Organized Crime: Voodoo Cults / Confraternities in Nigeria, West Africa
I wrote this article in 2013 when I got back from working in Nigeria in 2011 & 2012 and got an edited version published in Soldier of Fortune Magazine, click here for the SOF version. I have had quite a few people say to me that voodoo is a crazy subject to seriously write about. I understand why some ignorant people, especially those untraveled readers from the very conservative corporate security industry have (behind my back of course) called me a nutter etc. Voodoo, Vodou, Vodun, Santería or Regla de Ochá may seem a crazy subject to discuss even for mainstream U.S. or European readers but there are lot practitioners of these religions around.
At this point in time for my sins I live in South Florida, U.S. where there are large Caribbean and Latin American communities, Miami is the capital of Latin America right? There is also a lot of Botanica’s here and people practicing Voodoo, Santería etc. Last year I posted a photo of a chicken sacrifice close to my apartment in urban South Florida, click here for the photo. I first encountered people using Traditional African Magic while working in South Africa in 1994, usually guys had amulets of medicine that they claimed made them bullet proof… I have heard such claims in other places but have yet to see any actual results. I remember one claimant rigorously emphasizing the fact that only a AK-47 would not kill him while looking down the barrel of my .357 on single action. People’s beliefs are their beliefs and from my experience I can’t say Voodoo or African Magic works or does not work.
If you are going to be dealing with different cultures you must make an effort to understand them, more so if you’re working within their communities, even if you don’t agree with some of their practices you should respect them. To dismiss someone’s culture or beliefs because you think yours are superior is pure ignorance, especially when those cultures have been around for a lot longer than yours. To put it into context, within living memory homosexual’s and Jews have actively discriminated against, but these days’ in most countries discriminating against their beliefs and lifestyles can be classed as a hate crime.
The issues with voodoo cults and confraternities in Nigeria and West Africa is that many of them use their rituals and mystique to recruit men and women to use in criminal activities. In West Africa the cults and confraternities are usually nothing more than criminal gangs, many of whom have political connections. They are involved in a vast array or crimes and scams ranging from kidnapping, extortion, prostitution, drug trafficking to internet scams. There have been numerous reports of ritual killings in Europe, especially UK, where children have been trafficked and used for human sacrifices.
So, from a security professionals point of view I don’t see how you can blindly dismiss others cultures and beliefs especially if you are working internationally in a multicultural environment. And especially when elements of that culture are engaged in serious organized criminal activity.
I hope you enjoy the article, if you have any questions let me know!
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Organized Crime: Voodoo Cults / Confraternities in Nigeria, West Africa
While working as a consultant in Nigeria in 2012 I came into contact with the issues that come from the “Cult Boys”. The cults (confraternity) groups started off as university-based groups that were created as social organizations for student welfare etc. They are now mainly criminal gangs that are engaged in murder for various reasons, targeted rapes, kidnappings, extortion and intimidation, narco trafficking and political violence.
Domestic drug use and production is a large problem. This guy was arrested for dealing marijuana.
The cults use a lot of African rituals and magic in their initiation ceremonies and at their meetings. Ceremonies and meeting are held on specific days of the month, say the first Fridays or on Luna events such as a new moon. The ceremonies take place at specific sites and shrines generally in bush areas and we came across plenty of evidence that these groups take decent security procedures. The members were usually armed with machetes and we usually found spent shotgun shells at the sites after ceremonies.
To join the cults potential new members had to be initiated and most of the times pay a fee. We had 3 boys who were arrested by vigilantes just as they were going to rob the home of one of their college professors, the reason was to steal a laptop computer etc. so they could pay a membership fee to join a cult group. Their criminal careers did not get off to a very good start and was delayed for a while!!
These Cult Boys caught with narcotics detained by Vigilantes
We never had handcuffs; quite a few guys never had shoes!!
For many people in supposed first would countries such things as voodoo and magic ceremonies are just for Hollywood movies but in a lot of places they are part of the main stream culture. I have encountered these beliefs in Africa, Caribbean, Latin America and Miami!! I respect others beliefs and try to understand them as much as possible, this is a must if you’re working closely with the locals in these areas and should be considered in operational planning.
One issue with voodoo and black magic ceremonies is that a lot of the time they require blood. On one of my first wanders alone in the bush on this specific job I encountered some villagers who were concerned for my safety… One of the women in their community had recently been beheaded, no sexual assault and the head was taken. They believed the head was taken to use in a ceremony or to be buried with a dead tribal leader for the life to come! I have a lot of time for the people in the villages who for the most part are very considerate and humble people, who have to deal with what would be classed in the developed world as extreme adversity on a daily basis.
The above group, 3 guys and one girl walk into a patrol while smoking weed. After being search and questioned it turned out the girl was going to be initiated in to a cult. The guys had condoms to have sex with her (semen save for other rituals), a ceremonial axe to cut her, rum and eggs to rub into the wounds.
The initiation ceremonies for new members involve severe beatings, being cut and rum poured on the wounds, drinking potions of blood and other ingredients. Then addition initiation tests can include targeted rapes and other crimes as ordered by the new member’s seniors. Female member’s initiations usually include having sexual intercourse with multiple male cult members.
The cults also work for political figures and parties as enforcers who of course pay them for their loyalty. The cults are very much part of the criminal structure in Nigeria but also have strong connections with influential political and government members. The cults offer their members protection and spring board for a criminal or even a political career.
The issues with the Cults like most crime in Nigeria is that it can be combated but those in power very rarely want to combat it due to being too afraid or because they are profiting from it. But they are safer than most in their compounds with their police guards anyway so… Such is life!!
The following photos are of a cult ceremony site; on the night of this ceremony we had a team manning a non-reactive observation post on a main track about 30 meters from the site. Before first light they counted 18 young men armed with machetes leaving the area. The red ribbon marks the alter area; cult members also wear colored ribbons during the ceremonies.
At the sites there was always ribbon, various colored candles, razor blade wrappers (never the blades) and rum bottles. If we came to a clearing and there was a couple of these things lying around, we took it as there had been cult activity there.
Also at the more permanent site there were pots and buckets of some description hidden in the bushes close by, these were for mixing of their potions etc.
Here is one ceremony site that had been cut out of the bush, one day we found a blade there, which was not common.
The site in the below photos was the biggest and the most used in the area, from what we understood it would have 50 to 100 cult members attending ceremonies. Our observation posts always reported a lot of activity at this location.
The Cultists always deployed security during the ceremonies along the trails leading to the sites. Indicators of the security positions or that you were approaching a site were white/red rags, ribbons and candles by the side or on the trails.
The following ceremony site was used for animal sacrifices etc. A tree was used as a shrine and you could smell the place before you got there. Funnily one day we found a chicken there running free, for some reason the guys were a bit apprehensive about eating it!!
This is the grave and shrine to a Voodoo priest / Magic man, here people left offerings but we never had reports of large cult ceremonies here. There if a big difference between the cults and those that just practice the Traditional African Medicine!
My time in Nigeria working with the locals was interesting, enjoyable and educational, it’s just sad that those in power have no interest for the common people apart from BS’ing them for their votes, but that’s the same everywhere right?
My limited contact with other foreign ex-pat workers was mainly due to the fact they seem to all hide in their compounds, hotels and night clubs. And to be honest after meeting a couple of these guys I am sure that’s the best place for them. It just baffles me how they know the real situation and environment they are supposed to be advising on or selling products for if they are too scared to take a look! But who cares about the real world as long as the girls and booze are cheap and you’re getting paid eh!