Felix Ikem, Nsukka
Professor Benedict Imeagwu Chukwumah Ijomah was the first Students’ Union President of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN). A Professor of Political Sociology, the B.I.C Ijomah Centre for Policy Studies and Research was named after him because of his numerous contributions to the institution.
In this interview with Saturday Sun, the erudite Professor speaks on why the Centre chose to discuss witchcraft in its first international and interdisciplinary conference, what he knows about witchcraft, why Christian groups and church leaders protested and demanded the cancellation of the conference.
Why did B. I. C Ijomah Centre for Policy Studies and Research choose to discuss witchcraft in its first international and interdisciplinary conference?
The Centre has right to organize a conference on any issues. The Centre wanted to look at the phenomenon of witchcraft, identify what it is, if it is an evil, how can it be stopped and to find out what is it about witchcraft that made it to persist even before the coming of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Holy Bible. Witchcraft is a phenomenon that affects societies in Africa. We need to study it to understand them, to understand their workings and to understand why and how humans like us, some in our own society, adhere to, believe in, and participate in them. People often criticize witchcraft, but no society has ever abolished it. Every phenomenon, mystical or tangible, spiritual or material, can and should be studied.
Why did the Christian Association of Nigeria, students, church leaders and some individuals protest against the topic of the conference?
I’m a sociologist. Sociology is the scientific study of man in society. We study the good, the bad and the ugly. You cannot study man in society without studying every phenomenon that affects man in the society and witchcraft is a phenomenon that affects societies in Africa. I have told you that the Centre has right to organize a conference on any issues, now that we want to discuss witchcraft, the churches are making noise, they don’t want us go into it because they know by the time we will put a scientific analysis to witchcraft; we will point fingers, because many of those who parade themselves as church leaders are witches. It is unfortunate that academic exercise has been bastardised, we must know, what it is about witchcraft that people are afraid of it. Is it the person that becomes a witch in the night and becomes a man in the day; is it the change in personality, what does witchcraft do? I have carried out a research on witchcraft, I have interviewed known witches; half of the people that are getting tittles in the churches are witches. The church has become a sanctuary for people their community rejected because they are witches. As Christian bodies were busy protesting and attacking the Centre that was to study witchcraft, Vanguard United Kingdom published what witchcraft was doing to young people in England, and they were studying the phenomenon. The Centre had informed the university community and the general public that the conference was neither a gathering of witches and wizards nor a forum to propagate witchcraft, but for intellectual and academic inquiry, yet they were afraid.
Do you believe in the existence of witchcraft?
Yes, witchcraft exists. Research, I personally conducted some years back shows that witchcraft exists, but a hypocrite who practices it denies it exists. A man I interviewed who admitted that he is a witch told me that most of the sickness you see around today were caused by witches, he took time to lecture me on the structure of witchcraft. We must accept the reality of the phenomenon, because everyday people are confessing how they kill their wives, husbands, children in the name of witchcraft, yet some people are arguing that it does not exist.
Here in Africa, we suffer from the psychological syndrome, with the denial of what is killing us, but if you go to Nigerian churches you will see their pastors casting out witches, you will see thousands of people being delivered from witchcraft and most of them will be confessing that they are witches and they have killed many people. Then, if there are no witches; why are they delivering people from witchcraft? Why are the pastors and the church always praying against witchcraft?
With the manner the University management forced the organizers to drop the initial topic of the conference after protests by CAN and others, could it be that Christians and church leaders are controlling the society?
No! Obedience is not cowardice. People were calling me that the university will be attacked should the Centre proceed with the topic of the conference, that you should not be associated with anything that will destroy the university. Then, I had to call the Vice Chancellor and told him to use his discretion and decide what to do if it was true that Christians were coming to destroy the university, because I don’t want anything to happen to my alma mater. So, in response to the yearnings of the public that had erroneously misconstrued the idea behind the choice of the topic, and a true demonstration of a management with a listening ear, they directed that the topic be dropped.