Nigeria. He traced the origin of his problems to the accusation of witchcraft which started while he was merely a child in a primary school at Warri. His parents were firmly convinced that he was responsible for all their misfortunes in life. This accusation got so serious that his parents took him from one witch doctor to another in Nigeria, after series of consultations with Pentecostal healers. All these in a futile effort to have him purged of this “demonic” spirit. His parents eventually divorced on this issue but not before he was abandoned with a witchdoctor who claimed to be a specialist in this area. As from that moment, life took a different turn for Adam. What started as a mounting, though unfounded concern on the part of his parents, assumed a life of its own, albeit a destructive one. At this witchdoctor’s place, he came in contact with other kids who were similarly accused and detained. They were social rejects whose existence was valueless. It was for this witchdoctor to do as he wanted. Adam had just started secondary education when the axis shifted to this witchdoctor and that was the end of his formal education at the age of 13.
He spent two agonising years at this place. Two years filled with sorrows and pains. It was here that the foundation of his current travails was laid. Travails that brought him in contact with the mental health services. He was locked up alongside other child witches and lacked contact with the outside world. He was made to take numerous concoctions to exorcise the witchcraft. Sleep was prevented as it was believed that sleeping permits contact with the witch world. At night, Adam informed that they were made to dance around in a ritualistic manner, all in an effort to prevent sleep. He was not only deprived of sleep but also had numerous forceful abdominal incisions. In his words, “my tummy was forcefully cut every morning”. He developed a swollen abdomen with feet swelling, which he carried around for some years until it was diagnosed as abdominal TB with other complications in the UK.
Adam stated that a sort of bond developed amongst the detained kids such that the death of some of these kids remains a traumatic memory for him. He informed that within those two years, a significant number of the kids lost their lives. His diet consisted of different witch-exorcising concoctions and numerous incisions. Food was scanty – who wants to actively feed a child? Physical punishment was abundant. Scorn and hatred was a regular companion. Adam and these kids had everything the devious mind of man could offer, except love, affection, protection and good food. Abandoned by kith and kin, his was a valueless life that could be handled anyhow. It was an experience that still haunts his dreams.
Amos eventually managed to escape from the witch doctor and here his story moved to the second phase. He told me many things that would not be safe for public consumption but suffice it to say that he faced many incidents of exploitation and abuses. He managed to get to Benin City from where, barely living from hand to mouth, he met with luck or whatever you may call it and somehow found his way to the United Kingdom. The so-called “good Samaritan” that eventually took him out of Nigeria saw in Samuel a vulnerable, valueless and unprotected life that could be actively exploited. She committed many unspeakable atrocities and his getting to the UK had no altruistic motive. It was in perpetuation of what is better described as the exploitation of a slave. I beg readers to pardon me for not going into details of this as it may jeopardise Adam’s current status in the UK. Suffice it to state that there was nothing glorifying about his being brought to the UK, he was simply a victim of nothing but child trafficking.
While in the UK, his fate continued. He was locked up by his supposed “benefactor” who was nothing but a mere child abuser and trafficker. After about one year of this, he managed to escape and became homeless. One day, he collapsed on the streets, was taken to a hospital where he was on admission for over 3 months and ended up diagnosed with Abdominal tuberculosis complicated by pericarditis (inflammation of the external membranous coverings of the heart) and pericardial effusion (accumulation of fluid in the external membranous coverings of the heart). He was also diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure. He went through an operation and then treatment for the abdominal TB. Asked if the TB was cured, Adam could
only mutter “I don’t know”. He has passed the stage where he really cared.
