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PROPHETS OF THEIR POCKETS (II): Lagos Mosque Where Greedy Cleric Scams Miracle Seekers

Alfa Ibadan does not reveal his excitement when we arrive at the Oriwu Central Mosque, Ikorodu, Lagos, some 20 minutes before noon on Saturday, March 19, but it is eventually betrayed by his hastened appearance at the car park, where he all but opens the car door while waiting for us to disembark. In all our previous visits to religious individuals or institutions, our hosts at least patiently waited in their recesses while anticipating our entry. Not Alfa Ibadan, who literally ambushes us outside before leading us into an expansive ground floor that empties into a long, narrow verandah where he, quite apparently, puts up.

As it happened with other religious institutions, someone had gone ahead to say I was gay and needed fixing. The moment we settle on the small, woven mat opposite him, Alfa Ibadan wastes no time in selling himself to me. 

“I have worked for people to the extent that houses have been built for me,” he begins. “But I cannot live elsewhere other than the mosque. I’ve been here now for 15 years.” 

Alfa Ibadan says he will “start work right away”. He asks to be paid N40,000, with which he will do some ‘work’ for me. And we will buy a ram, a white one. He says we may buy it ourselves and bring it to him, or we may hand him the responsibility. We choose the latter. He tells us the ram will cost N80,000. Then we will buy sponge, black soap, shea butter, seven yards of white cloth, a sachet of palm oil, some salt and sugar; these will cost N5,000. That’s a total of N125,000.

FAKE PROPHECY 1: YOUR FATHER’S FAMILY IS AFTER YOU

The moment we assent to these conditions, Alfa Ibadan starts to tell me things about myself that are wide of the mark, utterances that have almost nothing to do with me being gay, in similitude to a student who crams a book chapter and then regurgitates it in the examination hall even though there was no question on that chapter!

“You see this man,” he says, pointing at me, “he has a big star. But you see the family he hails from, they despise him. All his problems are from his father’s family.” 

He pauses to establish that I am keenly following him, then continues, looking straight into my eyes: “They do not want you to become globally recognised. You see, God created you well. There is no woman who will meet you and will not like you. But the people behind your problems, usually when it’s 12am, 1am, they go to the firmament to swap the destinies of humans. 

“That’s why you hear that witches fly at night; they do this to ascertain the people with bright stars, and then ruin them. And by 3 am they’re back. That’s why you can never see witches outside at 4 am; if it happens, it’s because the witch offended fellow witches and they’re dealing with her. All the powers they have, it’s God who gave them. But the Quran is bigger than them.”

All the talk about my father’s family being after me was balderdash, since I was not dealing with any problem in practice.

Alfa Ibadan explains that the ram he mentioned “is a ram of sacrifice”. “Once we kill it and share the meat to the elders and they eat it, you have excelled,” he says. “The harm they want to inflict on you is to take your life.” 

Continuing, he says: “This ‘work’ you want me to do for you, I know how much I should bill you for it. But I don’t like to bill; when your prayers have been answered, you can give me whatever you want.”

He asks for my full name, then hands me a piece of paper and a pen to write it on. Leaning just over my shoulder, he lifts my left ear and bellows a series of Quranic verses, preceded by the Islamic call to worship. Then he repeats the process in my right ear. The two exercises last a combined 11 minutes 6 seconds.

FAKE PROPHECY 2: ‘YOU LACK THE AURA OF FAVOUR’

Alfa Ibadan had initially told my advance team that reconfiguring me from gay to straight would happen over a 21-day spiritual exercise, but seeing we are not averse to coughing up N125,000, he makes a sudden about-face.

“We will start and complete all your work today,” he tells me.

“Really?” I ask in genuine surprise.

“Yes,” he answers. “By the power of God!” 

But he says I will then make a promise to God — “because God is a God of promises — that when your prayers have been answered, you will not leave the Quran. And you will return to give thanks to God”.

