The recurring incidents of diabolical nature associated with money rituals have been on the increase in the country in the past two years with patterns of ghastly acts such as killings and people caught with human parts and sinister behaviours like the widespread stealing of female panties becoming rampant, daily occurrences.
The trend fuels speculations that devotees of traditional religions, purportedly knowledgeable in the dark arts of quick wealth, are the driving force behind the scourge. And in several cases, accusing fingers have been pointed at herbalists, native doctors, fetish priests and others involved in traditional or esoteric religious practice.
A leading traditionalist has contested such views. He not only rebutted popular opinions but also offered a counter-claim that implies that adherents of mainstream religions, Christianity and Islam, are also heavily, if not more, involved in such diabolical acts.
“Stealing of female panties, for instance, and the reported disappearance of reproductive organs were unheard of in our father’s time,” he asserts. “However, that does not compulsorily mean that it is African traditional worshipers that are the perpetrators. Members of other religions are into it.”
This statement comes from Chief Lukuman Erinfolami Abogun. The aged priest, popularly known as Apena Lukuman, is the leader of Atunse Ogboni Confraternity, formerly Aborigine Ogboni Home and Abroad.
He argues further: “We have been hearing that some people have been caught with human heads or other human parts and women’s panties; what I am particular about is that they don’t always mention the religion. As it is with those in our line of religion, so also we have it in other lines of religions.”
He gives the statement recently as he fields questions from Saturday Sun correspondent at his Ajanaku, Lagos Island home. During the interaction, Apena Lukuman readily answers several questions about esoteric traditional religions as well as the Ogboni confraternity.
In many ways, he runs to type as a traditionalist, though with more depth to his personality.
“I was born into this work,” he declares and goes on to reveal the heritage from his parents. “I learned how to do what I do from my father. My parents were traditionalists. My mother was born into the Iyemoja (marine spirit) family while my father was from an Ogboni family,” he says.
He is however atypical in some other ways. Not only is he literate as evidenced by the newspaper he is reading–– “I had tertiary education” he affirms––he has in the past worked for 35 years as a civil servant until his retirement “I worked with the Federal Ministry of Industry,” he declared. He has also travelled far and wide, the evidence adorning his wall: a medley of photographs of him in faraway lands, the most eye-catching, a shot of him playing with an exotic ox somewhere in a white man’s country. The United States of America, he confirms.
As Apena, he is a portrait of contemporary Ogboni.
He spends the next few minutes trying to give an accurate picture of his religion.
For starters, he debunks the misconception of traditional religion as cults and traditional religionists as cultists. “I am the head of our religion and the custodian of the rituals to pacify our deities. I started worshipping the deities at the age of 17 and throughout the time I was serving the federal government. Serving the government did not disturb me from serving and learning how to serve the deities. To serve the deities one has to take it as a religion.”
He argues further: “Before Christianity, our fathers worshipped these deities and their prayers were answered. In serving them, we also call on God. These deities are agents of God, like Christ and Mohammed.”
He is proud of his worship of Esu, a Yoruba orisha (deity) equated to Satan in Abrahamic religions. “The same deity that [people of] some religion travel to stone, we worship it,” he states, pointing out that there is no one of African descent whose family does not have one deity or another attached to it. “These oracles and deities are what we worship before the advent of education and foreign religions,” he says.
Reminded of the spate of ritual killings and other sinister developments, especially female pants’ rituals, allegedly committed by traditionalists, he fires a salvo: “What is happening right now with this religion did not happen when we were young; at a time when African traditional religion was dominant. The stealing of female panties, for instance, and the reported disappearance of reproductive organs were unheard of in our father’s time. However, that does not compulsorily mean that it is African traditional worshipers that are the perpetrators. Members of other religions are into it and the reason behind this development is the inordinate desire for quick wealth among the young[er] generation.”
Speaking further, Apena describes the pervading trend of stealing of female panties for money ritual as “extreme and inhuman” and an act that “does not align with our religion.”
Says he: “We have been hearing that some people have been caught with human heads or other parts and panties of women; what I am particular about is that they don’t always mention the religion. As it is with those in our line of religion, so also we have it in other lines of religion.”
As to ritual killings, he posits: “There is no religion that sanctions the killing of human beings for sacrifice. There are preparations like protective charms and amulets for protection, but these dark sides of African tradition are not explored by only our people, but also people of other religions.”
He attributes the misconception about traditionalist to a mix-up, claiming, “there is a difference between a herbalist and a traditionalist.”
“A herbalist is a person who uses the traditional means to solve people’s problem, while a traditionalist is a worshiper and servant of traditional deities,” he clarifies.
He wants the public to start viewing the Ogboni confraternity as a legitimate religion, stressing that the tradition has spread overseas. “There are three types of Ogboni. Ours, Atunse Ogboni Confraternity, formerly Aborigine of Ogboni Home and Abroad, is registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission. We have members from foreign countries. We have rules and regulation guiding our activities. We also issue certificates to our members.
“We have members from Switzerland. You can see that (pointing at a white woman in a photograph) she is wearing our costume. The difference is that when joining us, they come down to Nigeria for the initiation because in their country you can’t kill animals in public and throw them into water. There are no rooms to kill even fowls.”
He reinforces: “Our religion is universal. We are everywhere and countless.”
If that is the case, why are members of Ogboni not as visible as members of mainstream religions?
“We can only be seen when we have our national congress and our provisional congress here in Lagos Island,” he replies.
Religion, he implies––whether mainstream or those in the margin––serves the same end for their adherents. The only difference according to him is the nature of the Supreme God, which in Christianity, Islam and Judaism is a single deity, as opposed to traditional African religion, which is polytheism in nature, thereby affording traditionalists the right to worship a number of deities.
“In our religion,” he declares, “We worship various deities. Aside from the Esu you saw outside, (the shrine at the entrance of his house) we also worship Ogun, the deity of Iron and Yemoja (marine deity).”
One last point he wants to make: “We don’t disturb other religion with our religion,” he stresses.
Confluence of religions
Buttressing his point, he uses his family as an example, a family, that is a confluence of religions––Christianity and Islam combined with the worship of a mélange of African deities and his Ogboni heritage––and yet without any dissonance or dissension under his roof.
He discloses further: “I have children doing well in America. One is a pastor; the other is a Muslim cleric. They all come here (his consultation room) and we sit together and we talk.”
The reporter wonders why on earth a true pastor or a serious mullah would enter into a home that has shrines dedicated to Esu and other pagan deities. Apena replies him gravelly: “If they stop to come here, they’d have gone against the teachings of God, which charged them to honour their parent.”
That begs the question: Isn’t it a failure on his part that some of his children shun his gods and instead prefer Christianity and Islam as their religions?
Not at all, he says and he has no grudge against them for the development.
His defence: “My religion allows us to be liberal, so I allowed my children to choose their own religious path. I am not part of those who said that their children must not have another religion.”
He adds: “I have grandchildren who have indicated interest in my religion. One of my children has shown interest in it and I am going to train him to be the best.” The ones who decided to follow other religions know I don’t have any problem with them––I have always told them so. God is the creator of this religion like every other religion.”