Faith Awa Maji
In most communities, aged people are regarded as witches and wizards. The youths will always point accusing fingers at them whenever something bad such as death happens. The aged are at the receiving end. Sometimes they are beaten and forced to admit that they were responsible for death of certain persons. Although many people have said this is not part of African culture, in most families across ethnic nationalities in Nigeria, whenever someone dies, the elderly are often suspected to be responsible.
Clouds of suspicion over the septuagenarian
This was what happened to 70-year-old Saratu Iliya from Akpaika, a greenbelt of Obi Local Government Area of Nasarawa State. The old woman and mother of twelve children, was reportedly accused of being responsible for a litany of illnesses and deaths in the community. As a result, the elders invited a native doctor to detect, with his accoutrement, alleged witches and wizards responsible.
This they did with the consent of the Akpaika community leader and some youths now in police custody as at the time of this report. But trouble started when the said native doctor, popularly known as Allebura and from Obi town allegedly prepared a special concoction different from the one he gave to the generality of the people and forced the poor woman and one other woman to drink. She reportedly fell down and lost consciousness while the other woman was said to have started behaving abnormally like a deranged fellow. The native doctor who doubles as a headmaster at LGEA Primary School Ikposogye in the local government is now said to be at the centre of a raging controversy that is threatening to tear the community apart.
According to a source, the old woman had been in coma after ingesting the alleged poisonous concoction administered by him. Biographical sketches provided on her person say that she initially hailed from Sara. A native of Sayawa, Bauchi State, she is said to have migrated from Bauchi and settled in Akpaika with her family, in 1971. That is to say, they have been living in the community for the past 49 years.
Her son speaks, defends her innocence
One of her sons, Kyauta Iliya, who spoke with Saturday Sun in Lafia, narrated what happened: “The trouble started in 2018, when one woman from Akpaika by name Eliza accused our mother of being a witch. She accused her of removing her womb through witchcraft power and making her barren. She said that our mother is responsible for her (Eliza’s) poverty. Ever since she made the allegations people in the community have come to see our mother as a witch and have been calling her names.
“From that time, there have been cases of illnesses and deaths in the community, and people in the community said they would take measures to address the situation. The matter took a different turn when one Pastor from Plateau State came to greet his brother in Akpaika and claimed that he is into deliverance prayer. He started praying for children in Akpaika and some of them confessed that they were into witchcraft. A daughter to Eliza, the woman who accused our mother of witchcraft also came for prayers. And when the man prayed for her, she confessed that she was into witchcraft and that it was our mother who initiated her into it.
“Afterward, the elders of the town sat and agreed that they would bring a powerful native doctor to handle the issue. Towards that, they tasked each member of the community N500, which we also paid. In fact, everybody paid, both men and women. They collected the money and assigned some people to bring the native doctor to tackle the issue of frequent deaths in Akpaika. Among those assigned the task are Solo, Bukata, Malla Jamis and John Bablan. This delegation met the community leader of Akpaika, Mr. Sunday Nuhu, who gave them his blessing to bring the native doctor to address the community problems.
“That’s how they brought one Alleburah from Obi. Before they did so, they announced to the entire members of the community that nobody should go to farm or any other place. When the man arrived, he asked our mother to confess that she is a witch. But our mother said she didn’t know anything. The man asked her to sit aside. After that, he mixed a concoction and gave members of community to drink. They did so, line by line, including the sick persons who were there. Even us, Mama’s children we drank the concoction. After we did so, Alleburah said those children and other sick persons who were tied down by witches had been freed.
“But the problem is that the concoction he gave to our mother was different from the one he gave to all of us. He prepared it separately and gave it to her to drink. As soon as she did so, she fell down and fainted. Since the incident our mother has been in coma. She has not been able to open her eyes or move. On seeing her in such a condition, the native doctor now claimed that it is a sure proof that our mother is a witch and said that before he can restore her to consciousness, we will pay him N20,000. We told him that we wouldn’t do so.”
Asked why and his siblings refused, he said that it is because they sense some sort of conspiracy against their mother. But determined to see the matter through, they reported it to the police.
His words: “When I saw our mother in a critical condition, I went to the Obi Police Division and reported the matter. I did that so that the police can come and rescue our mother from their hands so that we can take her to hospital.” Mr. Iliya then appealed to security agencies, human rights activists to come to their aid in order to save the life of their mother who, at the time of this report, is undergoing treatment. What’s more, he is calling on security operatives to arrest Alleburah the said native doctor and bring him to justice to serve as deterrent to those who may want to do what he did in future.
Paramount ruler explains complicated issues involved
Contacted for his comment, the paramount ruler of Obi Local Government Area of Nasarawa State, the Osuko of Obi, Alhaji Aliyu Dangiwa Ogiri Orume washed his hands off the matter. He said he was on his way to his farm on that fateful day, when at the Divisional Police Station in Obi, he met men, women and children in their large number in front of the police station, demanding that police officers release their people whom they arrested or risk having their station razed to the ground. When he asked what was going on, they narrated the story to him.
