By Charles Kumolu
Who goes there?!’’ they hollered. Those seated at the same relaxation spot with him were taken aback by this. Indeed, many could not help but wonder aloud what could have prompted a group of powerfully dressed young men to erupt into such a reckless outburst. It was at this point that a slim, dark complexioned man walked in.
The arrival of this man, who could possibly be in his late 20s, triggered off another round of rapturous shouts. ‘’Clear road, clear road,’’ they barked commandingly to the chagrin of others, who had come to relax at the rendezvous located in one of the suburbs in Oriade Local Development Council Authority of Lagos State.
The conduct of this group became so irritating to other customers that the proprietor of the spot had to ask them to give peace a chance.
Apparently angered by the development, the boys left the scene in a jiffy. The shop owner in his usual friendly manner, apologised profusely to the customers. “Please don’t allow the activities of these boys to disturb you. They have refused to be useful to themselves. They are members of a secret cult,’’ he said.
Answering Vanguard Features, VF’ questions during a subsequent visit, the proprietor of the spot affirmed that the cult members actually patronise the spot on regular basis. “I won’t deny that they are my customers, because they patronise me non-stop, unlike others who come after working hours.
I guess you know Bruno (not real name) whose arrival that day led to the disturbance. That guy has turned himself into something else. I learnt he is a cult leader in this environment and has even become a problem to the community. He is constantly involved in cult-related controversies, ‘’ he noted.
A few days after this encounter, VF learnt that Bruno was killed by the local vigilante in the area. The group fondly called Bakassi Boys allegedly shot and killed Bruno during a robbery operation in the neighbourhood.
VF further learnt that the deceased became notorious in the locality due to his escapades as a cultist and an armed robber. In fact, he had on many occasions robbed shop owners in the area.
The late cult leader who was described as a secondary school dropout, was allegedly involved in several deadly clashes with rival gangs. Residents of the neighbourhood explained that it had become a common feature to see young men wielding dangerous weapons who engage themselves in supremacy battles.
Living in fear
VF investigations show that residents of many Lagos communities now live in fear as a result of the activities of cultists. Only last month, a staff of Vanguard Media Limited, his wife and their two-year-old child, narrowly escaped death after being attacked by persons suspected to be members of Eiye Confraternity. They shattered his windows with machetes in an attempt to break into the house.
Trouble was said to have begun around 11p.m. when some boys from Orile-Oshodi and Afariogun clashed during the naming ceremony of one Jimoh Odekunle at Okeleye Street, Afariogun. One person simply identified as Kamoru was alleged to have been severely injured and later died in an undisclosed hospital where he was rushed to for treatment.
When news of his death filtered in, his colleagues from Orile-Oshodi reportedly embarked on a reprisal attack. Their first port of call was said to be the residence of one Sunday Anajonu, alleged to be responsible for the death of their colleague. But for the timely intervention of policemen from Akinpelu Division, Anajonu would have been lynched by his assailants.
A visit to the troubled zone showed that some residents fled their abodes for fear of being entangled in the web of the warring factions. No fewer than 40 vehicles and 20 buildings were destroyed during the mayhem.
Widow of deceased raped
Another gory incident occurred recently when two rival cult groups clashed in Ijora Badia, a sprawling slum in the Apapa-Iganmu area of Lagos. Three persons allegedly lost their lives during the fracas.
The victims were said to be members of a cult group which had been engaged in a supremacy battle with another cult group from Badia.
One of the victims, who was simply identified as Jamiu, was allegedly hit with an axe. The other two victims, Kazeem Ayinde and another whose identity could not be readily ascertained, were killed as a reprisal for Jamiu’s death.
In April 2014, the tranquility of Iba, a suburb of Ojo Local Government Area was replaced by pandemonium as a result of cult clashes. The fracas between two rival cult gangs led to the death of a 33-year-old man simply identified as Hamburger. The incident involved two cult groups from Aratomi and Chemist areas. Reports had it that trouble erupted when a cult member from Aratomi snatched a female lover from a member of the other group. The crisis would have escalated but for the timely intervention of policemen from the Ojo Police division.
Similarly, in 2013, a superiority war between two rival cult gangs in the Mile 12 area of Lagos claimed four lives, including that of a Senior Secondary School, SSS 3 student. The victim was said to be writing the West African School Certificate Examination, WASSE, when he was brutally murdered.
As if that was not enough, another cult clash in Shomolu and Ketu areas, left four persons dead and several others injured.
Suspected members of Eiye Confraternity were said to have stormed the home of one Seyi, a suspected member of a rival cult in Ajelogo area of Ketu. He was allegedly dragged outside and clubbed to death after the cultists had defiled his wife in his presence. They (cultists) also reportedly threw his nine-month-old baby out of the bed.
Policemen from Alapere division later arrested three suspects who were transferred to the State Criminal Investigation Department, Yaba. The above scenarios highlight a trend which has gradually become a major threat to the security of lives and property, not only in Lagos, but the entire country.
Areas where cult activities have surged in the last few months, according to VF investigations, include Bariga, Ijegun /Satellite Town, Shomolu, Onipanu, Bariga,Shomolu,Onipanu, Ketu , Ojota, Okoko, Amukoko and Lagos Island.
The activities of the cult groups have become a common feature in these areas, hence it would be difficult to spend two weeks without recording incidents of cult clashes. VF gathered that money, supremacy, and tussle over girlfriends, are usually behind such deadly clashes.
