With the shock, anger, and general revulsion that followed the gruesome killing of 20-year-old Sofiat Kehinde, allegedly perpetrated by her boyfriend and three of his accomplices in Oke-Aregba, Itoko-Tuntun, Idi-Ape in Abeokuta, Ogun state on January 29, 2022, an end ought to have naturally come to our naivety about the pestilence that ritual killings for money has become among us. Or oughtn’t it?
Only yesterday, in the same Abeokuta, in an area called Leme, 43-year-old Kehinde Oladimeji and his wife, Adejumoke Raji, were arrested by men of the Ogun state police command for being in possession of fresh human breasts, hands, and other parts kept in a bucket. In 1996, Owerri, the capital of Imo state, almost exploded when one Innocent Ekeanyanwu was arrested with the head of a young boy called Ikechukwu Okonkwo. Police investigators later found the buried torso of Ikechukwu in the premises of Otokoto Hotel, which was owned by one Chief Duru. This sparked violence in the city, leading to unprecedented burning of properties of suspected patrons of ritual killings. The leader of the syndicate was later arraigned for murder and in February 2003, sentenced to death by hanging.
The belief in human rituals for money, which modernity has not succeeded in killing, is as old as Africa and is still prevalent today in many parts of the continent. Secret societies and their killings were dominant in pre and post-colonial Africa. In 1945 for example, one Amos Oshinowo Shopitan wrote to a senior British official about his two-year-old son who had been kidnapped and used for the “dreadful practice of stealing human beings for either secret immolation or juju making”. In 1946, a total of 161 persons were recorded by the colonial government as having been killed for rituals in the Ibibio area in the present-day Akwa Ibom state. In 1947, a United States consul reported that he had recorded 88 proven and 96 suspected cases of ritual murders in the same Ibibio area.
In virtually all parts of Africa, albino-hunting is a pastime. This species of nature’s creation with defects in skin pigmentation is a sought-after delicacy for rituals for money. Given so many names which range from Igbo’s onye aghali – one with strange white colour; Yoruba’s eni osa (persons of the gods) and zeru zeru – ghost – in Tanzania, so many myths of supernatural powers are woven round albinos.
Today, irrespective of supersonic advancements in technology and diverse ways of making billions through taking advantage of modernity, there are pandemic beliefs in many parts of Africa, which have grown so luscious, that the body parts of albino bring wealth, power, or sexual victory. For instance, in many parts of Southern Africa, it is believed that a sexual romp with a lady with albinism gives an instant cure for HIV and AIDS. Albino victims have their body parts sold for thousands of dollars to Sangomas or witch doctors. In 2016, the Office of the UN high commissioner for human rights (OHCHR) had announced that albino hunters sold a whole albino corpse for up to $75,000, while their arm or leg fetched as princely a sum as $2,000.
In Malawi, authorities announced that, between January and May 2016, six albinos, who included a 17-year-old Davis Fletcher Machinjiri, killed while he went to watch a soccer match, had been discovered. Amnesty International, quoting the Malawian authorities, gave an account of how Machinjiri was killed thus: “About four men trafficked him to Mozambique and killed him. The men chopped off both his arms and legs and removed his bones. Then they buried the rest of his body in a shallow grave”. It looks as grotesque as the killing of Sofiat.
Tanzania has its own share of this barbarism. About 75 albinos were reported to have been murdered between 2000 and 2016. Ikponwosa Ero, a person with albinism, in an interview, had said that albinos in Africa are endangered species and their situation, “a tragedy”, maintaining that the 7,000 to 10,000 albinos in Malawi and thousands of others in Tanzania, Mozambique, and other countries were “at the risk of extinction if nothing is done.”
One other hot cake for rank-minded human parts ritualism in Africa is hunchbacks. In 2011, one Ifeoma Angela Igwe was reported to have been kidnapped from her house, beheaded at a bush path, and butchered. Her hunch, which is believed to contain some mercuric magical power that curates wealth, was also severed off her back. In another instance, one Adeoye Dowo, a 22-year old, was lured into the bush by his girlfriend in Ago Alaye, a village in Odigbo local government of Ondo state, strangled by three men and his hump decapitated. So also was one Taibatu Oseni, a lady of similar age, murdered by her assailants and her hunch removed.
