Prominent politicians in Edo State and a member of the APC have been linked to a violent cultist group responsible for hundreds of unsolved murders in Nigeria, and multi-million dollars internet fraud globally, according to an investigation published by BBC Africa Eye.
The investigation analysed thousands of documents allegedly hacked from senior Black Axe members, revealed that a 2019 APC Party candidate for political office, Augustus Bemigho, was at one point a leader of the Black Axe fraternity and that he had been involved in internet scams defrauding people in the UK and USA of millions of dollars.
Other documents seen by the BBC suggest 35 million naira was funnelled to an organisation called the Neo Black Movement of Africa (NBM) – which has been frequently linked to Black Axe – in order to “protect votes” and secure victory during governorship elections in Edo State in 2012. The documents suggest NBM were given 80 roles in government in exchange.
Tony Kabaka, a notorious youth leader for the APC in Benin, told the BBC in an interview that “most politicians” in Edo State, which is currently under the PDP governorship of Godwin Obaseki, are cultists.
“If you ask me to identify Black Axe members in government, I will identify,” he said. “Stakeholders, senior stakeholders are cultists.”
Black Axe is outlawed in all universities in Nigeria but its members still hold clandestine meetings and initiate new members in schools and across the country. They are involved in mass killings, armed robbery, kidnapping and internet fraud – and have spread around the world. It is considered a cultist group per the Nigerian constitution.
The NBM is a registered company in Nigeria, with a black axe as its logo and thousands of members, who call themselves “Aye Axemen.” It claims to be a charitable organisation – donating to schools, prisons and the police. But international law enforcement agencies have repeatedly linked the NBM with Black Axe.
Statements by the US Department of Justice say that the NBM is a “criminal organisation” and “part of the Black Axe.” Authorities in Canada have also said NBM and Black Axe “are the same.”
In September 2021, in a joint operation against Black Axe by the FBI in the US and South Africa resulted in the arrest of 35 members of the NBM, who were charged with multi-million dollar internet fraud.
The NBM strongly deny they are anything to do with Black Axe and are adamant they are a legitimate and peaceful organisation. They said in a statement that they have suspended all of their arrested members.
The latest BBC Africa Eye investigation included interviews with a former member of the Black Axe cult, who says the philanthropic activities of the NBM are cover for Black Axe.
Dr. John Stone, a university lecturer and former Axeman, claims that both organizations are “one and the same.” He describes NBM as “formality to cover the informalities” of the cult.
A second interview with an anti-fraud activist, a European man who uses the pseudonym Uche Tobias, corroborated this view. Tobias was the source of the thousands of secret documents seen by the BBC and claims he has been investigating the activities of both the Black Axe and NMB for years.
The Neo Black Movement as an organization is just a charade,” said Tobias. He claims it is a smokescreen for “what they really are, which is a mafia.”
During an interview with the BBC, legal representatives of the NBM said they would expel any Black Axe members “immediately” if they were found inside their organisation. They deny the allegations of Tobias and Dr Stone.
Many of the findings in the BBC investigation will come as no surprise to Nigerians, who have long speculated that politicians work with cultists. The investigation, which aired in the form of a documentary, also showed the impact Black Axe is having on society – following vigilante groups as they fight to rid their communities of the fraternity. It went on to establish how Black Axe is both a national and an international eyesore.
Black Axe members interviewed for the film believe they are fighting against oppression but to the victims of their brutality, they are the oppressors terrorizing their communities.
“We are freedom fighters,” one of the masked cultists said. “We do violence and we kill but for justice. We do not kill the innocent. We are brothers. We are one.”
This is far from the reality for families who have had their loved ones maimed and killed by the cultist groups. Clashes between rival cults not only leave trails of casualties within the membership of the groups, innocent residents become victims as well.
“There is not two or three months; there must be a cult war,” one of the local vigilantes told the Africa Eye reporter. “When you wake up in the morning, you see a dead body by the roadside.”
Ninety percent of killings by the cult groups are not reported, according to the Nigeria Police in Anambra State. Cultist attacks are rife in Nigeria and many are alleged to have links with the governments who use them as political thugs during elections and to fight opponents.
“We do errands for them. Some buy us cars,” one of the cult members said. “That’s what gives us the confidence to do what we do.”
Dr. Stone alleged Nigerian politicians rely heavily on the brute force of the Black Axe to win elections in Edo State. “What’s the interest of the politicians?” he asked. “To get power. They cannot survive without the Black Axe there. They must collaborate with the Black Axe for them to survive.”