Unlike what obtained in the past when university campuses were the theatres of cult clashes, the streets have become the battle fields.
During such fights, the cultists who brandish guns, cutlasses and other dangerous weapons, take over the streets, seeking who to kill. In fact, residents of these flashpoints now live in fear because their safety is no longer guaranteed.
How streets became theatres of war
How the streets became the setting of cult related activities is one issue that continues to agitate many minds.
VF findings revealed that rusticated students of tertiary institutions started the practice in the late 1990s. These students, who were expelled for various gross misconducts, ended up as the “lords of the Manor” in their communities.
Mr. Tony Arne ( not real names), who was expelled from University of Lagos, UNILAG, in 1998 corroborated this viewpoint. ‘’The wave of expulsions then made some guys who found themselves at home to begin to conscript people indiscriminately without adhering to the rules that membership was only for undergraduates. Of course, being expelled from school did not mean being expelled from your fold. So, I was still a cult member. That was how the practice gradually spread to the extent that anyone on the streets can be conscripted. That process of conscripting people from the streets was against the rules,’’ Arne who later graduated from Kaduna State Polytechnic, KADPOLY, explained to VF.
The 1999 renunciation of cultism across the campuses at the instance of then President Olusegun Obasanjo was also seen as major factor that gave rise to street cultism.
Desire to promote criminal, fetish wishes
While a retired Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav did not dismiss these factors, he was emphatic that the primary reason for cultism is the desire to promote criminal and fetish wishes.
‘’In the past, cultism was restricted to the tertiary institutions but today, it has spread to the society at large. Most of these cultist organisations are criminal groupings established to circumvent the law and promote the illegal and fetish wishes of their members, ‘’ he argued.
VF checks revealed that virtually all the campus cults have off-campus wings in many neighbourhoods. They include the Buccaneers Association of Nigeria, BAN, aka Bucaneers; Neo Black Movement of Africa, aka Black Axe; Supreme Eiye Confraternity; Supreme Vickings Confraternity, aka Aromates and Mafites.
While these groups continue to spread, their leadership have severally denied having structures and recruiting at youth level on the streets. The Buccaneers, for instance, claim to have a defined membership procedure. Information gleaned from its Grand Eye, Mr. Femi Osibanjo in a write-up on the group’s website explained this much. “Membership of our organisation is open to only adult males who are undergraduates and graduates of tertiary institutions and who agree to align themselves with our tenets and set objectives of impacting positively on our society while enhancing our development as a nation and also to those who agree to exhibit the highest level of citizenship and brotherliness at all times to fellow members,’’ he stated.
He advised members of the public to beware of impostors who sell fake membership to people. “We have a centralised admission procedure which will be found in our website once each year. If any person tells you that he can either admit you into this brotherhood or facilitate your admission, please check with us first by visiting our website,’’ he said.
In a related development, the Eiye confraternity in its constitution maintained that it is not a gang and as such does not engage in gang related activities. “We renounce any form of violence perpetrated by individuals with nefarious intent within and outside the walls of the Nigerian Ivory towers as proven by our strategic presence in the National Inter-Frat Council ,NIFC, and the SEC initiative of “Stop the Confra Wars,” the group stated in its constitution.
Despite the disclaimers which cut across all the known cults, there is overwhelming evidence that these groups which have become threats to public peace, are affiliates of the national bodies of the associations. The regular stories of arson, rape, robbery and killings, attest to this.
Many Nigerians are worried that the trend has assumed a monstrous dimension, despite the presence of the police and local vigilante groups.
‘’We are dealing with a troubling situation. It is saddening that a group of touts often unleash terror on residents. Whenever these boys start their madness, you will not find any security agent in sight. Even when some are arrested, they still come back to foment trouble,’’ Mr. Chukwuka Nwalie, a resident of Ijegun Waterside said.
A police source said: ‘’It is not that we are incapable of handling the cult cases. We always ensure that we go about the various cases according to the law. We can not do otherwise. This is a social crisis that can not be solved with adequate policing which we provide. There should be a functional legal framework to complement our efforts.’’
But President, Campaign for Civil Liberties, CCL, Dr. George Okwuonyeche disagreed. ‘’I agree that this is a social crisis that has eaten deep into the fabric of our society, but blames should be apportioned to the institutions that assisted in nurturing the problem. If the Police and other relevant institutions performed their crime fighting duties, we may not be where we are today. Nigeria is probably reaping the fruits of its collapsed value system, ‘’ he stated.
On his part, Tsav, who was in service when cult crisis peaked in the universities, gave a cogent reason why the Police finds it difficult to deal with cultists. ‘’The police find themselves incapable of curbing this trend because of the fetish beliefs in the powers of these cult members,’’ he said
Invisibility of cult members
In spite of these divergent positions, the consensus is that cultism has assumed a very troubling dimension.
Immediate past Lagos State Police Commissioner, Alhaji Umar Manko painted a picture of this upsurge. ‘“Cultism is not only in schools. Nowadays, they are also in garages and even vulcanisers are now cultists in Bariga axis.. I am aware but we are doing everything we can to arrest the situation. There is no day we don’t arrest people. My own concern is the ‘invincibility’ of these human beings; some of them were arraigned in court and sent to prison. Some of them were even charged for murder but you still find them back. How they get back into circulation is what is worrisome to me,” he said.