Recently, there have been several reported cases of individuals who were kidnapped, killed, or had their bodies mutilated by ritualists in Nigeria. The most notorious of them is the one associated with one Chief Vincent Duru, popularly known as Otokoto. It happened this way: In 1996, the police in the southern Nigerian city of Owerri arrested a man, Innocent Ekeanyanwu, with the head of a young boy, Ikechukwu Okonkwo. In the course of the investigation, the police discovered the buried torso of Ikechukwu on the premises of Otokoto Hotel, owned by Chief Duru, and uncovered a syndicate that specialized in ritual killing and the sale and procurement of human parts. The horrifying discoveries sparked off violent protests in the city of Owerri which led to the burning and looting of properties belonging to suspected killers. Otokoto and his ritualist syndicate were arrested and put on trial, and in February 2003, they were sentenced to death by hanging. Apart from the Otokoto incident, there have been other instances of ritual murder and mutilation in other parts of the country. For instance, in Calabar, two men plucked out the eyes of a young lady, Adlyne Eze, for money-making ritual. And in Ifo, Ogun state, a businessman inflicted the same harm on his younger sister. In Ibadan, the police in December arrested a taxi driver, Abbas, who used his fourteen-month-old baby for rituals. Abbas killed his child in order to secure a human head, which was one of the materials listed for him by a local witchdoctor for a money-making ritual. And in another act of ritual horror in Onitsha, Anambra State, two young men, Tobechukwu Okorie and Peter Obasi, seized a boy, Monday Emenike, and cut off his sexual organ with the intention of delivering it to a man, who allegedly offered to pay 1.5 million naira ($11,000) for it. In Kaduna, Danladi Damina was arrested after he exhumed the corpse of a 9-year-old boy, plucked out his eyes and cut off his lips, intending to use them for charms. Recently a woman was caught in a bush in Warri, Delta State, decapitating a four-year-old boy for ritual purposes. And while writing this piece, I read in The Guardian (Nigeria) a report of the murder of an 18-year-old girl, identified as Chioma, by suspected ritualists in Mbaise, Imo State. There is also a different dimension to this very common scenario in Nigeria. These rituals are often taken to gods for various reasons. These gods have people who perform the rites, this people are often drawn from family lines by inheritance from generation to generation. When the worshipper dies, the eldest son ascends the throne and continues from where the father had stopped. Certain rituals are carried out to appease the gods for this change in service. They often require hidden human sacrifices. Due to the spread of Christianity, some are now bold to reject the worship of such gods. But this rejection often comes with huge prices to pay. In a particular incident in the eastern part of Nigeria, a young man named Madu Obinna Placidus rejected the offer of accepting the role of his father as the servant of the god named amadioha (god of thunder) after the death of his father. He refused because he was a Christian and declared that his religion was against fetish worshipping. He was given fourteen days to either accept the position or be killed and used for sacrifice to the god. He absconded before the deadline and his where about is still unknown as at the time of putting this report together. The question is: why do Nigerians still engage in such bloody, brutal, and barbaric acts and atrocities even in the twenty-first century? For me, there are three reasons:
1. Religion: Nigeria is a deeply religious society. Most Nigerians believe in the existence of supernatural beings and that these transcendental entities can be influenced through ritual acts and sacrifices. Rituals constitute part of the people's traditional religious practice and observance. Nigerians engage in ritual acts to appease the gods, seek supernatural favours, or to ward off misfortune. Many do so out of fear of unpleasant spiritual consequences if they default. So religion, theism, supernaturalism, and occultism are at the root of ritual killing in Nigeria.
2. Superstition: Nigeria is a society where most beliefs are still informed by unreason, dogmas, myth making, and magical thinking. In Nigeria, belief in ghosts, juju, charms, and witchcraft is prevalent and widespread. Nigerians believe that magical potions prepared with human heads, breasts, tongues, eyes, and sexual organs can enhance one's political and financial fortunes; that juju, charms and amulets can protect individuals against business failures, sickness and diseases, accidents, and spiritual attacks. In fact, ritual-making is perceived as an act of spiritual fortification.
3. Poverty: Most often, Nigerians engage ritual killing for money-making purposes. Among Nigerians, there is a popular belief in a special kind of ritual, performed with human blood or body parts that can bring money or wealth, even though such a belief lacks any basis in reason, science or common sense.
Steps must therefore be taken by both the government and the public on how to educate the populace on the need to stop this barbaric act. We must know that every true religion condemns an act of this nature. We must reconcile with ourselves and be our brothers keepers.
Mr. Johnson AbeyaThe Heritage JournalAbuja, Nigeria.