Two sisters, Aniema, 10 and 13-year-old Mary, who were accused of witchcraft have narrated their ordeal and their near death experience in the hands of their uncles in Akpabuyo Local Government of Cross River State.
The children were branded witches after their stepsister, one Adiaha Akpan said she had a dream where Mary and Aniema came to take her child away and wanted to kill her.
The CrossRiverWatch tracked the children to Asanting village in Ikono local government area of Akwa Ibom State, where their father relocated them after their near death experience in the hands of persons they referred to as “Uncles”.
"That faithful day I was taken to Church and accused of being a witch. Uncle Victor asked that I confess that I am a witch or else when we get back to the house he will beat me up and use nails to pierce my body, but I told him that I was not a witch". Mary narrates.According to them all manner of cruel methods were used on them to get them to confess to being witches, “they burned a nylon bag and let the flames fall on our skin to make us confess”, said Mary and confirmed by Aniema.
She further stated that, "The next day Adiaha Akpan (who is their step sister) said she had a dream where I and Aniema my sister came to take her child away and that I wanted to kill her. She told Uncle Victor about the dream and he came and took us to the bush and started flogging us”.
Aniema added that, “When they went away I managed to untie myself and ran away but a broken bottle pierced my feet but I kept on running. The uncle caught up with me and continued with the flogging using big sticks and I was crying. They took me from one house to the other and some people joined them to flog me.”
The children might have been murdered if not for the timely intervention of Okon Edet Bassey, their guardian, who is a staff of the Cross River State Local Government Service Commision.
Upon hearing of the incident, Bassey quickly called home and warned the torturers that if anything happened to the children, they won’t go scot free.
"I wasn’t around so I didn’t know where they were tied up. But when the information got to me, I sent a message across to them and reported the incident to some Army men who were there. When they heard about my moves they rushed and untied the children. As they brought the children back home, I quarreled with them and I was highly angry with them. "I promised them that they would not go scot free. The next day, Basic Right Council Initiative (BRCI), a not-for-profit organization based in Calabar with interest in safeguarding the rights of children was screening a movie, “The Fake Prophet” which focuses on witch craft branding and the role of fake clergymen in the propagation of the act.
“I took the children to the event. I narrated the story to them and they interviewed the children, they took their photographs, they even took the children to a nearby clinic for first-aid”, he narrated.
Bassey took the BRCI team to Divine Zion of God Church where the Pastor had accused the children of being witches, on their visit the Pastor wasn’t around but the BRCI team reported the issue to the police, but in a twist of event, “after the Pastor of the Church learned that some persons came and took pictures of his Church he went to IKot-Nakanda and brought police to arrest me on Sunday morning."
On his part, the Legal Counsel to BRCI, Barrister James Ibor while reacting to the case said the war against incidents like this has been on but that “We have been finding it difficult getting Government to understand the effect of child abuse, especially witchcraft branding and stigmatization which is borne out of the superstitious belief in witches and wizards.
“Our investigation has revealed that it is difficult for Pentecostal Churches to exist in Nigeria without promoting the belief in witches and wizard. That is what actually promotes their trade. Unfortunately, that which gives them money is destroying our society. It’s destroying our children. The children we call the future for tomorrow”, Ibor stated.Concluding, he said the Police sometimes have been complacent in some of these cases, citing the situation in Akpabuyo where they arrested Mr. Bassey instead of the Pastor who had accused the children of being witches.