Armed with a sharp knife, a megaphone and dressed all in black, Gbenga Adewoyin could have passed for a medieval witch hunter, a herbal salesman or an urban preacher as he walked around a market in the south-western Nigerian city of Ibadan.
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Those curious enough to get close in the Gbagi market quickly dispersed when they heard his message. “Anyone that can provide any evidence for the existence of the supernatural, be it juju or voodoo magic, will be offered 2.5m naira ($6,000, £4,650),” he announced repeatedly in Yoruba and English.
The 24-year-old atheist has recently emerged as a rebel publicly contesting the powers of the supernatural in this deeply religious country.
Belief in African traditional religions and its juju components are widespread in Nigeria, with many combining them with either Christianity or Islam, according to a 2010 report by the Pew Research Centre.
Many Nigerians believe that magic charms can allow humans to morph into cats, protect bare skins from sharp blades and make money appear in a clay pot.
These beliefs are not just held by the uneducated, they exist even at the highest level of Nigeria’s academia.
Dr Olaleye Kayode, a senior lecturer in African Indigenous Religions at the University of Ibadan, told the BBC that money-making juju rituals – where human body parts mixed with charms makes money spew out of a pot – really work.
The naira notes that supposedly appear “are gotten by spirits from existing banks”, he told the BBC.
Jude Akanbi, a lecturer at the Crowther Graduate Theological Seminary in Abẹ́òkúta, is also unequivocal about juju.
“This ability to be able to transform yourself to [a] cat, to disappear and reappear, these things are possible within the dynamics of traditional African religion.
“Although [it] sounds illogical, like old wives’ tales, however from what we have seen and heard, these things are possible,” he said.
Such beliefs, especially that human body parts and charms can produce money from a clay pot, have led to a recent wave of gruesome murders in the country, with single women often the victims.
“I feel horrible to see young people engage in these ritual killings.
“If money ritual worked, we would have seen a massive inflation in the economy for the decades that we have believed in it,” Mr Adewoyin told the BBC.
He was in Ibadan, Oyo state, on the second of three planned in-country tours offering 2.5m naira, crowd-funded via Twitter, to anyone that can publicly demonstrate these juju powers.
“The knife is for anyone that claims their juju makes them blade-proof,” he said.
Categories: Religion & Science