LAGOS (Reuters) – Nigerian police have arrested 30 witch-doctors in a raid on fetish shrines in southeast Anambra state where over 50 decomposing bodies and 20 human skulls were discovered, a police spokesman said Thursday.
The heads, genitals and other vital parts of some of the bodies, found in a teak forest in Okija village, had been severed, a sign they may have been killed for ritual.
“We saw more than 50 bodies in various coffins. There were several skulls, some of them really fresh,” Anambra police spokesman Kolapo Shofoluwe told Reuters by telephone.
Ritual killing is common in some parts of Nigeria where many people believe they can become instant millionaires by using human organs to make potent charms. Many Nigerians mix traditional religions with Christianity or Islam.
Police said preliminary investigations showed that the people died after the sorcerers engaged them in an animist ritual.
As part of the ritual, the victims pledged their property, including bank accounts, to a deity upon their death, the officer said. Their relations were made to believe they would also die if they refused to give up the property.
“We are looking beyond the deity,” Shofoluwe said, adding that at least 20 shrines were raided.
“The priests may have killed the people for ritual, or to obtain their property by false pretence or they may have been running a human parts market,” he said.
Shofoluwe quoted a villager who had tipped police off, as saying the sorcerers ate the flesh of some of their victims.
Local media reported Thursday that the witch-doctors enjoyed the patronage of rich businessmen and influential politicians in eastern Nigeria.
“I am sure our investigation will reveal a lot of things in the next two or three weeks,” said Shofoluwe, who said he did not know the identity of the sorcerers’ patrons.