Luena looked through the window of the moving car as they drove into Abuja city. He had never seen so many cars in his life or such wide roads.

            “See your eyes — shining like halogen bulbs!” Terfa burst out laughing.

            Luena smiled, sheepishly. He was fond of his thirteen-year old cousin and expected Terfa’s mischief. It was his first time in the city and was going to be under a constant barrage of teasing. It did not bother him. This was nothing compared to the misery in the village, the hell he endured from the hands of his stepmother since his father died a year ago.

            “Bush boy! Haven’t you seen a flyover before?” Terfa burst into laughter again. He threw his head backward and arms in the air. Luena stretched his neck to have a better view of the Nyanya Flyover, the first he had ever seen, and said “Hmm, I am not looking at the flyover. I am just trying to see if the sun is still up in the sky.”

            Terfa blasted out an uproarious laughter and flung himself on the car seat. His mother, Luena’s aunt, screamed at him from the driver’s seat to calm down. Luena held back his own laughter, knowing that the slightest thing would set Terfa off again. He cast his face away from the window, and only cast quick glances, discreetly, to hide his surprise at all the new things he was seeing. He did not want to appear like a bush boy.

            They arrived at their destination, a two-bedroom apartment at Wuse. Luena quickly settled down in his new home. His aunt doubled as the motherly and fatherly figure; it had been that way since her husband died three years ago in a car accident. A week after Luena’s arrival in Abuja, schools resumed for a new session. He was enrolled into the same junior secondary school as Terfa. It was then that he realised his razor-sharp tongued cousin struggled academically. He was repeating a class at their junior secondary school. If his cousin’s derision didn’t stop, Luena, at last, had something to hit back.

The next day, on their way from school, Terfa, as usual, could not keep his mouth closed.  “The tailor must have had too much to drink when he made your uniform. You look like a cartoon character in it,” Terfa said and laughed so hard he began to cackle. Luena allowed him to laugh all he wanted. As soon as he could laugh no more, Luena said, “No wonder you can’t pass any exams and keep repeating classes. All you do is watch cartoons and compare the characters with people’s uniforms.”

            Terfa’s face immediately metamorphosed into a frown. He cast a reproachful glance at his cousin and hastened his pace. Luena knew he had found the perfect weapon against him. The rest of the short trek to the house was made in silence.

                The next day as the boys put on their school uniforms, Mama Terfa’s called them to the dining table. Her voice was not soft and calm, as usual, but carried a serious and stone-hard expression. Luena sensed that something was wrong.

            “Who took the one thousand naira I kept on the dining table?” Mama Terfa asked.

            The boys looked at each other. Luena was certain that Terfa would say he took the money and it would be the end of the matter. To his surprise, Terfa said, “It’s not me.”

               All eyes shifted to Luena. He knew his aunt would not believe him even before he opened his mouth. “I didn’t take any money,” he said.

                “Don’t lie to me!” Mama Terfa screamed, “No one has ever stolen anything in this house. What did you do with the money?”

               “I didn’t take any money,” Luena repeated. He cast an accusing glance at Terfa but his cousin remained mute. Mama Terfa’s eyes were fixed on Luena. She wanted to explode.

“I’m late for work so I will leave, but make sure you return the money when I come back,” Mama Terfa said. “And if you take anything again that doesn’t belong to you, I will send you back to the village. Do you understand?”

Luena, terrified, nodded. Deep down, he knew this was Terfa’s scheme. He prayed and hoped that Terfa would return the money and confess that it was all a mistake, but by evening when his aunt returned from work, Terfa still maintained that he didn’t take any money. He had lived with his mother all his life and no money or anything for that matter had ever been stolen. It was easier to believe him.

Mama Terfa placed Luena under intense interrogation. She was angry and frustrated, yet after twenty minutes filled with threats and intimidation, there was no confession. “I didn’t take any money.” Luena didn’t budge.

That night Luena went to bed overwhelmed with distress. He agonized over the prospect of being sent to the village the next day. He did not know that his aunt had no intention of sending him back. She had rescued her brother’s only son from mistreatment. It was apparent to her when she had visited the village for her brother’s first death anniversary, that the eleven-year old boy, having lost his mother at birth, had no other person but her. However, she would not tolerate stealing and lies in her house. She hoped her threats had frightened Luena to the extent that he would not think of taking anything that didn’t belong to him, but a week after one thousand naira went missing, she couldn’t find one of her most treasured ear rings. While she was still trying to figure out what really happened, other things continued to miss — wristwatch, handbag, more money and a laptop.

