Peace Under Threat As Cult Activities Ravage Niger-Delta

The political class is not leaving any stone unturned to clinch victory as the general elections beckon. Beyond the characteristic intrigues, subterfuge and propaganda, hiring of private guards and in some cases, cult members who are often used as thugs, has become one of the tactics politicians deploy to bulldoze their way to victory.

The situation is more precarious in the Niger Delta where there has been an upswing in cult related violence and killings, a situation that has kept security agencies in the region on their toes, LEADERSHIP Sunday gathered.

In the Niger Delta region, volatility is the word as cult activities, particularly in Rivers State, have assumed an all-time high, considering the maiming and killings that are being reported.

The menace of cultism groups in Rivers state has positioned the state as one of the most violent states in the country, especially as the country prepares for the March 28, and April 11, 2015 general elections. The state has been notoriously noted with clashes between two main cult groups, the Icelanders and the Greenlanders, who are involved in a battle of supremacy over who controls Port Harcourt, the state capital and its environs.

While members of Icelanders, and the Greenlanders, whose clashes have left several people dead seem to concentrate their activities in the state capital, their affiliates, such as the Deygbam and Deywell cult groups have made residents of rural communities in the state to have sleepless nights.

Between Friday, March 6, and Saturday, March 7, 2015, no fewer than nine persons were killed on the streets of Port Harcourt, while residents of Bomu community in Gokana local government area of the state were sacked from their homes as a result of clashes between rival cult groups.

The first five persons were killed on Friday in the D-Line area of the state capital when unknown gunmen, believed to be cultists broke into a popular hotel and opened fire on those seen at the hotel reception. Another four persons were killed on the same Saturday night along the Eastern By-Pass in the Marine Base area of Port Harcourt when the assailants, suspected to be cultists, stormed a restaurant close to the bridge along the road and shot dead four persons, while others sustained bullet wounds.

Most flashpoints for clashes among cult groups in Rivers state have always been Diobu, a densely populated part of the state capital, Borokiri, a riverine part of the state capital, Old Port Harcourt Town, Okrika, Omoku, headquarters of Ogba, Egbema/Ndoni local government area of the state, and Abua, headquarters of Abua/Odual local government area of the state.

In November, 2014, no fewer than 11 persons were killed in just one night during a clash between rival cult groups at Omoku, while another two persons including a police officer were killed in the same town when gunmen suspected to be cultists opened fire on a building. It was gathered that about 10 gunmen laid siege on the community at about 2am on that fateful Saturday, shooting sporadically at people who were startled from sleep by the sound of firearms.

Eyewitnesses said residents who tried to escape the onslaught of the rampaging cultists were shot at close range, while others claimed that the trigger-happy cultists searched from house to house and ordered some occupants out of their houses and shot them.

Majority of residents of Port Harcourt believe that the activities of the cult groups have been part of them and therefore cannot put a stop to the conduct of the 2015 general elections on March 28 and April 11, 2015, if the security agencies rise up to their responsibilities.

However, some other residents are of the opinion that unless the security agencies come into the state to conduct a mop up exercise and recover arms and ammunition in illegal hands, the 2015 elections in the state may end up being bloody as campaigns have signalled.

One of the residents of the state capital, who believes that the activities of rival cult groups cannot prevent the conduct of the general elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), is Mr. Anyakwe Nsirimovu, a human rights activist and Executive Director of the Nsirimovu said, “the requirement for free and fair election is that which is put together by INEC. Of course, INEC can do all it can but the environment of the election can make nonsense of the entire thing. But I think that if we should take a look at the history of Rivers State since 1999, there has always been electoral violence. Probably, what is happening now is still part of that culture of violence. I think that the threat of violence is also a serious threat to the democratic process and if not tamed, could lead to the election not being captioned as free, fair and credible.”

He however, appealed to security agencies to do their best to see to it that sanity returns to the state by ensuring that those who are involved in the violent acts are arrested and made to face the laws of the country so as to serve as a deterrent to others.

To Dr. Omenazu Jackson, another resident of Port Harcourt, there is the need for security agencies, including the police, army, the Department of State Security (DSS) and the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) to come into the state to mop up illegal arms before elections could be conducted without bloodshed.

