Human Rights Groups Call for Justice Over the Killings of 5 People Accused of Witchcraft – Dubbed “ Another Calabar 5” – in Cross River State, Nigeria
A coalition of UK and Nigeria based Human Rights Groups have appealed to the International community, Nigerian Federal Government and Cross River State Government to ensure that the murderers of 5 innocent people (3 women and 2 men), who were brutally killed last week in Nigeria after being accused of witchcraft, are brought to justice.
The tragic incident was triggered by a motorcycle accident that took place on the evening of 13th October in Ndon Nwong community in Odukpani Local Government, Cross River State. Following this, 2 children were tortured and forced to identify the suspected “witches” that were behind the accident. The youths of the community quickly rallied and identified 5 people who they believed to have caused the accident with their perceived witchcraft.
The victims were then taken to the village square where they were tried by a kangaroo court made up of local chiefs and youth leaders. They were tied up, tortured, and eventually beaten to death. One of the victims was identified as a widow, Mrs. Iquo Edet Eyo. 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, 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.
Mrs. Eyo’s USA based son-in-law, Marshall Umanah, a student doctor has 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”
Cross River and neighbouring 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 with regard to 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 an 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.
One of the activists who spent 6 years working intensively to pressure the UN to pass this resolution is Gary Foxcroft, Chair of Trustees of the UK registered charity – Safe Child Africa. Speaking from London he said: “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”.
A prominent human rights activist working on the ground in Cross River State, Barrister James Ibor, has sadly seen all of this before. His NGO’s emergency children’s shelter in Calabar regularly provides protection for children who have been accused of witchcraft, tortured and abandoned. This practice is not isolated to children though and, In 2020, 20 elderly men in Oku community in Okundi town in Boki LGA of Cross River State, were rounded up, beaten and burnt alive on suspicion of witchcraft. Three of the men died before help came. Barrister Ibor said: “ We have dubbed those innocent people killed in this attack the “Another Calabar 5” as sadly, this is just one af 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”.
Religious bodies, especially Pentecostal churches, have widely been criticized for fuelling such witch-hunting activities
One group working to raise awareness of religious leaders who incite violence and hatred against family members through their alleged witch-hunting crusade is the Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AfAW). The group campaigns to end the persecution of alleged witches in Africa. Dr Leo Igwe, the Director, of the group 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 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 are yet to make any arrests and pastors, such as Helen Ukpabio, continue to preach about witchcraft inflicting families, with impunity.
For more details or to speak with the family of Mrs Eyo, please email email@example.com or call +351 920218488