West Africa

The search for Nigerians who can transform into cats is on.

Gbenga Adewoyin, armed with a sharp knife, a megaphone, and dressed entirely in black, could have passed for a medieval witch hunter, a herbal salesperson, or an urban preacher as he wandered around a market in Ibadan, Nigeria.

Warning: This page contains information that may offend some readers.

Those who had approached him in the Gbagi market out of curiosity swiftly dispersed when they heard his speech. “Anyone who can give any evidence for the supernatural, be it juju or voodoo magic, would be offered 2.5 million naira ($6,000, £4,650),” he said again in Yoruba and English.

In this profoundly devout culture, the 24-year-old atheist has just emerged as a rebel loudly questioning supernatural powers.

According to a 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center, belief in African traditional religions and their juju components is prevalent in Nigeria, with many merging them with Christianity or Islam.

Many Nigerians think that magical charms may transform people into cats, protect them from razor blades, and make money appear in a clay pot.

These views are not only maintained by the uneducated; they are also held by Nigerian academics at the highest levels.

Money-making juju ceremonies, according to Dr Olaleye Kayode, a senior lecturer in African Indigenous Religions at the University of Ibadan, are effective.

He told the Bazzup that the naira notes that allegedly appear are “taken by spirits from existing banks.”

Jude Akanbi, a lecturer at Crowther Graduate Theological Seminary in Abkta, is unambiguous regarding juju as well.

“Within the dynamics of traditional African religion, this ability to convert yourself into a cat, to disappear and reappear, these things are feasible.”

“Although it sounds nonsensical, like old wives’ tales,” he remarked, “these things are plausible based on what we’ve seen and heard.”

Such beliefs, particularly that human body parts and charms can be used to make money from a clay pot, have resulted in a spate of brutal killings in the country, with unmarried women frequently being the victims.

“It makes me sick to watch young kids participating in these ritual killings.

“If money ritual worked, we would have seen tremendous inflation in the economy for decades,” Mr Adewoyin told the Bazzup.

He was in Ibadan, Oyo state, on the second of three scheduled in-country tours, giving 2.5 million naira to anyone who can publicly demonstrate these juju skills, thanks to a crowd-funding campaign on Twitter.

He explained, “The knife is for everyone who says their juju makes them blade-proof.”

Juju fetishes

In most of Nigerian society, questioning the existence of supernatural abilities is frowned upon.

It was hazardous to openly voice such sentiments in a market, as Mr Adewoyin was doing. He could be arrested for blasphemy or lynched by a crowd of outraged people.

“Of course juju works; he has no idea what he’s talking about,” stated one merchant, a sneer on his face.

A black amulet, a little leather purse holding apparently magical charms, was in his pocket, which he claimed was for protection. He was, however, uninterested in publicly exhibiting its abilities, even if it was for $6,000.

Magical belief frequently coexists alongside Christianity and Islam. Clerics of both monotheistic religions frequently refer to traditional African religions as evil – something genuine that may be fought via prayer and their own higher powers.

Many pastors have grown wealthy and famous as a result of assertions that they possess supernatural abilities to remove juju and evil curses, which many imams also practice.

However, no one has accepted Mr Adewoyin’s challenge in Ogun and Ibadan, and he is not holding his breath for his next stop in Anambra, in the south-east.

While others have dismissed him as a publicity seeker, no one can deny the graphic photographs of bodies discovered recently with missing limbs and other injuries.

A man holding a megaphone with onlookers around

Mr. Adewoyin wants to challenge traditional Nigerian elders about their faith in the supernatural.
The kidnapping and murder of an 11-year-old child in 1996 sparked riots in the eastern city of Owerri as a result of this practice of killing humans for the purpose of using their body parts for magical purposes.

With the advent of social media, there are barely any days that go by without tales of missing people and images of disfigured bodies related to juju.

Last month, three men in Ogun state allegedly killed a 17-year-old girl in order to use her body parts in a rite they believed would make them wealthy. They confessed to the murder after being apprehended by the police and are now facing charges in court.

The clay pot and red cloths they were captured with looked like something out of a Nollywood film, Nigeria’s film industry known for depicting juju manifestations, but it was real.

They were also young males – the oldest was 21, prompting the hashtag #At21, which users used to express what they were doing at that age and lament what they viewed as societal pressures on young people to get rich quickly.

A man kneels before a juju priest

The outcry over the girl’s death prompted federal MPs to debate juju in parliament and consider a “state of emergency on ritual killings in the country,” with its representation in Nollywood films cited as a contributing issue.

Nigeria’s Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, has also weighed in, blaming the series of killings on Nigerian films and social media.

He wants the film censor board to work with filmmakers “on the importance of avoiding money ritual elements in their films.”

But the film industry isn’t having it, claiming that he’s unfairly singled out Nollywood in the midst of a national crisis.

“The minister erred; he cannot infringe on our fundamental rights to create,” Kanayo O Kanayo, an actor and producer, told the Bazzup.

He claimed the minister was ignoring a systemic issue: families’, traditional and religious leaders’, and politicians’ inability to ensure young people’s moral upbringing.

While the debate rages about who is to blame for the killings, Mr Adewoyin believes that a much larger discussion should be made about Nigeria’s educational system, which fails to persuade people that juju and the supernatural are not real.

He hopes that his defiant tour would expose individuals he refers to as “tricksters,” who claim to have supernatural juju powers, and help put an end to the series of ritual killings.

“It is unreasonable for a rational person to suppose that a human with all of his biological components may convert into yam or banana, and

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