Of Witches, Wizards and Zealots: The Binary Opposition of Intellectuals and “Hinterllectuals”



If we don’t finish religion in Nigeria, religion will finish us. I feel strongly about this.

The recent call for the cancellation of an international conference on Witchcraft to be hosted by University of Nigeria, Nsukka, by religious zealots, should worry every right thinking person. We should even be more concerned that a group of students (allegedly instigated by a professor, who professes to Christianity) has not only protested but has also vowed to prevent the conference from holding.

Of course, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has typically joined the fray, providing reversed logic and religious injunction as the basis for its antagonism to a purely academic exercise. By the way, I doubt if CAN surprises anyone these days. Since the days of Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, CAN hath suffereth violence and mental breakdown, the reactionaries have taketh it by force. Selah!

How is an academic conference on Witchcraft a problem for Nigeria? We are not even talking about a gathering of witches ooooo (imagine the reactions of these people to such gathering). Meanwhile, the last time I checked, Nigeria is a secular state.

Rather, we are talking about a conference, which seeks to engage the idea/ideology, philosophy/phenomenon of Witchcraft from eclectic perspectives, bringing huge benefits to the body of knowledge as well as the society.

In 2013, some of us, led by Prof Yemi Ademowo (of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti) and his HAPSTA team, converged on the oil city, Eket, Akwa Ibom State, for an international conference on culture and superstition as impediments to African development.

That conference was an eye opener for me; it was also my first as an academic. I presented on how female genital mutilation (FGM) is entombed in sophisticated and high heeled ignorance, dark superstition and time-forged religion orthodoxy in practising societies.

Discourses on witchcraft featured prominently at the Eket conference. I remembered the real life experiences of children branded as ‘witches’ by their own parents, relatives, pastors and the society in Akwa Ibom, which were shared by scholars at the conference including the DPO of Eket Police, who used to be the Aide de Camp to Governor Gbenga Daniel, and a white woman who had devoted her life to the rescue of children branded ‘witches’ in the state.

Many critical insights were offered and solutions proffered on the themes of the conference, with regards to the formidable barriers, which culture and superstitious beliefs constitute to the growth and development of Africa.

The world has arrived at the wharf of high modernity and post-postmodernity. Human thinking and societal advancement have gone beyond imagination. Yet, Africa and her peoples grope in the darkness of primitive thinking and pervasive religiosity and of course, backwardness.

In the year of our Lord, 2019, It’s so sad and painful that monotonous and negative religious thinking pervades our society at the expense of fine scholarship, which is based on interrogation, rational formalism and empiricism.

The attack on the Witchcraft conference at UNN should be seen from the dialectical prism of intellectuals versus “hinterllectuals” fight. The soul of our society is at stake here. The hinterllectuals, filled with a villager, backward and religion-biased understanding of a complex issue, should not be allowed to ride roughshod over the intellectuals, who represent the best of us in scholarship, critical thinking, finesse and sophistication.

It is the mandate and responsibility of the intellectuals to let the nosy and noisy hinterllectuals know that discourses on Witchcraft transcend religion into disparate fields such as gender, literary studies, psychology, sociology, anthropology, sciences, etc. The simplistic religious injunction of ‘suffereth not the witch to live’ should not be carried too far, removed from its contextual signification and implication(s).

As a society, we are doomed if we allowed the ignorance and religious foolishness of the hinterllectuals to triumph over the eclectic scholarly disposition and the will of the intellectuals.

On the other hand, the quality of mind of today’s students should worry all of us. A band of misguided students threatens an academic conference on campus. I never thought this day would come. Our youths are walking religious zombies, ready tools in the hands of religious Ayatollahs, Mullahs, Babalawos, Dibias and the ubiquitous “pastorpreneurs”, who often work them into a religious frenzy and occassionally murderous mob.

I have said and I will keep saying that with the current caliber of students parading our campuses and the youths strolling on our streets, I hardly see any bright future for Nigeria. To say we were once students in the same country. How truly sad.

To the zealots out there, biko, let the eagle perch, let the hawk perch. And even let the owls too perch paa pa. That’s the beauty of life.


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