Until recently, precisely Monday, November 7, residents of Arikuyeri village, in Iyana-Offa, Lagelu Local Government Area of Oyo State, believed that the caving in of many graves around was as a result of ageing of the burial places. Their belief was hinged on the notion that graves become sunken at some point, when the body of the dead is done decomposing and then gives way to the bones. But they were wrong. Something sinister was really going on.
A gang of human skull thieves had actually been at work. They had been roaming the village and exhuming “biscuits,” as skulls are referred to in their secret parlance. In the night, the elements had always dug the graves for skulls, fresh or stale.
Saturday Tribune gathered that inhabitants became agitated after their attention was drawn to a disturbing increase in the number of concave-looking graves across the village. The development soon became the only subject in the village.
Arikuyeri was not the only one affected by this rather strange occurrence; two other villages, Alfa and Aba Loke, were also being visited by these traders in human remains. A tour of the affected villages by Saturday Tribune, which spanned over 120 minutes, showed that over 25 graves, including ones located in thick bushes, had been visited by the elements whose identities were soon to be revealed.
One of the leaders in Arikuyeri village, Pa Muniru Sangotunde, otherwise called Baba Oba in the village, said: “We began to notice holes on many graves in the community. At first, we thought the holes were caused by nature because of our environment but we were proved wrong as holes continued appearing on more graves. Disturbed by the development, we debated the development and discovered that the holes were not appearing naturally; that something sinister was happening.
“At that point, we summoned a meeting with our village head, Chief Bashiru Gbolagade Kilade. After the deliberation, we moved out to check round the villages to either confirm or disprove the insinuation. Our worst fear was soon confirmed. I can tell you that for the over 75 years that I have lived in Arikuyeri village, we have never seen this kind of thing.
“With the new reality, we knew there is danger in the land. As a community, nobody has the special power to stop this ugly act but we cannot fold our arms and let things go from bad to worse. So, we went traditional and resorted to the use of our ancestral justice system, which is only administered at the Ojikan shrine.
“One thing was sure: although we had yet to know the culprits, they or their accomplices were living with us in the village.
“With the consent of the Baale (the village head) and the agreement of everyone in the village, we decided to swear by the Ojikan water. Everybody drank from the water. Those who refused to drink because of their religions, I mean, Christians and Muslims, we sprinkled the water on them. This is because at that point, nobody could be regarded as innocent; everyone was a suspect. So, nobody was left out. You must take a sip insofar as you live in this village.”
The efficacy of the Ojikan water was soon proven. According to Pa Sangotunde, three hours after the swearing, there began confessions that stunned the entire villagers.
The ringleader turned out to be a known face in the community. Someone standing close to a young man in his 20’s, Rilwan (surname withheld), noticed that he had lost his composure. Soon, Rilwan could not hold back any longer; he had an uncontrollable urge to say something. And then he began his confession. He mentioned the names of his accomplices and told chilling stories of their brash adventure.
What followed was a discovery that over 30 skulls – and in some cases the entire corpse – had been exhumed illegally from various tombs in the three villages.
Pa Sangotunde, who conducted our correspondent round the three villages with Mr Ismaila Salaudeen from Alfa village, said further that Rilwan mentioned one Adeaga as their middleman who brought ‘business’ and linked them up with the buyers. “When Rilwan began to mention names, we couldn’t believe it. He told us he was not alone in the business. He mentioned Sule, Muideen, Ibrahim and the Baba Isegun of Arikuyeri.”
According to Pa Sangotunde, the community began to witness ungodly acts in 2012. In that year, he said a gang, in broad daylight, attacked an unidentified woman walking across the village and then cut off her head.
“Sometime in 2012, one woman was attacked in broad daylight. She had her head cut off and then dangling on her chest. The troublemakers escaped. Another disturbing thing was that they eventually removed the woman’s head after she had been buried,” he said.
Sangotunde said that the suspects in the latest incident were natives of Arikuyeri village. He noted that all those who had been identified so far were considered to be hard-working, causing everyone to wonder why they took to such a devilish trade.
“Rilwan confessed that they sold the skulls for between N30,000 and N20,000. He said skulls whose owners’ names were known were the ones that went for N30,000 while those with unknown owners were offered for N20,000. From our investigations, we discovered that they knew most of these people before they died and in some cases, they got names from loose talks in the compounds. Some graves already have the names of the deceased inscribed on them.
“What was most surprising to us was that these suspects are hard-working people in the village. Some of them are okada riders, bricklayers, farmers and even well diggers. It is only God that knows why they are involved in the act. They have removed skulls of people who had died since as far back as 1958. And they don’t mind the recently buried ones which ooze out putrid smells.
“In fact, there was someone named Dauda. They made away with his whole body, leaving an empty tomb. We have lost our peace in this village. Our people can just not imagine themselves dead and buried only to have their heads severed and stolen,” he added.
Corroborating Pa Sangotunde’s claim, the Baale of Alfa village, one of the affected three villages, Chief Muraina Opebi, said residents of the village remained traumatised by the strange development.
“When we first noticed the holes on the tombs, we covered them with sand without telling one another. Our thought was that the tombs were merely sunken. But when the sight became commonplace and somebody raised the alarm, we knew there was a problem.
“From our checks, we found that some tombs had been marked for ‘operation’. You will notice that some graves that they have not dug had machete marks at the top”, Chief Opebi said.
When contacted, the Oyo State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), SP Adekunle Ajisebutu, confirmed the development, saying that six people had been arrested.
“Some people were involved in the exhumation of over 12 corpses around Iyana-Offa, Lagelu Local Government Area. Six suspects were apprehended by the divisional office of the state police command and have been taken to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Iyaganku.
“The Commissioner of Police, Sam Adegbuyi, has directed the CID Iyaganku to take over the case and ensure proper investigation,” Ajisebutu said.