A rights group, Advocacy for Alleged Witches, has decried the ill-treatment meted out to those with mental health challenges.
The group appealed to Nigerians to stop branding persons with dementia witches, adding that mental health issue has nothing to do with the superstitious belief in witchcraft and magic.
The group in a statement issued by its Director, Leo Igwe on Monday, said the appeal has become imperative following a visit to one Ann Soberekon’s family in Port Harcourt Rivers state.
According to the group, Ann Soberekon, a grandmother and retired Lab scientist, was almost lynched by a mob in Port Harcourt following an accusation of witchcraft in December last year.
“According to family sources, Ms. Soberekon has dementia and is receiving some treatment at a local hospital.
“In December, she went to visit a relative but forgot her way back to her residence. For two days, she was missing. Family members did not know if she was alive or dead. They were making contact with relatives to ascertain her whereabouts when a family member got a call that a mob was about to lynch her in some area in Port Harcourt; they suspected that she was a witch.
“The family quickly sent someone who rescued and brought her home. Ms. Soberekon was lucky. She survived. Many people with mental health challenges who are accused of witchcraft seldom survive. They are usually beaten to death or lynched.”
It added, “Family members said that Ms. Soberekon had bruises all over her body. When Ann was unable to trace her way back home, she started roaming the streets. Some youths accosted her, stripped her naked, and started beating her with sticks, banana leaves, and stems; they pelted her with stones. According to Ann, one pastor Jeremiah requested some salt. The pastor claimed that if he administered the salt to Ann, she would die immediately. The salt was not administered. But a family member claimed that they gave her some concoction.
“In a video that went viral on social media, Ann Soberekon could be seen lying naked on the ground and responding to queries from the mob. Someone described her as ‘a strong witch’; they asked her to provide a list of her fellow witches. They claimed that she was returning from a witch meeting when she crash-landed while flying over an electric pole.
“Ann mentioned Prof Konya as one of her colleagues but that mob regarded the names she mentioned as some of the members of her witch coven. The crowd misconstrued Ann’s replies and regarded her statements as witch confessions, not utterances by a mentally unstable person. What a shame!
“Following her rescue and return, the Konya family asked Ann Soberekon’s family to tender an apology for mentioning her name. When Ms Soberekon’s family was not forthcoming with the apology, the Konya family used the police to arrest a relative of Ann Soberekon and detained her at the Central police station in Port Harcourt. The police later released her after a day. The family of Ann Soberekon later tendered a public apology to the Konyas. The apology was published in a local newspaper.”
“AfAW condemns the ill-treatment and persecution of Ann Soberekon and other persons with mental health challenges in the country. There is no link between dementia and witchcraft fears and anxieties. Mental health problems have no connection with occult forces or demonic possession as popularly believed.
“Attribution of dementia to witchcraft is rooted in irrational fear, misinterpretation and ignorance of the cause of disease. People who suffer from mental health issues are not witches or wizards and should not be attacked or killed. People with dementia and other mental health problems are patients with health conditions. They should be treated with love, care, and respect.”