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Superstitions and the Thieving, Moneyvorous Snake in Benue

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. Twitter: @farooqkperogi A Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) clerk by the name of Philomina ...

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

A Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) clerk by the name of Philomina Chieshe reportedly told auditors recently that the 36 million naira realized from the sale of JAMB scratch cards couldn’t be accounted for because a sneaky “spiritual snake” had mysteriously swallowed up all the money. Now the lady is the object of all sorts of jokes. I am sorry to burst a few bubbles here.

First, the money wasn’t missing in the life of the Buhari administration. Most people didn’t go beyond the story’s headline and just jumped to conclusions based on their preconceptions. The money was actually missing, according to reports, between 2006 and 2007. It’s just now being discovered after current JAMB registrar Professor Ishaq Oloyede ordered a comprehensive audit of the finances of the organization.

Second, and most importantly, most Nigerians believe in the sort of metaphysical nonsense that conduced to the JAMB clerk’s moneyvorous “spiritual snake” explanation. When it comes to belief in backward superstitions, most educated and uneducated Nigerians are indistinguishable. That was why one British journalist once described Nigeria as a “classless” society, by which he meant that educational attainment and social class are hardly reliable predictors of people’s attitudes and value systems.

People who are laughing at the JAMB woman’s superstitious fraud secretly nurse and cherish their own superstitions, and would get all hot and worked up if theirs are mocked. So let’s start.
The idea that “spiritual” things (such as otherworldly snakes, jinns, spirits, witches, wizards, etc.) steal money is actually not that outlandish in Nigeria. For instance, some people I support with monthly stipends told me sometime last year—at different times and unknown to each other— that “spirits” had been stealing their money at night. It was the first time I’d heard about “spirits” stealing money, but it’s apparently a widespread superstition.

In Nigeria, the vast majority of people believe that evil spirits can be transferred through cell phones. Nigerian journalists characterize some phone numbers as “killer numbers” because they supposedly kill you the instant you pick calls from them! I blocked someone on WhatsApp who was always sending me unsolicited periodic updates on “killer numbers” I shouldn’t pick.

 In Nigeria, a “professor” by the name of Chinedu Nebo, who is a former university vice chancellor, told the nation’s senate in 2013 during his confirmation hearing for the position of minister of power that power outages were caused by “witches and demons,” and that “If the President deploys me in the power sector, I believe that given my performance at the University of Nigeria Nsukka, where I drove out the witches and demons, God will also give me the power to drive out the demons in the power sector.”

A year earlier, a minister of state in the same Ministry of Power by the name of Zainab Kuchi told a South African delegation that “evil spirits” were responsible for Nigeria’s perpetually capricious power supply. And you wonder why our electricity generation is still stuck in the Stone Age.

Many Nigerians believe that it’s possible to have supernormal immunity against bullets. I’ve read several stories of Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) militia men and so-called civilian JTF militia men in Boko Haram-ravaged Borno State being gunned down like sitting ducks because they believed in the lies of a witch doctor who convinced them that some herbal concoction he gave them provided them immunity to gunshots.

This recalls a comical experience I witnessed in Kano in the 1990s when my late uncle was commanding police officer of the Hotoro Mobile Police Barracks. Some “malam” who claimed to have the secrets of supernatural bulletproof insurance told my uncle that he could metaphysically inoculate him against all gunshots. The first question my uncle asked him was, “Are you yourself supernaturally immunized against gunshots?” The man boastfully answered in the affirmative. My uncle went to his room, brought a gun, and aimed it at him. He bolted from his seat faster than the speed of lightning!

On May 27, 2014, many newspapers published a fictitious report of Borno women invoking a magical spell to subdue Boko Haram terrorists who had reputedly come to attack them.  Vanguard quoted a nameless eyewitness of this putative supernormal encounter to have said that Boko Haram “attackers invaded the village yesterday on motorcycles but met some women, adding ‘they wanted to hit the women with sticks but when they raised the sticks, their hands refused to descend.’”

Daily Trust’s report of May 27, 2014 on the same incident titled “Women arrest Boko Haram fighters in Borno” was more dramatic and fantastical than Vanguard’s. Like Vanguard, Daily Trust also quoted an unnamed eyewitness to have said, “The insurgents wanted to attack the women but their guns did not work. They tried hitting them with the boot of their guns but mysteriously, all the hands of the insurgents hung until youth and vigilantes in the area mobilized and killed them.”

As I mentioned in a previous column, many senior members in Buhari’s government believe the president is failing because he is under a spell. “But like most Buhari aides, my informant believes Buhari is metaphysically held captive by a potent, disabling evil spell that causes him to be easily susceptible to the wiles and devious manipulations of a vicious cabal in Aso Rock. He said efforts are being made to exorcise this spell. But that’s superstitious nonsense,” I wrote in my October 22, 2016 column titled “Aisha Buhari and the Evil Aso Rock Cabal.”

And the vast majority of Nigerians believe that there is such a thing as “magun” (Yoruba for “don’t climb”), which is supposedly a metaphysical deterrence against marital infidelity by women. Of course, it’s superstitious garbage. Biologists actually call it penis captivus, and it has nothing to do with what anyone did to any woman. It’s a rare biological, scientifically explainable condition that occurs in every society, including Oyinbo societies where people have gone past the sort of atavistic ignorance that still reigns supreme in our societies.

When I first shared this on Facebook, a whole host of supposedly educated Yoruba commenters on my wall assured me that “magun is real o!” Well, if you believe "magun" is real but disdain the tale of a money-stealing spiritual snake, you're the victim of a massive psychic imbalance and need help.
Those are not the only bizarre things Nigerians believe. For instance, in January 2009, a goat was arrested and detained by the police in Kwara State because “eyewitnesses” said a robber had transmogrified into it to escape capture. In April 2017, Zamfara State governor Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari said the meningitis that killed scores of children was God’s punishment for fornication. The list is endless.

So before you laugh at the woman’s “spiritual snake” alibi, remember the superstitions you believe, too. Remember the “testimonies” you give for the mundane favors you get, for being able to steal government funds and not get caught. You’re no different from the Benue woman.

A scientific mindset free of the encumbrances of silly, retarded superstitions is an indispensable requirement for progress. But from the comments I read on my Facebook wall, we really have a long way to go—or perhaps no way to go, frankly.

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