Nigeria: Ogboni Society, including structure, rituals, ceremonies, current status, membership and the consequences of refusing to join or trying to leave; Reformed Ogboni Fraternity (ROF), including the nature of its belief system and its purpose, whether membership is compulsory, especially for children of members, and consequences for refusing to join the ROF; whether positions within the ROF are inherited; relationship of these groups with police and judicial authorities (2019–October 2021) [NGA200795.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada

1. Challenges in Gathering Information

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, an official at the Canadian High Commission in Abuja stated that there is "very little concrete information or evidence available about the Ogboni" and that the information available is "speculation" (Canada 27 Mar. 2019). Sources state that Ogboni members do not share the group's "secrets" with non-members (Senior Fellow 19 Sept. 2021) or that members are "bound by secrecy" (Legit.ng 8 July 2021).

2. Ogboni Societies

Sources state that the Ogboni are a "secret society" [or "cult" (THISDAY 18 Sept. 2020; Legit.ng 9 Apr. 2018)] among the Yoruba (Olaopa 25 Sept. 2020; Associate Professor 9 Sept. 2021; Legit.ng 9 Apr. 2018). The Guardian, a newspaper in Nigeria, indicates that Ogboni members "constitute the nobility of the various Yoruba kingdoms across the West African sub-region" (The Guardian 8 Sept. 2019). According to Legit.ng, a Nigeria-based online news publication, the Ogboni "performed judicial, political and religious functions" and previously served as Yorubaland's highest court (Legit.ng 9 Apr. 2018). The Guardian states that the Ogboni "perform a series of political and religious functions" in Egba culture and have a "profound influence" on Egba monarchs (The Guardian 8 Sept. 2019).

2.1 Ogboni Society

The Guardian reports that the Ogboni Society is an "important and powerful traditional institution" (The Guardian 26 Apr. 2020). In correspondence with the Research Directorate, an associate professor at Trinity College in Connecticut who specializes in indigenous West African religion, Yoruba religious practice, secret societies, and sorcery, stated that the Ogboni Society is "essentially a pre-colonial police force" that base their "social policing" on Yoruba deities and notions of "'good character'" and "'coolness'" (Associate Professor 9 Sept. 2021). In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a senior fellow at the University of Nigeria who specializes in ethnic groups, religious groups, conflicts, and indigeneity stated that the Ogboni Society was the "traditional judicial body of Oyo Kingdom of Yorubaland with the Alaafin of Oyo as the king" and "is made up of traditional chiefs" (Senior Fellow 19 Sept. 2021). In contrast, Legit.ng reports that the Ogboni Society "might have" emerged in the fight against the "colonial regime" and that originally their primary goal was to save Yoruba traditions and resist invaders (Legit.ng 16 Apr. 2018). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a professor of sociology at a university in Nigeria who specializes in religious and cultural studies stated that leadership positions are distributed according to "[g]erontologic principles" (Professor 16 Sept. 2021). Sources report that the "highest position" is filled by the "most 'respected' person" (Professor 16 Sept. 2021) or the "elder and most powerful man" (Legit.ng 16 Apr. 2018).

According to sources, the Ogboni Society is "still active" today (Professor 16 Sept. 2021; Legit.ng 16 Apr. 2018; Senior Fellow 19 Sept. 2021), "especially among the older generation," though membership is "not as popular among the younger generation" (Professor 16 Sept. 2021). The April 2018 article by Legit.ng reports that they "seem to" be involved in politics "all around Africa" (Legit.ng 16 Apr. 2018). The Associate Professor indicated, in contrast, that the Ogboni Society does not possess "much social power," although it is "still important to notions of social power, masculinity, and family" and is "responsible for the spiritual safety of [its] communities" (Associate Professor 9 Sept. 2021).

