MAIDUGURI: Nigeria’s Boko Haram killed a group of women after accusing them of witchcraft following the death of a militant commander’s children in Borno state, relatives, residents and a woman who escaped said on Monday.

Accusations of witchcraft are not uncommon in Nigeria, a religious conservative country almost equally divided between the mostly Muslim north and Christian south.

North-eastern Nigeria is at the heart of a conflict involving security forces and Boko Haram and its rival, the militant Islamic State West Africa Province group, which has killed more than 40,000 people so far.

Last week, around 40 women were held in a village near Gwoza town on the orders of Boko Haram commander Ali Guyile, whose children suddenly died overnight, according to relatives and a woman who escaped.

In interviews conducted on Sunday and Monday, they said the commander had accused the women of causing the children’s deaths through witchcraft.

Guyile, a 35-year-old commander, asked his men to arrest the women from homes known to practise witchcraft, said Talkwe Linbe, one of the accused women.

Linbe said she managed to escape and fled to the regional capital Maiduguri after the killing of 14 women on Thursday (Nov 10).

“He (Guyile) said he would investigate our involvement in the deaths of his children,” she said.

“On Thursday he ordered 14 among us to be slaughtered. I was lucky I was not among them.”

Her relationship to Boko Haram was not clear, but militants often force residents in territory under their influence into work or relationships.

The relatives and residents interviewed did not specify how the women died, but the term they used in Hausa usually refers to militants slitting victims’ throats.

Nigeria’s security sources said they were aware of the reports and were investigating, although they stressed the village was very remote.

A Borno state government official said they were checking.

On Saturday, the day Linbe arrived in Maiduguri, 12 more women were slaughtered accused of being witches, other relatives said.

“I received a call from Gwoza that my mother, two aunts and nine other women were slaughtered yesterday (Saturday) on the orders of Ali Guyile, who accused them of being witches,” said Abdullahi Gyya, who lives in Maiduguri.

He also said he was told of the killing of an initial 14 women on Thursday.

Tijjani Usman, who lives in Maiduguri but originates from Gwoza, said calls he received from relations in Gwoza corroborated Linbe and Gyya’s accounts.

Boko Haram seized Gwoza in July 2014. Although it was retaken by Nigerian troops the following March, the group continues to raid nearby villages.

Published in Dawn, November 15th, 2022

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