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27 Jan 2018

We Believe More In Our Traditional Bulletproof Than These Modern Gear - Nigeria Police

In May 2017, three months after 34-year-old police corporal, Ade Daniel (not real name), was posted to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Ogun State Police Command, he came face to face with death.
It was a locate-and-arrest operation at a community in Ijebu Waterside area of the state. The SARS team had got a tip-off about the hideout of an armed robbery suspect.

But within moments of locating a house in which the target was holed up, what was supposed to be a routine arrest quickly became a gun duel.

Daniel told our correspondent, “I was one of the first sets of people to get into the house and before we could sight him, we heard gunshots. We thought we were there to arrest one person. There were two other members of his gang with him and they just started shooting at us.

“If I had not used my amulet that day, I would have died without doubt because I was not wearing a bullet-proof vest. A couple of bullets hit me but did not enter my body. A member of our team, who was hit by a bullet in the leg, died that day.”

Stories like this are common among operatives of Nigerian security agencies in a country where many policemen face armed robbers without protective gear.

According to Daniel, who did not share his real name for security reasons, the use of traditional protection is an open secret among security agents in the country, especially policemen.

In the absence of the needed kit like standard body armour, otherwise known as bullet-proof vests, protective helmets, and so on, in the country’s ill-equipped police force, many policemen like Daniel are toeing the traditional path of the warriors of old.

In February 2017, a police sergeant in Imo State, Chukwudi Iboko, who was on a bank protection duty in Owerri, the state capital, lost his life after a gang of armed robbers, attacked a customer at the bank. Despite his gallant effort to repel them, he sustained fatal injuries while his colleague lost an eye in the attack.

The incident stirred up a fresh national discourse at the time about how policemen in the country had been performing their duties with barely any protective gear. PUNCHNewspapers ended up raising more than $21,000 through public donations for the family of the victims.

‘I was sure I was shot, I saw the bullets’

Daniel is one of the policemen who do not want to end up like Sergeant Iboko. Our correspondent asked him if it was possible that any of the bullets just did not hit him as he thought and he said that he was certain it did.

“I saw the bullet after the exercise. Two of the suspects died in the shoot-out. The bullet left a mark in my right side where it hit me,” he said.

He explained that he got the amulet through a herbalist he was introduced to by a colleague, who was not a member of the squad.

Daniel said, “When I joined SARS, a colleague asked if I was ‘fortified’ because of the criminals I might encounter on the job. I told him I was not and he asked if I wanted to get an amulet to protect me against bullets.

“I told him I did not mind. He took me to the man and we actually did some rituals as requirements to seal the efficacy of the amulet. I cannot reveal those things because they are also things that can be used to render it powerless.”

The SARS operative explained that since he got the amulet, he had only been in a situation where he was shot at once; and that still, he had total belief in the efficacy of the amulet.

He said he never went for an operation without wearing it under his uniform. Even though, Daniel also wears bullet-proof vests each time he goes for exercises, his amulet remains his most trusted bullet-proof.

He told our correspondent, “The bullet-proof vest we wear only covers the chest. God is the only protection that covers all parts of my body. This amulet is my protection kit and I consider it as a gift from God.

“Some people make the mistake of thinking that because I am a Christian, it is wrong for me to use something like this to protect myself. This amulet may have been created by a herbalist, but the power in it is endowed by God.”

One other policeman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also admitted that he was “protected” the traditional way,  saying he felt more confident anytime he went on an operation with his charm under his bullet-proof vest.

“Even my wife knows about the charm and we are both Christians. She does not complain because at the end of the day, she does not want me to lose my life facing armed robbers. There is nothing wrong with double protection,” he said.

A SARS operative in Delta State also told our correspondent that only “ strong men”  were drafted into the unit, considering the kind of criminals they deal with in the state.

“How you protect yourself is your decision and it would be your fault if you are shot dead by all these kidnappers or robbers. We get to use bullet-proof vests when we go out. But in addition to that, we protect ourselves with charms,” he said.

‘I have protection against gunshots and ‘ordinary’ knives’

Saturday PUNCH learnt that the use of traditional “bullet-proofs” among members of Nigeria’s security forces is not limited to the policemen, especially SARS operatives, who face danger most of the time.

Among local vigilance group, especially the Oodua Peoples Congress, it seems to be a thing of pride to be protected.

Saturday PUNCH spoke with the Head of Operations, Vigilante Group of Nigeria’s Lagos Mainland Local Government branch, Mr. Ishola Agbodemu, who believed he might have lost his life without the protection of his gunshot-repelling charm.

“The use of traditional bullet-proof called ‘ayeta’ is very common in our circle because of the sort of dangers we face daily,” Agbodemu said.

