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The foundation and dangers of an occult economy

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Upfront, I wish to acknowledge the source of inspiration for the choice of this subject, Occult Economy: they are a combination of two institutions and three personalities.

The institutions are: i) the National Association of Seadogs (NAS)-aka Pyrates Confraternity; and ii) the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC); the individuals being Engr Adeolu Sayomi, the Head of Kwara Chapter of NAS, ii) Mr S.S. Babalola of NSCDC) who represented the Kwara State Commandant

NSCDC-at the event where yours sincerely met him, and by extension, his principal; iii) Kwara State Commandant, NSCDC. Officer S.S. Babalola and I met on Saturday-July 30, 2022 at the Feast of Barracuda organized by NAS on the theme, “The Rise of Ritual Killings in Nigeria: Causes,

The Causes, Impact and the Way Forward” held at the Midarx Hotel in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital. Mr Femi Adesoye aka Don King served impressively as the anchor of the educative event at which a young but highly informed Islamic scholar, Mallam Shuaib Omoyeni, and the Kwara State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice-the embodiment of humility, Barrister C.O. Suleiman, ably fulfilled the assigned roles of Guest Speakers.

It was during the Question and Answer Session that the NSCDC Officer Babalola pointed to the possible emergence of an occult economy given the rising culture of ritual killings in Nigeria; oooo one his comments immediately reminded me of the need to take a closer look at the subject for self and general enlightenment.

One point of consensus among participants at the event is that ritual killing is not a new phenomenon in Nigeria although it assumed notoriety in recent time; also, that it is not solely for the purpose of money but for other related ends as well, including self-preservation/fortification and power. Our focus here is on its monetary target.
Academic origins of the term

To my knowledge, the vocabulary of ‘occult economy’ acquired its prominence firstly in the hands of a couple, Jean and John Comaroff in their article, “Millennial Capitalism: First Thoughts on a Second Coming”- published in 2000-with focus on supernatural beliefs in societies, “where corruption and fraud are prevalent”.

The defining activity of the type of economy under reference is the embracement of “the end justifies the means” principle traced to Machiavelli noted for promoting cunning, duplicity and bad faith in human interactions.

As explained by the couple, an occult economy involves the deployment -real or imagined-of magical means for material ends.

Thereafter, several scholars have made contributions to the theme. For example, Suleman Lazarus-writing from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Greenwich, London- has an informed article, titled: “Where Is the Money?

The Intersectionality of the Spirit World and the Acquisition of Wealth”, published in 2019, focused specifically on cybercrime and highlighting Nigeria with an introductory note that, “crimes committed on the Internet constitute global issues, with global consequences, having brought, for example, Nigerian cybercriminals to the attention of the international community”. It is of interest to know that criminal money-making practices have long been in existence.

As the writer just cited recalled:
The contemporary manifestation of spirituality in cyberspace has to be analyzed with history in mind, to understand the past that created it. In the 1940s, before the digitalization of social life, many colonial head teachers observed that a group of Nigerian schoolboys (money doublers) were diabolic manipulators in trickery and scams.

These “money doublers” closely collaborated with indigenous spiritual knowers, such as herbalists or “native doctors”. While these “money doublers were implicated in defrauding many victims

in Western societies with scam letters and magical amulets, “money doubling” has always been associated with mystical powers in this context. He cited a third author who sees “cyber-spiritualism” as the use of spiritual powers to defraud victims in cyberspace.

Analogously, the defrauding of victims for monetary benefits is the most significant theme in the analysis of Nigerian cybercriminals and the “419-fraud” thesis.

Triple forces of Income inequity, Materialism and Corruption
No big event of historic impact occurs without explanation.

In this vein, the most obvious explanation for the emergence and growing popularity of the occult economy in Nigeria and elsewhere is the triple monster of skewed income distribution, wealth glorification and corruption-more on this, shortly. When an elite seems to be making fortunes while apparently doing nothing of substance, the top down effect on the ordinary folks is, why not me too?

As the Zimbabwean Bishop Chikosi pointed out: We know that ritual murder is big business in Africa and Latin America and is done for the purpose of harvesting body parts.

