The mafia organization of Nigerian origin "Black Axe" - or "Brotherhood of the Black Axe" - inspires fear all over the world. Between criminal activities, anti-colonial struggle and superstitions, the organization remains today one of the most mysterious.
Drug trafficking, assassinations, scams, politics… The “Brotherhood of the Black Ax” – “Black Axe” – is very difficult to define. For some, it's just a gang. Ironically, since the rise of this organization in Italy, the press describes it rather as a mafia.
Since 2002, and the discovery of the great influence of "Black Axe" in Nigeria, South Africa and the United Kingdom, several investigative journalists have looked into the origins and activities of this group.
One thing is certain, many details about "Black Axe" forge its legend. The members of the "black axe" have a sectarian obedience to their leaders. So much so that the identity of the latter is only speculation.
Some Nigerian stars have admitted over the years that they belong to the "Black Axe", like Burna Boy or the actress' brother Regina Daniels. Without forgetting the singer Davido, whose photos in cult dress had leaked on social networks.
The figure best known to belong to “Black Axe” is the Nigerian politician Augustus Bemigho. A joint investigation by the United States Secret Service (USSS), the FBI and Interpol led to the arrest of 35 members of the organization in the United States and South Africa in 2021.
The investigation identified accounts on social networks involved in promoting the group's ideology, but also in online fraud, a practice known as "browsing".
In 2017, Canadian law enforcement uncovered a money laundering ring that recirculated $5 billion in Canada. Documents then leaked, revealing a large presence of "Black Axe" in several countries of the world: Nigeria, Emirates, Japan, United Kingdom and a dozen other countries.
Amalgams between “Black Axe” and the radical movement for the defense of blacks
Most of the presumed members of this mafia act within the NGO recognized in several countries of the world: the New Black Movement of Africa (NBM). The organisation's president, Ese Kakor, however, assured the BBC that "the NBM is not 'Black Axe', we have nothing to do with crime".
However, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), through its research unit Refworld, assures that “Black Axe” and the NBM are inseparable. A dubious statement.
According to Coventry Cathedral documents dating back over 1 years, followers of the cult worshiping the deity Korofo and sporting the black ax emblem of "Black Axe" have been appearing in Europe for a long time. When the NBM was founded in 000 at the University of Benin in southern Nigeria, members of the movement carried the image of the black ax in a symbolic spirit of revolutionary violence. An ideology which the NBM still claims by the way, but which has nothing to do with the activities of the members of “Black Axe”.
Another point that explains the amalgam: in a recent BBC documentary on "Black Axe", gangsters belonging to it claim that their headquarters are in Edo State, in southern Nigeria. “Black Axe” therefore shares the same region of influence as the pan-African movement NBM. Also, the NBM's magazine, Uhuru, used to be called… “Black Ax Magazine”.
An international mafia
Beyond these curiosities about the origin of "Black Axe", the criminal elements of the gang actually come from the death squads created by the Nigerian army in the 1970s in the south of the country. Initially, "Black Axe" was a paramilitary group responsible for persecuting and repressing the remnants of the Biafran separatists after the end of the civil war.
“Abandoned” since the end of the war, the “axemen” – to understand “butchers” – of this organization have extended their operations over the waves of migration. Thus, towards the end of the 1980s, the first “Nigerian mafias” appeared in Italy and the United Kingdom. In the 1990s, Italian law enforcement arrested hundreds of "Black Axe" affiliates in the south of the country. In 2016, the criminal organization appeared in northern Italy, as well as in Austria and Slovenia, two neighboring countries.
According to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in 2007, the Black Ax recruits its members outside Nigeria by forcing their hand. HRW has identified dozens of testimonies from Nigerian migrants living in Europe or the United States whose families have been threatened, kidnapped or killed in order to encourage them to work for the gang abroad.
If the seizure of laundered funds in Canada shows one thing, it's that “Black Axe” is incredibly wealthy. His area of international criminal activity ranges from selling narcotics to racketeering to kidnapping. However, "Black Axe" remains much more openly present in Nigeria, its country of origin. And its activities in Nigeria show that the organization has political objectives.
Takeover of "Black Axe" on the Nigerian government?
The scandal of the arrest in the United Kingdom of three members of the "Black Axe", including the former candidate for governor of Edo State, Augustus Bemigho, has shed light on the degree of control exercised by the organization in Nigeria.
But if the international press is to be believed, this influence is not limited to the south of the country. “Black Axe” has formed several gangs and cults affiliated with it in the Delta States, Ekiti, Imo, Ogun… but also in Abuja and Lagos!
In Lagos, according to Nigerian media, "Black Axe" was behind the massacre of the Eiye Brotherhood cult in 2012. The Vanguard media reports targeted killings as part of a "war of cults".
In 2009, in the capital Abuja, three members of the Black Ax kidnapped two ministers. They were arrested a few hours later by the State Security Services (SSS) – the Nigerian intelligence services – before being exhibited in the city and then sentenced to six and ten years in prison.
One thing is certain, in Nigeria, it is almost taboo to talk about "Black Axe". Their quarters are impenetrable. Before the filming of its documentary aired last December, the BBC negotiated for months to have statements from gangsters belonging to this brotherhood.
The young and popular activist of the Nigerian presidential party, the Congress of Progressives (APC), Tony Kabaka, assures that "most politicians are in cahoots with them (members of the Black Axe)". “If you ask me: 'Can you identify members of the 'Black Axe' in the government?', I would,” said Kabaka, who confirms having escaped several assassination attempts.