An investigative report by the BBC has linked a Nigerian politician to a deadly cult group and an international network of internet fraudsters.
He ran for an elective office in 2019, according to the report published on Monday.
Mr Bemigho, who is also a businessman, is said to belong to a dangerous cult group known as the Black Axe which originated from the University of Benin, Edo.
The outlawed group uses another name, the Neo-Black Movement of Africa, which is registered and recognised by the Nigerian law, to operate publicly and sometimes engages in charity works, according to the report.
“For the past two years, BBC Africa Eye has been following the Black Axe, speaking to former members and combing through thousands of documents that appear to have been hacked from a number of prominent members of the group. It was not possible to verify the entire cache, but key documents were verified by the BBC.
“Among our findings were emails that suggest a prominent Nigerian businessman and 2019 APC party candidate for political office, Augustus Bemigho, was a senior member of Black Axe and was involved in orchestrating fraudulent internet scams netting millions of dollars.
“The cache of documents contained more than 18,000 pages from an email account linked to Mr Bemigho, including emails that suggest he sent guidance on scamming to a network of collaborators on 62 occasions and communicated with others about specific scamming targets,” the report said.
The victims, according to the report, have been defrauded of about $3.3million in scams involving Mr Bemigho and other members of the Black Axe.
“Operations by international law enforcement agencies indicate that Black Axe’s scamming profits may run into the billions,” the report said.
The BBC said Mr Bemigho did not respond to the allegations when he was contacted.
PREMIUM TIMES could not immediately reach Mr Bemigho for comment.
Black Axe’s involvement in Edo politics
The report, a video version of it, tells a story of lawlessness, ruthless killings, and how the Black Axe has penetrated the politics of Edo State.
The 52 minutes video showed bodies of victims of cult killings lying on the streets of Benin, widowed women and orphaned children crying helplessly, and motorists, traders, and passers-by scampering for safety during shootouts.
The BBC interviewed John Stone, a lecturer in the University of Benin and former member of Black Axe.
“Why will they come after me? If they come after me, can’t I also come after them?” The lecturer said when asked if he was not afraid of breaking their oath of secrecy.
Mr Stone pulled out a sword disguised as a walking stick inside his car, while he was being interviewed by the BBC.
The sword was for his personal guard and safety, he said.
The lecturer said members of the Black Axe were in the Nigerian military, the country’s judiciary, and everywhere. “We have people who are pastors,” he said.
“Politicians cannot survive without the Black Axe,” he said. “They must collaborate with the Black Axe for them to survive.”
Nigerian politicians deploy members of the cult group during elections, he said.
The BBC also interviewed Tony Kabaka, an influential member of Black Axe and a youth leader of the APC in Edo.
The video showed Mr Kabaka being revered and waved at in the streets by several people – youths, market men and women, vigilante members, and even a police officer.
In the street, Mr Kabaka is called the godfather. He doles out cash indiscriminately to people.
He lives in a multi-million naira home which he said was built with the help of the then governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole. He said he was a tax collector for the Edo government during Mr Oshiomhole’s administration.
A street is named after Mr Kabaka in Benin.
In his house hung photographs he took with prominent Edo politicians, including then governor, Mr Oshiomhole and a member of the House of Representatives, Julius Ihonvbere.
“Politics has lifted Kabaka from cultist to enforcer to a multimillionaire. In Nigeria, this is a dream for many young Axe men,” the report said.
But, as the report puts it, politics also fetched Mr Kabaka some enemies which became more visible when Mr Oshiomhole was pushed out of power by his protégé who later became his arch political rival, Godwin Obaseki, who is the current governor of Edo.
Mr Kabaka’s house was at some point attacked by unknown gunmen and his hotel pulled down by the state government.
“Cultism still exists because the government is involved. That is the truth,” Mr Kabaka said.
Mr Kabaka said politicians used him and his cultist network during elections in Edo.
He said he could identify Black Axe members in the Edo government.
The BBC said, “Two documents state that in Benin City, 35 million naira ($85,000; £64,000) was funnelled to the Neo-Black Movement of Africa (NBM) to “protect votes” and secure victory in a governorship election in 2012.
“In exchange for the support, the files suggest that ‘80 slots (were) allocated to NBM Benin Zone for immediate employment by the state government’”.
The Edo State Government is yet to react to the report.
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