Agbodemu, who prides himself on being from a lineage of powerful warriors, was shot in December 2010 by the police, during an enforcement of government-sanctioned eviction at the Makoko slum in Lagos, while working for a non-governmental organisation fighting for the protection for slum dwellers.

He vowed that he would never become such a victim again.

He said, “After the incident, I consulted with my father and told him that I needed protection against gunshots and he made me a charm, which would not allow bullets to penetrate my body. I was particular about protection against gunshots but he might have prepared the charm to include protection against knives and machetes (called ‘okigbe’) as well.

“It is only foolishness that would make people think these things no longer exist. Personally, I can attest to the fact that I have cheated death a few times because of it.

“Four years after I was shot by the police, some hoodlums I believe were assassins, came to my house in 2014 with guns and cutlasses. To my surprise, each time they pointed their gun at me and tried to shoot me, it failed to fire. They would shoot the gun in the air and it would respond but the moment they pointed it at me, it failed.

“They tried to hack me with a cutlass but it did not penetrate. They finally brought out a small knife called ‘Mak’eje’ (a knife charmed to be deadly) by Yoruba people. It was only when they stabbed me in the belly with this that I was hurt because the knife was not an ordinary one. If not for that charm that was still working in my body, I would be long dead.”

‘We survived spray of bullets’

A member of the Oodua Peoples Congress in Ado-Odo Ota area of Ogun State, Mr. Raheem Adetola, also shared his experience using a traditional bullet-proof.

He claimed that during the election of former Ogun State Governor, Gbenga Daniel, he and another member of the group were chosen to work with the Independent National Electoral Commission.

Adetola said that two of them were chosen after an Ifa oracle was consulted.

He said, “In our OPC branch, we like to do everything traditionally. So, we consulted Ifa to know who should go and a retired soldier, who is also a member and me, were chosen.

“During the assignment, a group sprayed our vehicle with bullets from the rear. The bullets shattered the windshield.

“I led the team in the vehicle that day. I told all of them never to look back. If anyone of them had looked back, it would have been instant death. Unfortunately, our vehicle was faulty and could not move fast. The shooting went on until we escaped. The protective charms we had at the time are still intact today.”

Local security men make similar claims

The coordinator of a vigilance group popularly called Onyabo, in Ikorodu North area of Lagos State, Mr. Mathew Adesanya, claimed that his men had survived gunshots on multiple occasions because he insisted that none of them must go on an operation or patrol without protection.

“People make the mistake of thinking that these things are ungodly. Without the power of God, it never works. This is why you would see some robbers who are killed despite all the charms they wear,” he said.

He also stressed that such charms are guided by taboos a user must adhere to. He even said some herbs could render such charms ineffective.

Adesanya said, “Having protection became necessary among local security men because we do not have the same apparatus that security agencies have.

“We do not encourage our men, who use traditional protection to dare anybody holding a gun. We tell them to avoid any threat of gun, be it a locally made pistol or AK47. But if such person comes after you, you can be sure of protection.

“I also tell my men to renew their protective charms regularly and we insist that none of them must go out without protection against gunshots, knives and cutlasses.

“There was a time a bank manager was robbed of his official car. He worked at Ajah and was trailed home. They shot him in the leg during the attack.

“My men, who heard the gunshot, went to the scene to investigate what was going on and as soon as the robbers saw them, they shot at them. But the bullets did not hit any of them. They had protection. Our boys picked up their own guns and killed the one who did the shooting and reported it to the police.

“It turned out that the gun he used was a service pistol. They learnt later that the robber was a serving assistant superintendent of police. The police took his body away and we never knew what happened to it.”

Use of traditional ‘bullet-proofs’ rife among Nigerians -Elebuibon

Saturday PUNCH reached out to prominent traditionalist and Ifa priest, Chief Ifayemi Elebuibon, who said that the use of traditional protection against gunshots and knife attacks are rife among Nigerians.

According to him, on a regular basis, people consult him for such charms.

He said, “‘Ayeta’ for gunshots, and ‘okigbe’ for knife or machete attacks still exist. Usually, when it is made, it has to be tested by hanging it on an animal and shooting the animal before it is handed over to the user.

“Policemen do it all the time as a source of protection against armed robbers. Since nobody wants to die, they get these things as an added protection. A lot of local vigilantes also get it because they do not even have the kind of protective kits policemen have access to in the line of work.”

According to Elebuibon, most powerful charms such as these are guided by taboos.

He said there are some that dictate that one must not eat a particular type of food while others dictate that a user must not have sexual intercourse while the charm is in use.

Saturday PUNCH asked how herbalists like him determine whether the intended user needs such a charm for a sinister intention. He explained that documentation of the customer’s contact details is done whenever there is a request for his service.

“When people come to us for this sort of charms, we require them to write down their contact and family details. We use these to determine whether the person wishes to use the protection to do good or evil,” he said.