2.2 ROF

Sources report that the ROF has ties to Christianity and was founded by a clergyman in 1914 (NAN 14 Dec. 2019; Olaopa 13 Sept. 2020). In an article for the Nigerian national newspaper the Nation, Tunji Olaopa, a professor and former federal permanent secretary for the Nigerian government's National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, indicates that the ROF was initially called the "Ogboni Fraternity of the Christians" (Olaopa 13 Sept. 2020). The same source states that the ROF combines "aspects" of Christianity and "Yoruba traditional cultures" (Olaopa 13 Sept. 2020). The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), an agency established by the Government of Nigeria (Devex n.d.), reports that according to the leader of the ROF, Francis Meshioye, "the initial objective was to promote Christian values", but it was "later expanded to accommodate people of other faiths," which led the organization to change its name from Ogboni Fraternity to ROF (NAN 14 Dec. 2019).

According to Olaopa, the "core" beliefs of the ROF are "honesty, sincerity, brotherliness, love, uprightness, truthfulness and beneficence" (Olaopa 13 Sept. 2020). Legit.ng states that the ROF "promote[s] charity, benevolence, [and] chastity," and assists people in need "regardless of their nation, religion, colour of skin or membership status" (Legit.ng 16 Apr. 2018). According to NAN, the leader of the ROF stated that the organization has the "ultimate objective of promoting good values, love [and] discipline" among members and encouraging them to "'do unto others as [they] wish others to do unto [them]'" (NAN 14 Dec. 2019). The Professor indicated that the mission of the ROF is "to engage in public-spirited gestures and activities" and "alleviat[e] poverty, suffering, and misery" (Professor 16 Sept. 2021).

According to NAN, the leader of the ROF stated that the organization is not a secret society but rather a "'registered entity'" (NAN 14 Dec. 2019). Legit.ng reports that the ROF "holds no secrets" and members can share the group's ideas without "punish[ment]" (Legit.ng 16 Apr. 2018).

2.3 The Renowned Ogboni Abalaiye Association of Nigeria (Renowned Ogboni Abalaiye Association)

The Renowned Ogboni Abalaiye Association is an organization [that is headquartered in Lagos State (Renowned Ogboni Abalaiye Association n.d.)] and founded on ancestral "rites, usages and customs" (Renowned Ogboni Abalaiye Association 11 Dec. 2009). According to the organization's National Constitution, its objectives are as follows:

SECTION 4: AIMS AND OBJECTIVES

  1. To associate for the promotion of the Principle of Universal Fatherhood of God [The All-Seeing Eye] and Universal Brotherhood of Man, without any discrimination as to Race, Colour, Creed, Sex, Religion or Political affiliations.
  2. To associate for the principal purpose of knowing God better such that all the undertakings of the fraternity will be in accordance with His Holy-Will and the fraternity.
  3. To see to the mortal remains of any regular and punctual deceased members by providing a coffin or financial assistance up to a reasonable cost and to give his/her remains a decent deposit in the bosom of Mother Earth.
  4. To inculcate in all members, the constant practice of the Golden Rule - "to do unto others (members and non-members) as one would wish them to do unto him".
  5. To extend legal assistance or otherwise to members of the fraternity.
  6. To provide necessary funds for the successful prosecution of the business of the Fraternity.
  7. To keep and obey the Laws and Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and those of any other Country in which one resides. (Renowned Ogboni Abalaiye Association 11 Dec. 2009, Sec. 4, bold and square bracket in original)

The Constitution further provides the following regarding organizational structure:

SECTION 6: TENURE OF OFFICE

All offices in the fraternity shall not be held for life and subject to good behaviour and performance.

SECTION 7: ORGANS OF THE FRATERNITIES

  1. The Supreme Council
  2. Executive Council
  3. State Council
  4. Divisional Council
  5. Conclaves [Iledi]

SECTION 11: OFFICERS AND THIER DUTIES

The following officers, for the proper functioning and efficiency of the Fraternity, shall be appointed and rank under the banners of the OLUWO, the APENA, [and] the IYA ABIYE at the Divisional Level.

