Italy’s fifth mafia

MAFIA / The Nigerian mafia smuggles both people and drugs, while threats, violence and voodoo rituals are used to force girls into prostitution.

Ascia nera: La brutal intelligence della mafia nigeriana
Author: Leonardo Palmisano
Publisher: Fandango libri, Italy

In the street of Giudecca Vecchia in the infamous mafia district of Forcella in Naples, I see the Nigerian girls standing close together. They are waiting for customers. I usually choose the neighboring street when I go to the train station, even though it is a detour. But some evenings, I cannot resist the temptation: I must have a pizza fritta from Antica Pizzeria d’è Figliole. They opened in 1860, long before Italy’s Queen Margherita ate her first pizza in the city and got the pizza Margherita named after her. However, it is uncomfortable to walk down this short street and be offered so many opportunities to buy sex.

These prostituted girls are the main characters in the sociologist Leonardo Palmisano’s book about human trafficking, organized crime, and the mafia in Nigeria and its ramifications to Italy.

His previous two books dealt with organizations in the Italian mafia; this book deals with the Nigerian mafia network Neo-Black Movement of Africa (NBM) and its violent branch, Black Axe.

Inspired by Black Panthers

NMB was established by students at the University of Benin City in Nigeria on July 7, 1977. Inspired by the American civil rights organization Black Panther Party (BPP, Black Panthers), NMB wanted to become an intellectual pan-African liberation movement.

But slogans like «forgiveness is a sin», as well as the axe, the organization’s symbol, indicate that more than only intellectual abilities are valued. While the leader of NMB, Felix Kupa, denies any connection between NMB and Black Axe, others are sure that Black Axe is a violent cult so closely tied to NMB that they cannot tell them apart.

From brothel to brothel

Palmisano has interviewed the Nigerian Diana who sells her body on the street in Palmisano’s own hometown of Bari. He has spoken with Robert – the pimp king for Nigerians in Palermo, met Laura and Clara, who worked their way from brothel to brothel through the Sahara, to end up on the Italian streets. The author has also had conversations with a Nigerian journalist who was granted asylum in Europe – threatened with death by Black Axe.

Leonardo Palmisano
Leonardo Palmisano

Leonardo Palmisano

Palmisano has interviewed Adele, who was taken captive by Boko Haram in Nigeria and sold as a prostitute to a brothel in Libya, only to end up as one in Bois de Boulogne in Paris. It is not a cheerful read. But it gets worse when he becomes more specific.

When Mia (36) says that she increases the price by 10 euros for each additional customer when she has to have group sex, or when Eveline (32) says that she is forced to shoot brutal porn films without men using condoms, it turns the stomach. If she gets HIV, she says, she will be sent back to Nigeria by Black Axe; there are so many other things one can die of there that customers do not think about AIDS when they have sex with prostitutes.

The most interesting aspect of the book is when Palmisano attempts to gain insight into the NMB/Black Axe network. However, it has not been an easy task; 15 pages are devoted to the specific rituals that Nigerian girls must undergo before becoming prostitutes in Italy, and the punishment that awaits them if they try to break away. The girls must participate in the West African voodoo-like ritual of juju, which psychologically and religiously binds them to Black Axe. The ritual, which dates back to the 16th century but has been adapted for modern purposes, uses the girls’ blood, hair, and clothing, among other things. If the girls attempt to break away, family members will lose their lives. Everyone who has tried knows that it is true.

there are so many other things one can die of there that customers do not think about AIDS when they have sex with prostitutes.

Human trafficking and prostitution

Black Axe’s control over Nigerian prostitutes is almost total, and efforts to combat human trafficking and prostitution are nearly impossible. No one dares to speak.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) claims that the number of Nigerian prostitutes arriving in Italy has increased sixfold in the past three years. In the «peak year» of 2016, more than 8,000 Nigerian prostitutes, victims of human trafficking, arrived in Sicily alone.

Leonardo Palmisano recounts interviews he has had with the network’s IT specialists and financial advisers. NMB/Black Axe operates in every major city on six continents. They compete against other criminal networks, and they are expanding their operations beyond human trafficking. Smuggling diamonds, gold, and the mineral Coltan has become significant. They are deeply involved in drug trafficking, particularly with heroin and cocaine.

Members are rarely caught, and those who are, never talk. They fear the consequences of juju.

In Nigeria, NMB promotes democracy and nonviolence in newspapers and conferences. Felix Kupa, engages in charity work in a number of cities in his home country; he sponsors schools and opens hospitals. He is friends with both police chiefs and lawyers who protect and defend him. Unlike the Italian Mafia, where the biological family is the core of the network, it is the juju ritual that binds the Nigerian Mafia together.

Palmisano has written an easy-to-read book about a powerful Nigerian Mafia organization involved in all types of crime. Of course, he cannot be completely accurate about his sources of information; he does not want them to be traced. He himself is under threat of death from the Nigerian Mafia in Italy.

Ketil Fred Hansen
Ketil Fred Hansen
Hansen has a PhD in African history. He is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

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