With just about six years to the deadline for meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), and eleven years to the expected realisation of Nigeria’s Vision 20: 2020, one cannot but wonder if indeed there is a future for the Nigerian child! One only needs to travel around the country observing the lots of the children to arrive at this conclusion.
The journey from Ibadan to Uyo and Eket reveals this much at least. For instance, within the University of Ibadan one will notice children, around seven years in age, hawking pure water (sachet water) to make some money that will augment the family’s income. At various points during the journey, the gory sight of children eking out their means of livelihood through the sale of pure water and canned/bottled drinks, at the various bad portions of the road when vehicles are forced to stop, cannot also escape one’s attention. In addition, seeing children from some of the villages along the highways leaves one wondering how qualitative the education they receive is, when even their counterparts in the city cannot totally boast of receiving an “up-to-standard” education. Finally, at the sight of the children at Child’s Right and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN) centre, and upon hearing their various bizarre stories- the torture, and stigmatisation they have suffered- the reality of the abuse of children’s rights in the country comes vividly alive. These children, no doubt, are the portion of the Nigerian population still in shackles, even as Nigeria celebrates 49 years of political freedom.
The maltreatment of the witchchildren in itself can be traced to the imbalance in the socio-political situation of the Nigerian state. This is so because the parents/guardians are frustrated. Frustrated because the social, political and economic situation in the country, which is not so favourable especially to those on the lower rung in the society, takes its toil on the parents and the children, being weak and defenceless, often become the cabbage can on whom the parents/guardian visit their anger. In the search for explanation for the failures experienced in their lives, the parents visit spiritualists and are told “O, the pest troubling the vegetable is on the vegetable itself.” What follows is that the children become victims of what they know not and in an attempt to ostracise the “evil spirit(s)” responsible from the children they are thrown into all forms of harrowing experiences- endless days of fasting, burning of fingers with candles, immersion in hot water, acid bath etc.- and are made to confess to what most of these children, being so young, are still unable to conceive or conceptualise.
Apart from the physical torment that these children, accused of being witches, are subjected to, there is also the more devastating psychological trauma that becomes their lot as a result of the stigmatisation. Sings Celine Dion, “I believe the children are our future, treat them well and let them lead the way, show them all the beauty they possess inside, give them a sense of pride to make it easier….” The stigmatisation of some children as witches in Nigeria fails to meet up with these requirements. It fails to realise that the children are the future. Obviously, it amounts to not treating them well. And worst of all, it demonises them as bestial with no worth inside and this in turn affects their psychological wellbeing. Life consequently becomes torturous. Really, it is rather highly unfortunate that instead of making these children grow in an atmosphere of love, and acceptance, which would have boosted their self-confidence, they are subjected to maltreatments which tell on their psyche. What can be worse than this since our mental attitude constitutes a major force in surviving and thriving in life. Once the mental battle is lost, our lives as humans often become meaningless and we become first useless to ourselves and consequently unable to make any meaningful contribution to the development of our society. If we may infer from this, the stigmatisation therefore translate into a situation in which the children, who are likely to develop a low self-esteem, become useless for themselves and the society. The implication of this is that attaining development in Nigeria will somehow be affected since these stigmatised children that constitute the future of Nigeria would not have sufficiently attained self-discovery, self-mastery, and personal-development, which are essential if persons within the country are going to make meaningful contribution to the development of a country.
Attaining the MDG and Vision 20: 2020 therefore means that there is so much for Nigeria to do towards the promotion of the welfare of children in the country. The welfare package should not be “generalistic”- It should have its focus not only on such issues like education, but also its spotlight must be shed on the section of the population that are stigmatised as witches. They must be rehabilitated properly and integrated into the society as normal persons. Attention must therefore now be seriously paid to making these children persons who believe in themselves, who have an important place in the scheme of things. Much still needs to be directed at concentrating on the psychological aspect in order to fully integrate them back into the society and ensure that they lead meaningful lives.
Apart from rehabilitating these children and integrating them into society as person, however, much still need to be done to stop the menace of accusing children as witches and the torture they are subsequently subjected to. To this, end I propose that there should be public awareness campaign pursued with the same zeal as that given to “Rebranding Nigeria” (It should take place in all religious centres, schools, public gatherings; must concentrate heavily on the villages, where the practice is more severe; and must make use of the print media and electronic media among others). These campaigned should emphasise that all Nigerian children are okay and should not be stigmatised and tormented as witches. It should make parents realise that the only reason why they themselves are alive today is because they were lucky to have parents that did not stigmatise them and have them tortured and sent out of home.
Finally, the need for prosecution cannot be overemphasised. Except a few, parents and pastors, are brought to book and made scapegoats they might not deterred from this barbaric act. This might require that government have a special task force responsible for arresting and prosecuting suspects. These much they could do for the sake of the future of the Nigerian child!
Temidayo David OLADIPO is doctoral candidate, department of philosophy, University of Ibadan, Nigeria. temmiedee[at]yahoo.com