  1. The offices amongst others are as listed below
    • Oluwo
    • Apena
    • Iyabiye
    • The Lisa
    • The Aro
    • The Ashipa
    • The Otuerelu
    • The Ojomu
    • The Iyalaje
    • The Osorun
    • The Odofin
    • The Baase
    • The Baala
    • The Lika
    • The Asalu
    • The Yeyelufe
    • The Agbaakin
    • The Baagbimo
    • The Abese
    • The Apesin. (Renowned Ogboni Abalaiye Association 11 Dec. 2009, Sec. 6, 7, 11, bold, italics and square brackets in original)

2.4 Traditional Ogboni

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a research affiliate at Boston University who specializes in African languages and social anthropology indicated that there is a "traditional" or "aboriginal" Ogboni Society (Research Affiliate 9 Sept. 2021). Legit.ng states that the "Aborigine Ogboni" is a traditional religion that has existed since before colonization (Legit.ng 16 Apr. 2018). Olaopa indicates that members of the "old Ogboni cult" were "wielders of the traditional constitutional and religious powers" (Olaopa 13 Sept. 2020).

2.5 Overlap and Differences

The Professor noted that "in the eyes of the larger society, there is no difference between the Ogboni Fraternity and the Reformed Ogboni Fraternity" (Professor 16 Sept. 2021). According to the same source, society "views them both as cultic, satanic and evil" (Professor 16 Sept. 2021). The Senior Fellow stated that the Ogboni Society and the ROF "are the same body" (Senior Fellow 19 Sept. 2021). The same source further noted that the ROF "only adopted" the new name to differentiate itself from the "original" Ogboni Society (Senior Fellow 19 Sept. 2021). In contrast, the Professor indicated that the ROF are more "'democratic'," "urbane, and modernized" than the Ogboni Society (Professor 16 Sept. 2021). Legit.ng notes that the ROF "shares the same principles" as the Ogboni Fraternity but is not a secret society (Legit.ng 16 Apr. 2018). NAN cites the leader of the ROF as saying that there is a "'clear distinction'" between the ROF and other organizations, although there have been "'misinterpretations of what [the ROF] stand[s] for'" (NAN 14 Dec. 2019).

Legit.ng reports that there are three societies: the Aborigine Ogboni Fraternity, the Ogboni Secret Society or Fraternity and the ROF (Legit.ng 16 Apr. 2018). The Research Affiliate similarly indicated that the aboriginal Ogboni Society is older than and separate from the ROF (Research Affiliate 9 Sept. 2021).

3. Membership and Recruitment
3.1 Ogboni Society

Legit.ng states that in order to join the Ogboni Society, individuals must be Yoruba and "very successful" (Legit.ng 16 Apr. 2018). According to another article by the same source, the Apena (secretary) of the Ogboni Society is cited as saying that "anyone" or "anyone who qualifies" can join, including pastors and Imams (Legit.ng 8 July 2021).

The Associate Professor indicated that individuals are "initiated" (Associate Professor 9 Sept. 2021). The Professor stated that membership in the Ogboni Society is "by birth, marriage or choice," and membership is "restricted/protected by an oath of secrecy" (Professor 16 Sept. 2021). According to Legit.ng, it is a "secret" whether women are permitted to join the Ogboni Society (Legit.ng 16 Apr. 2018). However, in another article the same source indicated that both men and women can be members (Legit.ng 9 Apr. 2018). The Associate Professor noted that fathers will "[t]ypically" "bring their sons in[to the Ogboni Society] once it is clear that they are able to keep ritual secrets" (Associate Professor 9 Sept. 2021).

The Senior Fellow indicated that membership in the Ogboni Society is voluntary or by parental "compulsion … as in the case of a minor whose father initiated [him] at an age [when he] was not able to think for himself" (Senior Fellow 19 Sept. 2021).