Mama Terfa was overwhelmed with exasperation. The continual denial of her son and nephew that they knew nothing about the missing things was driving her nuts. She was certain that Luena was responsible for the sudden disappearance of things in the house, but she didn’t know what to do again to make him confess and stop stealing.

She had already done everything she could think of, including inviting the police to interrogate and threaten the boy. But he always maintained that he didn’t steal anything. It was obvious that Luena could not personally use ear rings or a female handbag. It made her even more exasperated thinking of what he was doing with some of the things he stole.

It was a Saturday evening, a day after Mama Terfa’s laptop mysteriously disappeared from the house, that she decided to put an end to the incessant theft in the house. She decided to send Luena back to the village. She was still planning the trip to the village when her neighbour and former colleague, Benita, came visiting.

Benita had been accused of theft at their place of work. Although the investigation into the case was inconclusive and it couldn’t be proven beyond reasonable doubt that she was guilty, the company went ahead to fire her, citing negligence on her part as the cause of the theft.

“Why are you looking so perplexed, I hope no problem?” Benita asked after the usual pleasantries.

“Hmm. I’ve seen shege in this house for the past two months. I have lost so many things — money, jewellery, hand bags, and what have you. The last one is my laptop, just yesterday.”

Benita’s mouth hung open in bewilderment. “All that within the last two months that I haven’t been here?” she asked. “I hope you have reported to the police.”

“Yes, I did,” Mama Terfa said. “The truth is; we know who is responsible. My nephew — as soon as I brought him from the village, things started missing.”

“Ahh!” Benita exclaimed and turned to look at Luena as he sat with his head bowed in shame. “This small thing?!”

“I’ve been reluctant to send him back to the village because of the maltreatment he suffered on the hands of his stepmother, but I no longer have any other choice.”

“It’s not normal for a boy of his age to be stealing,” Benita said. “I’m sure it’s a spiritual problem. You need to take him to a strong pastor for deliverance.”

Mama Terfa reflected for a while and decided that it was a good idea. She would try everything possible before taking him back to the village. The next day, Mama Terfa with her son and Luena were the first in church. She made sure she had a brief discussion with her pastor at Hilltop Prophetic Ministries before the Sunday service started. She explained Luena’s addiction to theft.

Hilltop Ministries was a small church. It was founded six years ago and contrary to the expectation of the founding minister, Pastor Barnabas, the entire congregation was below five hundred. Pastor Barnabas had hoped that within five years, the church membership would run into tens of thousands with branches across the country. When it didn’t happen and all his efforts — fasting and praying, crusades, outreach programs, etc. failed, he made a resolution to at least hold onto his small congregation by doing everything he could to satisfy them.

When Mama Terfa, a devoted member of the church, came to Pastor Barnabas that morning, he knew that he had to please her. He instantly adjusted the church service to include a deliverance session. When it was time for deliverance and Mama Terfa came out with Luena, the pastor was taken aback. He had not asked the age of the boy with an evil spirit, stealing in his church member’s house. He had simply assumed that the boy must be at least sixteen years old to have such a vile spirit.

“This boy is possessed!” Pastor Barnabas cried after focusing intently at Luena for a few seconds. Absolute silence filled the church, followed almost immediately by hushed whispers as the congregants expressed their shock. Pastor Barnabas was surprised at his statement. It wasn’t what he had intended to say, for he had no idea why such a little boy would be so obsessed with stealing, especially the things his aunt said have gone missing. However, the words had already come out and he had gotten the congregation’s full attention and interest — exactly what he needed to keep his small flock.

“In the mighty name of Jesus, the spirit of stealing and all evil spirits shall be cast out of this boy today!” Pastor Barnabas said, his hands raised up as if already receiving the power to accomplish the deed.

A thunderous “Amen!” resounded from the congregation. The atmosphere was charged with great expectations — everyone waited to witness the miracle of casting out evil spirits.

“Bring him here,” Pastor Barnabas said, pointing by his side on the alter.

Led by the hand by his aunt, Luena followed sheepishly like a goat to the slaughter slab and knelt before the pastor as he was directed. All along, he wondered what ‘possessed’ meant, and what the deliverance was all about.   

Pastor Barnabas placed his right hand on Luena’s head and with the mouth piece of the public address system in his left hand, he recited Luena’s crimes and then started chanting and invoking the name of Jesus. The congregation, every now and then, chanted “In the name of Jesus!” at the pastor’s exhortations followed with a thunderous “Amen!”  It went on for almost fifteen minutes before the pastor stopped and turned to Luena.

“Confess and be free!”

Luena looked at the pastor without the slightest idea of what he was to confess.

“I said confess and be free,” Pastor Barnabas repeated.