Jackson said, “I doubt seriously; I have said it before. I even granted interview that I foresee blood flowing in Rivers state during the elections. Ironically, those who do not have stable minds are those who are in Nigerian politics; it is so unfortunate. Because of the unstableness of their minds, they can do anything for political powers.

“You can see how demented some of the political actors in the state are and it is unfortunate that we believe that we can clinch political positions with armed thuggery. Even this morning, I issued a statement on the radio calling on the Nigerian Army, Police, DSS and DMI to close in on Rivers state and mop up arms before the elections. The arms in circulation in this state if mopped up will fill up one ship. There are some streets you enter in Port Harcourt and you can mop up to two truck-loads of arms in one street alone. It is so frightening.”

He expressed the fear that well known criminal elements in the state, who are on the wanted list of security agencies for their involvement in armed robbery, kidnapping and other violent crimes had been fully armed by political actors who want to participate in the forthcoming general elections.

Jackson said, “I raised the alarm in this state more than five months ago and I said most of the criminal cells in this state had been activated. I want to give you an instance, I know of a young man that was declared wanted at Isiokpo and he is from Isiokpo. He was a notorious kidnapper and he was declared wanted. As I speak to you now, his mother is still in prison because of the young man; how he linked up the mother. But believe you me, that young man is now a member and an integral part of the campaign of a governorship candidate in this state. He was declared wanted and all the police divisions in this state had his picture but today, he is back a free man, moving along with a governorship candidate, armed.”

In Akwa Ibom State, the Governor, Godswill Akpabio, has made security infrastructure arguably his first priority by purchasing armoured personnel carriers, cars and communication equipment all in an effort to keep trouble makers, especially rampaging cultists at bay, before, during and after elections.

The police Commissioner in the state, Mr Gabriel Asong and his the colleagues in other sister agencies have organised a drilling exercise in the three senatorial districts of the state at Uyo, Ikot Ekpene and Eket to prepare themselves for any untoward development that could jeopardise peace in the state, in order to instil fear in the mind of anyone who has no reason to stay beyond the constitutionally allowed time at any polling unit during the elections.

The situation is not any better in Edo State where it is reported that teenagers are fast being blended into the system. In the last few months, men of the Edo state police command raised the alarm over the discovery that a new cult group that goes by the name ‘Hallah of the Night’ had embarked on membership drive of recruiting teenagers from secondary schools.

Immediate past police commissioner in the state, Folusho Adebanjo, disclosed that eight suspected members of the Hallah of the Night were arrested in Uromi while seven members of the Eiye Confraternity were arrested at Ologbo.

He disclosed this when the command paraded 15 youths aged between 13 and 15, suspected of being cultists, with different arms and ammunition. The suspects were said to have been arrested at Unewa village near Uromi and Ologbo town respectively, and confessed to being members of Eiye Confraternity and Hallah of the Night. Some of the items recovered from them include two battle axes, one Eiye Confraternity flag and a calabash.

“They confessed that they were initiated by other members of the group. We are surprised that little boys are going into cultism and they did not deny,’’ Adebanjo said.

“Some of them said they just felt that belonging to a cult group will give them the confidence that they are now big boys. Majority of them are secondary school students but some are out of school, especially those who are in Eiye. Those ones who are members of the Hallah of the Night are secondary school students. We discovered that this issue of peer group where children mix with friends is very dangerous because that is how these people are initiated into cultism. It is unfortunate that it happens; parents have a role to play to protect their children.

“The law will not spare them if they commit any offence no matter their age. What they are doing is unlawful and that is how they enter into crimes like armed robbery and kidnapping. We have discovered that these cultists are fearless and they are the ones who can do anything, they can be ruthless. These are people who will storm people’s houses and slaughter their targets like the ISIS group in Iraq or even Boko Haram. We watch the ones they do in Iraq and think it is impossible, but it happens here in Nigeria.

“These cultists behead themselves when they are fighting. And that is why people like us are bothered because it has gone down to secondary and primary schools and that is worrisome and unfortunate. Their sponsors deceive them that they will be protected and these teenagers will join. It is very unfortunate; that is why parents must watch their children seriously, particularly the friends they keep. We will take them to juvenile court while those above 18 will be taken to a regular court.”

The police boss further warned that the police in Edo would not tolerate any form of cultism, describing it as barbaric “and anyone caught will be dealt with accordingly.’’

One of the suspects, who identified himself as John Osagie, 13, spoke about how he joined the Hallah of the Night.

