Man who fled cannibals wins refugee appeal

A Nigerian man who says he resisted performing rituals of a cannibalistic cult on his dead father has won a second chance to attain refugee status.

The Federal Court has ruled that Brown Nosakhare's application to remain in Canada was too hastily dismissed by the Immigration and Refugee Board.

Mr. Nosakhare, 25, claims fear of persecution on grounds he was forced, as a first-born son, to follow in his father's footsteps and join the Ogboni cult, which allegedly engages in human sacrifice and cannibalism.

Mr. Nosakhare maintains he realized, as he grew older, that he could not remain part of such a group and converted to Christianity in 1997, causing great conflict within his family. His father told him he could not leave the cult, saying there would be severe penalties for doing so.

Mr. Nosakhare, who now lives in Toronto, alleges that when his father died in November 1999, cult members expected him to perform rituals that included removing parts of his father's body. Mr. Nosakhare refused to allow members to take the body parts, prompting a clash.

Cult members also insisted he attend their next meeting and assume his father's former position in the group. Mr. Nosakhare fled with his mother from Benin City, Nigeria, to nearby Worri, where he hid for two weeks until being found and beaten. He was then taken to the town of Abudu and locked up for a week without food in the house of the cult's chief.

Mr. Nosakhare says he was threatened with death if he didn't take his father's place, finally agreeing to the demand in order to secure his release. He then fled to Canada.

The refugee board has heard a number of claims in recent years from Nigerians involving allegations of cannibalistic practices. The Immigration Act defines a refugee as someone with a "well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion."

The board accepted Mr. Nosakhare's description of events, but found he had been the victim of criminal acts by the group, not persecution that would qualify him as a refugee.

In her decision, Federal Court Justice Daniele Tremblay-Lamer said the board erred in its findings.

"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 also rejected the refugee board's assertion that Mr. Nosakhare, who had experience working in a bakery, could have moved without undue hardship to another part of Nigeria.

"Here the board failed to identify in which part of the country it would be objectively reasonable for the applicant to relocate," she wrote.

Judge Tremblay-Lamer ordered a new refugee panel to examine Mr. Nosakhare's claim.

Mr. Nosakhare was not available yesterday for comment.