By Damola Awoyokun
According to Ayo Ademokoya’s news story which circulated widely on social media, Mrs Foluke Joseph, the 41-year-old mother of three was murdered by her 11-year-old housemaid. The story is drenched in highly charged emotions, severe shallowness, biblical references, and unrestrained finger-pointing which only serves to deflect attention from the true cause of Mrs Joseph’s death should a police investigation or a state inquest be carried out. When in his introduction Ademokoya quotes Ephesians 6-12: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places,” one would think he is referring to Donald Trump not an eleven-year-old house help who herself requires help as a victim of child trafficking and child labour.
According to the obituary with which Ademokoya accompanied his story, Mrs Foluke Olusola Joseph (nee Paseda), died on Monday of October 2nd. Her service of songs was on 5th October and her body was committed to earth on Friday 6th. The doctor who had been attending to her did not know the cause of her ailment for 7 months. Ademokoya never bothered to investigate why another doctor’s opinion was not sought? Or why the rush to burial of a 41-year-old particularly when medical opinion had yet to say conclusively which of her organs or body functions failed and what led to it? What would be written on her death certificate? Is an autopsy not appropriate so that lessons can be learnt, medical practice can also become stronger in case of another time? Ademokoya is not interested in all these lines of thought because the disdain of scientific inquiry is needed for the sense of the mysterious to take over. And the sense of the mysterious is not only the gateway for moral irresponsibility but also the enabling condition for spiritual consciousness, superstitious irrationalities, religious extremism and all other enemies of basic sense.
Writes Ademokoya: “There was no need to strain my ears to listen to their discussion, Femi the widower already put the phone on speaker and from their discussion, the Doctor said he could not find any cause of her death as he carried out several tests on her and gave her the very best treatment and never found a cause of ailment. [He] however said she was getting better until she gave up the ghost at about 5am on Tuesday and [her] body already deposited at the private mortuary in Jericho. Only then did we conclude that it was indeed a spiritual attack.”
Attack from who? The family’s 11-year-old feminist witch. Ademokoya continues: “How did it happened? I really don’t want to be too forward by getting myself involved to ask question but luckily for me, Femi [the widower]] brought out his phone where both the audio and visual of the girl’s confession was recorded.”
How seriously did Femi the widower take the doctor? Since the news story also reveals that the widower chased away the housemaid two weeks before his wife’s death, it can be safely assumed that he had for at least two weeks the alleged witch’s confession that he played for Ademokoya and Hon Femi Kehinde. Did he share it with the doctor? If no, why? If yes did it cause the doctor to review treatment?
Even if the conditions of the house help’s interrogation do not amount to torture, as an 11-year-old, she is a preteen and still a child. And her alleged confessions should carry little or no weight. Furthermore, she is psychologically fragile: She once had a place she could call home sweet home about 800 miles away, and being a child of parents, she has a unique place of pride in her own family. She has lost all of these and had become a stranger in a strange place, a second-class child in another child’s home, an embodiment of Ikemefunan childhood traumas and a mud sculpture on which others project and fulfil their own prejudices. In many other cases, these house helps are often sexually assaulted and raped with glee by the parents they work for or their children or both.
Hence, even when she smiles, she is lost, sad and lonely. Every step she takes is a walk of wounded pride and humiliation of being a decorated slave ensuring other children are free from house chores while she is no longer on the path of what she really wants to become in life. Instead of considering this background, Ademokoya like many Nigerians twisted the facts to package out a superstitious narrative of a blood-sucking 11-year-old feminist witch. In fact, the reason these house helps do not get paid is the implicit acknowledgement that they are children who are not mature enough to responsibly handle money so their wages are directly paid to their traffickers. Yet her self-incriminating statement to a domestic murder-enquiry was given so much enormous weight. Even adults in a such as case by law are entitled to have their lawyers with them during interrogations. No wonder Ademokoya who attached the obituary poster to the story did not bother to attach the young girl’s alleged confession for independent review and validation.
