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THE UNN WITCHCRAFT CONFERENCE: The Need to Maintain Religious Freedom and Tolerance of Varied Beliefs by Frank Tietie

The University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) has been reported to have cancelled the venue for the scheduled Witchcraft Conference which was initiated by the Professor B.I.C Ijomah Centre for Policy and Research.

The cancellation of the event by the authorities of UNN has been attributed to the several protests by some Christian groups and individuals who are vehemently opposed to holding such a conference on what they consider as such an obnoxious subject matter as witchcraft.

The actions of the university and those opposed to the conference on religious grounds are a reflection of the un-progressive and intolerant atmosphere which exists in the supposed prime Nigerian university.

A university should maintain a liberal thinking atmosphere that accommodates hypothetical constructs however strange or they may be. The all-important subject of chemistry was preceded by alchemy which was once considered in medieval times as mysticism or plain magic.

The Arch Bishop Benson Idahosa and the likes of Ebohon once contested on the right to host a witchcraft meeting in Benin City. There is no recall of placards or posters on the streets of the ancient city calling for cancellation or boycott of the meeting. Declarations were simply made on both sides and the rest was decided by events that followed the declarations. In the long run, the Arch Bishop won more converts for the Christian faith by that opportunity.

Sound Christian theology has in recent times been replaced by a preoccupation with the activities of dark powers, including witchcraft, to which has been attributed several misfortunes and setbacks being experienced by individuals who struggle to understand what they consider as strange happenings in their lives.

It is strange that some Nigerian Christians who often complain of being marginalised by their Moslem compatriots in some circumstances, that they not being allowed to practise and preach the Christian message freely in some places in Northern Nigeria, would now actively resist other Nigerians from exercising the religious freedom which they as Christians also require to advance Christian evangelism throughout Nigeria.

It is bad and highly un-christian to deprive anyone the constitutional right to express one’s beliefs however strange such beliefs may be. The Lord and Master Jesus Christ epitomised love for all human beings and “went about doing good and healing all those who were oppressed by the devil.” The power of the Christian message is twofold. It is the sacrificial love that drove the Lord Jesus Christ to die on the cross and the inscrutable and mysterious resurrection might that brought him to life after three days in the grave.

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On the contrary, we have a generation of Christians that are so afraid of the works of the devil would easily resort to carrying placards and launching protests against civil rights to express contrary beliefs. Christians who often adopt conventional means either to advance or defend the Christian faith have forgotten the admonition in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 New Living Translation (NLT) that: “We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.”

In a progressive and liberal institution like the University of Benin (UNIBEN) of the days of Alele-Williams or Andrew Onokerorhaye, that university would take pride in pioneering an attempt at a scientific deconstruction of the myth of witchcraft to which many strange happenings have been attributed. In fact, radical Christian students of that era would be the first to sign up for such a Witchcraft Conference with the intention of either learning some secrets or hoping to throw up some sound intellectual challenge that would attempt to make nonsense of such a conference with its arguments.

A university environment should encourage liberal thinking in the arts and sciences. Religious contests should be left for purveyors and adherents of religion in the larger society. They have their ways of settling scores without resort to intellectualism.

The authorities of the UNN are encouraged to allow the Witchcraft Conference to hold while the Christians should brace up to reaffirm the basis of their faith “and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear – 1 Peter 3:15 King James Version (KJV)

Frank Tietie is the Executive Citizens Advocacy for Social & Economic Rights; he writes from Abuja.

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