Violent cult gangs are well known in Nigeria. Though there are no statistics on their numbers and impact, Lagos State in southwest Nigeria has more than 10 of these groups controlling different areas. They operate in neighbourhoods and their memberships cut across age groups. They control certain territories as their own, extorting money from businesses and residents.
But the Badoo cult gang that operated in Ikorodu area of the state between 2016 and 2018 was different. It was a violent ritual gang. The capture of its leader and herbalist ended its operations. The Badoo cult was known for killing its victims in mysterious circumstances for ritual purposes.
Through mastery of the environment and target selection, the Badoo cult gang was able to impose fear in the minds of residents. Unlike other known violent cult gangs, like the Eiye and Black Axe cults, the Badoo cult gang did not use guns in its operation; its weapons were the pestle, mortar, grinding stone and white handkerchief. The pestle was used to hit victims on the head and the handkerchief to clean their blood – indicating the motive as ritual.
Our study explored how the ritual gang selected its victims and how it operated. This was with a view to understanding how environment predisposes people to become victims of crime.
Our findings could stimulate policy actions towards improving environmental design and crime prevention.
The study was carried out in Ikorodu, Lagos state, where more than 20 attacks took place. Twenty in-depth interviews were conducted with three traditional rulers, three religious leaders (one Muslim and two Christians), the leader of the vigilante group in Ikorodu who was involved in arresting some Badoo suspects and 13 other participants who lived near houses that were attacked by members of the gang.
Each gang member was assigned responsibilities. A key gang member, usually a community insider, would provide information on households that looked like easy targets. We found that women spies were sent to the potential area of attack, because they would be less likely than men to raise any community suspicions. This way, the gang would gain advance knowledge of the targets and how to get into their houses. An informant said:
They might be going round to know that a particular house has no burglar proofs. The women give them information on where they would strike.
Most of the targets could be characterised as soft targets in isolated spaces in the community. The targets were also relatively poor people. They lived in partially completed structures, usually single room apartments and sometimes without burglar proofing. Some stayed in stand-alone house quarters detached from main buildings. One participant said:
The people they attacked were not rich. The husband was a motorcyclist while the wife roasts corn by the side of the road. Their house has no burglar proof and the door is made of plywood.
Our participants and reports indicated that the gang operated in the early hours of the day, usually between 1am and 3am.
While parading arrested gang members, the then Commissioner of Police of Lagos State, Edgar Imhohimi, described what they had done:
The gang of three murderers and ritualists usually spray a powdery substance into the victims’ dwelling place that will make their targets fall into deep sleep before the group ends their lives by smashing their skulls with grinding stone.
Another participant in our study, a victim of Badoo attacks, said:
They hit my husband on the head with a stone, something like the stone they use to grind pepper, that native grinding stone.
Our informants’ responses suggest that buildings under construction or unoccupied are a threat to security, and overgrown vegetation obstructs visibility. Isolated houses may compromise the security of neighbourhoods and make inhabitants of those structures easy targets.
The reign of terror of the Badoo cult gang in Ikorodu eventually ended when the formal and informal agencies of social control collaborated. That is, the police enlisted the support of local vigilance groups. This shows that cooperation between the police and local security operatives could work well in combating crime. Local people use traditional methods of vigilance similar to those that the Badoo gang used. And they know their community.
Security could also be improved by clearing overgrown vegetation and paying attention to empty or isolated buildings.