Even to the alleged confession that she is a witch? Children always like to assume personas they have seen or heard about. In countries where belief in supernatural powers of witches and wizards are not for real, children call themselves all sorts of exotic characters like Ninja turtles, Snow White, Batman, Spiderman, Alice in Wonderland, Dinosaurs, etc. They even add imaginary stories – imaginary to others but real to themselves – and star in these stories. The stories they make up or the persona they assume often depend on the psychological need they want to satisfy at that point in time. Some children assume the role of Wonder woman, Rescue Bots, Superman, Spiderman, Catwoman, or Ironman because they feel psychologically insecure or are driven by messiah’s complex. A girl whose parent or friends often rebuke her will star herself not as Snow white or Cinderella but the Evil Queen or the Wicked Stepmother in her own story to symbolically seek vengeance for her perceived maltreatments. A child from the receiving end of war can portray themselves pilots of fighter jets raining bombs and missiles on their fictitious attackers. It is entirely logical and reasonable that this housemaid – which Ademokoya shamefully left nameless – is calling herself a witch to gain attention, alleviate her status anxiety or compensate for a deep-seated psychological need.
Furthermore, being an 11 years old, she may even be struggling to respond or adjust to the demands of menstrual cycle and disorientations of puberty which will all be new to her. She had no trustable parent or adult around to guide her through them. Ademokoya writes: “the ‘girl witch’ said she fell in love with the first child of madam [Mrs Joseph], a ten-year-old boy when she arrived and all efforts to make the boy fall in love with her proved abortive. ‘Madam’s boy is strong spiritually too, all my efforts in wooing him into our society proved abortive as I usually lure him with snack and biscuit even food from me; this boy would reject it. That was why in our meeting we decided to feed on his mother’s blood.’”
The same unconscious sexual hunger which inspired the young maid to compose that statement drove St Teresa of Avila, the revered Spanish mystic who never had conscious sex all her life to describe the visit she had from an angel of God as follows: “In his hands, I saw a golden spear, with an iron tip at the end that appeared to be on fire. He plunged it into my heart several times, all the way to my entrails…The pain was so severe that it made me utter several moans, and yet such pain was so exceedingly sweet that one cannot possibly desire it to cease…This pain lasted many days, and during that time, I didn’t want to see or speak to anyone, but only to cherish my pain, which gave me a greater bliss than any created things could give me.”
Strange are the ways in which deep-rooted steamy desires manifest themselves. The same girl who fancies herself as a witch today may next minute fancy herself as Michelle Obama or become an Oprah Winfrey making up testimonies to justify her transformation and uniqueness. This is not an abnormal trend even for children of steady sanity.
One wonders, if a child has power to orchestrate something as powerful as another person’s murder through nonphysical means, how come it was easy for her to confess when she knows that the consequences of such a disclosure will not be nice?
For anyone interested in the truth, the young girl’s claims supposed to be subjected to practical measures that safeguard facts from fiction. When she said “she has as a spiritual button in the house and that whenever she presses it, the blood of her madam would be squeezed and drained into the keg which she sucks together with her group in their meeting.” The next question is to demand from her where the button and the keg can be located in the house, ask for more details of this fluid mechanics or from which part of the body they draw blood from Mrs Joseph. Catholics drink the blood of Jesus every day. “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you will have no life in you…He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him,” Jesus said in John 6.
