A man recently posted his newly acquired Bachelors degree certificate on WhatsApp. Young folks these days are doing that every day, so that was not a surprise. The degree he acquired was in, wait for it, witchcraft. For several minutes I mulled the possible ramifications of this unusual degree, which I understand is now offered in several southern African as well as Canadian universities. Lagging behind as usual, no Nigerian university has started offering a degree in this very important field even though Nigerian witches are every bit as competent as those of southern Africa.
We often complain that there is no synergy between our higher institutions and our manufacturing enterprises. Nor, come to think of it, is there any synergy between our academics and our witches, important though the latter are to our national life. I urge the National Universities Commission to immediately accredit witchcraft courses in some Nigerian universities. Drawing up the curriculum of a witchcraft degree course is too serious a business to be left to academics. It will require a multi-stakeholder engagement. I took one look at the witchcraft curriculum of a Canadian university. It is too rational, all about the sociology, psychology, physiology and economics of witchcraft, including how to market the business. How can you study a metaphysical phenomenon scientifically? A Nigerian curriculum should be more down to earth; it should be about how to train the degree holders to become witches, not just to academically study the subject.
For example, anyone who graduates with a degree in witchcraft from a Nigerian university should be able to arrive at a public function on a broomstick. We do not want a graduate to deliver seminar papers or publish his research in academic journals, no. We want him to practice the trade. In Hausaland, there are two mysterious pieces of witchcraft called baduhu and layar zana which thieves and other operators who need secrecy collect from local Malams and witches. A man who has the layar zana charm can enter a room undetected and pick up whatever he wants. I personally do not want to see an academic journal article on this great charm; I want the graduate to do it.
When we were growing up in the village, our grandmothers told us many stories about the olden days when hyenas used to stray into villages to steal goats and babies. A hyena, we were told, has kohi, a charm that as soon as its eyes meet yours, you will become paralysed and cannot escape. When I related this story to my Physiology lecturer Professor Robert Miodonski, he said it is fear that causes transmission of certain chemicals at nerve endings which in turn paralyses the muscles. I wanted to say to him, “Prof, in your country, Poland, where did you see a man who met a hyena and you opened his nerve endings and extracted the chemical that caused paralysis?”
It was the same with my secondary school Chemistry teacher, Mrs. Koshy. During a heated debate in class one day, a student told her the story of a fire that once erupted from inside a grave at the local cemetery. All the Malams in the town immediately began praying because they said it was a bad man that was being punished in the Hereafter. Mrs. Koshy shook her head. She said, “The fire was caused by phosphorus from the bones.” I want a Nigerian degree holder in witchcraft to follow Mrs. Koshy to India and metaphysically set fire to a cemetery in New Delhi, to disprove her chemical explanation.
During my primary school days, snake charmers were a regular feature on market days. There was one locally famous man who used to come with a wooden box full of vipers, cobras and adders. He will dip his hand inside the box and bring out many snakes, twisting and swirling. He will release a large Egyptian cobra with its intimidating hood and onlookers will scatter in all directions, but he will catch it before it strikes anyone. He even makes a turban with a live cobra. I spent a lot of my pocket money buying charms against snakes and scorpions. I will then go and upturn stones all over the yard looking for scorpions, especially the large black desert scorpion called munumunu. I believed in the charm because no scorpion ever stung me.
Apart from snake charmers, hyena charmers also frequented our village market. They took the precaution of closing the hyena’s mouth with a gag as they played with it, given that the hyena’s jaw has the greatest crushing power in the animal kingdom. Sometimes things get awry. During my late brother Justice Abubakar Jega’s NYSC days in Bauchi, Legal Aid Council assigned him to defend a failed charmer who released a hyena in the market and it killed a small girl. When he asked the man what happened, he said, “Bacin rana!” [A bad day].
Quite often when we were growing up, we couldn’t separate the work of witchcraft practitioners from those of some Muslim clerics. The only difference was that the former used pre-Islamic incantations while the latter used pseudo-Islamic verses and Arabic inscriptions on wooden slates. For example, during my secondary school days, stealing was common in the school compound. Some students who had done much religious study at home soon came up with a solution. It was based on reciting Suratul Yasin, widely believed to be the most mysterious and most powerful chapter of the Holy Qur’an. Whenever a theft occurred, a pious student will open the Qur’an while a young boy held two clean sticks. There were five compounds in the school; he will pick them one by one and recite Yasin. If he picked on the right compound of the thief, the sticks in the hands of the young boy will begin to tremble and eventually stick together.
Once the compound is identified, the student will recite Yasin one class after another, from Form One to Five. The sticks will lock on one class. The students of that class in that compound will then be listed, and Yasin will be recited one name after another until the sticks lock on the thief. Many “thieves” were caught in that manner and beaten up, until the principal outlawed the practice.
Witchcraft needs degree holders in this country because it will provide far more employment than industries. Its biggest patrons are politicians, businessmen, civil servants, aspirants for royal thrones, athletes and also criminals who need protection from the authorities. In 1978 when Sokoto State Students Association [SOSSA] leaders paid him a visit, Alhaji Shehu Kangiwa, who had just been nominated as NPN’s governorship candidate, told us a story. He said a famous boka [the Hausa name for babalawo] brought a charm to him and told him to get a live hen and cut off its leg as he recited the incantation. Kangiwa said he used an expletive and drove the man away.
In Hausaland, local traders who move from one village market to another are believed to be steeped in sorcery. The notorious singer Gambu used to praise Tudu Tsoho, who he said was so steeped in sorcery that when he is going east, his footsteps indicate that he is going west. Clerics too often help to mystify issues. There was this story of a thief who entered a room where a corpse was kept preparatory to burial. Before the thief could finish his business, the local imam arrived and he led the way to retrieve the corpse. The thief quickly hid by the door and as the imam entered, he hit his head with a stick. The imam rushed out and people asked him why he came out. He said, “We are late. They have already started judging him in the Hereafter.”