Has witchcraft become a forbidden subject in schools? -By Leo Igwe

This question has become relevant given recent developments in the context of organizing a conference for a visiting professor from the United States. This professor with a master’s degree in public health and another in education is visiting Nigeria and has agreed to give free lectures on witchcraft accusations and public health in Africa. I thought this conference would be of enormous benefit to our educational institutions. This learned gentleman wants to use the conference to add his voice to the efforts and initiatives of the Advocacy for Alleged Witches to eradicate abuses related to witchcraft beliefs and ritual attacks. With vast knowledge and experience in the explanation and plight of magical and paranormal issues, this professor, through his lectures, would equip students with insight into combating misinformation related to belief in witchcraft. He has authored, co-authored or contributed to twenty-five books and has won awards for his books, films and podcasts. The professor also co-founded two podcasts including Squaring the Strange. Drawing on his background and two decades of experience in the fields of public health, folklore, education and psychology, he will discuss approaches to countering magical thinking and harmful misinformation, particularly in an African context. What a resourceful person!

The professor plans to be in Nigeria for a week. In order to maximize his stay, I approached a few higher education institutions in Ibadan to arrange lectures. I contacted Oluyoro School of Medical Laboratory and Eleyele School of Health Technology. I also sent proposals to the heads of the departments of education, sociology and medical sciences, as well as to the vice-chancellor of Lead City University. I also approached the office of the French Institute for African Research at the University of Ibadan. To my greatest shock, I have yet to receive any positive response. In any case, they promised to call me back but they never did, not even a phone call. The silence has been such that I have begun to link it to an emerging trend in our universities these days. This trend makes discussion of witchcraft taboo.

Otherwise, I wonder why none of these institutions responded; why no department has welcomed this opportunity to share ideas and interact with a professor at no cost to students or the institution. I cannot imagine this acute disdain or fear of an idea or subject by school children. I concluded that witchcraft has become a taboo subject in schools. And it is tragic. This development is bad for our schools, our students and our young people. I have not yet understood why an institution would refuse or refuse to host a proposal for a free lecture on witchcraft and public health.

But recent events provide insight into this development. There is a pervasive fear of witchcraft in schools and society in general. In September, police disrupted a seminar on the persecution of witches in Benue State because they claimed they had received reports that it was a gathering of witches and wizards. In 2019, some Christian students protested against the organization of an academic conference on witchcraft beliefs and practices at the University of Nigeria Nsukka in southern Nigeria. The students, with the support of Christian clerics, opposed the program saying it was an open invitation to witches and wizards on campus. The protest forced organizers to change the location and theme of the program. But the event finally took place.

It seems that this disease is spreading to other campuses. Therefore, no department or institution in Ibadan has agreed to host a conference on witchcraft accusations and public health in Africa. It could be that the heads of these institutions or departments are believers in witchcraft. So they wouldn’t want to facilitate a conference on such an appalling subject. It could also be that those running these agencies are not religious but fear a backlash from religious staff and students. Some time ago, a school principal in Lagos invited me to do a program for her students. During our discussion, she said, “Please, Leo, don’t come here and tell my students that witchcraft is superstition or that witches don’t exist.” My reaction was: Really?

Thus, the school system is in danger because those who fear the subject of witchcraft, or those who fear those who fear the subject of witchcraft have taken control of the institutions. Either way, this disturbing trend that makes the subject of witchcraft something to be avoided, feared or discouraged on our campuses needs to be addressed before it’s too late.

Leo Igwe holds a doctorate in religious studies, wrote his doctoral thesis on accusations of witchcraft in northern Ghana and directs the Advocacy for Alleged Witches.

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Jessica C. Bell