Amos reported a lack of interest in life with an extremely low mood. He took to alcohol in the UK in an attempt to blunt his sorrows – “the only thing that makes me forget everything for a while”. He also tried cannabis but abandoned this when he developed a skin reaction to it on first attempt. Along the line, he got addicted to gambling, as somehow, this provides companionship for him and also serves as a self-inflicted punishment to a life that has increasingly become meaningless. In his attempt to put a stop to this meaningless existence, he took an overdose of his prescribed medications one day, last year. Somehow, that attempt failed as he was successfully resuscitated but Adam has not ruled this out as a viable option. He reported decreased appetite but did admit that he is deliberately starving himself in an attempt to “catch a stomach infection and then die”. He described his energy level as being poor with a non-existent attention and concentration level. He lacks motivation and presented with lack of self esteem. He experiences guilt, guilt about being born into all these predicaments.
Though has been in the UK much longer, Adam only registered as an Asylum seeker in 2006. It did not appear as if he had any option considering his circumstances than to register as one. However, this has so far failed to provide any succour as the immigration authorities refused to believe his story. Then, the phenomenon of child witches was still a beautifully hidden anomaly of life in Nigeria. Many thanks to Sam Itauma, Gary Foxcroft and many others who took the pains to expose this despicable aspect of our existence. He was linked up by the Social services with a Solicitor whom he has infrequent contact with. As things stand, he remains an Asylum seeker with insufficient representation and apparently badly presented case. He has no recourse to public funds and could only survive on what is termed “subsistence allowance” and whatever the social services could spring up for him. In addition, he is at risk of being deported to Nigeria at any time. He remains a lonely, dejected, potential suicidal broken man surviving on state crumbs. Not that he cares any longer.
The question remains, why was I involved in Adam’s case? The mutual contact felt that I might be able to help Adam. I cannot forget the miserable demeanour of Adam. Neither can I forget his description of hearing the voices of his dead friends who were locked up with him at the witchdoctor’s fortress. I will also never forget the spasm of pains that racked his body when he got up to leave at the end of the meeting. I keep on wondering if the abdominal TB had been totally cured. Or could it be pains from gruelling of starvation boy Adam is making his stomach to go through? I was presented with a life that held no hope. No hope for the present not to talk of being adventurous to project to the future. It is painful when life shows its hands in this fashion.
Adam’s tale is rather unique in that unlike the thousands and possibly, millions of child witches present in Nigeria and other parts of Africa, somehow, the hands of fate made it possible for him to get to the United Kingdom. This simple act of fate apparently preserved him to this day to be able to relate his story. However, the Frankenstein monster which is the phenomenon of child witches has refused to completely remove its tentacles on poor Adam. He is truly in the UK but albeit as an un-believed and unwanted guest of Her Majesty. He sees life as nothing but merely days rolling into days, bleak and meaningless. Africa’s incorrigible belief in a forsaken creed of child witchcraft has spurned an ever expending industry that has condemned millions of innocent kids into the abyss of existence. Stepping Stones Nigeria informed that in just two out of Nigeria’s 36 states, the number of children stigmatised as witches is in the region of ten to fifteen thousand. Nigeria’s rudderless political leadership has allowed a monster to fester on kids it sworn to protect.
It is obvious that the solutions to Adam’s problems encompass many approaches and one that can never be relegated is psychological intervention. It is hoped and believed that the mental health services would provide this in due course. His physical health apparently needs sufficient attention, less the TB, and possibly starvation, succeed in consuming him. However, his overall wellbeing and possibly the only hope for his future is his success at overcoming the present immigration hurdles. I refuse to accept the fatalistic disposition of Adam. While much may be understood viewing things from his perspective, I firmly hold that the fate that brought him here probably has something positive for his life. However, crossing the barriers of immigration that presently confront him is like the camel trying to pass through the eye of the needle. This is an area, where hopefully, organisations like Stepping Stones, Afruca and other children minded charities might possibly be of assistance. This is a story that Gary Foxcroft (Stepping Stones) and Debbie Ariyo (Afruca) must hear about.
It is chilling to end this write-up on a summation of (his) existence provided by Adam. When asked the sort of person he might have turned out to be had life not taken this course, he retorted: “All my life is based on stress since I was young. I have never been happy. It is really difficult thinking about any other personality I may have”. It is really sad when life turns from being a thing of joy to a burden that one would gladly be without. Very sad, indeed.