We're vegetarians, we don't eat human organs, says the Living Perfect Master

Nigeria's 'guru of peace' scorns alleged links with the Thames torso believed to be a victim of ritual killing. Philip Sherwell visits the ashram to find out the truth of a grisly story

Dwarfed by an oversized throne garishly decorated in his favourite hues of saffron and pink, the self-professed "living perfect master" delivers a meandering sermon on love and peace to 250 adoring followers.

Some have prostrated themselves in front of his heart-shaped podium; others stand and sway as though in a trance as he delivers such telling observations as "civilisations have come and civilisations will go" and "if you paint your car, is it a different car?"

This is the headquarters near Lagos of the One Love Family, a weird personality cult established by a 55-year-old Nigerian who adopted the trappings of an Indian holy man and the title Satguru Maharajji after a visit to London in 1980.

His teachings sound like the eccentric outpourings of a self-styled divine messenger. But now shocking allegations about child sacrifices have been made to British authorities by a woman who has claimed to be a member of the cult.

Joyce Osagiede, a key figure in the police investigation into the voodoo killing of "Adam", the young African boy whose decapitated and limbless torso was found in the Thames two years ago, has said that she and her husband had been setting up branches linked to the cult and that her husband was responsible for a series of black magic killings of the children of devotees.

She also said that she and other female disciples were forced to undergo ritual circumcision.

She made the claims to immigration officials before her deportation from London to Nigeria last year, although she has since told her brother that she did so only as a ruse to win asylum in Britain. Her husband, Sam Onijhighovie, is currently in jail in Dublin fighting extradition to Germany on fraud charges arising from an alleged human trafficking operation.

The Maharajji said that he was aware of the allegations from media reports but dismissed them as "negative propaganda" and an attempt to "misrepresent the father of all creation". He was not sure whether Ms Osagiede or Onijhighovie were among his followers. "In any case," he added, "if someone reads The Sunday Telegraph and then commits armed robbery, is The Sunday Telegraph responsible for his crime?"
The unusual interview was conducted as the quietly spoken grey-bearded figure in white robes and cap perched on the edge of another large throne in the reception room of his main quarters. His observations were interspersed by cult members, clad in red, yellow or white, singing songs of praise to the accompaniment of horns and tambourines.

It is not the first time that the cult leader has faced claims that are at odds with his public calls for world peace. In 2000 he was acquitted of murdering a Ghanaian who had alleged that his sister was being held by the One Love Family against her will.

Then a Nigerian magazine published the account last year of a former devotee who claimed that the cult undertook a "blood initiation rite" in which five participants died. "In most cases, when somebody dies, they cut open his chest, remove the heart, the liver and the kidney," the man was quoted as saying. "They use it to prepare a concoction and people drink it during the initiations."

The Maharajji, who dismissed such claims as smears, told me that he and his followers were vegetarians so allegations that they devoured human organs were baseless. "It is natural that I should face some opposition when I bring the truth," he said. He claimed that Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna, Adam, Abraham and John the Baptist were among earlier "divine masters" (or humble Guru Maharajjis) but that he was the first "living perfect master" (Satguru Maharajji).

Nigeria was the "New Holy Land of the Universe" and his ashram at Ibadan, 80 miles north of Lagos, its highest spiritual centre.

The cult, which has followers in Britain, operates on GMT (Guru Maharajji Time), which is two hours ahead of everyone else's GMT (Greenwich Mean Time). Meeting the master adds "12 years to your life", proclaims one poster; another announces that he has banned "all accidental and untimely deaths".

The Maharajji also claimed credit for ending the recent heatwave in Britain. "I got a call from London and heard it was too hot over there and I was asked if could I help," he told me. "Now I hear that temperatures are down."

Disciples have to practise celibacy within the grounds of the ashram and wear flowing red, yellow and white robes (never blue, which is banned). They are forbidden access to newspapers and television and are taught that holy books such as the Bible are irrelevant as only the Maharajji can impart the knowledge of God.

He says that, while studying for a marketing diploma in London in 1980, he received "the mantle of divine mastership and spiritual kingship of the universe" from Prem Rawat, an Indian-born guru. Prem Rawat's followers deny that there was any such exchange or that his movement or teachings have any connection with the Nigerian cult.

Ms Osagiede told her brother, Victor Imade Agho, that she and her husband joined the cult in Germany but she insisted that she came up with the claims of black magic ceremonies only to try to win asylum in Britain.

She recently disappeared from her family home in Benin City in southern Nigeria following a threatening visit from a local woman called Mercy after her claims were repeated in the local press. The 150-mile belt of land running from Ibadan to Benin City is a centre for both ritual killings and a lucrative human trafficking business. Police believe that the unidentified boy they call Adam was brought to Britain to be sacrificed in a black magic ritual by a trafficking gang, to solicit luck. Although they have no clue to his identity, forensic tests show he came from the Benin City region.

Although ritual killings, intended to bring prosperity or good fortune to the participants, are a regular feature of life in Nigeria, few people are willing to discuss the role of ju-ju, or black magic. Local police insist that it is not a problem.

Yet several people who disappeared in Benin City during April's elections are thought to have been sacrificed to earn votes for candidates, and Nigerian papers contain almost daily reports of ritual killings of children.

"Ritual killings have nothing to do with our religion or beliefs," says Chief Isekhuwe, a Benin tribal elder. "They are about greed and power. These people think that they can make money by using human blood, eyes and vital organs in potions and ceremonies. It is black magic."