Cast of Characters:
Radio host: Radio host
Mr Stark: Journalist guest
Mr Stark, a journalist explores the experience of witchcraft in Nigeria.
Radio host: Welcome listeners to your favourite radio show, Witness. Our guest tonight is a freelance journalist from the United States of America, Mr Sam Stark. Mr Stark, it’s my great pleasure to welcome you to our show.
Mr Stark: Thanks for hosting me. Good evening listeners.
Radio host: Mr Stark, could you tell us a little bit about yourself.
Mr Stark: I am freelance journalist born and raised in the US, in the state of Oregon. I received my journalism education in Italy. You may want to know that I love to learn about other cultures and I speak Italian fluently. After my graduation I left Italy to travel around Africa so that I could see for myself the continent through a journalistic eye. I am attracted to hot places, meaning places of conflict. I go where the news is.
Radio host: So is this how you got to visit Nigeria?
Mr Stark: Yes.
Radio host: I see you have brought photographs with you. These pictures are too graphic for me, maybe for you listeners too. We don’t get to see this every day. No. Not at all. Tell us Mr Stark, what is happening in these pictures?
Mr Stark: These are pictures I took upon visiting a deeply rural village in Nigeria. On that particular day the young men of the village were executing witches and wizards. The mode of punishment is death by burning because it’s said they come back to life if killed some other way. All the punished were old people – really old people. The locals allowed me to film the event and told me to not be fooled by their age.
Radio host: So they were being accused of bewitching the villagers?
Mr Stark: Pretty much so. They were accused of also killing using magic and causing misfortunes such as joblessness and miscarriages. The ones carrying out the sentence said the fetishists were sure they had caught the right people.
Radio host: Did you try to reason with them?
Mr Stark: That’s the first thing I did and they told me to keep out else they would smash my camera. I knew how it would end if I persisted and was grateful to film it. Believe me I cried alone in my hotel room. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I know many die on the streets in the US, but never by live burning. I still hear their cries in my head.
Radio host: Were the victims given the opportunity to confess?
Mr Stark: No, no, no. To them this was strictly an execution not an enquiry.
Radio host: Could you explain in detail how they were killed?
Mr Stark: They were beaten by kicking and fists first. Then they were placed in a dugout hole, less than a meter deep. They were then doused with paraffin or diesel.
Radio host: What do you want all of us to learn from this Mr Stark?
Mr Stark: I want you to know I am not here to condemn a culture but a process rather an aspect of it. European medieval history is full of executions of witches. Their method of inquiry was flawed and some innocent people died. I have no doubt that in this case some innocent people died as well. Some profess to practice witchcraft in England for instance, but you don’t see them getting charged because there is no provision for that.
Radio host: What would you like to see happen Mr Stark?
Mr Stark: I want to see an end to persecution of people for witchcraft in Africa too. Listeners, imagine for a moment losing a loved one, a grandparent or parent over a crime whose evidence is unattainable. We all have a right to life. And there are some cruel methods of killing, which you and I would never choose. Our courts even has less painful methods for death penalties out of respect for humanity. There’s no need to take the law into your own hands.
Radio host: So are you saying matters to do with witchcraft must be outlawed?
Mr Stark: Precisely! There mustn’t be accusations of witchcraft whatsoever. The state must criminalise mob punishments wherever they are. I believe that we ought to be honest enough to own our failures and mishaps. It’s wrong to blame others for anything that goes wrong in our lives. The victims in question were accused of all sorts of things. Some young men I talked to said the witches were stealing their money and crops by magic.
Radio host: Unbelievable.
Mr Stark: I’ve noticed a growing trend in Africa, most recently in Ghana, of accusing the elderly of witchcraft. They do not burn them but inflict abuse. This stigma is as a result of the economic demands of looking after them. But this is wrong. Children ought to love their parents no matter what. Governments ought to have a functioning welfare system for the elderly. The elderly in my home country aren’t called witches. Here in Africa the people just have to be educated against this practice.
Radio host: Mr Stark, we’re thankful that you came to our studio to let us know what is happening elsewhere. There you have it listeners. Let’s leave burning of one another for the movies because it’s just plain atrocious. Remember, what goes around comes around and love others as you love yourself. Peace!
Mr Stark: Bye listeners till next time.
Tell us: Why do you think people are accused of witchcraft so much?