Nigerian pastor Benjamin Ojobu and his wife, Patience, were arrested in May for allegedly using a human head in rituals for church members. The practice of using severed body parts to ensure prosperity—whether material, emotional, or spiritual—is not uncommon in West Africa. In a region where voodoo is culturally acceptable, nearly all Christians engage in some form of occult practice, according to some experts.

"One out of 10 self-named Christians in this region practices only Christianity," says Benjamin-Lee Hegeman, a former missionary in West Africa who now teaches at Houghton College. "Some people call it syncretism, but it may be more like dual religious allegiance, where Christianity is practiced in the daytime and occult [practice] is done at night. Many of the pastors will preach from the pulpit that this type of thing is wrong, but secretly take part in it at night. There is the mentality, especially in African Initiated Churches, where the prosperity gospel is preached, that you do what you've got to do to get ahead. You rely on the powers available to you. You are hopeful that Christ will help, but when he can't come through on Sunday, you may take out a different insurance policy at night."

According to the Vanguard newspaper, Ojobu and his wife purchased the head of a recently deceased young woman for N3,000 (the equivalent of $25) from a man working at a local cemetery. Ojobu explained that they were using the head to prepare charms for fighting witchcraft and for offering special prosperity prayers. The couple is now being detained in a jail in Benin City, Nigeria.

"Yes, I am a man of God. But I do this outside church hours," Ojobu told the paper. "I am both a native doctor and a man of God. This is my personal practice; I do it to complement my church job, and I have been assisting a lot of people with it."

Hegeman said many West Africans believe in two levels of authority, the spiritual and physical. To get ahead in the physical world, West Africans often turn to spirits.

"In Africa, the spirit world is real. Occultism is real," said John Abraham Godson, international facilitator for the Network of Nigerian Missionaries Overseas. "Often, in search of spiritual reality to overcome evil, many undiscipled Christians resort to seeking the help of shamans, while a few churches try to combine the practices with Christianity. It's always a power struggle between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light. As evangelicals, we cannot neglect the reality of either."

Some churches in West Africa oppose these dual allegiances, Hegeman said, but they are fighting an uphill battle. Perceptions must change, starting with the help of one-on-one discipleship, he said. But it may take something more drastic to change whole societies.

"These types of practices only seem to crack when devastating wars occur," Hegeman said. "Look at Rwanda, Southern Sudan, and Liberia. Regrettably, the worst of disasters have had a purifying effect in the church. The very syncretistic could not survive—only authentic Christianity was able to survive."

Related Elsewhere:

The Lagos Vanguard reported earlier on this story.

Koranteng Ofosu-Amaah highlights a poster campaign against this kind of dual allegiance in the "Soul Struggle" section of his blog.

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