3.2 ROF

The Professor indicated that membership within the ROF is "not compulsory" for spouses or children of ROF members and is "more voluntary" than for other similar groups (Professor 16 Sept. 2021). According to the same source, membership is "not inherited," since members tend to be "adults or well-placed members of the larger society" (Professor 16 Sept. 2021).

According to NAN, the ROF leader stated that membership in the ROF was available to any Nigerian "of good character" (NAN 14 Dec. 2019). The Professor indicated that the ROF "appear[s]" to open their membership to anyone who wants to join and is a "more egalitarian version of the Ogboni Society" (Professor 16 Sept. 2021). The same source further stated that the ROF is "more persuasive" than the Ogboni Society in "recruiting" and "retaining" members (Professor 16 Sept. 2021). According to sources, both men and women can be members (Professor 16 Sept. 2021; Legit.ng 16 Apr. 2018). Men must be at least 21 years old to join, while women must be at least 40; married women [whose husbands are members (Legit.ng 16 Apr. 2018)] can join at age 30 with permission from their husbands (Professor 16 Sept. 2021; Legit.ng 16 Apr. 2018).

3.3 Renowned Ogboni Abalaiye Association

The Renowned Ogboni Abalaiye Association's Constitution provides the following regarding membership:

SECTION 2: MEMBERSHIP

  1. Membership shall be opened to all who embrace a non-idolatrous faith in God
  2. An applicant for membership shall not be below twenty-one years (21), if male, but female member may be initiated through her husband or if she is not less than twenty-five (25) years.
  3. A member may propose for admission a female offspring or near relation who is a spinster or divorcee of not below twenty-five years (25) of age on giving a written undertaking of good behaviour of such applicant.
  4. Notwithstanding the provision of sub section 2 of this section, a minor can be a member provided that either of his parents is a member

SECTION 3: HONOURARY MEMBERSHIP

  1. A person may be honour[ed] with an honorary member[ship] following the below conditions:
    1. The person must not be below the age of twenty-five (25) years of age.
    2. The person must be a respected person in the society and must also be a person of sound character.
    3. The person must have contributed to The Renowned Ogboni Abalaiye Fraternity positively and must be recognize[d] by all members of the fraternity.
    4. The person must also be ready and willing to accept the Honorary Membership.
  2. A person who is so qualified to be an honorary member shall be informed via a letter and shall be given the privilege to reply [to] the letter within two (2) months to show his/her intention.
  3. Where the qualified member fails or refuses to show his intention after the expiration of Two (2) Months, [they] shall be deemed to have abandoned the privilege.
  4. Notwithstanding the provision of sub-section (3) of this section, a person may be re-offer[ed] the privilege of an honorary member.
  5. The name of the nominated person shall be forwarded to Oba Ogboni for an onward ratification and determination. (Renowned Ogboni Abalaiye Association 11 Dec. 2009, Sec. 2, 3, bold in original)

3.4 Traditional Ogboni

The Research Affiliate indicated that membership in the traditional Ogboni is "completely voluntary" (Research Affiliate 9 Sept. 2021). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

3.5 Consequences for Refusing to Join or Trying to Leave

The information in the following paragraph was provided by the Associate Professor:

In cities, there are "certainly" no consequences for refusing to join or trying to leave the Ogboni. In villages, an individual's family "may be annoyed or frustrated" because they would perceive it as "evidence" of the individual renouncing "their cultural and religious ways of living". The "only groups" that might experience "consequences" would be "gay men, trans-women, or otherwise queer male-presenting folks"; however, "this is not because of the Ogboni themselves," but rather the influence of "Christian and Islamic anti-queer rhetoric" on the community's "understanding of gender, sex, and orientation" (Associate Professor 9 Sept. 2021).

In contrast, according to the Professor, "leaving the group attracts sanctions, especially [for] those who were born into the practice as a family religion" (Professor 16 Sept. 2021). The same source stated that information on the nature of those sanctions is "not much in the public domain," but that people "likely to leave the group may" be "assassinat[ed]" (Professor 16 Sept. 2021).

