Two children, five-year-old Mary Gyang and 11-year-old Godgift Nyam, had mother luck to thank for escaping being burnt to death in Waduruk, a Plateau State community, in the last month of 2019.
The two children, Mary and Godgift, belonging to different parents were branded as evil and condemned to death by some members of the community and were to be burnt alive December 15, 2019.
Their sins? They were accused of witchcraft and being responsible for the lack of development in the 100-year-old Plateau State community. Their accusers then decided that the only appropriate punishment for them was to burn them alive in order to pave way for the development of the community. It was revealed that in Waduruk village, there is a spiritual home that lays claim to the spiritual ability to identify witches and wizards.
The operators of the spiritual home were said to have identified a teenage girl as a witch while the teenager girl, whose identity was not disclosed, was said to have admitted to the allegation and also identified Mary and Godgift as her agents.
The teenager was also said to have also confessed that she used the two minors to siphon all the wealth in the village and that no one in the village would ever get rich.
Following the teenagers’ alleged confession, members of the community resolved to sentence the two minors to death in order to end the villagers’ misfortune.
On December 15, the two accused minors were summoned without the knowledge of their parents to the centre of the village where they were to be executed in gruesome manner. They scooped some fuel from the tank of a motorcycle, tied the two minors together and poured the petrol on them. They then struck a match and set fire to them.
Some members of the community who were opposed to the action raised alarm, following which Godgift’s mother, 37-year-old Esther Luka, was attracted to the scene where she saw her son in flames and wallowing in pains. She and some other women rallied to put off the fire and untie the helpless children.
However, the two children had sustained severe burns by the time they were rescued. Godgift had sustained serious burns on his face, while Mary was also burnt in the face and on her left arm. They two victims were immediately rushed to the Plateau State Specialist Hospital where they were admitted.
A family member of Godsgift immediately reported the matter at the B Divisional Headquarters of the Nigerian Police Force in Bukuru, following which some policemen rushed to the village to arrest the culprits. But the culprits were hidden by the villagers to prevent their arrest.
One of the policemen who stormed the village in search of the offenders said: “I have never seen a community as wicked as this one. Can you imagine that the people shielded the suspects? They even warned us not to dare arrest anybody and ordered us to vacate their village or they would attack us. We left them and returned to our station to avoid being attacked.”
A family member of one of the victims, however, reported the incident to the Plateau office of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
Confirming the incident, the Principal Legal Officer of NHRC, Mrs. Kachollom Tachio, said: “Yes, it is very true that two minors were being burnt alive by the villagers. We went to the village to conduct investigation and we found out that it was even the father of one of the victims who brought the minors and handed them over to the villagers for execution.
“They were taken to another compound within the community to be killed because they said they found them to be evil.
“Some elders in the village recommended that the children be set ablaze in full public glare to serve as a deterrent to other witches and wizards in the village. So, one of the villagers volunteered some petrol from the tank of his motorcycle. They collected the fuel, tied the two children together and set them on fire after pouring fuel on them.
“When the mother of Godsgift heard that her son was being burnt, she rushed to the scene to rescue them. After rescuing them, she rushed them to the hospital where they were admitted immediately.
“A family member named Rita Nyam drew the attention of the National Human Rights Commission to the incident. Our investigation so far confirmed that the incident was real.
“We have taken up the issue and we will ensure that justice is done. We don’t tolerate such rights abuses. These children have their rights to life.
“They are minors. They were not even given the opportunity to defend themselves. This is wickedness.”
The Plateau State chapter of Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), a body that defends and protects the rights of women and children, said the report got to them, adding that the body would join the NHRC to get justice for the victims.
The chairperson of NAWOJ, Mrs. Jennifer Yarima, said: “NAWOJ in the state has been serving as the voice of the voiceless. We will mobilise our members to fight this cause.
“It is just by the grace of God that the two minors are alive. They were not going to see Christmas and New Year because they were condemned to death by the community.
“When I rushed to the hospital to see the children, I could not hold back tears. I cannot imagine that the world can be this wicked.
“I need to commend the hospital for giving the children prompt medical attention, because the children will likely lose their sights if the burns are not professionally handled.
“But I am happy that in spite of the severe burns on their faces, their eyes were intact. But they could not see for a week as their faces were completely bandaged.”
Esther Luka, Godsgift’s mother, said: “I thank God almighty for the life of my child. I also thank some members of the community who ran to me to inform me about the incident.
“Godsgift is my fifth child and I cannot sit and watch him burnt alive for no fault of his. His name is working for him. I named him Godsgift, and that is why I believe that no one can do him any harm.
“I am happy I was able to rescue him from the fire. In spite of the scar on his face, I am happy he is alive.”
Mrs Grace Pam, the state coordinator of NHRC, said: “The case of human rights abuse on the Plateau is on the increase. The issue of child right abuse is especially very rampant. The same goes for rape of minors, sexual molestations, wife battery and so on.
“In 2019, alone we handled about 500 cases of rights abuse. The security agencies should do more by being vigilant, using their intelligence network to bring culprits to justice.
“Only by doing so can we reduce the rising rate of rights abuse in the state.”
Briefing reporters on its activities, the Plateau State Command of the Nigeria Police Force said the command arrested more than 3,000 suspected criminals and got most of them convicted while some were still under trial in various courts.
The command said majority of the more than 3,000 cases were about rights abuse like rape, assaults, and so on. The command said it recorded about 80 cases of rape and more than 70 of the offenders were convicted.