Sometimes burdened by negative rumours, half-truths, and infamy, secret societies have played significant roles in the economic, political and social aspects of different communities in Africa. Their ideologies and way of life sometimes help redefine how an entire community is administered. Members of these groups are influential and powerful. Here are a few of these societies:
Ekpe, which means Leopard in Efik, is a masquerade cult with members who are typically well-respected agents of wealth distribution in the community and other reputable and outstanding personalities. Being a member of the group is a self-enriching quest for members and their families. To give back to the community, they sponsor feasts and throw parties for the sole merriment of the people. The Ekpe from Cross River and Akwa Ibom have migrated to other parts of Africa and some foreign countries like Cameroon and Brazil.
This society is one of the highest and most important social groups in Igboland. Taking the title is extremely expensive and is only for individuals with extreme prestige, power and influence in the community. To become Ozo means that the title holder is now an Nze (living spirit and an ancestor). It is a symbol of prominence on whomever it is conferred upon and often assumes a leading role. In times of crisis, most Igbo communities rely on Ozo members for leadership.
This institution plays roles in the socio-political and religious affairs of the Yoruba people. They aim to strike a healthy balance in the aspects of fairness and justice. In pre-colonial history, the judiciary of Yoruba kingdoms was under the tutelage of the Ogboni members. But this changed and translated into dubious tendencies, attaching a derogatory tag to the group. It still functions in a few remote kingdoms and is popular in Nigerian Yoruba and Igbo-speaking communities, Togo and Republic of Benin.
An Igbo equivalent of Ekpe, the Okonko society is only open to a certain calibre of men in the community, including titled elders, kingmakers and law enforcers of no questionable character. Its festivals are strictly meant for members, and only initiates can follow Okonko processions at ceremonies. Initiation holds in three stages and lasts for seven days. Palm leaves, to the group, hold great significance. For instance, when held between lips, it shows silence and divinity