Alfa Ibadan tells me to buy five yards of white cloth, and wrap myself in it when going to bed that night. He instructs me to wake up “at exactly 1 am” and pray that “as white cloth is typically used to wrap corpses for burial, so shall anyone responsible for my predicament be buried in that cloth within seven days”. When I rouse from sleep in the morning, I am to wrap the white cloth in a nylon, add N200, and gift a ‘mallam’ — street lingo for a Hausa beggar.

After that, I am to go to a river — “a flowing river” — where I will tie another white cloth around my waist, smear the rest of my body with palm oil, and wash it all away with a black soap and native sponge. When that is done, I am to rub shea butter all over my body — because, according to him, I do not have èyónú (the aura of favour) — and wash it away with black soap and sponge. 

“If an individual lacks èyónú,” he explains, “people will continue to hold grudges with them.”

“When the sun sets, a shea butter seller will never display it publicly; they’ll lose — because sheabutter always melts when it comes in contact with the sun.”

PROPHETS OF THEIR POCKETS (II): Lagos Mosque Where Greedy Cleric Scams Miracle Seekers 1
Salt for sacrifice

This is to be followed by one last fresh bath. The white cloth, along with the clothes I don to the river, will end up in a nylon, plus N200, and will be delivered to another ‘mallam’. As for the sponge, it will be flung into the river, but only when I’m backing the direction of flow of the river.

“This is a delicate assignment,” he warns. “Please don’t mess it up; It’s a ‘work’ of the elders. I may have prepared it all for you in just one day, but it is not a straightforward job.”

Then there is kolanut. He says I am to divide it into three, using one piece to rub my head as I offer prayers on myself. I’ll do the same for the other two pieces, and all three will go into the nylon that I must tie and gift the ‘mallam’.

“Yes, tie it,” Alfa Ibadan tells me. “If you buy salt at the market and it’s tied inside a nylon, you have to loosen it. Therefore, anyone who has tied you up must loosen you!”

FAKE PROPHECY 3: ‘YOU ARE A WATER CHILD’

PROPHETS OF THEIR POCKETS (II): Lagos Mosque Where Greedy Cleric Scams Miracle Seekers 2
Kolanut, to be divided into three during prayers

According to Alfa Ibadan, I am a ‘water child’, which has grave consequences if I do not appease the water spirit. But he says, among the good sides of being a ‘water child’, is that my head is ‘strong’.

“Your head is very strong [sic], so strong that if you’re upset with someone, the person’s life is automatically ruined. If you’re ever annoyed with someone, the person’s life will become tumultuous. Yes! Until he comes to beg you — because the river doesn’t beg.

“Yes, the river doesn’t beg. And nobody keeps enmity with water; anyone who tries it will still end up coming back to drink water. Anyone who quarrels with you will come back to beg you.”  

This ranks among Alfa Ibadan’s biggest lies: there are people I was upset with who never returned to beg me and went on to enjoy very fine lives. Not like I expected it to be any different, anyways. I never thought anyone’s success in life is determined in the slightest manner by their place in my life — or whether they have any at all!

We ask Alfa where we can withdraw money via an Automated Teller Machine (ATM), and he points us in the direction of the road leading to Ikorodu General Hospital. It’s Ikorodu Garage, dotted with banks. We return in just under 45 minutes with N125,000 cash. He collects it, dashes out and returns in 15 minutes with all the ingredients.

A DUBIOUS SACRIFICE, AN OFFERING IN ABSENTIA

PROPHETS OF THEIR POCKETS (II): Lagos Mosque Where Greedy Cleric Scams Miracle Seekers 3
The black concoction

Not long after, he hands me an aluminium plate containing a black, powdery substance. Once I collect it, he starts to empty honey from a 750ml plastic Tasty Time bottle of water into the plate. 

“Stir it, stir it,” he orders me, and I comply. “Lick it,” he adds. “Lick it right now.”

I hesitate, tilting my face towards the plate to get a sniff; the sticky substance is unpalatable in both sight and smell. I know my bowels would be thoroughly irritated if I let such disgusting concoction in. I lie to him that I am on the last of a three-day fasting that shouldn’t be broken until 6pm. 

