We are all ritual killers – Rudolf Okonkwo

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Study science, but Nigerians will not. Instead, we put our legs, arms, and hearts inside religion. Now, we are running around like chickens without heads, searching for how to stop ritual killings. Unfortunately, we cannot stop what we do not understand.

Ritual killing is like paying tithe to the devil. It works the same way paying tithe to your pastor works.

I will explain how. But first, let us get a few things clear.

In a country with over 100 million people living in poverty while a tiny minority corners all the resources and displays an affluent lifestyle with careless abandon, the disfranchised will find any way to escape their deplorable station in life. If one percent of 100 million people choose ritual killing, one million ritualists will be on the street. Luckily, we are not there yet. If we are, dead bodies will litter the streets of Nigeria and the stench will overwhelm the country.

Just as the first job of any government is to protect lives and property, the first job of any religion is to save lives, not only here on earth but even beyond. If your religion is in the business of taking lives, you are probably following the wrong religion.

Here are a few stories of recent ritual killings that mesmerized us in Nigeria. They should have raised alarm bells when they happened. But typical of us, we seek the dark goat only at dusk.

In 2004, police discovered fifty bodies in Okija Shrine in Anambra State. Prominent Nigerian politicians visited this shrine from nearby states like Abia and Imo to faraway states like Sokoto and Adamawa. Okija Shrine is where these politicians take secret oaths often aimed at defrauding the people of Nigeria, sharing resources of the state, channeling them into private use and protecting that ill-gotten wealth. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/aug/06/2

In 2016, construction workers discovered three dead bodies in the foundation of a church building under construction in Enugu. https://dailypost.ng/2016/01/25/breaking-dead-bodies-discovered-in-foundation-of-enugu-church-building-photos/ 

The building owner was a ritualist masquerading as a man of God. When the man was arrested and investigated, the bodies turned out to be those of missing keke drivers. So many like him successfully built their churches without being discovered. 

In 2020, police raided a Togolese Voodoo witchdoctor’s shrine and discovered 2,000 human bodies dried like stockfish with 500 bodies buried alive. https://9newsng.com/shocking-police-raid-togolese-voodoo-witchdoctors-shrine-and-discover-2000-human-bodies-dried-like-stock-fish-500-bodies-buried-alive-photos/ This is a shrine frequently visited by Nigerian businessmen and women. When the police stormed the shrine, over 5,000 people, most of them Nigerians, had paid and were on the waiting list for their turn to get the money ritual portion made from dead victims from the Voodoo witch doctor. It works, my friends. It works.

In the last few years, allegations of bishops patronizing ritualists have been all over the news. https://youtu.be/USogrjgiAtI They do so to secure the top position in the church, fight off those who want them out, or promote their brand of prosperity preaching. We have read about pastors caught seeking powers via rituals to have people who listen to them drop all they were doing, sell off all they had, to follow them. Once, a church member caught a bishop wearing an amulet inside a vestry. It is the same story with Islamic clerics routinely implicated in ritual killings in the South West of Nigeria. https://punchng.com/i-use-human-flesh-for-money-ritual-alfa/. Alfas getting involved in ritual killings is as common as Buhari’s travels. A Google search of Alfa and ritual killings will pull out many stories. It works, my friends. It works.

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Here is how ritual killing works. It works the same way paying tithing works. (http://saharareporters.com/2018/08/02/how-paying-tithe-works-believers-rudolf-ogoo-okonkwo ) Ritual killing is a form of tithe-paying. If you like, you can say that instead of paying tithe to your pastor, you pay tithe to the devil in ritual killing. And depending on what you think about pastors, the two may not be far from each other.

When you pay tithe, you are allowed into the inner circles of your church. When you kill a human being for a money ritual, you are allowed into the inner circles of those who control money in society. Once you are inside the inner circles of your church or your moneybags gang, leaders reward you with opportunities. Because you have demonstrated commitment by killing or paying tithes, you gain trust and receive lucrative assignments that are high risks but bring great rewards. Paying tithe, I noted, is like having sex. “If you are kicking against having sex, chances are that you are not having it. If you are kicking against paying tithes, chances are that you are not paying.” Unfortunately, it is slightly different from ritual killings. Those kicking against ritual killings are not necessarily those not involved in the killings. Most are involved but cannot come out and show their support for obvious reasons. 

When you listen to those lamenting about the prevalence of ritual killings, if you check well, those are cult members and former cult members who killed and maimed before; they are treasury looters working as contractors, politicians, and sycophants who cause deaths of hundreds of thousands by their greed and corruption; they are doctors who kill scores of their patients with sheer incompetence and utter disregard for the oath they took to save lives; they are teachers who abuse and permanently destroy the students they were employed to teach; they are businessmen and women who import and market inferior and contaminated goods that will end up killing the unborn babies, the old and young; they are judges who delay, deny and demean justice and kill the conscience of the nation and the people; they are religious leaders who pursue personal wealth and aggrandizement at the expense of building in their flock a moral base thereby killing the very fabric on which society could stand; they are police, military and security personnel who kill at will, bragging that nothing will happen. They have all killed people directly or indirectly, and essentially for money, power and fame. They slaughtered the young and the old, girls and boys, older men and older women. They spilled blood though it did not splash on their white cassock, their ties and white gown, their dashiki, their academic gowns, their starched uniforms, their ripped jeans and T-shirts. Even when they have never been inside a ritual dean, they are as guilty as the ritualists next door. But you don’t notice for they will be first to blame it on Nollywood that mirrors the secret lives they live. Or they blame it on other entertainers, like musicians, who reflect the society they see. Like Pontius Pilate, they wash their hands clean and want the responsibility of fixing what is wrong transferred to others.

