WHAT is it about witchcraft that a university’s decision to host a conference on it could draw so much umbrage? Since the announcement the proposed conference at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, the exaggerated interest in stopping the conference would make anyone think that UNN was planning the unthinkable.

Three years ago, South African Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, disclosed plans to include witchcraft studies in tertiary institutions from 2018. The minister told student leaders that witchcraft, as a course, would be available to future university entrees.

“There is a lot we can learn from witchcraft, like how they fly in that winnowing basket. Imagine if we learn that skill. It will eradicate traffic jams and everyone will just get in their basket and fly. It also means we will not be importing fuel anymore,” he was quoted as saying.

“I spoke to Gibs (Minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba) and he agreed to issue witches from outside South Africa with permanent residence permits. I heard Malawi and Zimbabwe have an impressive collection of witches. We are hoping they will heed the call.

“Applications is said to be closing on the 30th of September at midnight, after which an appointed panel will conduct interviews. There currently is an opening for 109 witches,” he said.

It appeared to be a ruse as there are no details of South African universities offering such courses.

Only last year, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, granted the University of Zambia $340,000 (N122.4m) to develop a degree programme on witchcraft. When the matter became controversial, the university denied it.

Zambia’s National Commission for UNESCO had explained that the course was on Intangible Heritage such as witchcraft and social practices as expression through music, knowledge, skills as well as the instruments, objects, artifacts and rituals. The Commission’s Secretary General, Dr. Charles Ndakala, lamented the destruction of priceless culture heritage in certain countries which threatens traditions and customs. Dr. Ndakala was speaking to journalists at a five-day workshop for the orientation of the university’s lecturers on Intangible Culture Heritage.

Higher Education Minister, Professor Nkandu Luo, announced that Zambia should consider research and the study of witchcraft as a science that can be used productively for the benefit of the country. Zambian scientists, he said, could learn from the South African counterparts who have commenced studies in witchcraft in some universities.

“I could not help but think of witchcraft when I saw a mobile phone put into a box and it turned into a lady’s pant!” she said during the commemoration of the World Science Day for Peace and Development dubbed: ‘Recreating interest in science, technology and innovation’.

Like in the Nigerian case, conflicting positions ensued. Zambian government spokesperson Kampamba Mulenga said government was disappointed with media reports suggesting that it will consider research on witchcraft as a science that can be used productively for the benefit of the country.

What could be wrong in studying witchcraft, a part of the befuddling mysteries of life that leave many Africans petrified?

Why would Nigeria not provide leadership in this direction?

University of Oslo, UiO, is Norway’s oldest institution for research and higher education, with 28,000 students and 7,000 employees. The 208-year-old university has eight faculties, two museums and several centres. In addition, UiO has 10 Norwegian Centres of Excellence, proud of its programmes in Magic and Witchcraft which are are studied up to Master’s levels.

Mind you, four scientists affiliated with the University of Oslo have been awarded Nobel Prizes for their research, and one for his efforts to promote peace. They are:

  • Fridjof Nansen – Nobel Peace Prize Winner 1922. Fridtjof Nansen was a Professor of Zoology and later oceanography at the University of Oslo. Nansen was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922 for his humanitarian efforts to help refugees and victims of World War I.
  • Ragnar Frisch – Nobel Prize Winner in Economics 1969. Beginning his economic career because the subject was quick and easy, Ragnar Frisch gradually developed a passion for the field that led to a Nobel Prize in Economics in 1969 for groundbreaking research and innovative economic thinking.
  • Odd Hassel – Nobel Prize Winner in Chemistry 1969. One of the University of Oslo’s most lauded Professors, Odd Hassel was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1969 for his study of organic compounds.
  • Ivar Giæver – Nobel Prize Winner in Physics 1973. Awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1973 for his work in Electrical Engineering, Ivar Giæver returned to Norway years later to take a professorship at the University of Oslo and address biophysical questions.
  • Trygve Haavelmo – Nobel Prize Winner in Economics 1989. Trygve Magnus Haavelmo was born 13 December 1911 in Skedsmo, Norway. Haavelmo earned his economics degree in 1933 and PhD in 1946.

A university with such pedigree studies witchcraft. It is not the only one.

Witchcraft, Magic and Occult Traditions are taught at the 171-year-old University of Ottawa, Canada. “This course looks at the historical, psychological and cross-cultural exploration of the traditions and practices of witchcraft,” the school, known as the world’s largest bi-lingual university – English and French are used in instructions – explains: “The course also looks at paranormal phenomena, magic, the occult, and related experiences, as well as its relation to traditional notions of religious behaviour.”

If Nigeria cannot lead Africa in witchcraft, if her scholars cannot be global authorities on witchcraft, where would they lead? It was disappointing to see extraneous influence decide what a university cannot do.

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