When there was still no response from Luena, Pastor Barnabas lurched into another round of incantation. It went on for several more minutes with the pastor constantly pushing down the little boy’s head roughly. By now, all the congregants had joined in the incantations directed at Luena. The discomfort of being on his kneels for a prolong period of time and the increasing pressure on his head had already become a torment for the little boy. He was under increasing emotional torture at the onslaught of incantations in unheard of languages. 

Luena, was overwhelmed with distress by the time Pastor Barnabas stopped chanting for the second time and turned to face him. The emotionally harassed boy was ready to do anything to end his anguish.

“Confess and be free!” Pastor Barnabas shouted.

“I confess,” Luena said.

Almost in unison, the congregants gasped and then there was silence — all eyes on Luena.

“You confess to what?” Pastor Barnabas asked. “Say it. It’s the only way you will be free! Are you responsible for the things that had missed in the house?”

Luena’s only desire at that time was to be free; free from the piercing eyes of the congregants and the physical discomfort of being on his kneels with the pastor’s strong hand on his head.

“Yes, I’m responsible for the things that missed.”

To Luena’s dismay, his confession didn’t end his nightmare as he had hoped. It only led to more questions.

“Where did you take the things?” Pastor Barnabas barked.

There was that sheepish look on Luena’s face again — helpless, like a captured soldier before his captors. He had no answer. Pastor Barnabas sensed great anticipation from his congregation. Getting the little boy to confess everything meant the growth of his church, so, he bombarded Luena with more questions. When he couldn’t get desired answers, he decided to create answers in the mind of the young boy.

“You are under the influence of witches and wizards,” Pastor Barnabas said, looking squarely into Luena’s eyes. “Isn’t it true?”

Luena looked into the pastor’s eyes. They were defiant and intimidating, like those of a cold blooded animal, determined to seize its prey by all means. He didn’t need a soothsayer to tell him that if he remained quiet, his ordeal may never end. “Yes, it’s true,” he said.

Another ripple of gasps went through the church, and the pastor knew that he was having a ground-breaking service with the potential to transform his church. Nothing was holding him back again.

“You take things from the house and hand to the witches and wizards,” Pastor Barnabas said.


“Praise the Lord!” Pastor Barnabas shouted into the public address system.

“Halleluiah!” the congregation chorused.

Luena was horrified as he realised that his ordeal still wasn’t over. His confession didn’t free him as he had imagined. It only marked the beginning of his deliverance from the evil forces of the witches and wizards. It was only after another thirty minutes of more incantations in strange languages, punctuated every other minute with,

“I bind and cast you in eternal hell fire! In the name of Jesus!”

To which the congregation would chorus,


It was only after all this that Luena was finally free. By then he was drenched in anointing oil and holy water. In the evening of the same Sunday, another ritual involving anointing oil and holy water, grazed with more incantations, punctuated with “In the name of Jesus!” was held at Mama Terfa’s house to protect it from the witches and wizards.

Words spread quickly after Luena’s deliverance. Pastor Barnabas’s ability to deliver people from evil forces and expel witches was hailed far and wide. Some congregants even swore that they saw the witches as they shot from the boy’s body and flew out of the church. The appearance of the witches would later be seriously disputed with some saying that they were in the form of vultures while some insisted they were in the form of owls. Others claimed that they saw bats shot from the boy’s ears and hurtled out of the church.

The discrepancies in the appearance of the witches and wizards seemed not to matter to the people. The mighty man of God could bind and cast witches out of people — that was what mattered.

The next Sunday, the population of Hilltop Ministries swelled. More people brought children under their care for deliverance. Pastor Barnabas didn’t hesitate to display his miraculous deliverance powers. As the weeks passed, the congregation of the church continued to increase, as were requests for deliverance. Within a couple of months, special deliverance services, separate from the normal Sunday services, were held every midweek to accommodate all deliverance requests.

Pastor Barnabas was on top of the world — for the first time, membership of his church crossed the one thousand mark and it kept growing. Every day he sharpened his deliverance skills.

*          *          *

Calm returned to Mama Terfa’s house after Luena’s deliverance. Weeks passed and nothing missed in the house again. However, the joy and peace Luena had felt when he left the village seemed to have permanently deserted him. Eyes trailed him, followed by hushed voices, wherever he walked. In school, his life was a nightmare.

“Do you also fly in the night with the witches?” Terfa would ask loudly, folding his arms in the form of wings and flapping them as he run around Luena. All the children would burst into a loud guffaw.

