Fetish Shrine Raid a Desecration, Chief Says

A police raid on fetish shrines in Nigeria which found more than 50 decomposing, mutilated bodies and 20 human skulls was a desecration of the traditional religion of the Ibo culture, a tribal chief said Sunday.

Wednesday's raid on the shrines hidden deep in a forest in southeastern Nigeria has raised a fierce debate about the role of tribal beliefs in Africa's most populous country, where most people profess to being Christian or Muslim.

Chief Joe Achuzia, head of the Ibo cultural group Ohaneze Ndigbo, said most ethnic groups in Nigeria used similar shrines to resolve disputes or take oaths, and questioned why the Ibo tribe was singled out for such a rare public exposure.

"Any incursion into a shrine without the invitation of the people responsible is a desecration," Achuzia told Reuters.

"I do not accept that one tribe in a society of ethnic tribes should be singled out for the purposes of reminding people that the world has advanced beyond traditional religions," he added by telephone from southeastern Nigeria.

Police said they raided the shrine after a villager tipped them off, saying sorcerers there were eating the flesh of some of their victims. Villagers had also complained a group of "high priests" had exploited the traditional religion and turned it into a money-spinning fraud.

The heads, genitals and other parts of some of the bodies discovered during the raid had been severed, which police said was a sign the victims may have been killed for ritual or to sell the body parts.

"They have been using the shrines to extort money from innocent people," said a secondary school teacher, asking not to be named. "Nobody dares challenge them, not even the traditional ruler."


The trade in human body parts thrives in Nigeria because witch-doctors use them to produce expensive potions, which some believe can make them rich or protect them from harm.

Achuzia said the police should be free to investigate any suspected murder, but he added that the media frenzy surrounding the raid smacked of tribal politics.

The police commander leading the raid was a Hausa-Fulani, a rival tribe to the Ibos, and Achuzia suspected him of using the publicity to humiliate Ibos.

The two groups traditionally compete for political and economic control of Nigeria and periodically fight bloody street battles across the West African nation.

"If the Ibo man had been the police officer and the shrine Hausa-Fulani, you know there would have been fighting and killing," Achuzia said.

Many Ibos use shrines in Anambra state to resolve disputes and take oaths. Some Nigerian media have reported that the Anambra state governor himself visited an Okija shrine to swear an oath with a political ally before elections last year.

"People prefer to reach agreements in the presence of Okija shrines rather than a witness as in normal contracts," said Chekwas Okorie, leader of an Ibo cultural association Igboezue.

An adherent of the Okija shrines, which are dedicated to the Ogwugwu deity, said families often brought the bodies of their loved ones to the shrines, the Guardian newspaper reported.