As told to Toheeb.
Last year, I thought it might be interesting to talk to a student cultist for Aluta and Chill, the flagship series I was writing at the time. I put the word out, but it was futile. I was about to give up my search when a friend told me there was a guy at his church who had just left a cult and had started rehabilitation. Let’s call him Philip.
Philip agreed to talk to me under one condition: I had to meet him at the town where he was hiding out. He wouldn’t do the interview over the phone. On March 7, 2020, I travelled from Lagos to this town, also in the South-West, with no promises that I would get the story I was chasing.
Luckily, he decided he could trust me. We talked for close to two hours, and I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. After the conversation though, I realised it wasn’t an Aluta and Chill story. The question I asked myself in the following months was if I still wanted to write it; if it was even safe to do so. Last weekend, I decided that I wanted to. And I got to it — I retrieved the recordings and started writing. And now, I’ve written it in the as-told-to format.
My grandmother always wanted a son, but she had four daughters. When I came along, my mum thought I could be the son her mother had always wanted, so she shipped me off to live with her. I was just one at the time.
At four years old, I started hawking fried fish on the streets of Ibadan for my grandmother. If I didn’t make enough money in a day, she would send me back out to make more. Sometimes, she locked me out of the house and made me sleep outside. I don’t remember much from that time, but I know that because I was always out on the streets, I was running errands for the boys in the neighbourhood, getting them packs of cigarettes or wraps of weed.
I returned to my mum when I was seven. I started smoking cigarettes when I was 10. By the time I turned 15, I was experimenting with weed and drugs. It was about that time that I decided that I’d had enough of school. Not that we had enough money, anyway. Things were tougher than ever at home because my dad had died, so I dropped out of school and went to live with a cousin who sold phone accessories. The plan was to learn the business from him and go out on my own, but he wasn’t exactly the model teacher.
He would buy fake phone accessories at cheap prices and sell them at a ridiculously high rate. He was also the first person that introduced me to girls and clubs. In fact, he facilitated my first sexual experience. I was 16.
I left my cousin when I was 20 or 21 and went to work at a hotel as a housekeeper. One night in 2018, this group of guys came to party and lodge at the hotel. I was immediately drawn to them. They were all the things I wanted to be: rich and lavish. I knew what not having enough money meant, and I wanted what they had.
I served them until it was time for me to go off-duty. One of them asked me to sit with them for a while, and I agreed. Let’s call him B — he will come up in this story again. We partied together all night and when they were leaving, they gave me ₦15k, promising to come back.
They did come back. The more I talked to B, the more I wanted to be one of them. A part of me knew that they belonged to a cult, but they had what I wanted — wealth or some semblance of it. I was disappointed when B told me that they were leaving town in a few days, but I quickly got over it and asked if I could come with them. He said I could, but I had to be ready to leave in three days. I was ready to leave anytime. The way I saw it, if I was with them, I’d never lack.
We left Ibadan on a Saturday and travelled to Abeokuta. They were students in a school somewhere in Ogun State. The first thing they did was throw a big party to welcome me. That felt very nice. Around 1 am, they said it was time to meet other members of the gang, and we left the house. I was going to my initiation.
The other guys accepted me into the fold. There was something really weird about a part of the initiation process. They dug the ground up and asked me to lie in it. The deal was that I’d be there until I had an orgasm. I was confused, but B calmed me down and told me it was easier than it seemed. All I had to do was think of someone I liked a lot and imagine myself having sex with her. For some reason, it worked, and they congratulated me. They scattered something over the wet patch before covering the ground up. Afterwards, we went to a club to celebrate a successful initiation.
I got into a new world of debauchery, but I quickly became restless. I had everything I wanted, but they weren’t telling me anything about where the money came from. Yahoo would have been my best guess, but they weren’t doing anything like it. B was like my teacher and mentor at this point, and every time I brought it up with him, he told me to calm down. Oh, I should say something about B: his most distinguishable features were his fingers. He was missing a thumb.
They eventually thought I was ready and began the next phase. This time, we drove to a part of town to a herbalist of sorts and told him I was a new recruit. The herbalist asked if they’d explained everything to me, and they said yes. That was a lie. The man got down to business and prepared this thing inside a bowl wrapped in white cloth. I opened it and found the heart of an animal inside. Then he handed me a bottle of gin and asked me to eat.
After that, they revealed that I’d been sworn to secrecy. I couldn’t talk about it to anyone if I didn’t want to risk my life. Also, I had to return every three months to renew the process.
Now, the gang told me what they were really up to. They worked for ritualists. And now, I was one of them.
Their targets were girls, but they didn’t kidnap them. All they had to do was sleep with them and clean them up with a handkerchief. Their masters needed only the used handkerchiefs.
The girls who were involved either became barren or died a slow death.