The Chairman, Osun State Board of Traditional Medicine, Chief Kayode Esuleke, also corroborated Elebuibon’s opinion.

The Esu priest only added that the making of powerful charms is increasingly becoming difficult in the country due to the increased use of herbicides in forests.

According to him, such chemicals “pollute” and reduce the power of roots, barks and leaves, which are the ingredients used for such charms.

He told our correspondent, “’Okigbe’ and ‘ayeta’ still exist and there are so many people one meets on the streets on a daily basis who still use them.

“We get customers all the time from different walks of life; from policemen to politicians, who come for these traditional protections. The demand has even increased as a result of the violence in the land – Boko Haram, killings and kidnappings here and there. Policemen and other security operatives, particularly come for it. Just yesterday, some people still came for it.

“Every powerful charm has the caveat of sex. You must abstain from sex while using powerful charms. And when a user does have sex, the person must be completely clean and sanitised before touching the charm.”

One of the fears the traditionalists and security men who spoke with Saturday PUNCHhighlighted was the danger of criminals having access to charms that make them impervious to gunshots.

 Recent deaths from failure of charms

Interestingly, none of those who spoke with Saturday PUNCH, boasting about the efficacy of their traditional bullet-proof charms was willing to subject it to any testing that would allow them to be shot at.

According to them, they were forbidden from carrying out casual tests on the charms, but assured that they would work during real attacks.

“The traditionalist that made my charm warned me never to boast about it and casually test it. He said that I should not just ask anyone to shoot at me because that could be dangerous; he, however, said that it would not fail me whenever there is a real attack or threat. By the way, they usually test them on animals when they are made,” one of them, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

After the widely reported robbery attack in Owerri, the Imo State capital in 2017, in which Sergeant Iboko was killed, security agencies said a charm was found in the mouth of one of the armed robbers who was shot dead by Iboko.

Many believed it was meant to protect him from bullets, but it obviously failed.

Few weeks ago, a 45-year-old native medicine practitioner in Katsina State, Usman Saidu, sold concoction, which he claimed could repel a bullet to a 27-year-old customer, Aliyu Yahuza.

A Dane gun was used to test the efficacy of the charm. It took a single shot of the local gun to kill Yahuza instantly. Saidu, who shot at the victim, has been cooling his heels in jail since then.

In a similar incident in December 2017, a suspected member of a cult lost his life in Gboko area of Benue State, when the traditional anti-bullet charm he tried to test, failed.

The police said he also drank a concoction and bared his chest, urging his colleagues to shoot at him during an initiation. He died instantly and other members of the cult were arrested.

Every year, similar cases are reported in different parts of the country by the media.

‘Our encounter with robbers wearing bullet-proof charms’

Despite these horror stories of death, some policemen insisted they had encountered criminals before who escaped because they just did not die after being shot.

One of such policemen is a SARS operative at the Lagos State Police Command, who also confirmed that he was aware that some of his colleagues used such charms.

Speaking on a condition of anonymity for security reasons, the policeman said, “The last time I saw such a case was at Ijede in Ikorodu, when we were tracking some armed robbers. It was a shoot-out and each time our team hit one of the robbers, we knew. If you are used to shooting, when you hit someone, you would know.

“But they were just not going down. They later fled and when we got to their previous position, we saw no blood to indicate any of them was injured.”

 Scientists’ views on traditional bullet-proof

Saturday PUNCH reached out to two scientists to get their opinions on these claims.

A professor of Physics from the University of Lagos, Prof. Michael Chendo, explained that traditional bullet-proofs are all about beliefs.

He said, “Modern bullet-proof vests are physical items made with special materials designed to stop bullets from penetrating human skin based on research and testing done using various types of guns and bullets and are mass-produced.

“Spiritual and local charms, which are either consumed by the individual or applied, depend on the users’ beliefs.

“Modern bullet-proof vests are made based on the latest gun and bullet technology and can withstand guns with higher force or torque. Some can also withstand bullets with hollow points designed to explode on impact unlike pellet bullets which stop on impact.”

According to the don, even though there are locally made bullet-proof vests which are only tested with locally made guns using pellet bullets, the force it can withstand cannot be compared with those of the modern bullet-proof vests designed and tested using modern guns.

 “No bullet-proof vest either traditional or modern provides a perfect protection as nothing is perfect and everything has a yield point according to Hooke’s Law,” he said.

Another Physics scholar, Prof. Deware Adigun, gave further explanation, saying that as far as the claims of the effectiveness of such charms against bullets are concerned, there are many factors that can explain why one would be shot at and not be dead.

“It is possible that the shooter missed. The trajectory of the bullet might have been deflected in the process of travelling in the air.

“It could simply mean that the holder of the gun is a terrible shooter. But such claims simply laugh in the face of physics. Anybody who does not want to be killed by a bullet should not rely on charms to protect himself.”

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