Many lecturers are deeply superstitious and cannot deliver the robust intellectual culture that Nigeria needs, argues Leo Igwe
Nigerian universities are dying. Schools are slowly and steadily becoming hotbeds of superstition and unreason. Irrational beliefs, scorched earth mindsets, and stone age ideas are taking over the campuses. The intellectual climate is moribund, a disconnect from the 21st-century zeitgeist. The culture of critical examination of issues is dying and disappearing with speed. And lecturers are partly to be blamed for this unsavory development. The academics are largely responsible for the deteriorating situation, and educational decay. Why do I say so? I have been trying to rally and mobilize a critical mass of university teachers against witchcraft accusations and witch persecution. Unfortunately, the effort has yielded limited results. The response has been discouraging and demoralizing due to obvious reluctance, and unwillingness by some lecturers to think aloud and address this dark and vicious phenomenon. Many university lecturers are uninterested, disinterested, and, in some cases, opposed to ending witch-hunting.
First, many university teachers are very superstitious and take pride in promoting and defending assorted occult witchcraft beliefs and practices as a part of African religions and philosophies. These academics are disinclined to challenge, and interrogate beliefs, ideas, and claims that they profess, or designate as personal. Many lecturers are intolerant to a critical examination of African traditional and non-traditional Christian and Islamic superstitions. In line with an adage that says one cannot give what one does not have, these lecturers cannot deliver the robust intellectual culture that Nigeria needs at this time, and age. I will use a few examples to illustrate this point. I belong to some social media, WhatsApp and Facebook, platforms along with some Nigerian intellectuals and university lecturers.
Many are working at our local universities. Some of them are lecturing overseas. I am outraged at their propensity to peddle and defend village folktales, myths, and superstitions as historical facts. I am shocked at their penchant for nonsense and absurdity, especially when discussing issues that relate to religion and supernaturalism. I have had heated exchanges with many in the past months. And it has been a draining experience. One of them, who lectures at a university in Europe, claimed that a dead person spoke to him. A dead person? I was numbed when he said this. I tried to engage him, and draw his attention to the fact that such could not have happened because a dead person cannot speak. And if a dead person speaks, the person is not dead. He told me it was his subjective experience, and I could not contest or invalidate it.
Another university lecturer recounted how a man who passed away relocated to live, marry and have a family in a city in southern Nigeria. I thought he was making a joke, but he was not. He invited me to come and verify it if I wanted to do so. According to him, the man later disappeared. That was as soon as he met someone who knew that he had died. He also recounted how a dead person disclosed to the wife those who were owing him, and based on that post-mortem disclosure the wife recovered the debts. Some lecturers, and master’s and doctoral degree holders have alluded to other counterintuitive experiences and encounters without some doubt. One claimed that a woman turned into a tuber of yam. Another said a woman turned into a bird. A philosophy lecturer at a federal university told me that he left another university because his rivals wanted to kill him through occult means. That one day, he came for lectures and saw a dead lizard on his table. Many believe that people have potent witchcraft and occult powers, which they use to harm and destroy others. They overwhelmingly think that witchcraft is real, undoubtedly real. One of them stated that while Westerners used their witchcraft to produce and do good, Africans deployed theirs to damage and injure others and their estate.
Recently, a friend told me a disheartening experience. His university lecturer told students how he maltreated an alleged witch. He claimed that a woman from the same clan flew ‘spiritually’ to Makurdi and had an accident. This woman came to him for some financial help. He met her at his gate while driving out. He didn’t even allow her to talk before asking her to leave the compound. According to the lecturer, the woman was looking unkempt. He mocked this woman, enjoining her to fly back and not ask him for money which she would use for diabolical purposes. The poor woman went away. When the lecturer recounted this incident, the students hailed him.
Now imagine this. What kind of students would this lecturer produce? His students would likely end up believing in witchcraft and abusing suspected witches and wizards. Meanwhile, there is no evidence that witches exist and harm others as popularly believed. Witchcraft is a form of superstition. Now, how would witch-hunting end when witch-believing lecturers like this man populate our campuses? How would superstition-based abuses stop when lecturers brainwash students with harmful imaginaries and sanction cruel acts?
Nobody should be surprised that Christian students protested the organization of a conference on witchcraft beliefs and practices in Nsukka in 2019. That was the dividend of pervasive superstition and religious extremism on campuses. Such an embarrassing episode could not have happened without the tacit support and endorsement of pious pentecostal lecturers. That shameful incident took place because of the superstitious and anti-intellectual foundations many lecturers have dug, laid, watered, and maintained in the universities over the years.
Igwe is a human rights activist