These are then used to create potions to boost fertility, economic success, and good luck. In other words, the Occult Economy feeds the financial ambitions of evil and unscrupulous businessmen and politicians to whom the dismembered body parts are retailed.

And police investigations are many times futile because the average African policeman believes in magic and therefore reluctant to intervene. As a result, these cases can go on for years unsolved.

As hinted above, the more fundamental explanations for the sprouting of the occult economy are the triple forces of unjust income distribution, corruption and the glorification of wealth which are also mutually reinforcing.

The inequitable distribution of income in societies has produced its logical outcome of poverty and as Aristotle is quoted to have noted, in his usual brilliant manner, “Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime”.

As a result of the literal collapse of values that placed emphasis on personal integrity, focus has shifted to wealth as the sole index for measuring success. Since we all want to be adjudged successful, the most rational thing that suggests itself is to secure wealth which in normal circumstances takes time, energy and luck.

Impatience takes the reign and short cut becomes the attractive option-including ritual killings for money which has a close affinity with political power and influence through which impunity is conferred. It is easy to see how this process promotes corruption which end is to access wealth illegitimately and speedily.

So much has been said about corruption in Nigeria and several other climes that it should not take our time here except to mention the painful failure of the Buhari administration in combating the menace given the huge hope placed on the president as an individual.

As a former Commissioner in Kano state argued on television some time ago, the outcome of the personality model for political engineering has proven to be hollow and inadequate and revealing that the system is the issue.

Let us digress briefly to underscore the fact that human beings behave similarly when faced with similar existential challenges.

This is how we see a rise in crime as an economy nosedives. In this vein, I draw attention to a piece by Nick Squires in The Sydney Morning Herald of October 3, 2017 titled: “Italians turn to fortune-tellers and occult as economy slumps”.

In the body of the report we read:
Italy’s grinding economic crisis has created a boom time for the country’s soothsayers, tarot card readers and fortune tellers, a report has revealed. With high unemployment and a largely moribund economy, more and more people are seeking solace from the esoteric and the occult.

The number of faith healers and fortune-tellers has risen fivefold since the global economic crisis began a decade ago, according to Codacons, Italy’s consumer organization.

This shared Italian experience is to be taken along in any attempt at addressing the menace of occult economy at a more generalized and programmatic level.
The case of Yahoo plus

A Nigerian national publication carried the screaming headline, “FILTHY RICHES: The audacity of ‘Yahoo Boys’”-in its October 24, 2021 edition, being a report on “the menace of internet fraudsters known as Yahoo Boys and the dangers it poses to society”.

But the practitioners have since graduated to the level of ‘Yahoo Plus’ which involves using traditional charms and mystical powers to charm potential victims into their scams in combination with the use of voodoo and charms for their own spiritual protection.

Then there is the ‘Yahoo Plus Plus’ category that involves the use of human parts – such as victims finger nails, rings,-carrying of corpses, making incision on their body, sleeping in the cemetery, having sex with ghosts, etc.

The Yahoo Plus Plus practitioners can be so desperate that they resort to the murder of their own parents. One recalls the specific case reported by the BBC on August 20, 2018-of a 29 years old chap in Lagos who lured his mother into a room on the pretext of a need for an urgent private discussion only to smash his mother’s head with a plank and pressing iron.

He was exposed and apprehended. A subsequent search of the criminal’s room by the Police revealed the following items: i) two calabashes containing human skulls drenched in dark concoction; ii) one blood-stained plank with nails: iii) a white handkerchief for blood harvest and iv) a bottle of oil labelled ‘Back to Sender’.
Nigeria has companions

It deserves mention that Nigeria is not alone in the get rich quick race track and the accompanying ‘Yahoo-Boys’ syndrome. For example, there is the Ghanaian counterpart of Nigeria’s Yahoo Boys, called ‘Sakawa’. In her 2011 Department of Anthropology, University College London Working Paper, Alice Armstrong reported how, ‘Sakawa’ hit Ghanaian news headlines in 2007, prompting a nationwide epidemic of rumours which continue today.