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By the time you finish reading this piece, maybe two or three young girls would have been drugged, tortured and strangled to death in Ogun State alone. And another three girls would have been killed in other parts of Nigeria. Those are the ones that would make it into the newspapers or evening news broadcast. A majority of these kinds of killings do not get reported. This number is just a mere guess based on the frequency of the news about young women killed, those pushed out of cars and those seen near trash dumps in a state of confusion. Add that to old graveyards dug up by bone miners and body parts weekly found with one Alfa or their agents and you will get a good picture of the extent of ritual killings in Nigeria. Young children are not left out too in the killing field. Even family members are on the chopping blocks. Because we do not collect data on anything in our country, not birth and not death, we have nothing to go by but guess.

What we do not have to guess is that ritual killing works. It makes people who participate in it very rich. We see them driving flashy cars and living in big houses, while those who refuse to get involved and do not have other legitimate paths they feel are open to them wallow in abject poverty. And because so many people in Nigeria want to be rich so quickly, the number of people diving into ritual killings to make it is increasing day by day. Even teenagers are noticing and are willing to join at very young ages. Women, too, are beginning to venture into it. And that is when it will be fascinating.

Some young men in ripped jeans are killing their girlfriends, husbands in overflowing agbada are killing their wives, and random men of every hue are killing women they met at a party or on the street. It is so widespread that one wonders how men and women forge relationships in Nigeria and how society still functions when going out and about as a woman is such a risk. The risks are the same, whether you sell oranges on the streets or attend a posh party in an enclave in Lekki, Lagos. Some men, who you cannot easily distinguish by their look or status, have evil plans for you.

In the closest, behind their waterbed, under the immaculate pillow, in the medicine cabinet beside codeine and chloroquine, inside the stove compartment where kerosene goes, they have otapiapia hidden and sharpened machete ready to strike. Since they have no fear of human blood, they will grab you at the most unexpected time and slaughter. They hated biology in school but could harvest organs like a surgeon. They follow the specifications of a dirty older man in a dilapidated kiosk in a remote part of town or inside an evil forest. They may not have graduated from college, but they got associate degrees in sleeping with mad women and passing 40 nights and 40 days in cold graveyards. They have graduated from collecting women’s panties, menstruation pads, and discarded body fluids. The more disgusting the item is, the more potent the dirty older man assures them it will be. So, they dig deeper and deeper. The first beheading was hard for them. But the second was a breeze. 

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Ritual killings work because every facet of Nigerian life is built on what has been called Mahatma Gandhi’s “Seven Deadly Sins: “Wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, science without humanity, knowledge without character, politics without principle, commerce without morality, worship without sacrifice.” Nobody is held accountable for anything – not your politician, pastor, and professor. In such a society, everything goes. Parents of children who come home with inexplicable wealth do not question their source, and constituents of politicians who serve six months in office and instantly display exotic cars and mansions do not query the sources of their newly found fortune. Instead, they get chieftaincy titles and front-row seats in churches and village events. In such a society, everyone goes to the end of the world to make it. The end justifies the means.

There is the science of how ritual killing works. But for a society like ours that has turned its back on science and prefers to embrace religion, it is difficult to understand a phenomenon like ritual killings. It is one of the ironies of life that we have to understand the science behind its success to stop it.

Let me find another way to bring this message home. Nigeria has been a huge shrine that accepts ritual killings for so long. For decades, Nigeria has stolen the destiny of millions whose only misfortune was being born in the country. The killings have been going on unabated and in quantum. We only look away if it does not reach us at any particular time. But it always finds a way to get to us ultimately. At this point, those who oppose the restructuring of Nigeria to stop the killings going on are the ritualists supporting today’s massacre. On the heads of these men and women is the blood of Nigerians dying since 1945 in the name of preserving Nigeria’s current form by all means necessary.

Thank goodness, the science of ritual killings is quite simple. It says that we are all ritual killers. Its first law states that we are ritual killers when we sacrifice the common good for personal advantage. Its second law says that the blood we are shedding, both subtly and openly, will drown our children. 

We are all living in the bondage of a failed society that we created, sustained and defended with our inaction and indifference. We only point at those caught with freshly cut bodies in their pockets and droplets of blood still splashed on their faces and call them ritualists. They may be the ones caught for now, but they are not worse than us.


Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo teaches Post-Colonial African History at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He is also the host of Dr. Damages Show. His books include “This American Life Sef”, “Children of a Retired God,” among others.