Nigeria: The Eiye confraternity, including origin, purpose, structure, membership, recruitment methods, activities and areas of operation; state response (2014-March 2016) [NGA105490.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa

1. Overview

Sources indicate that the Supreme Eiye Confraternity (SEC) (SEC n.d.; BBC 27 Jan. 2016) is also known as the Air Lords (ibid.; The Guardian 6 Nov. 2015) or the National Association of Airlords (SEC n.d.). Sources describe Eiye as a "secret cult" (The Guardian 6 Nov. 2015; PM News 28 Oct. 2015) or "unlawful society" (ibid.). Sources further indicate that Eiye is one of a number of similar groups active in Nigeria (Ezeonu 19 Sept. 2013, 270; ISS 31 Mar. 2015; UN 2014, 56).

According to sources, Eiye was founded at the University of Ibadan (SEC n.d.; BBC 27 Jan. 2016). The BBC reports that the group was created in the 1970s (ibid.). According to Eiye's Facebook page however, the organization was founded in 1963 with the purpose "to uphold the core nature of the African culture with a commitment to excellence" and "to make [a] positive impact on the socio-political psyche of Nigeria and ensure complete break away from [the] colonial/imperial cultural domination of the time" (SEC n.d.). The same source states that Eiye "remains true to the vision of her founders" (ibid.).

The BBC reports that although Eiye's "original intention was to make a positive contribution to society," it is an "organized crime group" from which, over time, "many members went astray, committing violence in Nigeria and delving into crime abroad" (BBC 27 Jan. 2016). The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) similarly describes Eiye as a "criminal group" (UN 2014, 56). Jane's Intelligence Review states that Eiye is made up of "members of old secret societies transformed into criminal associations" (Jane's Intelligence Review 25 Feb. 2011).

2. Structure

According to the UNODC, the Eiye confraternity functions "through a system of cells (called forums) operating locally, but connected to other cells established in different countries in West Africa, in North Africa, in the Middle East and in Western Europe" (UN 2014, 56-57). The same source notes that Eiye has "a rigid hierarchical structure headed by a directorate and each forum is independent. The members have a specific functional and hierarchical role; they are connected by familiar or other relational ties" (ibid., 57).

Daily Trust, a Nigerian newspaper, quotes a member of an Eiye group, who refers to the leader of the organization as a "'Capon'" (Daily Trust 21 Oct. 2015). According to a study on violent fraternities at an unnamed university in southern Nigeria, which was published in the Journal of African American Studies, the leaders of most Nigerian fraternities are called "Capones," as an allusion to the Chicago gangster Al Capone (Ezeonu 19 Sept. 2013, 280). The same source explains that there is a "hierarchy of Capones;" the national Capone is like a Commander-in-Chief, while the campus-based Capones are like field commanders (ibid.). The competition for all of these positions is reportedly "vicious" and to be chosen, the person "must demonstrate daring acts of bravery, brutality and courage" (ibid.).

UNODC reports that, according to a 2014 investigation by Italian authorities, members of the Eiye confraternity have operated in Italy since at least 2008 and have "a level of organization, violence and intimidation similar to other, better known mafias" (UN 2014, 56).

3. Membership

Statistics on the number of members who belong to Eiye could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response. According to UNODC, Eiye has "hundreds" of members in Africa and in other continents (UN 2014, 57). An article published in the Nigerian newspaper Vanguard indicates that the majority of cult members are teenagers and youth and some are current and former students of "tertiary institutions" (Vanguard 26 Oct. 2015).

Sources report that Eiye has initiation rituals for new members (UN 2014, 57; Daily Trust 21 Oct. 2015). According to the study published in the Journal of African American Studies, the initiation rituals of these fraternities usually take place in secret (Ezeonu 19 Sept. 2013, 276). The same source states that, in individual and focus group interviews of 30 participants conducted for the purpose of the study, the Eiye Confraternity was identified as one of the "most violent" fraternities at the university (Ezeonu 19 Sept. 2013, 274). The study notes that fraternities at the university, in general, use "brutal and humiliating forms of hazing in their initiation ceremonies" and that after initiation, new recruits are often required to undertake criminal acts such as "obligatory rapes" of women affiliated with rival gang members, armed robbery or physical attacks of faculty members (ibid., 275, 276).

