Nigerian priest saving Igbo deities from the bonfires

Nigerian priest saving Igbo deities from the bonfires

While some Pentecostal preachers in eastern Nigeria set fire to statues and other ancient artefacts that they regard as symbols of idolatry, one Catholic priest is collecting them instead.

The artefacts are central to the traditional religions practised by the region's Igbo people, who see them as sacred, and possessing supernatural powers.

But there are now very few adherents of these religions, as Christianity - led by Pentecostal churches - has become the area's dominant faith.

BBC Igbo's Chiagozie Nwonwu and Karina Igonikon report on the priest's efforts to protect a history that is being lost because of the actions of some preachers.

Although he is referred to as "fire that burns", there is nothing frightening about Reverend Paul Obayi, who runs the Deities Museum in eastern Nigeria's Nnsuka city.

Located in the compound of Saint Theresa's Catholic Cathedral, the three-roomed museum boasts hundreds of totems, masks, a stuffed lion and carvings of Igbo deities.

When communities abandon traditional religious beliefs, primarily under the influence of Christian Pentecostal churches, some pastors light bonfires to burn the artefacts, which they say contradict the faith's monotheistic beliefs, and which represent "evil spirits that bring bad luck".

Sometimes worshippers of the traditional religions also torch their deities, in accordance with a belief captured in the Igbo proverb: "If a God becomes too troublesome, it becomes wood for the fireplace."

But Reverend Obayi bucks the trend by preserving the rejected gods and goddesses, saying he uses religious powers to remove their supposed supernatural abilities. This has earned him the moniker Okunerere - "the fire that burns idols in the spirit".

"I've already destroyed the spirits," he said at his museum.

"What you have is just an empty shell. There is nothing inside."