Juju, native medicine, black magic….call it
whatever you want, but do you believe in it?
In a country as deeply religious as
is still great belief in non-Christian/Islamic supernatural forces. Nigerians
seem to have a two-tier belief system. On the one hand they believe in
God/Allah, and attend church/mosque. Yet they still believe in the power of
non-Biblical or Koranic spirits to cause harm, misfortune, death or heal
sickness, with the same conviction that they believe in God/Allah.
When Chief of Naval Staff Vice-Admiral Victor Ombu retired
from the navy in 2004, he gave his peaked navy service cap to his successor
Rear-Admiral Samuel Afolayan. Ombu noted in a newspaper interview that Afolayan
“took it, tried it on. It fitted, and today that is what he is wearing…He
didn’t bother that this Ijaw man could have put juju round the rim and he could
start barking”. The willingness of the most senior navy officer at
that time to comment publicly on his surprise that his successor took an item
of apparel from him without fear of it being contaminated with Juju speaks
volumes. Ombu made these comments publicly because he was dealing with a public
that accepts the existence of Juju as a given fact not in debate. Even
our beloved Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s world acclaimed novel Half of a
Yellow Sun contains a love making passage that was instigated by the use of
Juju which incited a married man to commit adultery.
The belief in Juju extends to all nooks and
tentacles of life. Nigerians often turn to native doctors when certain ailments
or illnesses defy Western medicine. In some Nigerian communities, it also seems
that the term “coincidence” does not exist. Every misfortune, act of
fate or surprise is often treated with suspicion, and regarded as the end
result of evil supernatural activity by an enemy, or more frequently, by an
aggrieved family member or in-law. How many of us have/or know someone who has
blamed a family death, marriage break up, business failure, or illness, on the
use of Juju by a jealous or evil person in their community or
compound? Why is it that Nigerians are
so quick to blame Juju for any negative intervention in life? However it is not all about battle and evil
purposes. There is acknowledgement that Juju can be used for holistic
medicinal purposes too. Recently I was told first hand accounts of the power of
native Juju practitioners to heal and remedy illness with miraculous
Can Juju Make You Bullet Proof?
In the past year alone, we have heard stories about women
supposedly turning into cats, goats committing crimes, eggs being thrown at
buildings then transforming into deadly bombs in flight, which set entire buildings
ablaze, and genitalia being put to deadly use. Each of these transformations
was attributed to Juju. It seems that even in battle, Nigerians require
the intervention of the supernatural. The various armed militias that have
over the past decade have all relied on supernatural cosmology. Members of the
Oodua Peoples Congress, Bakassi Boys, Boko Haram, and Niger Delta militants
carried amulets and charms supposed to make them bullet proof, impervious to
pain, or invisible – to varying degrees of success. In the case of the Bakassi Boys, their charms
not only gave them protection, but also allegedly allowed them to determine
which of their suspects were or were not guilty of criminal conduct.
I do not want to dismiss belief in Juju as a
symptom of lack of education. The educated believe in such cosmology too.
Remember the Okija shrine and body parts scandal? Many of those that are
accused of using Juju are ironically the rich and powerful members of
society. Many Nigerians suspect that the rich and powerful obtained, and
maintain their privileged status with the assistance of ultra powerful Juju
practitioners. The growth and popularity of “prosperity” churches,
with prayer and sermons centred around economic success, should also be seen in
this context. Many educated Nigerians (even those living abroad) partake in
rituals involving the dead, ancestors’ spirits, and blocking the entrance of
evil spirits into this world.
Juju and Politics
It is instructive that allegations of evil manipulations
of Juju often arise in the context of regime change. New regimes in
derive legitimacy by denouncing their predecessor. Who remembers the lurid
stories about the alleged use of marabouts, and human body part rituals that
followed Abacha’s death? Remember the Uba/Ngige scandal in Anambra state? The
alleged video of Abia state Governor Theodore Orji at a shrine? These stories
were accompanied by lurid tales about the use of Juju.
Does Nigerian society’s reflexive tendency to explain
events in the context of the supernatural provide metaphors and discourses
about the public’s perception of corruption and the acquisition of power?
society where some people get very rich, very quickly. The super-fast
accumulation of unexplained wealth from unaccounted, invisible sources, leads
to the suspicion that it cannot have been obtained without supernatural
Juju and Religion
What of the other instances of Juju I gave above,
such as the accusations of Juju often levelled against mothers in law,
neighbours, and even children? Do those pose a more fundamental question about
the nature of Nigerian religion? Religion existed in
and Christianity. Did these Abrahamic religions reinforce, rather than replace
the pre-existing indigenous African beliefs? Nigerians believed in evil spirits
long before the advent of the Koran and Bible. However what seems to have
happened is that Nigerians hold the words of their holy book in their front
pocket, and supernatural indigenous beliefs in their back pocket. It seems that
traditional religion is the option of first recourse and Juju is kept in
a box marked “please use in an emergency”. Belief in evil spirits, Juju
and magic seems to have been incorporated alongside traditional Monotheistic
religion. The existence of these supernatural forces have been re-explained in
traditional religion, as agents of the devil.
So I repeat my question….do you believe in Juju?