The Senior Fellow indicated that "there might not be consequences for refusing to join, but oftentimes there are severe consequences for trying to leave" (Senior Fellow 19 Sept. 2021). The July 2021 article by Legit.ng cites the Ogboni Society's Apena as saying that "only when a member dies [can] they quit the society" (Legit.ng 8 July 2021).

4. Rituals and Ceremonies

According to the Professor, "much is not known" about Ogboni initiations, rituals, and ceremonies (Professor 16 Sept. 2021). The April 2018 article by Legit.ng similarly notes that there is "not enough information about the Ogboni fraternity symbols, rituals and initiation process" (Legit.ng 16 Apr. 2018).

The April 2018 article by Legit.ng states that Ogboni rituals are "similar to" modern Yoruba rituals (Legit.ng 16 Apr. 2018). The same source adds that during initiation, an individual has to "get rid of" the most valuable thing they have (Legit.ng 16 Apr. 2018).

5. Relationship with Police and Judicial Authorities

According to the Guardian, the Ogboni Society has "always" played a role in enforcing the law and maintaining order (The Guardian 26 Apr. 2020). Another article by the same source states that the Ogboni "serv[e] as the high court of jurisprudence in offences" for the Egba (The Guardian 8 Sept. 2019). According to the Associate Professor, the Ogboni Society "work[s] very hard to stop crime and disorder" (Associate Professor 9 Sept. 2021). The same source further stated that in urban areas, "there may be a struggle for power" between the police and the Ogboni, while in villages, the Ogboni "fill the vacuum left by the lack of state police" (Associate Professor 9 Sept. 2021). According to the Professor,

law enforcement arms are careful in the way they treat members of the cult, especially where they do not openly infringe on or constitute a problem to public safety. Judicial and law enforcement officials who are members would rather protect the group and its activities than expose them. (Professor 16 Sept. 2021)

The Senior Fellow stated that

[t]here is no official relationship between the Ogboni Society and the police or judiciary, but there could be a special relationship in a case where a senior police officer or a magistrate or high court judge is a member of the Society. Under such a circumstance, the member of the society who appears before them is often given preferential treatment in accordance with the oath of their brotherhood. (Senior Fellow 19 Sept. 2021)

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

Associate Professor, Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut. 9 September 2021. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

Canada. 27 March 2019. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). Correspondence from an official at the High Commission in Abuja to the Research Directorate.

Devex. N.d. "News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)." [Accessed 21 Oct. 2021]

The Guardian [Nigeria]. 26 April 2020. Oludamola Adebowale. "COVID-19 Unrest: Combating Insecurity and Unrest During Pre-Colonial Times in Yorùbá Land." [Accessed 31 Aug. 2021]

The Guardian [Nigeria]. 8 September 2019. Gabriel Omonhinmin. "Ake Palace: Resolving Disputes at Idi Ere, Customary Court." [Accessed 31 Aug. 2021]

Legit.ng. 8 July 2021. Tunde Ososanya. "There Are Many Pastors in the Ogboni Confraternity, Anyone Can Join: Nigerian Herbalist Reveals in Video." [Accessed 31 Aug. 2021]

Legit.ng. 16 April 2018. George Ibenegbu. "Ogboni Fraternity Cult: Rituals, Symbols, Hand Sign, Human Sacrifice." [Accessed 8 Sept. 2021]

Legit.ng. 9 April 2018. Kay Kolesnik. "What Is the Difference Between Ogboni and Reformed Ogboni Fraternity?" [Accessed 20 Oct. 2021]

News Agency of Nigeria (NAN). 14 December 2019. "Nothing Secret, Sinister About Us — Ogboni Fraternity." [Accessed 31 Aug. 2021]

Olaopa, Tunji. 25 September 2020. "Finding God: Christianity and the Global Mystical Societies." THISDAY. [Accessed 31 Aug. 2021]

