Despite outrage, conference on witchcraft holds at UNN

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The maiden conference of the Prof. B.I. C Ijomah Centre for Policy Studies and Research at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, (UNN) held on Tuesday despite initial public outrage on its theme focusing on witchcraft.

Leadership of the Christian community in South East Nigeria had called for the cancellation of the conference with the theme “Witchcraft: Meaning, Factors and Practices”.

That agitation may have led to the withdrawal of permission granted to hold it at the Energy Centre, a federal establishment domiciled at the UNN.

However, the UNN authorities granted approval of its Princess Alexandria Auditorium, which has a larger capacity than the Energy Centre.

Prior to the two day event which started on Tuesday, gathered that the UNN Vice-Chancellor, Charles Igwe, pressurised a change in the theme that later became “Dimensions of Human Behaviour”.

But contents of papers presented still focused on the initial theme.

While welcoming participants to the conference, Director of the Centre, Egodi Uchendu, said the conference became necessary owing to the persistence of the practice in the society.

The professor added that changes in human cultures reflect the state of development of human societies and are evidences of different mindsets and ideologies that drive and dominate the majority of people.

She argued that in Nigeria and Africa in general, there has been a fixed way of defining culture as contained in literature, religion and politics which makes one wonder if the 21st century Nigerians are less intelligent than their ancestors.

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“We have for too long glossed over this matter of Witchcraft, but 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.

”For this reason, the B.I.C Ijomah Centre for Policy Studies and Research has attracted men and women of diverse intellectual backgrounds to explore, investigate, and critically evaluate belief in witchcraft as a social phenomenon.

“Apart from rumours about witchcraft, can we intelligently discuss the phenomenon of Witchcraft? Can we delineate it’s evolving dynamics, especially in regard to human and societal development? What does belief in witchcraft symbolise 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.

A lead paper presenter, Damian Opata wondered if witchcraft was scientific or superstitious phenomenon and whether it is exercisable.

Opata, a professor of English and Literary Studies at UNN presented a paper titled “The Wealthy are no Witches: Towards an Epistemology and Ideology of Witchcraft among the Igbo of Nigeria”.

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He used to medium to bare his mind to those against the holding of the conference.

In his words, “Witchcraft may or may not be exercisable, and I wouldn’t know the true situation, but I understand the desire by the Christians opposed to this conference to totalize and sequestrate, and, perhaps control the discourse on witchcraft. Unfortunately, it cannot be pigeonholed as religious discourse, not to talk of being only a Christian exorcism discourse.

”He does one talk of phenomenon like witchcraft? Is it a scientific phenomenon? Is it superstition or is it the line of resistance that people resort to when afflicted with problems they cannot easily explain? Is it a form of technology? Many of the various protesters against this conference show concern about how the interrogation of witchcraft is possible, and even wonder whether the speakers are witches and wizards, especially as some of them appear to be of the opinion that one needed to be ba witch or wizard to speak on it,” Opata said.

He noted that studying witchcraft among the Igbo goes beyond religion as it would be interdisciplinary combining that with sociology, anthropology, folklore, and all manners of herbal and healing practices.

He emphasised that witchcraft could either be positive or negative in its application.

The negative sense of it is the use of supernatural power to change oneself into another medium in order to carry out an evil design. On the other hand, he said its positive side is if it is used to protect one’s interest.

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He added that there are perceived plants and animals with perceived powers which people could tap into and begin to see beyond the ordinary, adding that witchcraft can be inducted into through gifts that are eaten in realife or the dream world.

He also said that art could be acquired through apprenticeship or ritual performances.

Another lead presenter and professor of Anthropology, Peter Eze, said the concept of witchcraft is not limited to Africa but how how each culture globally holds on to it differs.

His paper was titled, “Which Witch? What Anthropology Knows of the Adult Bugbear”.

He explained that, “The claims on the nature of witchcraft are, of course, part of the belief. Belief is just what it is: belief. In Israel, in European countries, and North America, it will be laughable to talk seriously about witchcraft as a real-life experience today. Things pertaining to witchcraft survive in the lexicon in a figurative sense only.”

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