By Luka Binniyat
Tashi N Tashi is the Executive Director, Programmes, Better Leven, an NGO based in Akwanga, Akwanga Local Government of Nasarawa State. Akwanga is about 100km, North East of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city.
The Organisation is involved in free skill acquisition training for the rural poor and also intervenes on issues on child abuse. It was Tashi who first brought the attention of the outside world to the plight of Comfort.
In this interview, he shed more light on the case of Comfort
How did you get to know about this case?
We heard about this case around September this year. But she has been in pains for the past two years.
The problem is that after the incident, she was taken to some unknown destinations. We heard about her from one of our agents who work in the hospital. He said he saw a battered young girl who was accused of witchcraft. That her parent wanted her dead by forcing her to drink acid.
When you heard this, what did you do?
When it came to my attention, we went to the family and we had one-on-one discussion with them. The mother died when she was about five.
Who actually did this?
The father. The step mother has a hand too.
The accusation against her is that she has been responsible for all the bad luck that had befallen the family. That she is involved in witchcraft or “secret society”. That the only solution for the lack of progress in the family was to kill her.
That was why the father, after agreeing with other family members took it upon himself to eliminate her, to pave way for the success of the family.
The Catholic Church which she attends even tried to raise a small amount for her treatment, but the father frustrated the effort .
According to the father, the real problem is not her deformity, but the evil organisation she has joined. That instead of treated her wounds, people should try and help remove the witchcraft in her. That is his major concern.
How come she is still leaving with the father who still believes so strongly that she is evil?
It is because the Police, who intervened in the case, have given him a very very strong warning that should anything happen to the girl again, he would he held responsible. He is grudgingly keeping her. As I speak, the man still believes that the girl should be dead.
He complains that he feels pains around his waist, and that his two legs hurt. That it is Comfort that is tying him by his waist to a tree using her witchcraft powers.
We have tried to see how he can change his mind and accept his daughter to facilitate her getting assistance. The only concession he has given is that only if his family meets and agree on our request, that he may change his mind.
As she is now, no one feeds her at home. She goes to a village near here to get her feeding every day. We have been doing the little we can to assist her, but we too run on very small resources. That is why we took her case to NAPTIP, when they came around here for a programme in Akwanga.
Let me get it clearly, is the father sorry or not about this incident?
The father is not sorry about what he has done. She is staying with him because the Police are forcing him to keep her. She was under the custody of the police for three months at one time.
What did NAPTIP do when they saw this case?
The said they would do something about it. That was early this month (November) But we have not heard from them again.
Is this an isolated case, or is it common place here?
My brother, it is a common occurrence here. All the time you have children between the ages of five to 15 being accused of belonging to secret cult. They are made to suffer untold brutality in the hands of the family or in the hands of some pastors or someone who claims to have the powers to remove the magic in the children.
Sometimes the family would conspire and secretly kill the child, and nobody would hear anything about it.
But, if the Child has both parents alive, the child is likely not to suffer this extreme punishment. Orphans and children with one parent alive are the worst victims.
This witchcraft problem is common among poor families. It is hard to hear those who are doing well accuse their children or children of their relations of such things.
Why are you so keen on Comfort’s case?
Because there is even more to be attached to the suffering of this girl, than her deformity.
She has been stigmatised by people. She is always alone. No one talks with her. No one plays with her. She eats alone. She does not go the market, talk less of going to school. She has been isolated by her community.
So, she also has a lot pains in her heart. But she told us that she has forgiven her father, because it is good to forgive.
The belief in witchcraft here is so strong, that we can only try to help the children who have become victims of such accusations.
But we are only a small organisation, and there are so many children here that need help.
Why do you think that this children are not really witches?
Our findings show that anytime some of these people are sick, when we visit them, and beg them to go to the hospital and get their sickness diagnosed, they usually refuse. They would say that there is no point doing so, since a prayer man or woman has confirmed and identified the child that is causing the ailment. We also found out that sometimes the sick persons are too poor to even go to the hospital, so they settle to accuse a particular child or children for the problem, as means of covering up their poverty.
But, have you never seen a child that is a real witch?
You, see after some of these children undergo torture, they are made to say all kinds of things. But, we have never found a way of confirming which child is a witch or not. These are things you cannot verify. I don’t think we have the tools of doing that now. But, even so, does the law allow for what they are doing to this children?
Who are these prayer men and women?
The people are mostly from Abuja. They believe here that the local pastors do not have enough powers to clean these children. So they bring the prayer people from Abuja, usually at an agreed price per child. Sometimes the children are taken away. We do not know what usually happen to some of the children, whether they ever return or not.