“Please can I take it home with me so I can consume it once I break my fast?” I ask. He agrees, before resuming with instructions on how to use the materials.

“Once you have  the third bath and you put your clothes on, please do not look backwards. Your gaze must be forwards,” he warns. “Once you pray on the salt and you sprinkle it into the river, you head home immediately.”

After that, he retrieves a 200ml bottle of ‘Charger Blended Premium Extra Dry Gin’ containing a black, viscous liquid with a pungent smell. He tells me I will “use it” at exactly 1 am — not before, not after.

PROPHETS OF THEIR POCKETS (II): Lagos Mosque Where Greedy Cleric Scams Miracle Seekers 4
The dry gin bottle

“You see this one,” he begins, “you will use it with Peak milk.”

“You’ll get a cup, pour the milk inside it, mix it, pray on it. You’ll divide it into two and gulp one half. The other half, you’ll use it with honey at exactly 7am the following day.”

Then he hands me a 75cl bottle of Nirvana Premium Table Water, a 75cl bottle of Ello Table Water and a 50cl bottle of Pepsi. In each is a dark-coloured, watery, smell-less substance he says I must take thrice. The volume of the substance is less than a third of each bottle’s actual volume.

“You will drink a bottle tonight, another one tomorrow morning and the third one the day after,” he tells me.

This ram we’re offering as sacrifice, I ask him, are we going to witness its slaughter?

“You can’t be there,” he says, to my utmost shock. “What is important is that we offer prayers in your name after killing the ram.”

Alfa Ibadan and I exchange contacts as we prepare to leave. Just as we approach the exit door, he literally commands us to “give the security money on your way out”. 

“How much?” we wonder.

“Well, whatever you can afford.”

WONDER POWERS

PROPHETS OF THEIR POCKETS (II): Lagos Mosque Where Greedy Cleric Scams Miracle Seekers 5
Alfa Ibadan’s prayer mat at oriwu Central Mosque

After what has so clearly been a full day with an Islamic scammer, I return home to hastily retrieve my secret filming device, only to be shocked by the discovery that not a second of proceedings had been recorded. My heart instantly sank. But not for too long. 

The next day, Sunday March 20, 2022, I hatch a plan and return to Oriwu Central Mosque. Alfa Ibadan is taken aback to see me again.

“It looks like my father’s kinsmen are genuinely after me as you told me,” I begin. “You won’t believe, Alfa, that once I got home yesterday evening, I forgot every single thing you told me. Apart from coming here and the mention of my father’s relatives, I cannot remember anything else.”

Alfa Ibadan flashes me an I-told-you-so smile as he continues listening intently.

“All the ‘work’ you did on me yesterday, please can you repeat them?” I ask. “It feels like they’ve been diverted into the thin air.”

This gladdens his heart. But not only that, it emboldens him, as in the coming minutes, he would tell me some of the most inconceivable things I heard throughout the course of this investigation.

FAKE PROPHECY 4,5,6: PRINCE OF RIVERS, MAMMY WATER’S SON

After repeating many of the things he had said the previous day, he reiterates that I am a ‘water child’.

“You are the son of a mammy water; you’re the prince of rivers [4]. There are people who have the star of fire. If they’re rich early in life, they become poor by middle age. But your own star is the star of water. That is why you must never eat Tilapia fish. Do you eat it?”

I deliberately answer ‘yes’.

“What!” he screams. “Don’t ever try it again. Never in your life. In fact tomorrow, you will have to buy five dry pieces of Tilapia fish as sacrifice to cleanse your head. You may eat Titus or any other kind of fish, but not Tilapia. Your enemies will apprehend you if you eat Tilapia. Your children are in the river [5]; your wife is there too [6]; that is where you hail from. How can you then be eating Tilapia? It’s like eating your own body.”

Curious, I ask him: “How did I become a water child? Did my parents visit any water deity in a bid to conceive me?”

