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Dementia and Witchcraft Accusations in Imo State: A Call for Compassion and Understanding

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IMO, Nigeria – In a shocking incident in Imo State, southern Nigeria, an elderly woman was publicly accused of witchcraft, stripped naked, and left wandering the streets. Her crime? Suffering from dementia.

According to a statement delivered to The Trent by email on Sunday, July 30, 2023 signed by Mr Leo Igwe, the organisation’s president, the incident came to light when a Facebook video showed Janet Nwobi, found naked by some youths who suspected her of witchcraft.

Prompted by the disturbing video, the Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AfAW) sent an advocate to confirm the story and ascertain Ms Nwobi’s condition.

Janet Nwobi, Dementia
Ms Janet Nwobi | Facebook Photo

According to the advocate, assistance was sought from local community members to determine Ms Nwobi’s whereabouts. “I called a former colleague of mine who was now working in Oguta, Mrs Nnoromele, and sent her the video,” the advocate said. “She confirmed that going by the Igbo dialect, it was Oguta Eshimeshi.”

After some days, Mrs Nnoromele’s colleague, Mrs Iwuorisha, clarified that the woman was not a witch but merely suffering from dementia. “She said a colleague in her school said she knew the woman in question who was being accused of being a witch. She said that they were married into the same community of Umuenu Oguta, that she was not a witch but was just suffering from dementia.”

With the support of AfAW, the advocate journeyed to meet Ms Nwobi on July 29th, 2023. The visit revealed the tragic confusion between dementia and witchcraft that led to her public humiliation. “The painful thing that happened to her on that day was that someone stripped her naked. But I was told that the person had apologized,” reported the advocate.

AfAW is now taking measures to improve the care Ms Nwobi receives and is urging Nigerians to recognize dementia as a medical condition, not an occult phenomenon.

“Nigerians must realize that dementia is a disease like other diseases. And those who suffer from dementia need care and love from society. They should not be abused, beaten, stripped naked, or disgraced in public. Those who suffer from dementia are not witches and should not be accused of witchcraft,” urged Leo Igwe, who directs the Advocacy for Alleged Witches.

This incident highlights the ongoing challenge of superstitious beliefs surrounding mental health conditions in parts of Nigeria. Education, compassion, and embracing a scientific understanding of such ailments are vital in preventing further misunderstandings and abuse.

The work of organisations like AfAW is crucial in spreading awareness and providing support to those unjustly accused and marginalized due to their health conditions.

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