Nigerian refutes cannibal claim

BENIN CITY, Nigeria -- The owner of a Nigerian bakery has cast doubt on the story of a refugee claimant who said he would be forced to participate in a cannibalistic cult if he were deported from Canada and returned to his own country.

Brown Nosakhare, 26, told Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board that he fled from Nigeria to Canada in 1999 after refusing to participate in the ritualistic eating of his dead father's ashes.

Mr. Nosakhare, who now lives in suburban Toronto, claims he was kidnapped and beaten by members of the Ogboni cult and threatened with death if he didn't take his father's place in the group.

As part of the cult's rituals, he claimed, he would have to eat his father's ashes, which runs contrary to his Christian beliefs. Mr. Nosakhare told the board his father was a prominent bakery owner in Benin City and leader of the underground religious order.

Mr. Nosakhare's story came as a great surprise to the owner of the Nosakhare Bakery in Benin City, who says he has no son named Brown Nosakhare, nor has he ever belonged to any cult.

"This man is saying I'm dead. I am alive," said Nosakhare Eghobamien, a well-known church official and founder of a Christian boarding school whose four sons work in his bakery.

"I know I'm a popular man. Maybe that is how he got to know my name."

Word of Mr. Nosakhare's claim in Canada has reached Benin City, where his tale of cannibalism is a hot topic of discussion.

But Mr. Nosakhare's lawyer in Toronto called Mr. Eghobamien's comments "ridiculous" and insists the cannibalism story is true.

He says his client is referring to another business in the city with the same name. "It's not the same bakery," said Kingsley Jesuorobo. "Benin City is a large place and Nosakhare is a very popular name."

He noted that many Nigerians assume the name, which means "God's will" in the Edo language.

But Mr. Eghobamien says he doubts he could have been confused with any other baker in Benin City. He started his bakery 32 years ago and has turned it into one of the largest in the state.

He said no Canadian authorities have contacted him about Mr. Nosakhare's tale.

Mr. Eghobamien's eldest son, Peter, says there is no other bakery in the city that shares the name.

"Another Nosakhare Bakery cannot exist because our name is registered," he said. "In this country the law is that two companies cannot have the same name. We have been in the city for 32 years, so if there was another one I think we would know."

The Immigration and Refugee Board originally rejected Mr. Nosakhare's claim, saying it believed he had been beaten but doubted the cannibalism story. The religious persecution Mr. Nosakhare claimed did not exist, the panel found.

Facing deportation, Mr. Nosakhare successfully appealed the case to the Federal Court. Justice Daniele Tremblay-Lamer ruled that "the evidence clearly demonstrates that the kidnapping and beating endured by the applicant were acts carried out by a religious group as a result of the religious belief of the applicant."

Judge Tremblay-Lamer claimed the IRB has misinterpreted law governing convention refugees. The IRB decision was set aside and Mr. Nosakhare was given the right to a new IRB hearing.

After the ruling, a statement issued by the Nigerian high commission in Ottawa further questioned such cannibalism claims. It confirmed the existence of the Ogboni society, but said the group is "an exclusive society for the upper class in the country" that has never practised human sacrifice or cannibalism.

"Some smart individuals who, like Mr. Nosakhare, who find their way into Canada illegally and thereafter want to obtain a permanent stay in the country, resort to all forms of stories about human rights abuse," the high commission said.

Mr. Jesuorobo said the high commission attacked his client's story because the cannibalism claim reflects badly on Nigeria.

The refugee board has heard at least one other claim in recent years from Nigerians involving allegations of cannibalistic practices, including one that, like Mr. Nosakhare, was rejected by the IRB and appealed to Federal Court. The application for a new hearing was rejected, however.

The IRB would not comment on the investigation into Mr. Nosakhare's claims, as all refugee claims are conducted in camera.

A typical refugee hearing would see the claimant present evidence of persecution and would be cross-examined by the IRB panel and a lawyer.