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a researcher affiliated with the Transnational Threats and International Crime Division of the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies (ISS), an organization that provides "independent and authoritative research [and] expert policy advice" on human security (ISS n.d.), stated that details about the Eiye confraternity are difficult to confirm because of the amount of secrecy surrounding the group (ISS 1 Apr. 2016).

Information on membership cards could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

Sources indicate that the Eiye confraternity's emblem is a bird (ISS 1 Apr. 2016; BBC 27 Jan. 2016), specifically an eagle (ibid.). Sources further note that "eiye" means "bird" in the Yoruba language (ibid.; SEC n.d.).

4. Activities and Areas of Operation
4.1 Within Nigeria

Sources state that campus fraternities intimidate and assault students and staff at the educational institutions where they are present (ISS 31 Mar. 2016; Ezeonu 19 Sept. 2013, 271). Nigerian media sources report that, in August 2015, clashes between the Eiye and Aiye confraternities at the Kwara State Polytechnic, which spread to other parts of Ilorin [the capital of Kwara State], resulted in the deaths of 16 people, the arrest of 30-40 suspected cult members (Daily Trust 22 Aug. 2015; The Sun 18 Aug. 2015; Nigerian Tribune 17 Aug. 2015), and the closure of the institution "indefinitely" (ibid.; The Sun 18 Aug. 2015).

Sources report that the Eiye confraternity has been involved in the following activities within Nigeria:

  • Clashes with the rival cult, the Aiye [Black Axe] confraternity (This Day 21 Mar. 2016; Nigerian Tribune 24 Jan. 2016; Daily Independent 14 Jan. 2016), including killings of rival cult members (ibid.; Nigerian Tribune 24 Jan. 2016)
  • Clashes with police (Daily Trust 15 Sept. 2015; Vanguard 26 Oct. 2015)
  • Vandalism (Nigerian Tribune 24 Jan. 2016)
  • Robbery (PM News 25 Sept. 2015)
  • Arson (Daily Independent 28 Jan. 2016)
  • Possession of hard drugs and weapons (Nigerian Tribune 23 Feb. 2016)
  • Clashes with the Manfight group in Oredo [Edo State], including killings, in a conflict related to state elections (Fund for Peace 22 Aug. 2015, 3)

Sources indicate that Eiye is headquartered in Ibadan (SEC n.d.; BBC 27 Jan. 2016). According to the ISS researcher, Eiye is located in Lagos and Ibadan, but "it is possible that their operations take place in other areas around the country" (ISS 1 Apr. 2016).

Nigerian media sources have reported on cases of violent clashes involving Eiye members in various cities and states in Nigeria, including:

  • Bariga area of Lagos (Daily Independent 28 Jan. 2016; Vanguard 26 Oct. 2015; Nigerian Tribune 24 Jan. 2016)
  • Ebute Metta area of Lagos (PM News 31 July 2015)
  • Ikorodu, Lagos (Daily Independent 14 Jan. 2016; The Guardian 6 Nov. 2015)
  • Mushin, Lagos (Daily Trust 15 Sept. 2015)
  • Oredo, Edo state (Fund for Peace 22 Aug. 2015, 3-4)
  • Kwale, Delta state (Nigerian Tribune 23 Feb. 2016)
  • Owo, Ondo state (This Day 21 Mar. 2016)
  • Ogijo, Ogun state (PM News 25 Sept. 2015)
  • Abeokuta, Ogun state (This Day 1 Sept. 2015).