I was baffled at first, but I got over it. Now, it was time to prove myself, and I wasn’t about to mess it up. I pitched the idea of returning to Ibadan — I grew up there. I knew how the town worked. They agreed after a few months, and we relocated.
I don’t think I processed what I was doing for a while. There wasn’t a lot of time to even think about it — we had a target of three girls per week. I also didn’t know who exactly we were working for. I just know they were rich and powerful. I also never received a payment. They only provided whatever I wanted.
There was this immunity that came with our crimes. It didn’t matter how badly we messed up, we always got away with it. There was a time the police stopped two people in the gang and found two bodies in the trunk of their cars. I thought that was it, but they were out in two weeks. And that was the end of it. The only way things could go sideways was if we clashed with a rival cult. We were practically invincible.
One thing I didn’t understand about myself during that time was that even though I was quite brazen about a lot of things, I was always interested in listening to conversations about religion. One day, I went to this pharmacy with my girlfriend at the time to buy a bottle of codeine. The woman at the pharmacy must have thought we were kids who had lost our way. Before we left, she asked us if we knew the use of what we wanted to buy. My girlfriend was livid, but I calmed her down. Then the woman asked if we had a bible. That was it for my girlfriend, but I answered the woman and told her that I didn’t have one. She said if I came back the following day, she would have gotten me one.
I actually went back the following day but something had changed in her. I think she had time to think about what she was about to do and decided that it was best to stay away. I noticed her reluctance to talk to me and cursed her out before I stormed out. On my way back home, I saw a church I’d never been to before and decided that I would go there the following Sunday. My plan was simple and heinous: find church girls to sleep with.
When I got to the church on Sunday, everyone’s attention was on me. I didn’t fit into the category of the people who usually came to worship there. My hair was blond, and I was high as a kite. I was uncomfortable throughout the service. When it ended, nobody came to talk to me. The same thing happened the following Sunday. I decided not to go back.
I would later meet the pastor’s son on the street. He started a conversation, and we exchanged numbers. Nothing happened for some time after that. He only kept in touch.
On my own part, I was growing disillusioned with the cult activities. It wasn’t working out the way I’d hoped it would. Sure, they gave me whatever I needed, and I wasn’t hungry anymore, but the other guys had things going for them. Things they had bought or built. Gifts were where it ended for me.
Shortly after, a beef with a rival cult culminated in the death of a friend who died from gunshot wounds. I think that was when I began to get more clarity on what could also happen to me. It was inevitable.
One day, I called the pastor’s son I had met months earlier. We’d kept in touch. He asked if I wanted to meet up at the church, and I agreed. The moment I got into the church’s premises, I felt this calm I hadn’t felt in a long time — possibly ever. Then I burst into tears. It was as though the events of my life up to this point were replaying in my head and the things I saw weren’t pretty. I told him the same story I’m telling you now, and we prayed.
When I returned home, I told the others that I was coming from church, but they didn’t answer me. It wasn’t important at the time, I guess. But when they noticed that I wasn’t giving them my 100% anymore, they chalked it down to my recent interest in church and told me to stop going. They gave me two options: leave the church or leave the house. Leaving the house could be dangerous for me, so I stayed.
Eventually, they kicked me out. When this happened, I returned to the church and told them what happened. They took me in and got an apartment for me.
After that, things got a little difficult. A week after I was kicked out, three people in the group were murdered and there were no traces of who could have done it. That was a problem for me because they thought I set them up. They found me and told me they knew what I had done, but they would let it go. The point of that conversation was to let me know that I could never leave them as long as I’m alive. It was practically a threat to my life.
The next time I saw them was December 31, 2019. They stormed the church during crossover service. I had a tight feeling in my stomach when I saw them. They must have come to cause trouble. When the service ended, they beckoned me to come out to talk. The reason they came was to let me know that I was still in their grasp and they could always find me. Besides, it had been three months since I last ate the concoction thing and it was time to do that again. They reminded me of my duties and what would happen if I refused to do them. They actually said that they were going to commit a crime and blame me for it.
After they left, I told the pastors at the church what happened. They decided that it was time for me to leave town. The problem there was that I had to tell the cult that and they had to agree to it. If I fled town without informing them, they would take it as an act of war and come after me. I tried appealing to them and luckily, they agreed. The agreement was that I would travel for a while and return to them. I think they were sure that they could always find me, so they didn’t think too much about it. I left Ibadan and went into hiding. I haven’t been back since.
The last thing I heard about them was that B had fallen terribly ill, and they were looking all over for me. B didn’t survive — he’s dead now. When I joined them, there were 15 people in the gang. Now, there are only eight. Am I out of this? I don’t know. I’ve started my rehabilitation. But again, I took them to that town. That’s going to be on me forever.
Editor’s note: This conversation was had in Yoruba and was translated to English and edited for clarity.