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Page last updated at 18:21 GMT, Wednesday, 20 August 2008 19:21 UK

Nigerian accused of 'juju' theft

Sam Edem [File photo courtesy of nddc.gov.ng]
Mr Edem is accused of burning millions of naira and rubbing the ash on himself

The head of a Nigerian government agency has been charged with stealing money to hire a witchdoctor or "juju" sorcerer to bring him success.

Sam Edem, chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission, is accused of taking $6.8m (3.4m) of state money.

He has been charged with theft and criminal conspiracy by a court who heard he spent millions on black magic.

Police allege in one ritual he burned millions of naira and rubbed the ash on his body. Mr Edem denies the charges.

The case came to the attention of the police when Mr Edem reported he had been the victim of a spell forcing him to hand over millions of naira.

But suspicions were raised as to where he got the money from.

"We believe that this is money from the Nigerian government, money that should have been used to develop the Niger Delta," Police Commissioner Ali Amodu said.

Lawyers acting for Mr Edem told a court the money was given to him by friends in order to fight an election, and Mr Edem was conned by the sorcerer.

The NDDC was created by the government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to bring development to the Niger Delta.

But it has been dogged by controversy and funding problems.

Unemployment, poor education and crumbling infrastructure have angered many in the Delta region, the source of Nigeria's oil wealth.

Militant groups are demanding development for the region, but they are also embroiled in a complex world of extortion and oil theft that has shattered a region largely bereft of effective government.

Contracts

The court in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, heard how police believe he gave 480m naira ($4m, 2m) to Perebakowe Ogah, a self-proclaimed sorcerer.

Mr Ogah was arrested in June in Benin, in south-eastern Nigeria.

He was bailed after making a statement, Mr Amodu said.

According to the statement lodged with the court, the spells Mr Ogah cast were to get lucrative government contracts for Mr Edem.

Mr Ogah also told police in his statement he was given money to cast a spell that would kill Mr Edem's rival in the NDDC, Timi Alaibe.

Another ritual the sorcerer confessed to was in order to "fortify" Mr Edem.

It involved burning 270m naira ($2.3m, 1.2m) during a midnight ceremony in Port Harcourt cemetery.

The police did not give details on how the money was taken to the cemetery or how it was burned.

Mr Ogah has since disappeared.

"These people have connections with militants in the creeks, and once they get in there it will be very difficult to find him," Mr Amodu said.

Mr Edem's lawyers said he denied the charges, and the money was given to him by friends so he could run for governor of southern Akwa Ibom State.




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