By Ikechukwu Odu
Despite the change of topic which generated negative publicity about Prof. B.I. C Ijomah Centre for Policy Studies and Research, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, UNN, none of the key functionaries of the institution, save the organisers and keynote speakers of the event, turned out for the conference.
The centre had opted to discuss ‘Witchcraft: Meaning, Factors and Practices’ but on the order of the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Charles Igwe, it was changed to ‘Dimensions of Human Behaviour.’
However, in her welcome address at the Princess Alexandra Auditorium on Tuesday, the Director of the Centre, Prof. Egodi Uchendu, said the conference became Imperative owing to the persistence of the practice in the society.
She added that changes in human cultures reflect the state of development of human societies and are testaments of different mindsets and ideologies that drive and dominate the majority of people.
She argued that in Nigeria and Africa in general, there has been a fixed way of defining culture as contained in literature, religion and politics which makes one wonder if the 21st century Nigerians are less intelligent than their ancestors.
“We have for too long glossed over this matter of Witchcraft, but it has persisted, even as people pray against witches and wizards. The fact that this matter has persisted in our society up to the present day is evidence that the strategy of prayer, alone, is not enough to combat the challenges of belief in witchcraft.
” For this reason, the B.I.C Ijomah Centre for Policy Studies and Research has attracted men and women of diverse intellectual backgrounds to explore, investigate, and critically evaluate belief in witchcraft as a social phenomenon. Apart from rumours about witchcraft, can we intelligently discuss the phenomenon of Witchcraft? Can we delineate it’s evolving dynamics, especially in regard to human and societal development? What does belief in witchcraft symbolise for civilians, the military, politicians, sholars and others? This conference, therefore, seeks to determine amongst other things, the intelligibility of witchcraft, the principles that underpin it and the impact it has on human life, society and progress,” she said.
While presenting his paper entitled ‘The Wealthy are no Witches: Towards an Epistemology and Ideology of Witchcraft among the Igbo of Nigeria’ a professor of English and Literary Studies, UNN, Damian Opata, wondered if witchcraft was scientific or superstitious phenomenon and whether it is exercisable.
“Witchcraft may or may not be exercisable, and I wouldn’t know the true situation, but I understand the desire by the Christians opposed to this conference to totalize and sequestrate, and, perhaps control the discourse on witchcraft. Unfortunately, it cannot be pigeonholed as religious discourse, not to talk of being only a Christian exorcism discourse.
” He does one talk of phenomenon like witchcraft? Is it a scientific phenomenon? Is it superstition or is it the line of resistance that people resort to when afflicted with problems they cannot easily explain? Is it a form of technology? Many of the various protesters against this conference show concern about how the interrogation of witchcraft is possible, and even wonder whether the speakers are witches and wizards, especially as some of them appear to be of the opinion that one needed to be ba witch or wizard to speak on it,” Opata said.
He said that the study of witchcraft among the Igbos would require a foray into religion, sociology, anthropology, folklore, and all manners of herbal and healing practices, adding that it is not purely a religious affair.
He said witchcraft in the negative sense of it, is the use of supernatural power to change oneself into another medium in order to carry out an evil design. On the other hand, he said it could be positive if used to protect one’s interested.
He added that there are perceived plants and animals with perceived powers which people could tap into and begin to see beyond the normal, adding that witchcraft can be inducted into through gifts that are eaten in realife or the dream world.
He also said that art could be acquired through apprenticeship or ritual performances.
However, a professor of Anthropology, Peter Eze, said what exists in the belief in witchcraft and not witchcraft as being widely held.
While delivering his paper, Which Witch? What Anthropology Knows of the Adult Bugbear, Eze said “The claims on the nature of witchcraft are, of course, part of the belief. Belief is just what it is: belief. In Israel, in European countries, and North America, it will be laughable to talk seriously about witchcraft as a real-life experience today. Things pertaining to witchcraft survive in the lexicon in a figurative sense only.
While quoting the work of Professor Daniel Offiong, an expert in the study of witchcraft, he said ” Most of the modern world has forgotten about the fear of the witches… This is unlike what happens in Nigeria and generally, all over Africa,” he said.