A Catholic priest, Innocent Enweh, said the opening prayer during the First International Conference of Witchcraft, which was held at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, (UNN).
The two-day conference, being organized by Professor B. I. C. Ijomah Centre for Policy and Research in UNN, began on Tuesday, November 26, 2019, despite the initial protest and threats from Christian communities within and outside the school.
KanyiDaily had reported that various groups, including UNN Christian students, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), and the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), kicked against the conference.
The conference kicked off on Tuesday with the reading of Bible passages, alongside the prayer after which the choir of Christ Church Chapel, a church located in the university, rendered the opening hymn.
The conference tagged, “Witchcraft: Meaning, Factors and Practices,” was later renamed to “Dimensions of Human Behaviour,” following a directive from Charles Igwe, the university’s Vice-Chancellor.
We gathered that Igwe directed that the topic be changed “in response to the yearnings of the public that have erroneously misconstrued the ideas behind the choice of the topic.”
Despite the change of name, the sub-themes of the conference were retained, while the deliberations centered on witchcraft.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the conference, the organizer, Prof. Egodi Uchendu, regretted how ordinary academic conference was twisted to cause confusion by social media and other media platforms.
“The casualty of this confusion went beyond being asked by UNN management to change title but also the withdrawal of our keynote speaker, Prof. David Ker.
“I am delighted that social media hyper on the conference didn’t deter participants and organisers from attending the conference, which is completely academic,” she said.
Ms Uchendu said the conference would help to investigate and “critically evaluate” the belief in witchcraft to find out what impact it has on the Nigerian society.
“Apart from rumours about witchcraft, can we intelligently discuss the phenomenon of witchcraft? Can we delineate its evolving dynamics, especially in regard to human and societal development? What does belief in witchcraft symbolize for civilians, the military, politicians, scholars and others?
“This conference, therefore, seeks to ‘determine amongst other things the intelligibility of witchcraft’, the principles that underpin it and the impact it has on human life, society and progress,” she said.
“Many men and women in different parts of Nigeria have been treated badly in 21st Century Nigeria because of witchcraft-related accusations.
“Last week, a priest of the Catholic Church recounted that one of his step-mothers was burnt alive on account of witchcraft accusation. A young woman, seeking for a casual job, in an office in the University of Nigeria, had her case thrown out because she had shared that she was accused of being a witch by a family member; the then Head of Department would not consider her plea for the job on hearing of this accusation.
“Similar examples of this abound all around us. Not to mention the fact that charms and charmers have been included in both the arsenal and the medium for publicly contending with banditry in a state like Zamfara and Boko Haram under the guise of the Joint Task Force. This, perhaps, may be anchored on the thesis by the Chief of Army Staff that, I quote “Boko Haram and the likes cannot be defeated by kinetic military warfare alone.”
Ms Uchendu said Nigerians have for too long glossed over witchcraft as an issue, and yet it has persisted, “even as people pray against witches and wizards”.
“The fact that this matter has persisted in our society up to the present day is evidence that the strategy of prayer, alone, is not enough to combat the challenges of belief in witchcraft,” she said.
She said a university system has a task to help in “setting up the ideological imprint of a people”.
Ms Uchendu, while weighing in on the debate about the appropriateness or otherwise of hosting the conference, said the B.I. C. Ijomah Centre desires to be a flagship research centre to “provoke intellectual reflections that guide the shaping of thoughts and the development of a pro-positive developmental mindset in Nigeria and Africa”.
She said the centre is not cut out for pre-determined doctrines.
On the effect of the opposition against the conference, she said the centre was asked to change the title on the conference banner and that the keynote speaker withdrew from the conference, following the protests and confusion.