“Nobody informed me officially,” he said. “I was on my way to check my maize farm, and I saw people protesting around the police station. I asked my driver to stop. I saw soldiers too there and I asked one of them what was going on? He told me that somebody called them on the phone to report that some people came to burn down the police station. That is why they took action and upon reaching there they saw people with some sick children exchanging words with police.
“It was just God that brought me there at that time. If not, the people were ready to take action and it would have been disastrous for my community. This is because the people were insisting that the police should release those they arrested earlier at the village. So, I assembled them at Obi South Primary School to address them. From there, they told me what transpired between them. They said people were dying in the village and they didn’t know what was causing the frequent deaths. They said within a short time, they had buried four children while seven were lying critically on their sick beds. They said they had taken the children to hospital but to no avail. They said they called for prayers too but there was no solution.
“That was why they brought in the herbalist or native doctor from Obi. They said that some women confessed that they are witches. Then the native doctor, at people’s request, gave everybody concoction to drink. There were two women that people accused of witchcraft; the native doctor asked them whether they were into witchcraft. But they denied and he gave them some concoction. Immediately they took theirs, one of them started behaving abnormally while the other one became unconscious.
“The son of the one that was unconscious ran to the divisional police station in Obi to report the matter and the police swung into action and arrested some people. This was why the youths of Akpaika brought all the sick children and threw them into the police van and asked the police to also carry the sick children to hospital. But the police officers pleaded with them and they later removed the children from the police vehicle. But on reaching the police station, the son of the unconscious woman saw one of the people who invited the native doctor and informed the police. There and then, the police arrested him.
“That is why the community mobilized themselves and marched to the police station to ask the police to release their people or they would set the station ablaze. I questioned them whether they know there is a king in Obi, and whether they know there are village and ward heads? They said they know. I asked if they informed their ward head. They said they did and he that he is aware of the whole issue. They said they thought the ward head had informed me. But I said no, he didn’t. I told them that even so they committed an offence by taking the law into their hands and not allowing him to handle the case. I said even if the ward head had informed me they still ought to have delegated four or five youths to tell me what was going on and not chose to conduct themselves in the way they did.
“On the issue of sickness and deaths, I asked whether there are Christians among them. They said all of them are Christians. I asked whether they believe in God and in the reality of death. I asked whether they believe that every mortal will die. They all answered yes. I said that four of their children died and they attributed it to witchcraft while in Obi more than 10 people sometimes die in one day. Yet we don’t blame it on witches and wizards because we know that all mortals will taste death. I said that I am not saying that there is no witch because it is written in the Holy Books that there is witch, but that we are in an era where we need to trust God in all things and at all times.
“I asked whether they were the ones that brought the children into the world. They said no. I told them that God who brought them was the One that took them away because He has authority over all. I preached to them and they were all satisfied. I said that from that moment, I don’t want to hear anything concerning that matter again. I instructed them to return home. The incident happened on Thursday, July 2, but on Monday, the 6th of the month, they delegated 15 persons among whom were elders, women and youths to meet with me in my palace here in Obi. I also invited the DPO and SSS. There we addressed the issue. I blamed the people and they accepted the blame. I said that they wanted to burn down the police station. Should that happen and afterward they have a problem, where would they run to? Is it not the same police station? They all accepted their fault.”
The Osuko said he did not spare the herbalist. “To the herbalist, I asked him whether he is licensed to operate? He too was invited to the palace. He is from Obi. He said no and I told him that he is a criminal. I said that security would not spare him. I said, assuming all the people of the community died as a result of his concoction, what would become of him? I said that the fact that the two women were probably allergic to his concoction shows that it can kill.”
According to him, he instructed health personnel from Obi Local Government Health Department, and the disease surveillance officer who also attended the meeting to take samples of the sick children to ascertain whether there is an unknown outbreak of disease in the community. He said that among the parents of the sick children, two of them had taken their children for test already and discovered that they suffered from typhoid–malaria while some claimed they found nothing.
“I asked which of the hospital they took them to? They said the nearby hospital but I told them to take them to hospital for a proper laboratory test in Lafia the state capital. After the meeting, I called the health personnel on phone and he said, the result is being awaited because the State Ministry of Health officials are the ones handling it. Since after the meeting, I’ve not heard anything about death again in the community. And because of tension on ground that day at the police station, the DPO ordered those arrested to be taken to Lafia. I don’t know if they have been released. So, in summary, that’s what happened.”
The paramount ruler then appealed to people living in his domain and its environs to avoid anything that can jeopardize the existing peace the area enjoys at the moment. “We always encourage people to go to hospital in case of any illness. And, if there are any worries, they should report to the appropriate quarters,” he said.
Police refuse to comment
When this correspondent visited Obi Divisional Police Station, the Divisional Police Officer said he is not authorized to speak on the matter. But he added that the case has been transferred to Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in Lafia. But in a telephone conversation with Ramhan Nansel, Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) and the Police Public Relations Officer, Nasarawa State Command, he said he was yet to receive a formal report on the issue.