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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 September, 2003, 17:25 GMT 18:25 UK
Plight of Nigerian 'wizard' boy
By Yusuf Muhammad
BBC, Kaduna

Mbawo, Nigerian boy
Mbawo dreams of a 'decent life' away from home

Nigerians feel under siege. At places of worship, at school, at places of work, and virtually everywhere, they discuss what they describe as the ravages of witchcraft and in recent times, cultism.

In the northern Nigerian state of Taraba, for instance, some parents have been threatening to withdraw their children from school.

According to them, children attending nursery, primary and even secondary schools, are being initiated into witchcraft and cultism.

They say that the practice is not acceptable to them and that it is "safer to have an illiterate child than one deeply engrossed in witchcraft".

Sometimes they used a hot electric pressing iron on me
Mbawo
And, this is a typical scenario in virtually all the 36 states of Nigeria.

Every day new stories related to witches and witchcraft emerge.

One such case, in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna, gives an insight into how superstition has gripped many people.

In the suburb of Nasarawa I met Mbawo. His family had thrown him out of his home after he was accused of witchcraft.

Scavenging for food

He could not tell me his age or say for how long he had been on the street.

But traders at the Nasarawa market, where Mbawo scavenges for food, told me he had been out there for over a year.

Mbawo's problems began when his stepmother and her little daughter died.

Suddenly everybody in the family agreed that the death was not natural and that it was the work of wizards, he recalls. All the accusing fingers were pointed at Mbawo.

Mbawo says he was tortured before he was evicted from his family home and that he is still hunted down by members of his family whenever a misfortune occurs.

'Torture'

At first, Mbawo slept in an abandoned building which had been destroyed during religious violence.

But he was forced to move after some relatives and their friends molested him there.

He now sleeps in market stalls, and says he feels much safer.

Mbawo initially tried to convince his family to take him back, but he says that only earned him more beatings.

"Sometimes they used a hot electric pressing iron on me," he said.

He refused to take me to his family, saying that would mean more torture for him.

'Disappeared'

One of the things that Mbawo says he is missing is school.

But, he says, he is planning "to find a job, save some money to rent a room and then start a decent life".

Some of the people I spoke to in Nasarawa told me that Mbawo was lucky to have survived.

They said that in the recent past many children were thrown out of their homes, accused of being witches.

"They have disappeared now, and there is this rumour that they have been killed, but I have not concrete proof," on local resident, Malam Shuaibu, told me.

Prince Audu Habu of Save the Child Foundation, a charity organisation in Kaduna, told me that they would use all available means to take over the custody of Mbawo.

"We will give him a new home and a new life," he said.




SEE ALSO:
Nigeria pile-up kills scores
09 Sep 03 |  Africa
Chief defends Nigerian police
11 Sep 03 |  Africa
Country profile: Nigeria
07 Jul 03 |  Country profiles


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