4.2 Activities Abroad

Sources report that the Eiye confraternity is involved in the trafficking of women (BBC 27 Jan. 2016; UN 2014, 57). The UNODC reports that in March 2014, Italian authorities conducted an investigation and arrested 34 people affiliated with the Eiye and Aye cults for criminal activities, including managing the trafficking of young women from Benin City to Italy (ibid., 56). Sources report that Eiye has operated an international sex trafficking ring in Barcelona (BBC 27 Jan. 2016; Sputnik 27 Jan. 2016). Sources also report that 23 members of the Eiye group were arrested by the Catalan police after an 18-month investigation (ibid.; BBC 27 Jan. 2016). According to the BBC, investigators found that women were being trafficked from Benin City and other areas of Nigeria, and were transported through North Africa or through airports in the UK (ibid.). The same source reports that the women were forced to share their earnings with Eiye operatives, and, if anyone resisted, their family members in Nigeria would be threatened or abducted (ibid.). Sources indicate that, in addition to human trafficking, Eiye operatives abroad are involved in: drug trafficking (UN 2014, 57; BBC 27 Jan. 2016); document falsification (ibid.; Sputnik 27 Jan. 2016; UN 2014, 57); counterfeiting (ibid.); transporting stolen crude oil into Europe (BBC 27 Jan. 2016); and money laundering (UN 2014, 57).

The BBC reports that Eiye has "a huge network trafficking women and drugs," with members operating in cities in Europe, Africa (North, East and West), North America, South America, the Middle East and Asia (BBC 27 Jan. 2016). The UNODC similarly says that there are Eiye cells established in different countries in Europe, West Africa, North Africa and the Middle East (UN 2014, 56, 57). According to the BBC, Eiye operatives held a meeting of approximately 400 members in Geneva on 7 July 2015 (BBC 27 Jan. 2016).

5. State Response

Nigeria passed the Secret Cult and Similar Activities Prohibition Law in June 2004, which banned a number of cult groups, including the Eiye (SAS May 2005, 21-22). Media sources report on cases in which the police arrested people for alleged membership in Eiye, including the following:

  • In October 2015, 31 undergraduates at the University of Lagos who were suspected of belonging to Eiye were arrested while preparing to go to an initiation ceremony (Daily Trust 21 Oct. 2015);
  • In October 2015, the police arrested five people in Lagos under suspicion of being leaders of Eiye; they were charged with felony charges for "belonging and managing an unlawful society" (PM News 28 Oct. 2015);
  • In December 2015, police arrested 10 members of Eiye in Ewekoro Local Government Area of Ogun State after raiding their hideout (The Guardian 31 Dec. 2015);
  • In March 2016, Kwara state police arrested four Eiye members in Ilorin while they were "preparing to go out on [an] operation" (Nigerian Tribune 13 Mar. 2016).

Speaking about the general situation towards members of cults, the ISS researcher stated that cult members have been arrested or expelled from universities for carrying out "violent and criminal activities" (ISS 31 Mar. 2016). However, he also noted that "[p]olice can make arrests but in some cases, corruption, witness intimidation and lack of evidence causes the case to be dropped" (ibid.). According to the study published in the Journal of African American Studies, politicians sometimes use fraternities as "hired thugs," or for election rigging, and then "shield them from public prosecution" (Ezeonu 19 Sept. 2013, 282). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). 27 January 2016. "The World of Nigeria's Sex-trafficking 'Air Lords'." [Accessed 24 Mar. 2016]

Daily Independent. 28 January 2016. Andrew Utulu. "'We Are Neither Cultists nor Responsible for Bariga Mayhem'." (Factiva)

Daily Independent. 14 January 2016. "Five Killed, Five Injured in Ikorodu Cult Clash." (Factiva)

Daily Trust. 21 October 2015. Eugene Agha. "Nigeria: 31 Suspected Cultists Arrested While Preparing for Initiation Ceremony." [Accessed 29 Mar. 2016]

Daily Trust. 15 September 2015. Eugene Agha. "Police Nab Notorious Cultist." (Factiva)

Daily Trust. 22 August 2015. Romoke W. Ahmad. "Deadly Cultists' Clash Raises Questions in Ilorin." (Factiva)

Ezeonu, Ifeanyi. 19 September 2013. "Violent Fraternities and Public Security Challenges in Nigerian Universities: a Study of the 'University of the South'." Journal of African American Studies. Vol. 18, No. 3.

