Activists Seek Justice For ‘Another Calabar 5’ Killed Over Witchcraft Allegations

In Breaking News, Civic Space, Reports

By Jonathan Ugbal

A coalition of rights groups and activists based in Nigeria and the United Kingdom have appealed to the international community, and the Federal and State Governments to ensure that those who murdered five people last week in Ndon Nwong community in Odukpani Local Government Area, Cross River State on the allegations of witchcraft are brought to justice.

Three women and two men lost their lives when they were tied, tortured, and murdered following a kangaroo trial by Chiefs and youths at the village square.

The incident was triggered by a motorcycle accident that took place on the evening of October 13, 2022, which led to two children being tortured and forced to identify the witches with the youths rallying 9 victims up.

After tormenting them, the late Mrs. Iquo Edet Eyo and 4 others were killed and buried in the forest while 4 were set free.

The coalition in a statement issued on Wednesday evening said, “after telling the youth that she was not a witch, she was beaten mercilessly with machetes, sticks, and cudgels. Reportedly she was also sexually assaulted, cut along her stomach, and hand, and with multiple blows to her head.

“The 5 victims were subsequently dragged by these youths and so-called village leaders into the forest away from the growing crowd of village folks and on-lookers where the final executions reportedly took place, and their bodies dumped in a shallow grave. As of October 23rd, arrests are yet to be made and the bodies are yet to be exhumed by the authorities for autopsy and proper burial,” the statement read.

Calls For Justice

Mrs. Eyo’s USA-based son-in-law, Marshall Umanah, a student doctor, has since led calls for justice to prevail. Speaking from New York City where he is undergoing his medical training, he said: “It is incomprehensible that innocent people are still being accused of witchcraft and killed in the 21st century. My dear mother-in-law would not hurt a fly and was certainly not a witch. I call upon the international community to put pressure on the Nigerian authorities to ensure that her death is not in vain and those behind this heinous act are arrested and prosecuted immediately.”

The group lamented that “Cross River and neighboring Akwa Ibom State have become well known throughout the world for the deeply entrenched beliefs in witchcraft and subsequent horrific abuses of human rights, most notably concerning children accused of witchcraft. These issues were widely condemned after activists raised awareness of them in documentary films and various UN reports. This, in turn, led to the UN Human Rights Council passing a historic Resolution in 2021 on the elimination of harmful practices related to accusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks.

“The UN resolution urges States to condemn the widespread discrimination, stigma, social exclusion, and forced displacement experienced by those accused of witchcraft, and to ensure accountability and the effective protection of all victims of witchcraft accusations. This is the first resolution of its kind, calling for a more holistic approach in addressing harm resulting from accusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks.”

Gary Foxcroft, the Chair of Trustees of the UK registered charity – Safe Child Africa while commenting on the incident from London, averred that: “It is extremely disheartening to see that, despite our best efforts, Governments are still failing to protect the most vulnerable members of society from such horrific acts. Mrs. Iquo Eyo was a grandmother, mother, sister, and friend to many in her community. She was not a witch.

“The Nigerian Federal Government and Cross River State Government need to do more to ensure that their names are not further tarnished by the ongoing killings of people due to erroneous beliefs in witchcraft. This should include arresting those behind such crimes and regulating those faith leaders who promote the malevolent beliefs that drive such evil acts.”

James Ibor, Esq. is a rights lawyer who serves as the Principal Counsel for Basic Rights Counsel Initiative, a non-governmental organization that operates an emergency children’s shelter in Calabar as well as provides legal services to indigent women and children.

In 2020, 20 elderly men in the Oku community in Okundi town in Boki Local Government Area of Cross River State, were rounded up, beaten, and burnt alive on suspicion of witchcraft. Three of the men died before help came. Also, he dubbed the current incident.

“We have dubbed those innocent people killed in this attack the ‘Another Calabar 5.’ Sadly, this is just one of many similar cases that Basic Rights Counsel has worked on over the last ten years. The Nigerian Police Force, lawyers, and judiciary need to redouble their efforts to ensure that justice is served in such cases.”

Also, the coalition criticized religious bodies, especially Pentecostal churches, for fueling such witch-hunting activities.

Dr. Leo Igwe, the Director of Advocacy for Alleged Witches which works to raise awareness of religious leaders who incite violence and hatred against family members through their alleged witch-hunting crusades said: “Witch-hunting activities, sanctifying witchcraft imputations and witch trials have been linked to rampant cases of witch persecution and child witch stigmatization.

“We believe that cases such as the ‘Another Calabar 5’ are linked to the recent upsurge in witch-hunting activities by pastors such as Helen Ukpabio. We urge the Cross River State to a recent move by a renowned pastor, Helen Ukpabio, and her Liberty Gospel Church who have recently relaunched their witch-hunting ministry in Calabar.

“Close to two weeks after this tragic event, the Nigerian Police Force is yet to make any arrests, and pastors, such as Helen Ukpabio, continue to preach about witchcraft inflicting families, with impunity.”

Police Actions So Far

CrossRiverWatch gathered that Policemen attached to the Odukpani Divisional headquarters were dispatched to the community for arrest and were abducted by the community.

It took the intervention of a special unit, the Anti-Cultism and Kidnapping Squad, popularly called ‘Dragon Squad’ to rescue them from their captors.

The State Police Command is yet to comment on the matter with the Force Headquarters changing the Commissioner of Police in the State earlier this week.

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