The entire blood of Jesus or the blood of Mrs Joseph is not enough to fill a keg. The blood of an average weight adult is merely 4.5 litres. A loss of 1.3 litres (30%) will make the person faint. A loss of 1.8 litres (40%) must prompt blood transfusion to keep the person alive. A loss beyond 1.8 litres is equal to loss of live. How many kegs of Mrs Joseph’s blood did the maid siphon away to each meeting over the course of 7 months? Or did she drink the blood of Mrs Joseph as Catholics drink the blood of Jesus? It is an agelong belief that blood drinking confers power, demonstrates love and makes one to matter. These were the needs the girl was perhaps trying to satisfy. This is why the decision to feed on the mother’s blood happened immediately after the ten-year-old boy she had a crush on declined her romantic gestures. Like any child of her age, puberty was inspiring her to be the girl boys must turn their heads for. And the greatest gift of love is the glowing recognition of your self-worth through the eyes of another person and smiling back in turn in a flaming appreciation. Since this was denied her, she sought it through the symbolic path. Had Femi the widower shown the girl’s confession to the doctor, would blood transfusion had brought back Mrs Joseph’s health? If no, it is another confirmation of the meaninglessness of the girl’s confession.
Furthermore, the girl said she was a leader of 9 other witches who met on the highway. No one bothered to ask on which highway, what time, what are the identities of other 9 so that they can be prevented from doing harm? As nature abhors vacuum, a superstitious mind abhors details. Ademokoya prefers being shallow-minded to the rigours of fact-finding investigative reports. I have heard testimonies of different “converts” who claimed they used to be the Vice President of Satan himself, and that they met deep down in the ocean where they caused global catastrophes. These testimonies are so numerous that one wonders how many Vice Presidents does Satan have sitting at his right hand at meetings, and why are they all Nigerians? But they are lies passed up as testimonies. They were cooked up to invite attention and confer status. It is attention-seeking syndrome that says: “where 2 or 3 are gathered in my name, there I am with them.” And testimonies are the public manifestations of the epidemic of attention-seeking syndrome ravaging the country. The primary point of testimony is not to tell the truth but to gather attention.
A close reading of the alleged confession as written by Ademokoya confirms that the young girl’s witchcraft is merely nominal or symbolic and there is no power behind it. (Not that witches have any real power beyond spreading fear of being powerful). Of the six attempted tragedies attributed to the young girl, only one was ‘successful.’ The 11-year-old girl, according to Ademokoya’s story, tried to:
1. kill the grandmother by spilling blood [owner unnamed] and her saliva in her pap;
2. make the son fall in love with her;
3. initiate the son to join their highway meeting;
4. wreak (an unnamed) havoc in Bose’s home.
5. kill the Bose’s baby by poisoning;
6. kill Mrs Joseph.
Why isn’t the grandmother dead? Because God is with her, we are told. Why was doom averted for Bose’s household? Because God is with them. Why is the baby is not dead? The story tells us “the child his strong willed and God is with him.” Hence every exercise of the maid’s alleged witchcraft was annulled by the abiding presence of God. By extension, the reason Mrs Joseph is dead is because she is not strong-willed, or God is not with her. The story tells us Mrs Joseph was very spiritual and prayed a lot. But God is with the strong-willed baby who is still on the bottle and understand neither prayer nor God. How come the witchcraft prevailed in one case and did not with other cases? Mr Femi Joseph, the story says, is very spiritual too. In fact, it was when he was at a vigil that the Almighty spoke to him. Says Femi the widower:
“My spirit has not really been in tune with that girl since she stepped into my house and I began marathon prayers alone for God to take control and right in the middle of the prayers one midnight I heard a voice to send the girl out of my house if I really want peace in my house. I told my wife that morning and off she [the maid] went with Bose.”
That was two weeks before his wife died. The voice told him to get rid of the young maid but the voice had nothing to say about his wife’s health issues which was the most pressing problem of his household. Well, the maid was gone. But 2 weeks later his wife too was gone from the household. Is that the peace the divine voice promised?
In philosophy, there are two fallacies from which the principals of this story are guilty excepting the young girl. First, fallacy of false cause: if C happened after A and B does not mean A and B were the cause of C. Ademokoya writes: “To be honest, immediately this girl came in [to their home], we all noticed that aunty [Mrs Kehinde] was emaciated while the girl suddenly turned cheeky [nourished].” Of course, her disturbing background and being hurled around by traffickers will dictate that when she ‘settles down’ into a home she will look nourished initially. It was the same ‘improved’ outlook with our ancestors after enduring the Middle Passage ‘settled down’ into Euro-American homes as permanent slaves. How is this a proof of blood-sucking?
