By Bilyamin Abdulmumin
For some weeks, witchcraft news has been making rounds in the North. Several trained bloodsuckers were rumoured to be sucking blood from their victims. Videos of such incidents went viral on social media, especially Facebook and WhatsApp. Some individuals, particularly women who appeared to be victims themselves, were allegedly caught in the act of trying to suck their victims’ blood.
In one video, a woman alleged to be a witch was seen surrounded by a swarm of youth while another lady fainted, her body lying on the floor. To resuscitate her, the purported witch woman was asked to skip her, and intriguingly, she woke up. But in another video, the victim couldn’t wake up, so voices from the background kept shouting: skip three times!
Many burning questions arise when it comes to claims of witches. Challenging this perception, one Islamic scholar presented a compelling argument. He asked, ‘Why are the victims always poor and destitute?’ According to the Sheikh, he has never heard of a governor’s mother, a minister, or any public figure’s mother being paraded as a witch. This argument deals a significant blow to proponents of witchcraft.
Another similar question is: Why do claims of witchcraft usually originate in rural environments? The more rural the area, the greater the belief in witch existence. I discussed this scenario with a roommate some years ago, and he mentioned that he also had reservations about the issue of witches. He shared an anecdote about their younger sister, whose alleged ‘witchiness’ would never surface except when it was time for her to return to boarding school. She would always be fine at other times, but whenever school resumption was near, she would seem to change, which raised suspicions of foul play. However, this guy would climb down the pedestrian; he seemed torn between his thoughts and societal beliefs. In the same conversation, he defended the notion that rural areas have more witches because they have forests everywhere. What a ditch in logic!
I have once turned around to make a prank on witch allegations. While Nigeria was at a crossroads, a time in 2014 when Boko Haram, the partial removal of fuel subsidies, and the depreciating value of the naira to the dollar combined to wreak havoc on the masses. Similar rumours erupted, claiming that when one received a call from a certain number, their blood would be sucked away. I decided to play a prank. I saved my number as that controversial number in my friend’s phone contact and then called him. Immediately, he began reciting every prayer known to him.
Several theories have been put forward to explain the phenomenon of witchcraft in the North. One theory suggests that the nation’s predicament could have given birth to such rumours. Bulama, a famous cartoonist, also lends credence to this opinion. He created a cartoon depicting a man happily devouring at a food junction. Upon seeing him, a passerby paused to ask his companion, ‘Isn’t he the person being witch-hunted?’ The other person, intrigued, replied, ‘He’s being witch-hunted by hunger.
Another theory also suggests that it could be government propaganda. According to this view, the government might be making a clandestine move to divert public attention amid economic hardship. This theory can’t be outrightly denied because, as the saying goes, ‘biri yayi kama da mutum’ (Monkeys resemble humans!).
Public belief could also play a significant role. Doctors have told us several times that the efficacy of medication has a strong correlation with the patient’s beliefs. In other words, the more patients believe in the potency of the drug, the more effective it is. For instance, our Fulani herders are said to never recover from illness without injections. The average Fulani herder believes that injections are the only way to recover from illness. So, when they are down with malaria, for instance, they have to get an injection to recover, whereas city dwellers can recover with just drugs.
The issue of rumour-mongering during periods of instability is not unique to Nigeria or Africa alone. After the Second World War, the atmosphere was filled with fear and uncertainty, and everybody was looking for someone or something to blame. Suddenly, the myth of the Bermuda Triangle (Devil’s Triangle) emerged. With several aircraft and ships disappearing mysteriously without a trace, this section of the North Atlantic Ocean was believed to possess some supernatural power that not even a bird could dare cross. Several decades later, the myth survives.
Bilyamin Abdulmumin can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.