The murder of Sofiat was particularly grotesque. It must have alerted both government and the governed that our society had gone past the stages of pretenses and innocence. Her abductors, four teenage suspects of between 18 and 20 years, had allegedly killed her, severed off her head, and burnt it almost into ashes in a mud pot, with her remains already packaged in a sack to be disposed of by the time they were arrested.
For us as a people, I intend to argue in this piece, we are just crying over spilled milk, and like a knock-kneed, we have refused to look at the foundation of our current problem of ritual killings. Our case is analogous to that of the proverbial bush rat which was complicit in its own calamity. While assailants were digging his hole, the bush rat refused to raise alarm and when he was arrested, roasted in the hot furnace, he raises his hands up above the head to raise alarm, which Yoruba express as, “Okete gbagbe ibosi, o de’gba alate, o ka’wo le’ri“. There is no denying the fact that we are a people who believe in achieving material successes through harnessing mystical powers. What those four teenage boys who killed Sofiat did was go on a long shuttle into their African roots to borrow a leaf from our barbaric past.
From creation, in the search for explanations to the physical and earthly things whose order and happenings are beyond their comprehension, Africans created a counterpoise for physical objects in the spiritual. To them, nothing happens in the physical without a corresponding occurrence in the spiritual. In this anthropomorphic belief, gods are behind the order of the universe and look over the affairs of men. That was why gods like Obatala, Sango, Ogun, Amadioha, and the Arochukwu deities were created in Africans’ own image, unseen but with believed awesome powers that superintend over the affairs of man. The deities were worshipped with various objects. Stephen Ellis, British historian, Africanist, human rights activist, and author of the famous book, ‘This Present Crime: A History of Nigeria’s Organized Crime’, said: “Nigerians, then and now, maintain a dialogue with the invisible realm, in effect trying to shape their own well-being through a process of negotiation with the spirit world”.
One of such gods in West Africa is the Olokun. Olokun is an androgynous god or orisha, which means that it could be a man or a woman, depending on the people who worship it. The belief of Olokun worshippers is that it is the parent of Aje, the orisha that is in charge of great wealth and whose residence is at the bottom of the ocean. Olokun’s reputation as the ruler of bodies of water is legendary. It is also revered as the sole god with authority over water deities. It is said to possess the ability to give man great wealth, health, and prosperity. To maintain communication with the Olokun, a regime of murders by ordeal or ordeal by innocence was perpetrated. Human sacrifices to the gods were required and, added to the slavery experience – where man sold his fellow man for mirrors and liquor – the heart of the African became as hard and scarred as the tortoise’s carapace.
In 1912, the British governor-general, Lord Lugard, in a letter to his wife, Flora Shaw, said he had just dealt with a file that contained 744 murders by ordeal. Ordeal by innocence is a very severe or trying experience that was prevalent in pre-colonial Africa. It was a method of trial where the guilt or innocence of an accused person got determined by first subjecting them to a tedious physical danger. One of the methods used in ordeal by innocence was to singe the victim’s flesh with fire or throw them inside hot water and whatever fate the victim suffers then becomes an indication of divine judgment on them.
As far back as the early 20th century, Nigerians’ renown for seeking material successes through mystical powers had gained the attention of British colonial power. J. K. Macgregor, headmaster of the famous Calabar-based missionary school, Hope Waddell Institute, which Nnamdi Azikiwe attended, had detected over a hundred mails from abroad in the hands of his pupils. Writers of the letters promised the pupils, in the words of Ellis, “quack medicines and quack methods of treating diseases… magical works and letters from various societies that professed to give esoteric teachings that were sure to bring successes and happiness”. Those letters came from America, England, and India. Macgregor was so bothered that in 1935, he wrote the governor-general about it.
Africans, Nigerians saw the intervention of colonial Britain in their social and political affairs, especially its frown at barbaric killings and turning of the human body into commodity or money, as meddlesome interloping. British colonial government, which saw itself on evangelism to civilize Africa, frowned at such barbaric acts of human sacrifice for money. To it, such practices were repugnant to natural justice. This however did not deter the practice. Only God knows the number of young boys and girls whose blood were spilled from pre and immediate post-colonial Africa, on the altar of claims of wealth-seeking, health-seeking, and purification of lands with human blood. Sweets, chewing gums, nuts, Akara balls, and other fascinating things were used to truncate the destinies of hundreds of children, ostensibly with the aim of increasing the wealth and well-being of their patrons.