“No, they didn’t,” he tells me. “It is just how God made it. For example, there are the emèrè (possessed children) — those ones always pick momentous occasions as their death days. It can be their birthdays or wedding days. Children like that, we often tie them down — because they always bring tears to their mothers. Just one of them can return to their mother numerous times.”

FAKE PROPHECY 7, 8: ‘IT WASN’T WRITTEN FOR YOUR MOTHER TO CONCEIVE’

PROPHETS OF THEIR POCKETS (II): Lagos Mosque Where Greedy Cleric Scams Miracle Seekers 6
Open space opposite Alfa Ibadan‘s praying spot

Alfa says my mum went through a lot before conceiving me; and when she did, she did not undergo divination about me. 

“No wonder I am my parents’ only child,” I interject, deliberately misleading him. If my previous comments emboldened him to invent lies about me, this energised him to take the brazenness a notch higher.

“You see!” he exclaims. “Before you were conceived, they warned her that this only child she was going to have, the enemy would use him to stress her — because it was not written for your mother to ever conceive a child in her lifetime [7]. And it is because she herself is a water child [8]. Water children are always lucky with money, influence and power, but not children.”

All lies. A woman who has had four kids, the first coming within the first year of marriage, cannot be said to have been unlucky with children, can she?

Alfa Ibadan says even I will struggle to have a child if I do not appease the water gods with a sacrifice. For this sacrifice, he tells me I won’t embark on the trip to the river with him. Instead, I’ll only send along my name and clothes.

“You’re too old to follow me to the river,” he says with wondrous confidence. “They will beat the hell out of you if I invoke their spirits out of the water and they spot you. This isn’t child’s play; this is what I’ve done for 15 years.”

PROPHETS OF THEIR POCKETS (II): Lagos Mosque Where Greedy Cleric Scams Miracle Seekers 7
The dubiously obtained ram

He claims that only a water child aged 15 or younger can accompany him on such a trip. “They will still receive such a child as theirs,” he says. “But you? They will conclude that you abandoned them. They will so deal with you! They’re always armed with brooms and canes!”

By his explanation, my water relatives will ignore his first moves to summon them out of the water; however, when they see the goodies with which he has come to appease them, they will accede to his request. He says I will buy two ducks, 10 pigeons, one bucket of honey, red oil, sugar cane, àádùn (maize cake), groundnut, beans, and plantain.

“There is no bird that can swim in water like the duck,” he explains. “That’s why we need it. The pigeons, the white one, pure white without stain. By the way, there are fake pigeons. I use only the original — the ones directly from the Almighty. All  these things will be in a big calabash, and I will take them there around 12am. The big calabash, we will cover it with your clothes. I’ll take everything there. For 30 minutes, they may not even answer me, because they will already be in their meeting at that hour. Only me in that darkness and cold.

“After the sacrifice,” he further explains, “I will buy salt and empty it into the river once every month. “Once you do all these things, that’s all — because salt itself originated from water.”

‘THERE ARE NO ELDERS IN LAGOS TO EAT YOUR RAM’

As of the previous day, the agreement with Alfa Ibadan was for the ram to be slaughtered at the mosque on Sunday and distributed to all the elders. But seeing our interest in witnessing the killing of the ram, he makes an about-face on Sunday.  

“There are no elders here in Lagos,” he says quite astonishingly. “It’s in Ibadan that there are elders, and that’s where we will kill it.”

My guide and I shock him when we reveal our preparedness to embark on the trip to Ibadan with him. Reluctantly, he agrees to meet up with us at 5:30 am the following day, Monday, March 21, for the journey to Ibadan. He warns us sternly, though, that we are barred from witnessing the sharing of the ram; our access ends just with the killing.

In a clearcut move to replace the N80,000 ram money he thought he’d netted but was now set to lose, Alfa Ibadan tells us the sacrifice to my wife and children in the water realm must now be done immediately after slaughtering the ram in Ibadan on Monday.