These rumours accuse young men of manipulating evil occult powers to perform successful internet fraud. In order to gain occult powers ‘Sakawa boys’ are said to perform socially grotesque rituals ranging from sleeping in coffins to cannibalism.

These rituals endow Sakawa boys with the power to spiritually enter the internet; possessing the mind of the foreign fraud victim to extract quick and easy money. In continuation, she noted:

Sakawa is predominately rumoured to be the practice of young men aged 16-30 who gain their spiritual powers by joining secret and sinister Sakawa cults.

These cults are thought to be led by wayward spiritual men such as pastors or fetish priests who hold illicit Sakawa meetings in the middle of the night. Initiations into such cults are rumored to involve socially grotesque acts such as sleeping in coffins, public nudity, refraining from bathing, ritual murder and cannibalism.

These Sakawa rituals endow the internet fraudster with power to possess the mind of the foreign target, forcing them to hand over their money. This power can be from magic rings, handkerchiefs or enchanted laptops and allow the Sakawa boy to spiritually enter the internet.

The Zimbabwean scene throws up its own unique picture faithfully captured by Bishop Dave Chikosi who features regularly on the country’s Nehanda Radio and also a notable writer who on June 2, 2022 penned a piece titled, “Emergence of a clip-toe occult economy: Why the povo have the papas and politicians to blame” in which by ‘povo’ and ‘papas’ he meant the poor folks and church preachers respectively. His words: The police in Zimbabwe are said to be investigating the possible trafficking of human body parts, following recent reports that common folk in Harare are selling their toes in exchange for money or expensive car.

The commodification of human body parts is not new to southern Africa. In April 1996 a 38-year-old man was arrested at a shopping mall in Johannesburg, South Africa, “after trying to sell a pair of blue eyes.” Nor is the sale of body parts peculiar to Africa. However in Zimbabwe, it’s the increasing gap and raw inequality between the rich elites and the povo (Portuguese for common folks) that is creating an orgy of consumption that has led to the poor and marginalized in society to seek alternative methods of create wealth with supernatural speed and acceleration.
The Dangers and the Way Forward
The fallouts from an occult economy are varied and far reaching-spanning economic, social and political spheres of life. To start with the most obvious is the abuse of social media to aid networking among the young criminals.

As well known, a good thing may carry a negative, unintended value-and so be it with the social media as a veritable human connecting tool. As we can see, occult economic activities lead to the mutilation of fellow humans-volunteered or forced; in many instances the act results in life termination.

There is also the consequence of psychological depression following failure of ritual acts to deliver as confessions about such outcomes have been reported. More concerning is the combined effect of these practices accelerating societal dysfunction. Whereas it has been acknowledged that ritual killings for money is not limited to Africa, the apologetic defense of Yahoo Boys on the argument that they are paying the colonialists back in their own coins-through cybercrime, sounds frightening.

What happens to national image and its effect on international relations, including foreign investment that relies critically on confidence in an economy?

It would be naïve to suggest an easy exit from the enveloping morass of the crazy race after wealth given the deep level man has sunk and the consequent spiritual depravity even if ironically it is in combination with a loud and flamboyant religiosity. Any recommendation on the way out of the mess will understandably be informed by (a) the orientation of the analyst and (b) the specific country context. It is not surprising, therefore, concerning analyst orientation to hear Bishop Chikosi suggest repentance on the part of the sponsors of ritual killings. As part of the context to be taken on board in the effort to fashion solutions is the question of the efficacy of the rituals especially for money. This criterion is isolated against the backdrop of the reported confessions of some Yahoo Boys that the rituals do not actually yield envisaged results.

The ultimate but long term approach may be to rework the structure of the economy so as to enhance its employment generating capacity such that the number of frustrated young job seekers will be drastically reduced. In the same vein, the content of the country’s educational curricula will have to be reviewed and infused with skills training to enhance employability of products of the respective institutions. Meanwhile, coordinated attention must be given to national orientation on positive values and the discouragement of conspicuous consumption through appropriate taxation.

However, what may stand in the way of implementing these measures are vested interests given that those who profit from the status quo may not readily let go of their privileges, havoc- wrecking as they are. I come in peace, please.

ADEREMI MEDUPIN writes…

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