It will appear that having been smoked out by the EFCC and with a greater general awareness of their nefarious activities, which has made their preys be on the alert, the market of scam that the Yahoo Yahoo boys engage in has been grossly affected. Thus, the human ritual market seems the next sought-after.
Unless we want to deceive ourselves, those four headhunter boys who murdered Sofiat in Abeokuta, the hunchback hunters, the albino scavengers of Tanzania mirror who we are as Africans. Centuries of preaching on the sacredness of the human body and the visible monumental strides of technology have not succeeded in impeaching our ancient beliefs in spiritualism and metaphysics and their manifestations in ancient primitivism and barbarism. We attribute great mystical powers to money, right from the beginning when cowries and iron bars became the means of exchange. Money today is more valuable in our estimation than human life and we go to every length to have it. For us in Africa, money is not Mammon; it is life.
Immortal Bob Marley counseled – many more will have to suffer – as we enter the election season preparatory to the 2023 elections, many will be used for sacrifices to get to offices by politicians. It is in sync with us. In the first republic, the three regional political parties were built around secret societies. Ogboni society, which wielded enormous powers before the colonial incursion, was consequential in political decisions. J. Y Peel, in his ‘Religious Encounter and the Making of the Yoruba’ (2000) had noted that Yoruba use human beings, especially strangers, as sacrifices, at funerals for important people. Mortuary killings have been very prevalent since ancient days. In 1847, when Basorun Oluyole of Ibadan died, 70 people were killed to act as his consorts in the hereafter.
Today, there is a rat race to embrace Olokun, the sea goddess of money. It is worsened by the fact that governments have abdicated their social responsibilities and everybody is running a race for self-sustenance and personal survival over the harsh and inclement social weather. In homes, parents and their children build grooves where money is sacralized daily. Our social situation is aggravated by the fact that law and order have taken a sabbatical from governance in Nigeria.
Those days, if you didn’t have money but had character, you were given pride of place in society. Today, character without money is dead. The get-rich race has become pandemic. Politicians, governments, and Nigerian leaders, in general, are patrons of this social order. It began first with the godification of money and then, a huge war waged on the merit system. Uneducated and unskilled hooligans are suddenly made rich by the system, simply because they are anvils in the hands of politicians. Flaunting of ill-gotten wealth plays a major role in polluting the subconscious of the youth.
There is this reasoning which has infected the thought process of society that education is drab and unrewarding, thus pushing children from the path of their future redemption. The church has also helped fester this mindset with the pride of place it gives to money and wealth. General overseers live in magnificent, superfluous, and stupendous wealth gotten from subverting the minds of congregants through religious scams. They openly and unabashedly call for billion naira donations to church and bother less to crosscheck sources of wealthy donors. This cancer has eaten so deep that today, parents help their children to pad up scamming ventures. They take them for spiritual fortification in shrines of pastors, diviners, and marabouts.
It will be naïve, unrealistic, and wrong to say that rituals of human body parts for money are ineffective. Or that the metaphysics of human sacrifice does not have an effective science to it. As Africans, we cannot deny metaphysics like Austrian philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, who called it nonsensical. A dark practice like this which has endured for centuries cannot be waved aside that peremptorily. Or else we are saying that our forefathers, reputed with those inventions that still subsist till today, were ignoramuses. They were not. Human rituals are a fact of existence with their own grotesque science known only to the practitioners.
However, a time has come for Africa to join the rest of the world to do away with the crudity, barbarity, and primitivity of human rituals. Governments should first make life livable for their people so that human beings can return to their love for themselves and put money in its secondary place in the scheme of things. Today, the extreme poverty afflicting the populace has turned them into beasts who pawn themselves for cash. It is why human rituals for money have quadrupled what they were pre and in the immediate post-colony. Second, the government must consciously de-radicalize money and its effects, and flaunting of wealth should attract sanctions.
Social studies lessons of pre and post-independence must be exhumed. They were learned by rote and taught to pupils from creche, an example being the Yoruba J. F. Odunjo’s Alawiye series, which taught the values of work, condemned get-rich-quick syndrome, and pronounced damnation for indolence. Money must and can never be the only source of happiness and respect in any sane society. We must push it down from its unearned and undeserved first position in our affairs and push up values that sustain a people. These precepts must be read, memorized, and recited like verses of our Bible and Quran. Only then can we stop the pernicious harvest of our children in their prime, in the hands of flesh-hunters for money.