14 January 2016

The relevant authorities could do more to contain the social violence

The rate at which cult-related violence is spreading across the country should indeed worry those in authorities. A day hardly passes when some young men and women would not fall victims to this goring spectre of criminal violence. In September last year, a clash between suspected members of the ‘Aiye’ and ‘Eiye’ confraternities at the Kwara State Polytechnic left no fewer than 16 young men dead with scores of others wounded. However, since then, hundreds of Nigerians have been killed in such violence.

That cult wars and gang violence have exacerbated the climate of lawlessness and fear in the polity is no longer in doubt. What is more worrying is that the menace has become so widespread that armed robbers, drug peddlers and other sundry miscreants are now being recruited into the fold. In many states of the federation today, cultists of various stripes act with impunity, killing, raping and maiming victims while causing widespread destruction. Yet the authorities seem helpless in dealing with this crime.

For sure, cultism is not new in Nigeria. From time immemorial, several people have identified with one form of cultism or another either for personal/family protection or for the promotion and safeguard of certain interests. But today, cultism has become almost like a status symbol, especially on our campuses while members kill sometimes for reasons as flimsy as being snubbed by a student of the opposite sex.

From the campus of Yaba College of Technology to the streets of Mushin in Lagos, from Benue to Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Edo States, these criminal gangs operate without restraints. What’s more, their activities are no more restricted to campuses of institutions of higher learning as secondary school pupils are now being recruited into the fold. A worried Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase, recently had to order State Police Commissioners and Divisional Police Officers of four states to arrest and prosecute cultists “to forestall a breach of peace in these areas.”

Last May, some prominent people in society were among 67 suspected cultists arrested and quizzed in Benin City, the Edo State capital, by men of the special squad deployed in the state by the Police IG to curb the growing killings and cult activities. Among those arrested for their alleged involvement in the mayhem were 14 Junior Secondary School students between the ages of 12 and 15.  In the days preceding the deployment of the police team, some criminals said to be members of ‘Eiye’, ‘Black Axe’, ‘Buccaneers’, ‘Aiye’ and ‘Jurist’ confraternities had unleashed hell on the streets of Benin. The body count was 22 dead.

The death toll from cult wars over the past few years, particularly in Edo State, is high. In June 2013 about 20 persons were killed due to a confrontation between members of the ‘Eiye Confraternity’ and ‘Black Axe’ over some financial issues. In January 2011, residents of Benin City were under siege during a similar violent clash between the same rival cult groups in what was described as a battle for supremacy. Over 26 suspects were killed during the fracas. Again in the aftermath of the July 14, 2012, governorship election in the state, no fewer than eight persons were killed in attacks and counter-attacks by these two leading cult groups.

“The deaths of our children are real,” said Chris Nehikhare. “The traumas of these deaths to relations of the dead are real. The insecurity it creates within the polity is real. The social problems these create are real. The madness must stop.” But the authorities seem bewildered in tackling the endemic problems of cult wars. While no plausible explanations have been provided, most people believe that the fact that there are no convictions for such crimes encourage many young people into it. And as long as this persists, Nigerians may have to brace up for more gang violence.


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