Blighted by deadly superstition, children accused of witchcraft suffer shame, abandoned by families
The air around the house became thick when 11-year-old Mmeyene (surname withheld) walked in.
It was a Wednesday morning and her mother, Victoria, now late, and stepfather, Tony, 52, sat on a sofa facing the rear window. Two of her siblings shared a bench facing their parents. All eight eyes focused on Mmeyene as though she had overstepped her boundary.
She greeted them all, and before she could walk into the room to drop her bag, Tony ran to the door, locked it, and stood there.
“He asked me to tell him why I didn’t want him or my mother to succeed and why I was sucking their blood. I was only 11 years old then. I began to cry but they said I should confess,” Mmeyene, now 14, told our correspondent during a visit earlier in the year in her Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, home built by a philanthropist for children like her.
The home, managed by a medical doctor (name withheld) built in a secluded area in the state, away from the prying eyes of the public, houses no fewer than 20 children who are fed, clothed and sent to school by the good Samaritan, who did not want his name in print.
Mmeyene, who is from the Etim Ekpo Local Government Area of the state, stated that that Wednesday afternoon was the last time she set her eyes on her mother till she passed away early last year.
She stated while fighting back tears, “My stepfather pushed me to the ground that afternoon, tied me up and everyone, including my mother and siblings, began to beat me. I had multiple fractures and I began to bleed, but they refused to stop. They told me to confess. To this day, I still don’t know what they were asking me to confess to.
“They said I used to wake up in the middle of the night to suck their blood and spiritually steal money from their bank accounts. But, I only woke up to urinate or when I was feeling too hot and could not sleep. I am not a witch. I have never been one and I don’t know anything about witchcraft.”
Her problem, the teenager recounted, began when she woke up one day and noticed that she had wet the bed. Her mother said it was not normal and took her to a Pentecostal church (name withheld) for ‘deliverance and cleansing’.
After three days of fasting and intense prayers, Mmeyene returned home only to continue bedwetting.
She stated that her mother would tie her up in the morning and beat her up, asking her to confess to her the ‘coven’ she belonged to. Her siblings and stepfather, too, she said, would join in the torture.
After each torture, she said she would be kept in a cage behind the house and fed with leftover food. She would cry till she fell asleep. It would take the interventions of neighbours to release her from the bondage. But, that would not be for long.
Mmeyene narrated, “I knew no one else but my mother. My mother told me that my father died before I was born and that it was my fault. My other two siblings are for my stepfather and mom, but the hate I received from all of them made me question my identity as a person.
“Sometimes, I would run away but there was always a way they would lure me back.”
One bright morning, after a midnight torture by her mum, she decided to run away. She ran to a nearby village in the local government area where she met a non-governmental organisation, Safe Child Society (for abandoned kids, women and vulnerable persons), which was still operational at the time, who took her back to her parents.
She noted that her mother disowned her despite pleas from the NGO executives.
Mmeyene added, “That night, as I slept outside our house, I felt a hand lift me. When I opened my eyes, it was some youths in the area. They tortured me on my mother’s and pastor’s orders and asked me to tell them where I kept my siblings’ destinies.
“I suffered so much in their hands that night that I cursed the very day I was born. If you check my back, you will see the marks. It was a neighbour in the compound who informed the NGO that came with the police to rescue me. My mother, I learnt, was arrested but was later released.”
I never said she is a witch – Stepfather
When our correspondent reached out to Tony, who is now partially blind, he said there was never a time when he said Mmeyene was a witch.
“She is my daughter. I only said she behaved like a witch. The pastor and her mother confirmed it, not me,” he explained.
When asked what he thought constituted the way witches acted, he said, “Mmeyene would wake up in the middle of the night and be sucking our blood. Her mother caught her on one of those occasions doing it. She would fly in from the window and begin to suck our blood.”
Probed on if he had ever seen her performing the act, he said, “No, I did not see her for once, but her mother said she used to see Victoria in her dream sucking our blood.
“It was even the pastor, Prophet Timothy, who told me to bring her for deliverance, but the spirit was stubborn. But, never for once did I call her a witch.”
A visit to the pastor did not go as planned. After he learnt that our correspondent had involved the state police in the matter, he escaped and was not seen till Saturday PUNCH left the local government later in May 2023.
Residents, however, told our correspondent that Prophet Timothy was seen preaching and praying in his church around October. Others said he only comes around at night. They also noted that he had no wife or child and that he was a popular ‘witch hunter’ in the area, adding that several people from neighbouring villages always came to him to help them ‘identify’ or ‘tame’ witches.
Rejected by family
The programme officer of the NGO, Mrs Nkoyo Matthew, who was there from the beginning of Mmeyene’s case, noted that the young lady was picked up and given life after she was rejected by her family.
Matthew stated, “It was as if Mmeyene had a mark of death on her. People in the area, who knew her, would beat her up for no reason whenever they saw her on the streets. It was a terrible situation. We, on several occasions, went to beg the family, but they said they didn’t want her anymore. Up until the mother died of breast cancer last year, we kept going back, but she was adamant.
“We just couldn’t leave her with the stepfather for obvious reasons, so we just took her as our responsibility. She will take her West African Senior School Certificate Examination in May next year and we hope she makes it.”
‘Burnt, left to die’
Frail-figured and with a calm demeanour, six-year-old Jonathan sat on a bench, munching on his slice of bread.
He had been rescued eight months before our correspondent’s visit from his guardian, who alleged that he was a wizard who specialised in spoiling all of her valuables.
Although the young boy could not speak with our correspondent, Nkoyo explained that he was left on the streets of Uyo before he was picked up by a medical doctor, who kept him in his home after he reported the matter at the police station in the area.
She said, “The young boy was left by the roadside. He had been wounded and had pressing iron and cane marks all over his body. He didn’t speak for more than two weeks. We thought he had speech impairment until we learnt that it was trauma.