Second, fallacy of hasty generalisation and unwarranted assumption. Children who are housemaids are often stereotyped as witches or other dangerous minions for evil forces. This is even worse if the children are from a particular area of the country. As Ademokoya writes: “We were all spellbound to hear the damaging confession of the little girl who was brought into the house by the bereaved sister from Apomu/Ikire or Asejire axis of Osun state. Mind you the girl isn’t an indigene of Osun oooo, I learnt probably she is from Benue or an Igede.”
Ademokoya is of course a tribalist, that is, a home-grown racist. Femi the widower too is not far off. He reportedly said: “My spirit has not really been in tune with that girl since she stepped into my house…” This is preconceived prejudice. How would Femi the widower have handled the banishment of the maid had she been his daughter? Once the stereotype is there, strapped like shackles around the young maid’s tiny wrists, her haters only need to beat the confession out of her to satisfy their hearts and prejudices. Writes Ademokoya: “I noticed the powdery contents of my baby’s food in her [maid] mouth. I thought she stole from [sic] not until when my baby started vomiting all the food I gave him then I knew something strange was happening to my baby as I began to scream and descend on the girl.”
Stealing baby milk and being caught with powered lips is a normal experience that happened to most of us in childhood. But for a stereotyped girl, her powered lips is an evidence of an attempted murder of a baby that must warrant ‘descending upon.’ Note: “descend on” is a pidgin idiom for severe beating. The story continues: ‘Why is my baby vomiting? I asked while beaten [sic] her consistently. She later begged and said she will confess.” Because of the tormenting pain which was unbearably inflicted on the 11-year-old maid, she had to plead for it to end by confessing to being a witch and killing somebody. What is most striking is that it turns out that the young maid confessed to all the above alleged atrocities under enhanced interrogation technique which is unequivocally torture. If adults give confessions under torture, not only are the confessions invalid, but the torturers are committing a crime. What about the torture of a child? In countries where the rights of the child are taken seriously, Aunty Bose will by now be dressing up to take her rightful place in jail. To confirm her wickedness, lack of empathy and cluelessness, the day after the severe beating of the maid for confessions, they noticed scars all over her young body and they asked her where she got them from. Ademokoya too cluelessly writes: “Bose said that a day after the ‘ girl witch’ confessed, they noticed that her body was swollen with numerous marks of been beaten badly and when we asked her she said it’s true that she was badly beaten by her group [of witches] for confessing [she killed Mrs Joseph].”
Does Bose think that the torment she dished out on the girl’s young and fragile body will make her flesh look rosy and shiny the day after? Bose’s mind, like that of Ademokoya’s is so much polluted with superstitious paradigms and spiritual categories that she cannot identify cause and effect. The young maid too fearful of the resumption of Bose’s beatings had to desperately pinned her scars on beatings from her imaginary colleagues on the highway. And Ademokoya too, betraying his trade, preferred to side with the oppressors.
This is what many vulnerable, innocent, defenceless and confused children experience in Nigeria today. It is not enough that the ignorance and economic instabilities of their parents turned them into victims of child trafficking and child labour for other families. They also had to suffer the torments of being stereotyped as witches, wizards, viruses of bad luck and in some other cases suffering sexual assaults and rape. In 2016, a 2-year-old was left to die in the streets after been accused of witchcraft. Evidence and confirmations of her evil led to her being banished until he was rescued by a Danish aid worker Anja Ringgren Loven and renamed Hope. It turned out that the boy had an inborn condition called hypospadias.
Make no mistake: the 11-year-old girl that was banished for being unusual will turn out to become somebody in this life one day. That is the true meaning of the story of the biblical Joseph. That is the meaning of Hope the abandoned witch who has now started school in Denmark and on his path to glory.
· Damola Awoyokun is an essayist and historian. He lives in London.