Vampire cult hunts him, man says

A Nigerian man has confronted Canadian immigration authorities with one of the most macabre arguments for refugee status yet heard -- that he is hunted in his homeland by a "vampire" cult to which his father committed him as a child.

While Bolaji Oloyede's assertion failed to win him the right to stay in Canada, both the Immigration and Refugee Board and the Federal Court found his accounts of a cannibalistic cult in the Abeokuta region of Nigeria credible, and agreed the group threatens his safety.

Indeed, the board rejected Mr. Oloyede's claim not because it doubted him, but because it deemed a series of violent acts inflicted on his family following his refusal to join the Vampire cult to be crimes rather than religious persecution.

As such, the acts are not among the grounds for refugee status, the board ruled. Mr. Oloyede applied for a review of the decision, but the Federal Court upheld the board's finding last week.

"I am seriously scared to go back to Nigeria now," Mr. Oloyede, 34, said yesterday in an interview. "My father joined this organization on the belief it was a business group ... It is much more than that."

Mr. Oloyede unfolded his bizarre story last May in a court affidavit, where he alleged his father, Jimah, committed him when he was 14 to follow him into the cult. To signify his dedication, leaders of the sect cut his left cheek once and his left arm three times with a knife, marks that remain today.

Mr. Oloyede describes the group's code as a blend of superstition and tribal religion.

Because he has two daughters living in Nigeria, he fears he will be coerced to join the group or give one of his daughters, on pain of his own death, should he return. His cuts will instantly betray him to members of the sect, he says.

Mr. Oloyede lives in Toronto where he works as a meat packer and practises Christianity. He has a common-law wife and four-month-old son.

Yesterday, he described attending the sect's meetings in 1997 at his father's request. The rituals involved drugging victims, killing them and spilling their blood on idols. The ritual grounds were strewn with skulls and human remains, he said.

The death of cult members is followed by a ritual in which the heart is removed from the dead person and eaten, he said -- a practice to which he was unwilling to submit his father's body.

"That," he said, "was the beginning of my problems with the cult."

Mr. Oloyede alleged in court documents and testimony that two armed men arrived at his home in June, 1999, in search of him and shot his mother dead over his refusal to join them. During the same period, his family's butcher shop in Abeokuta burned to the ground and his personal car was bombed.

Shaken by his mother's death, Mr. Oloyede moved his daughters and their mother, then his fiancée, to Benin City, Nigeria. He fled to Canada.

Mr. Oloyede backed his claims by filing in court an autopsy report confirming his mother's death by gunshot wounds, along with a letter from a lawyer in Nigeria, who confirmed Mr. Oloyede's life was in danger from the cult.

Mr. Oloyede also submitted expert opinions and previous refugee board findings that such cults exist. As recently as 1999, the board has accepted Nigerian applicants based on their fear they may be forced to participate in cannibalistic rituals.

But even if the Vampire cult continues those practices, the refugee board was not convinced it amounts to persecution.

Mr. Oloyede's lawyer, Nainesh Kotak, plans to apply to the Immigration Department to have Mr. Oloyede admitted under humanitarian and compassionate grounds.