Luena still remembered Terfa’s soft spot, but he dared not retaliate. He had not forgotten how things started missing at home soon after he hit back at him. No matter the insults from his cousin and school mates, and the strange looks from strangers on the streets when he walked by, it was better to remain in Abuja than go back to his stepmother. He knew that the surest way to avoid going back to the village was to steer clear of any trouble with his cousin.

The days turned into weeks and still nothing missed in the house. Four weeks after his deliverance, just when Luena started believing that his plan to avoid anything that would annoy his cousin had worked, he was startled by his aunt’s shrill call from the living room. He could tell by the pitch of her voice that she was highly irked.

“Where is the five thousand naira that you took from my room?” Mama Terfa cried as soon as Luena stepped into the living room.

A bemused Luena remained rooted at the spot as if he had been jolted from a deep sleep. Out of annoyance and disappointment, Mama Terfa took quick steps forward and landed heavy slaps on her nephew’s face. He fell on the couch behind. Until that movement he had thought that only his stepmother could slap so hard.

“Go and pack your things. I am taking you back to the village now!” Mama Terfa cried. But even before she opened her mouth, Luena knew his days in the city were over. A feeling of despondency washed over him as he thought of the ordeal that awaited him under his stepmother. He couldn’t bring himself to beg for mercy, for he was no longer sure whether he was truly possessed. He had taken great care not to provoke Terfa, yet things were still missing in the house.

Pastor Barnabas had said that children do not usually know that they are possessed, and they do the bidding of witches and wizards without being aware of what they are doing. The pastor had explained that it was the reason why Luena could not say who the witches and wizards were.

“Maybe the pastor is right,” Luena thought.

Barely three minutes on the road to the village, Mama Terfa’s phone rang. It was inspector Akor, the police officer in charge of her case.

“Please, you need to come to the police station now,” Inspector Akor said. “Some stolen items have been recovered. I want to know if you can identify any of them as yours.”

Mama Terfa changed direction and headed to the Wuse police station. Within fifteen minutes, she was there. She recognised one of the recovered laptops immediately as her missing personal computer.

The two young men from whom the laptops were recovered were still in police custody, but they weren’t willing to reveal how they got the stolen items. After an hour of interrogation without any meaningful result, the police asked Mama Terfa to leave.

“Unfailingly, we shall make the suspects talk,” Inspector Akor said. “Once we know how they got your laptop, I will call you.”

Mama Terfa decided not to take Luena to the village that day again. She drove back home. With the suspects in custody, it was almost certain that the whole truth would soon be revealed. She would wait till that time. The next day, around 11:00 a.m., Mama Terfa received the much expected call from Inspector Akor.

“One of the suspects finally revealed how they got your laptop. The woman that gave it to them has been arrested and is in custody now. You need to come over to confirm what she said.”

“A woman,” Mama Terfa muttered in disbelief. “Pastor Barnabas had been right all along; it’s witches.”

When Mama Terfa got to the police station for the second time in two days, she was taken to an interrogation room where a woman sat quietly with her head bowed. Despite appearing to love the bare floor too much to raise her head, Mama Terfa recognised her immediately. She turned and looked at Inspector Akor questioningly, convinced she had been led to the wrong room. At the same time, she wondered what her neighbour and former colleague was doing in a police interrogation room.

Inspector Akor sensed Mama Terfa’s disbelief and had to assure her that she was the woman responsible for the missing things in her house.

“Benita, my neighbour and former colleague?” Mama Terfa said, alarmed.

“Repeat what you told us,” Inspector Akor ordered.

With her head still bowed like a child caught stealing a piece of meat from a pot of soup, Benita narrated what happened.

“I had mistakenly carried your key along with mine on one of my visit to your house.”

Mama Terfa remembered the missing key, but she had thought that the boys had carelessly dropped it somewhere in the house and it would be found with time.

“I never planned to steal anything from you,” Benita continued. “It’s just that I have been out of job for a long time and it has become really tough. My reason for going to your house the day money first missed was to return the key. I was surprised that there wasn’t anyone at home. I decided to try the key on the door just to confirm that it was really your key and the door opened.

“When I saw the one thousand naira on the table, I couldn’t resist taking it. A few days later, I realised that with the key in my hands, I can always help myself with little things whenever it gets too tight.”

*          *          *

Six months after Benita’s confession, Mama Terfa did not attend any church service. It was like she had lost faith in the entire church community. One Sunday morning she dressed up properly, and together with the boys, drove northward, away from Hilltop Ministries, to a new church.  A new pastor had arrived in town. There was a lot of talk about his ability to perform miracles. Some said he could make the blind see. 

            “That’s the kind of church to attend,” Mama Terfa muttered as she drove past the gates into the new church.

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