How Muslim Cleric Safwan Ibikunle Bello Aka Alfa Akodo Was Beheaded And His Heart Removed For Preaching Against Traditional Yoruba Religions In 2003 In Lagos
Nigeria is a nation of diversities, but if diversities and differences are not properly managed in human societies, they end up producing disastrous results. I am dwelling today on the unbelievable murder of a famous Nigerian Muslim scholar, the piece is done focusing on all the circumstances surrounding his bloody end and concludes with a resonant call for Nigerians to put in place a super-effective system of justice. So who was Alfa Akodo?
BIRTH AND EARLY DAYS
Sheikh Safwan Ibikunle Bello (better known to his followers fondly as Alfa Akodo because he was based in the Akodo area of riverine community named Epe in Lagos State, southwestern Nigeria) was born on the 9th of April, 1963 to the family of Pa and Mrs. Tirmidhi Bello at a settlement called Okunraye formerly located in Epe Local Government of Lagos State. He was born the same year Nigeria became a republic but sadly, the republic could not evolve a system civilized enough to prevent his detractors from cutting him down in his prime.
A lover of education, the young Akodo was at the Zumuratul Islamiyyah Primary School in Epe from 1973 to 1979. Thereafter, he proceeded to the Iraye-Oke Comprehensive High School for his secondary school education. At about the same time, he got his Quranic and Islamic Education from his cleric named Alhaji Abdulfattah Idunnu. He graduated from the Islamic school in 1987. Akodo has been referred to as the most radical Islamic preacher of the Tijanniyyah order in the 20th century in the Epe area.
In keeping in line with the Islamic traditions which allows for polygamy, Sheikh Safwan Ibikunle Bello Akodo married three wives (Lateefat, Zaynab and Rodiyat) and his marriages produced five children.
HIS PREACHING STYLE
Like many of the other clerics in various parts of the country, Akodo soon commenced his dawah (Islamic missionary activities) and his goal was to convert his community to the religion of Islam, which he saw as the only true way and path to Paradise. The problem with this move was that he was residing in an area of the Ijebu-Epes that was predominantly the turf of extremely loyal adherents of traditional religions.
In various parts of Yorubaland, there is a fine blend of native and foreign religions which results in a syncretic form of worship. Therefore, it is quite possible to see a Yoruba family with members being Muslims, Christians and animists all at the same time. But for Akodo, this syncretism was nonsense and was an impurity upon Islam, a stain to be removed. He set out with great determination to purify Islam of the acts and elements of traditional worship that had crept into it and then preach Islam until it becomes the dominant force and religion in the land. That was where the first spark exploded because the African traditional worshippers were not going to have any of what he was saying. As far as they were concerned, Akodo was talking utter rubbish. They felt he wanted to impose a foreign religion on them while also dismissing what their own ancestors handed over to them.
A battle for supremacy had ensued and while Akodo placed his absolute faith in Allah, the animists also swore by the efficacy of the powers of their numerous gods and goddesses. The battle line was drawn.
HIS CLASHES WITH THE TRADITIONAL RELIGION WORSHIPPERS
Akodo was a very fiery and radical preacher and hated the traditional religions with every fibre in his body. To him, those following the Yoruba gods were nothing but filthy pagans, idol worshippers and disbelievers destined for Jahannam (Allah’s Hellfire according to the teachings of Islam), this is because in Islam, the greatest sin that Allah will never forgive is called shirk and that is associating partners with Allah, which is precisely what the Yoruba traditionalists were doing with their battalions of gods, goddesses, oracles and deities. To Akodo, this was sinning on a per-second basis and had to be stopped by all means.
He switched into his radical mode and started preaching against all beliefs he considered to be unIslamic. He blasted the ‘weak’ Muslims who combined occultic practices with their Islamic faith, reminding them of the unforgiving coals of Jahannam. In addition to this, Akodo dedicated himself to exposing all the secrets behind the awo (Yoruba occult) like the Oro and Egungun (masquerade) cults, a move that greatly pissed off the alawos (members of the occult).
Akodo organized sermons every week to blast the traditional religions and called Ifa (the traditional Yoruba oracle) and its followers all sorts of unprintable names. This provocation was so much that some members of the Iji Nla secret cult decided to act decisively. Thus, they orchestrated and launched a series of attacks and assault on the uncompromising Muslim scholar. The interesting thing is that before his demise, Akodo was criticized by some of his fellow Muslims in Ijebu Epe for being too extreme and fanatical in his condemnation of the traditional faiths. But Akodo would not be distracted by the chicken-hearted Muslims and he brushed their criticisms and warnings aside.
HIS BRUTAL DEATH
In Epe, the followers of the Iji Nla secret cult held their major Ebi Festival every year during the month of March. It was a big event for the traditional worshippers but Akodo did not care and he did stop conducting his ballistic weekly lectures which was aimed at throwing caustic insults and cold water on the traditional worshippers and their activities. As a result, it did not take long for his lectures during the festivals of the Iji Nla cultists to end in conflicts, some of which were quite bloody. The cycle kept repeating itself every year and became worse with each turn.
Things deteriorated so fast that in 2003 (Olusegun Obasanjo was president then), the traditional ruler of Epe, Oba Qamarudeen Ishola Animashaun summoned Akodo and ordered him to remain at his residence and pause his weekly lectures and sermons for that period so the traditional worshippers could conduct their festival in peace. Akodo respected the decision of the monarch and stayed in his residence, he cancelled his usual sermons and suspended his open-air activities for the sake of harmony and to prevent the usual breakdown of law and order.