“My fee is N50,000,” he says of the costs. “We will buy 10 pigeons at N2,500 each and two ducks at N15,000 each. Palm oil, honey and other ingredients will cost another N50,000. The total is N155,000.”

Undeterred, we agree to meet with him for 5:30 am the following day, at the Total Filling Station at Ojota, a few hundred metres from the right-sided fork that empties into the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.

JOURNEYING TO IBADAN

On Monday, March 21, it is a call from Alfa Ibadan that rouses me from sleep. He claims he is to lead the 5:30am-6 am prayers at Oriwu Central Mosque and will therefore be arriving at Ojota an hour later. Still, when my accomplice and I arrive at Total at 6:30 am, we find no trace of him. We recline our chairs for a quick nap until 7:07am when the Islamic cleric emerges, donning a shiny wine native attire, and bearing a black polythene bag. 

The near two-hour journey is without hiccups, and ends in the Academy area of Ibadan (widely mispronounced as ‘Akedemy’), where Alfa Ibadan maintains a ‘face-me-I-face-you’ apartment of two rooms with his apparently much younger wife and an unknown number of kids. It is a nondescript room — a ramshackle fan, an obsolete television and a tired-looking audio player being the only distinct features.

The wife goes down on all fours to welcome us, and her husband sets about preparations for the prayers. He places a green, woollen mat in the centre of the floor, after which he lights four candle sticks — one at each corner of the small room. 

From his polythene bag, he retrieves a packet of ‘Zam Zam Incense Sticks’, a butter colour plastic and a brown sticky substance. He torches three incense sticks; the resultant smoke and stench pollute the air. Then he reaches for my left ear again with his now-traditional call to prayers, bellowing Islamic jargon at a pitch that threatened to rupture my ear drums. 

Being the third of such mouth-to-ear prayer in three days, the strain had started to hit me. At times during the prayer, I pull my ears away from him, but he draws it back on each occasion. I endure the pain, plus the irritation of feeling his saliva occasionally glide against the inside of my ears. From the left ear, he switches to the right, and from there to my head. After a little over 22 minutes, he winds the prayer down by spitting on my head and spreading the saliva all over with his thumb and index finger. It leaves me wanting to puke but I endure it, making sure not to betray my disgust.

“Sit down straight,” he orders me, as he opens his Quran and starts reading out verses and offering prayers. To bring this to a close after another 16 minutes, he blows air from the Quran towards my face. Three times he does this.

We start to hear voices and Alfa Ibadan attributes it to our presence. “Tons of them have opened their mouths expecting meat from your ram to drop,” he says. “Those are the elders who will eat your ram and your prayers will be answered!”

SCAM IN THE NAME OF RAM

Soon, Alfa Ibadan announces we have to get on with the sacrifice, but first, the costs have to be discussed.

“The ram was more expensive than we thought,” he says. “Those who bought it added an extra N5,000. They spent N1,000 on transportation, too.”

He says we will give them N2,000 for their troubles, plus another N2,000 for the trouble of slaughtering the ram. The wife who will prepare it, he says, will have to be given N2,500.

“We will have to buy gas, too, because we cannot use kerosene,” he says, and that costs N5,000.

Once we agree to all these terms, three able-bodied men join Alfa Ibadan in pinning down the ram. In a matter of minutes, blood gushes all over the unpaved area between Alfa Ibadan’s house and the next. As it happened way back in Ikorodu, we ask him for directions to the nearest ATM so we can pay him the N155,000 for the water sacrifice and the N17,500 additional ram costs, and he obliges. But rather than drive towards the ATM, we head to a nearby ram market where we price rams exactly the size of the one he slaughtered. To our surprise, we find that traders are willing to give us for N30,000 — the same size of ram he received N80,000 for only to claim it costs N85,000. From there we return to Lagos after blocking Alfa Ibadan’s line, never to be able to reach us again, much less ascertain the status of his N172,500 windfall.

This investigation was published with support from The Initiative for Equal RIghts (TIERS)

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