According to him, “What happened was that some of my friends became so strong in school that people feared them. So they told me if I wanted to be strong, I should come and be their member. That is how they took me to the bush and I became a member.’’

The recruitment of underage kids into these underground cult groups to a large extent has been found to be responsible for the many cases of heinous and unresolved crime activities witnessed in the state and has also taken stronghold in campuses in the state before some of their leaders were arrested, following the intervention of the State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.

In the month of December 2014, Benin City witnessed violent clashes between rival cult groups, Black Axe and Eiye Confraternity in a supremacy battle. Over 26 suspects were feared killed during the fracas in various parts of the town forcing fun seekers to retire to their homes early.

It is believed that the re-occurrence of these violent cult clashes continue because politicians often depend on some of these cult groups to do their dirty jobs and are often settled with cash rewards.

But the police authority in a bid stem the riding wave of cult related activities and other crimes had this to say, “we are not relaxing at all. We are in search of the leaders behind these killings. Already, we have arrested some persons in connection with the crisis while others are on the run. The killings will stop because policemen are all on the alert now.”

In Cross River State, Calabar, the state capital is gradually but steadily becoming notorious for crimes some of which are cult related, though, the issue of cultism which was prevalent in the state some years ago is now paving way for other criminal activities such as armed robbery and electoral violence. These unfortunate acts are experienced more in Calabar south local government area which is about 20 minutes drive away from the state capital.

Two cult groups in the state engaged themselves in bloody clashes recently, leaving in its wake tears and anguish among those whose loved ones were feared dead during the orgy. The two cult groups have a long history of rivalry at party primaries, congresses or general elections as each group usually fields candidates.

However, some have argued that the renewed wave of political violence in the state might after all not be unconnected to the level of cultists’ activities that once bedevilled the state.

Coming on the heels of a recent assassination attempt on the life of the state Peoples’ Democratic Party’s southern senatorial district candidate, Chief Gershom Bassey, only few days ago, the residence of a prominent politician in the State, Dr. Alex Egbona, was attacked by some yet to be identified gunmen. These are only a few of the several politically motivated but yet be addressed attacks in the state.

According to the head of sociology department in the University of Calabar, Dr. Emmanuel Ushie, who harped on the socio-cultural implication of cultism especially in the African setting, it would not be out of place for a discerning mind to conclude that most of the redundant cultists are the ones being used by desperate politicians to foment electoral violence in the state.

“You know cultism in any African society is not a good thing; it has an evil connotation. Cultism is a fraternity that you agree strongly in something. In most cases, it is assumed that those cultists are the people who are largely used to cause electoral violence because by and large, those are the people who would have the hearts to carry guns and axes around,” he said.

He cited the frequent and involuntary closure of market stalls, unceremonious shutting down of some tertiary institutions as some of the far reaching implications of cultists’ activities.

“Cultism whether in the school setting or outside, in the society, has some negative implications. When you look at the economic setting, it can affect businesses, thereby hampering economic growth. In the academic setting, it retards educational growth among students. It even affects the student/ lecturer relationship. It has so many side effects. Most often, the closure of some tertiary institutions is as a result of cult activities. In a nut shell, cultism has a far reaching implication on societal development; I see no benefit in it,” Ushie added.

In an effort towards checkmating the menace of cultism in Cross River, the state governor, Liyel Imoke, in the twilight of his second tenure in office compelled top government officials including local government chairmen in the state to sign an undertaking denouncing their membership of secret cult groups.

Concerned citizens however said the effect of such an undertaking is yet to be felt in the state as the issue of cultism has continued unabatedly after that historic event.

Meanwhile, the state police command has debunked insinuations that there has been an increase of cult activities in the state after that exercise, adding that the situation has been curtailed to the barest minimum.

Speaking through its public relations officer, ASP Hogan Bassey, the command, via a telephone interview, said cultists in the state are currently in disarray following consistent clamp down on their activities by the State police force.

No less than 63 cult members are cooling off in police detention in Delta State, courtesy of the mop up undertaken by the state police command according to DSP Celestina Kalu, it’s public relations officer.

The arrest of members of Eiye, Vikings Confraternity and Black Axe were made possible by the alert raised by the vigilante after intra-cult killing had taken place. Notwithstanding the efforts by the security agencies, politicians continue unabated recruitment of cult members to prosecute the elections.

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