Monday, March 21, 2011

Fake Pastors "Deliver" Fake Witches?

A couple of years ago I used to cover more stories of African witchcraft persecution. Even though those stories don't show up here much anymore, the persecutions in that part of the world continue. Governments have attempted a number of policy solutions, but the problem is so widespread that laws regarding it are difficult to enforce.

In Nigeria, a religious organization has come up with a novel proposal - to address the issue of witchcraft by criminalizing fraudulent pastors who profit off of providing "deliverance" to children accused of witchcraft. I touched on this phenomenon in a short article from 2008, and in Nigeria this form of persecution has remained much more common than mob violence against accused witches. Apparently, it's also a whole lot more profitable.

The Akwa Ibom Branch of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has called for the establishment of a Bureau of Religious Affairs to checkmate fake pastors.

The Akwa Ibom CAN Chairman, Bishop Cletus Bassey, made the call on Wednesday in Uyo when he appeared before the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Witchcraft Accusations and Child Abuse sitting in Uyo.

The CAN chairman was invited by the panel following a written memorandum submitted by the association to the panel.

Bassey told the panel that the activities of some pastors, who exploit the child witch syndrome in the state for commercial gains, had become worrisome.

He said that the stigmatisation of children alleged to be witches was unacceptable amongst its members but that some unregistered religious organisations were involved in conducting deliverance for a fee.

Bassey said that this practice was outside the control of CAN.

“That is the reason why we are urging the government to empower CAN to regulate the activities of every religious organisation in the state with a view to sanitising the situation.

“The impression that churches in Akwa Ibom stigmatise and torture children is false and blown out of proportion.

“We in CAN condemn the operation of the fraudulent pastors and churches that charge money for deliverance of people and we cannot allow that to continue,” he said.

This is the first time I've heard of such a proposal being made, especially by a Christian religious organization. The call for regulation highlights the widespread nature of the "deliverance" trade, in that it apparently has become so common that more reasonable members of the Nigerian Christian community consider it an embarrassment.

Nigeria has been associated with various forms of fraud over the years, particularly "advance fee" scams that promise to pay some enormous amount of money if only a much smaller amount can be provided to "facilitate the transaction" which never actually occurs. Apparently the country is now also home to fake pastors who hunt fake witches and make a lot of money doing it.

I don't know whether regulations criminalizing this sort of trade will do much good, but I don't see how they could make the situation worse. Hopefully the Nigerian government will listen to CAN and at least make an attempt to end the exploitation of the "deliverance" trade.

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