UK Guardain reports that the fraternity that started at the University of Benin in the 1970s, is on its way to becoming one of the leading drug gangs in Palermo, Italy.
Prosecutors in the Sicilian capital of Palermo are warning that a new alliance between the mafia and “Nigerian criminal gangs moving in from Libya” could herald a new era of organised crime.
“The neighbourhoods under mafia control have changed profoundly in recent years due to the growing presence of foreigners, especially Nigerians coming on boats,” Leonardo Agueci, Palermo’s deputy chief prosecutor, was quoted to have said.
“Among them, there [are a small number] of people who want to transfer their illegal trafficking, linked to prostitution and drug dealing, to Sicily. And the mafia was quite happy to integrate them into their criminal business.”
The risk of Nigerian criminals operating in Europe was revealed in a letter sent to the Italian prosecutors from the Nigerian ambassador to Rome in 2011.
“I would like to draw your attention to the new criminal activity of a group of Nigerians belonging to secret societies, forbidden by the government because of violent acts,” wrote the diplomat.
“Unfortunately, former members of these sects were able to get into Italy where they re-established their criminal organisations.”
According to the prosecutors, some of the Black Axe members, including Ewosa, and also his victims, arrived in Sicily by boat. Most of them were temporarily hosted in the immigration camp at Caltanissetta, in the centre of the island.
In Ballarò, a mafia stronghold market area in the historic centre of the city, a whistle is traditionally used by Italian dealers working for Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian mafia, to attract customers, who are offered hashish, marijuana and cocaine.
The whistle was said to have been adopted by Nigerians in 2014, making a statement that a new criminal organisation was in town.
“It is clear there is a subordinate relationship between Cosa Nostra and the Nigerian clans, with the former controlling the latter,” said Agueci, adding that Nigerians were not allowed to use guns but just machetes and axes.
“If a Nigerian boss tried to rebel against Cosa Nostra, he would probably end up incaprettato [tied up and killed] in the countryside.”
The Italian police data shows that about 90 percent of prostitutes in Palermo come from Nigeria, highlighting prostitution as one of the most profitable businesses for the Nigerian clans in Italy.
Traditionally, Cosa Nostra is reluctant to directly manage this business; and according to the old mafia codes of honour, prostitution is considered a shameful activity.
Legal and well-established Nigerians in Sicily, Palermo, are said to be paying the price for this new criminal alliance between the gangs and the mafia.
“Many honest Nigerians live in Palermo,” Osas Egbon, vice-president of Women of Benin City, an association that tries to take Nigerian prostitutes off the streets, said.
“They work hard and live in fear. These families are victims on two fronts. They are victims of both Sicilian and Nigerian criminality.”
In the state court of Palermo, a trial against an alleged 32-year-old Nigerian gangster, Austin Ewosa, is under way.
Known in the trade as John Bull, Ewosa was arrested in September 2014, in a local bar in Ballarò, and charged with assault, intimidation, criminal association and attempted murder.
According to the prosecution, Ewosa is the head of the feared Nigerian clan Black Axe, which was described as “a criminal organisation born as a sort of student fraternity in the 1970s at the University of Benin”.
On the night of 27 January 2014, Ewosa and his thugs allegedly dragged a 27-year-old man called Don Emeka down Via del Bosco, not far from Piazza Ballarò, where they brutally disfigured him with axe and machete blows.
Emeka was allegedly one of dozens of Ewosa’s victims and was punished for not having submitted to his power.
Another Nigerian, simply identified as Emmanuel (pictured), was macheted by the Black Axe in a related situation.