So what went wrong? Well, while Akodo agreed with the orders of the king, his enemies on the side of the plank, the occultists, were not impressed at all as they insisted he had committed what they called a ‘sacrilegious offence’. On the 9th of March, 2003, they mobilized and went to Akodo’s house at No 13, Gbele Street, Epe and they started hauling curses at the Muslim cleric who was cocooned inside his house. The occultists were determined to cause maximum trouble that they started destroying the property of the cleric and that of his Islamic organization. As they were vandalizing all they could lay their hands on, they kept threatening to destroy him.
Akodo was helpless, there was no one to cry out to, there was no one to help him as he watched them destroy all he laboured for. At that moment, he voiced out in an ever-defiant tone and uttered his last words, he said:
‘Do you want to kill me? Remember I have never committed any atrocity against you other than you people are misquoting and misrepresenting my messages; if you dare kill me; I shall enter paradise, but you, hell shall be your own abode and my blood will fight over you all and you shall never be relevant again in this life and in the hereafter.’
That was a fatal trigger. He had barely finished his words when the occultists sprang into action, they pounced on him and he collapsed. In a flash, one of the attackers named Lateef Anjorin passed a sharp sword to another occultist named Giwa Kerebe and Akodo was promptly beheaded, with substantial help from Lateef Anjorin. Then they did a very macabre thing, they drained Akodo’s blood inside a container and mutilated his heart. Thereafter, they left with his crushed heart and the lifeless body. Akodo was gone. His remains were not found. This story is very similar to what happened to another Islamic cleric named Alfa Apalara who was also murdered in very comparable circumstances before Nigeria became independent (I wrote on Apalara’s murder and you can read it HERE). It is instructive to compare the two cases and observe how the judicial systems handled both cases.
The news of Akodo’s brutal exit from the world soon spread and with it was an immense pall of sadness draped over the Muslim community. His death was so painful for many as thousands of protesters under the umbrella of the Joint Muslim Action Forum of Nigeria stormed the Ayeniromo Central Mosque, Iju Road, Ifako, Agege in Lagos on the 9th of April 2003 to protest over the murder of Akodo.
They also called for the dethronement of the Oba of Epe within seven days if he failed to produce the corpse of Akodo for proper burial and bring all the culprits to book.
Fingers pointed towards the Iji Nla, Awo Opa and other traditional secret societies in Epe and other parts of Lagos State for his murder and other ritual killings. Following the prosecution of the murder of Sheikh Safwan Ibikunle Bello Akodo, seven members of the Iji Nla cult (Lateef Anjorin, Monsuru Ajetunmobi, Isiaka Ajetunmobi, Adekunle Adeniyi, Tunwase Kabiru, Moses Egiebade and Talimu Rasheed Peru) were all sentenced to death by hanging. This was stated in a judgment delivered by Honourable Justice Benedicta Shitta-Bey of Lagos State High Court in December 2003 but this is 2017 and I am not sure if the execution of the convicts has been carried out. Till date, the followers of Akodo still mourn him and you can see this from their posts below:
They believe he was martyred in the cause of Islam and will get a ticket to paradise (Al Jannah).
I honestly do not think the problem is just the differences in religious beliefs. I think the main problem in Nigeria is that we have not been able to design and utilize a judicial system that promptly nabs offenders and makes them face the music swiftly for the crimes they must have committed. Criminals get away with their atrocities as our judicial system offers no solid measure of deterrence. That is the difference between Nigeria and the United Kingdom or Canada for example. In these other nations, people of different faiths live together in peace and harmony. And in a case where a mental case decides to harm another because of religious differences in the United Kingdom or Canada for example, the judicial system swings into action immediately.
As I am writing this, I am also watching how the French security forces swung into action at the Orly Airport in Paris after a religious nut attacked a soldier. That is the type of system I am advocating for, a judicial system that is forever vigilant and efficient, a system that works for the people, for the citizenry. Unfortunately, we do not have such in Nigeria and that is why criminals commit the most gruesome murders and walk free. Take those who murdered the female RCCG evangelist for example, they are free. What sane nation can allow such an aberration? So it is a structural problem, the system is sick.
Psychiatric cases garbed in religious fanaticism will always be present in societies but to reduce them to the barest minimum means developing a strong judicial system that treats everyone without bias or favour. No one should be killed for his or her beliefs (they are just beliefs, like opinions) or for even preaching against another belief, it is all part of freedom of expression.
The late Alfa Akodo was a citizen of Nigeria, with all his fundamental human rights guaranteed by the Constitution, his killers had no right to kill him but they went ahead to disrespect the laws of the land because they know the Nigerian judicial system is a joke. Imagine them trying such in France, when ISIS Islamists killed an old French cleric right inside the church, you saw how their system responded immediately. Youths of Nigeria, align your priorities with your destinies, always press for good governance at all levels because without justice, Nigeria cannot advance, and you are the Nigeria, it is not an abstract entity on another planet. A nation that places no value on its most valuable treasures which are human lives (human resources) has no hope for future success.
THANKS FOR YOUR TIME.
- Minaret In The Delta: Islam In Port Harcourt And Its Environs by Abdulrazaq O Kilani, 1896 – 2007
- Religion and Community by MA Folorunsho and RI Adebayo, National Association for the Study of Religions and Education (NASRED), 2004.
- Annual Report On Violent Conflicts in Nigeria, Peace and Development Projects, 2004.
- The Growth and Development of Islam in Epe, Lagos State, Nigeria, 1851 – 2010 by Mufutau Oluwasegun Jimoh, Ilorin Journal of Religious Studies (IJOURELS), Volume 6, Number 2, 2016, pp 1-18.
- Protesters Demand Dethronement of Epe Monarch, ThisDay, 10th April, 2003.
- Martyrdom Of Muslim Clerics And Its Effects On Da‘Wah (Islamic Proselytization) In Lagos State
- Epe Location Guide