a-3716 (ACC-NGA-3716)

In response to your above request we may provide you with the following information:


Who are the leaders of the Ogboni cult/ Punishment in case of refusal to take the father’s place


The following is a brief summary of information given in an ACCORD report on Nigeria from September 2002, published in German. This report is based on numerous sources (see list of references):


The Ogboni are a Yoruba secret society, an Elders’ Council, whose structures date back to pre-colonial times where the Ogboni were part of the system of checks and balances of Yoruba kingdoms. Apart from being kingmakers, they had religious as well as judicial power.


Although little is known about the Ogboni and secret societies in general, anthropologists believe they still play an important role in current Yoruba social life. Ogboni continue to combine traditional religious (worship of Orisha, the deities of Yoruba) and social functions. They continue to exert social control over their community, and with the help of young men chosen to act in the name of the Ogboni, can sanction criminal or unsocial behavior. While death sentences (mostly by poisoning) or the use of physical violence cannot be excluded, Ogboni would resort to the death penalty only in very extreme cases as their function is about social cohesion, not about the destruction of the community. There are different opinions on how membership is conferred: in principle, one cannot apply for official functions but will be invited or chosen by one’s family if it owns a title within the local Ogboni society.


Membership has, however, also to be understood within the context of the Nigerian society, with its tight, indispensable network of kinship relations. In this context, it can be said that membership with Ogboni is automatic as long as one belongs to a social context where Ogboni are relevant. This does not mean that an individual, once chosen by its family to join the Ogboni in an official function, cannot negotiate its way out. However, if there is nobody else who can take his or her place, the family might exert considerable pressure on the individual to join as important social and economic benefits such as access to resources depend on the family’s status within the Ogboni society. Again, in extreme cases the only solution for the individual might be to leave the family network, which given individuals’ dependence on this very network for survival in Nigeria is an extraordinarily harsh choice.


The traditional Ogboni society has to be distinguished from the “Reformed Ogboni Fraternity”, a secularized form of the secret society, which acts as support network for Yoruba in influential positions. It was founded in 1914 by Archdeacon Thomas Ogubiyi. (ACCORD, September 2002, chapter 5.2.; for further information on the Reformed Ogboni Fraternity see the IRB query response of 5 April 2001)


Even though it is not always clear whether all sources consulted by ACCORD distinguish between the traditional and the Reformed Ogboni Fraternity, it seems that most sources refer to the traditional Ogboni society.


In its country report of October 2003, the UK Home Office describes the Ogboni as follows:

“There are many cults in Nigeria. Probably the best known is the Ogboni. The Ogboni are a secret society of the Yoruba tribe, and it is therefore hard to obtain reliable information about them. [85][86] As a secret society it has been banned in Nigeria, and its power curtailed. However this ban is hard to enforce, and it is still active and alleged to be involved in satanic practices. [86][87]
The title Ogboni is only conferred on the elders, i.e. senior members of the society. These are usually men but women, usually six in number, were traditionally included to represent the interests of women in the community. Membership of the society is usually, but not always, passed through patrilineal descent. [85][86]
The Ogboni traditionally played a significant role in Yoruba religion and society, and were involved in the installation of new Kings. Historically an Ogboni could be said to have combined the powers of a local magistrate, with those of a member of the local government and a religious leader. [85][86]
The Ogboni engaged in animal sacrifice. There is no firm evidence to suggest that they engaged in human sacrifice. However, in the event that a King abused his power they could compel him to commit suicide. They could also impose sanctions against other members of the community if they believed that these were justified. The Ogboni are reputed to threaten its members with death should they break their oath of secrecy regarding its rituals and beliefs. It is still regarded as being a powerful organisation throughout Nigeria. [85][86][87]
The Ogboni is believed to be a purely Yoruba cult, but there are a number of Yoruba sub tribes who also may be involved.” (UK Home Office, October 2003, para 6.125-6.129)

The “Institut für Afrika-Kunde” in Hamburg argues in a statement of 23 Febr 2003 that in case of the claimant’s refusal to take the father’s place, the reaction of the Ogboni society would depend on whether the father was a member of the traditional Ogboni society or the Reformed Ogboni society. On the one hand it was deemed improbable that the Reformed Ogboni society would force the son to succeed his father or threaten him with death upon refusal. On the other hand, if the father had been a member of the traditional Ogboni society, the claimant would risk, with high probability, to be murdered upon return, if he continued to refuse to join the society. (Institut für Afrika-Kunde, 24 February 2003)


The UNHCR office in Lagos states in a query response of 2001 that a member of the Ogboni who would want to leave the society could never escape them. However, the Ogboni members could not force somebody to join them. (UNHCR, 17 September 2001, p. 2)


The Canada Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) refers in a query response of 12 July 2002 to a professor of anthropology at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who states that an individual whose father is a member of the Ogboni Society would be expected to join the group regardless if the parent was alive or deceased:

“She indicated that this commitment to join is automatic and that the pressure to join would come not only from the family but also from within the organization itself (ibid.). She did state, however, that she has met at least one person who expressed their intention to discourage their son from joining the Ogboni Society (ibid.).
When asked whether pressure to join would involve danger to the life of the individual if that individual did not want to join, she indicated that the reports are mixed (ibid.). She indicated that those who are not members of the organization would claim that it would be "life threatening" not to join the organization, however, those who are members would argue that such pressure to join is fictional (ibid.).” (IRB, 12 July 2002)

According to Dr. Ulrike Davis-Sulikowski, social anthropologist at the University of Vienna, the use of physical violence against persons who refuse to join the group is not the rule. However, it could also not be excluded that violence was used in individual cases. According to the traditional legal understanding, the Ogboni were entitled to decide on life and death. A son refusing to take his father’s place would mainly be subjected to social and economic pressure. This could amount to a situation where he could no longer live or work socially integrated in his home and where his livelihood could be at risk.