Olaopa, Tunji. 13 September 2020. "African Spirituality and Christian Theology." The Nation. [Accessed 31 Aug. 2021]

Professor, university in Nigeria. 16 September 2021. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

Renowned Ogboni Abalaiye Association of Nigeria (Renowned Ogboni Abalaiye Association). 11 December 2009. National Constitution. [Accessed 2 Sept. 2021]

Renowned Ogboni Abalaiye Association of Nigeria (Renowned Ogboni Abalaiye Association). N.d. Homepage. [Accessed 20 Oct. 2021]

Research Affiliate, Boston University. 9 September 2021. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

Senior Fellow, University of Nigeria. 19 September 2021. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

THISDAY. 18 September 2020. "Underscoring the Life and Time of Rev Akande." [Accessed 31 Aug. 2021]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Associate professor at an American university who specializes in African religion; associate professor at an American university who specializes in traditional religious practices, oath taking practices, and Yoruba ethnic issues; Canada – High Commission in Nigeria; doctor of sociology who has researched cults in Nigeria; emeritus professor at an American university who specializes in religion and the Yoruba-speaking area of Nigeria; executive vice-chairman at a school of public policy in a Nigerian university; head of the department of African studies and anthropology at an American university; Nigeria – Nigeria Police Force; professor at an American university who specializes in African religious traditions; professor at an American university who specializes in African studies and history; professor at an American university who specializes in cultural and historical interpretations in West Africa; professor at an American university who specializes in Yoruba diaspora studies; professor at a university in the UK who specializes in ethno-regional and religious conflict in Nigeria; Renowned Ogboni Abalaiye Association; senior lecturer at an American university who specializes in Yoruba and African studies; senior lecturer at a Nigerian university who specializes in cultural practices and traditional communities; senior lecturer at a Nigerian university who specializes in ritual practices in Yorubaland and chieftaincy; senior scholar at an American university who specializes in African studies; Yoruba Traditional & Cultural Renaissance.

Internet sites, including: Africa Confidential; African Arguments; African Examiner; Al Jazeera; aljazirahnews.com; Amnesty International; Australia – Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; BBC; Belgium – Office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons; Brookings Institution; Bertelsmann Stiftung; Buzz Nigeria; Celestial News Online; Center for Strategic and International Studies; Channels Television; CKN Nigeria; Concise News; Council on Foreign Relations; The Daily Champion; Daily Nigerian; Daily Review Online; Daily Trust; Daylight; Denmark – Danish Immigration Service; Denton Newspaper; E-Nigeria Newspaper; ecoi.net; Economic Confidential; Elevate News Nigeria; Elombah News; EU – European Asylum Support Office; Every Nigeria; Factiva; Fédération internationale pour les droits humains; Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria; France – Office français de protection des réfugiés et apatrides; Freedom House; The Guardian; The Herald [Nigeria]; Human Rights Watch; InfoStride; Institute for War and Peace Reporting; International Crisis Group; INTERPOL; Leadership; Médecins Sans Frontières; METROWATCH; Metro Daily Nigeria; Metro Times Nigeria; Minority Rights Group International; Mirror Nigeria; Mondo Times; Naija News; Netherlands – Ministry of Foreign Affairs; The New Humanitarian; news24; NewsDay; News of Nigeria; Nigeria – National Human Rights Commission; Nigeria Watch; Nigerian Television Authority; Nigerian Tribune; Norway – Landinfo; Okay.ng; Organisation suisse d’aide aux réfugiés; Orient Daily; People's Daily; Pointblank News; Pulse.ng; Realnews Magazine; Reporters sans frontières; Republican Nigeria; Ripples Nigeria; The Sun; SPY Nigeria; TODAY; Transparency International; UK – Home Office; UN – Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Refworld, UN Women, WHO; US – Department of State, Library of Congress; Vanguard; Voice of Nigeria; Wilson Center; World Bank.