Fund for Peace. 22 August 2015. "Nigeria Conflict Bullitin: Edo State. Patterns and Trends, January 2012 - June 2015." [Accessed 29 Mar. 2016]

The Guardian (Lagos). 31 December 2015. "Nigeria: SARS Arrests 10 Cult Members in Ogun." [Accessed 29 Mar. 2016]

The Guardian. 6 November 2015. Daniel Anazia and Tobi Awodipe. "At the Mercy of Cultists: Killer Gangs Shift to the Neighbourhoods." [Accessed 24 Mar. 2016]

Institute for Security Studies (ISS). 1 April 2016. Correspondence from a researcher in the Transnational Threats and International Crime Division to the Research Directorate.

Institute for Security Studies (ISS). 31 March 2016. Correspondence from a researcher in the Transnational Threats and International Crime Division to the Research Directorate.

Institute for Security Studies (ISS). N.d. "Institute for Security Studies (ISS)." [Accessed 7 Apr. 2016]

Jane's Intelligence Review. 25 February 2011. "Extended Family: the Italian Mafia's Continued Expansion." [Accessed 29 Mar. 2016]

Nigerian Tribune. 13 March 2016. "Kwara Police Command Parades Suspected Cultists." (Factiva)

Nigerian Tribune. 23 February 2016. "Hard Drugs, Fetish Items Recovered from 6 Cultists in Delta." (Factiva)

Nigerian Tribune. 24 January 2016. "Police Arrest Gang Leader, 6 Others, Recover Power Bikes, Ammunition After Lagos Cult Clash." (Factiva)

Nigerian Tribune. 17 August 2015. "16 Feared Killed as Cultists Clash at Polytechnic, School Closed Down." (Factiva)

PM News. 28 October 2015. Cyriacus Izuekwe. "5 Suspected Cult Leaders Remanded." (Factiva)

PM News. 25 September 2015. Abiodun Onafuye. "Two Suspected Cultists Arrested for Robbery." (Factiva)

PM News. 31 July 2015. Kazeem Ugbodaga. "Rival Cult Clash Claims Two Lives in Lagos." (Factiva)

Small Arms Survey (SAS). May 2005. Armed and Aimless: Armed Groups, Guns, and Human Security in the Ecowas Region. Edited by Nicolas Florquin and Eric G. Berman. [Accessed 29 Mar. 2016]

Sputnik. 27 January 2016. "Nigerian Human Traffickers Access EU via British Airports - Reports." (Factiva)

The Sun. 18 August 2015. "Sixteen Die After Suspected Members of Two Cults Clash in Nigeria's Kwara State." (Factiva)

Supreme Eiye Confraternity (SEC). N.d. Facebook page of the Supreme Eiye Confraternity (SEC) - Air Lord. [Accessed 24 Mar. 2016]

This Day. 21 March 2016. James Sowole. "Two Killed as Cults Groups Clash in Ondo." (Factiva)

This Day. 1 September 2015. Sheriff Balogun. "Nigeria: Three Killed as Rival Cult Groups Clash in Abeokuta." [Accessed 29 Mar. 2016]

United Nations (UN). 2014. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2014. [Accessed 29 Mar. 2016]

Vanguard. 26 October 2015. Charles Adingupu, Oghene Omonisa and Tofarati Ige. "Rival Cults Hold Lagos, Delta Communities Hostage." (Factiva)

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Committee for the Defence of Human Rights; Council on Foreign Relations; Human Rights and Justice Group; Institute of Criminology and Strategic Studies of Nigeria; Nigerian Human Rights Commission; Four professors.

Internet sites, including: Africa Confidential; Africa Research Bulletin; AllAfrica; Amnesty International; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Council on Foreign Relations; Factiva; Freedom House; Human Rights Watch; International Crisis Group; Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l’homme; Interpol; IRIN; Jamestown Foundation; National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, University of Maryland; UN – Refworld; US – Department of State.