Since the Ogboni are a spiritual-institutional part of the traditional religion, they could also exert spiritual pressure. People who came into conflict with the Ogboni suffered from fear of consequences, such as sudden death, diseases, and accidents, caused by the Ogboni by spiritual means. (Davis-Sulikowski, 20 February 2004)


State protection/power of the Ogboni


According to Davis-Sulikowski, it does not seem very probable that the Ogboni take action outside of their ethnic-religious zone. However, it was not publicly known to what extent the Ogboni groups, which were spread over wide areas (especially in all south-western states with predominant Yoruba population), disposed of a network or inter-regional organisation. It could be presumed that there was communication between different Ogboni groups across distances and therefore sanctions could affect a person beyond his/her local area. Out of the influence of the Ogboni, difficulties would mainly result from social and economic problems due to isolation. Fear of spiritual sanctions could also persist. (Davis-Sulikowski, 20 Feb 2004)


The UK Home Office states in its Nigeria country report of October 2003:

“It [the Ogboni] is still regarded as being a powerful organisation throughout Nigeria.” (UK Home Office, October 2003, para 6.128)

The UNHCR office in Lagos declares in its statement of September 2001 that the Ogboni society was spread throughout Nigeria, whereas most of its members were ethnic Yoruba. Even though Ogboni would not publicly mention there membership, it was commonly known that most persons in influential positions were members of this cult. Nigerian citizens were convinced that the cult possessed supernatural powers and that members of the cult could never escape it. The Ogboni society could find them by spiritual means even in other parts of the country and in Europe. (UNHCR, 17 September 2001, p. 2)


In a statement of 24 Febr 2004, the German “Institut für Afrika-Kunde” points out that in principle, the Nigerian state was willing to protect its citizens from assaults by the Ogboni. On the other hand, the state institutions lacked a common position regarding judicial institutions that stem from traditional or occult religious systems, as could be seen in the debate on the introduction of sharia in several Nigerian states. Therefore it could be doubted that the Nigerian government could effectively enforce its ban on the traditional Ogboni brotherhood or offer effective protection for persons threatened by the Ogboni. (Institut für Afrika-Kunde, 24 February 2003)


Are the Ogboni members present also in the Nigerian province of “Edo”?


In the sources consulted by ACCORD, no information could be found whether the Ogboni society is present in the province of “Edo”.


As mentioned above, the Ogboni groups are spread over wide areas, especially in all south-western states with predominant Yoruba population. (Davis-Sulikowski, 20 February 2004)


According to the Website FreeGK.com, some of the more adaptable cultural institutions have been revived since independence; these include among others the Ogboni society found in the Yoruba and Edo areas of southern Nigeria. (FreeGK.com, n.d.) It is not clear whether “Edo areas” refer to “Edo state”.


How are the “Ogboni” asylum cases treated in EU countries?


This overview can not be representative, as there is no systematic monitoring of jurisdiction over asylum applications.


In a decision of 17 September 2003, the Austrian Administrative Court (“Verwaltungsgerichtshof” - VwGH) discusses the option of an internal flight alternative with regard to persecution by Ogboni. It refers to the UK Home Office country assessment which does not only consider an internal flight alternative to be a “real possibility in Nigeria, taking into account its size and population”, but also asserts that the Ogboni “are still regarded as being a powerful organisation throughout Nigeria.” By also taking into consideration information indicating that approximately 15 per cent of the Nigerian Yoruba population are members of the Ogboni, the court states that, prior to assuming an internal flight alternative, a detailed examination of the circumstances is necessary. (VwGH, 17 September 2003)


On July 3, 2003, the Austrian Administrative Court decided on a case of an asylum applicant who claimed that the Ogboni had tried to force her to join them. The court asserts that it could not be excluded that the risk of persecution by the Ogboni could (also) be based on the asylum applicant’s assumed rejection of the Ogboni’s religious belief. The argument brought forward by the asylum authorities that “these assaults, even if they were religiously motivated should not be judged different from assaults by ordinary criminals or criminal organisations”, was therefore debilitated. (VwGH, 3 July 2003)


In its decision on the case “Omoruyi v Secretary of State for the Home Department” of 12 October 2000, the UK Court of Appeal states:

“The Nigerian State Authorities in the present case were not unable or unwilling to protect the appellant because of his being a Christian but rather because he was at risk for having crossed this particular cult. […] And he was not being discriminated against by the Ogboni because of his Christian beliefs but rather because he had dared to defy them; the cult would have been wholly indifferent to his underlying reasoning or beliefs. […]In short, this case fails not for want of enmity or malignity on the part of the Ogboni […] but rather because that motivation (that hostility and intent to harm) was in no realistic sense discriminatory against the appellant on account of his Christianity but rather stemmed from his refusal to comply with their demands. The risk of being harmed by the Ogboni to which he is subject is not truly one resulting from any religious difference between them: he is simply at risk for having crossed a ruthless criminal gang. I would accordingly dismiss this appeal.” (Court of Appeal, 12 October 2000)

We have also enclosed a decision of the Federal Court of Canada, dated 6 July 2001 and an article on another Canadian decision concerning the Reformed Ogboni Fraternity, published in “RefLex”, 3 January 2002, p.8.


No additional information concerning the treatment of Ogboni asylum cases could be found in the sources consulted by ACCORD.


This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the ACCORD within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.






Sources consulted for the ACCORD Nigeria report