March 27, 2016
Lazarus Anthony was 19 years old when he joined the Black Axe confraternity. By the time he turned 21, he had risen up the ladder to become the leader of a cell. However, Lazarus’ group’s area of operation, at Upper Sokponba in Ikpoba Okha Local Government Area, is far away from the four walls of any higher institution.
Cultists in Edo State
His, like many self-styled cult groups spread across the country, operate in street corners and major streets, carving out fiefdoms for themselves where they operate as the lords of the land.
For Lazarus, his reign of terror ended last year when he led his group to kill a welder, identified as Abu Iboje. Speaking when he was paraded alongside a self-acclaimed Pastor, Greatman Ita, Lazarus said he shot Abu to avenge the death of a member of Black Axe who was earlier killed by a rival gang.
According to him, “I am a cultist and I belong to the Black Axe gang. Abu and his squad killed Kelvin at Upper Sokponba. And the next day, I led my squad to kill Abu at his workshop. I used a locally-made gun. It was Edoba that asked us to kill him. This is the first person I have killed. After killing him, I became confused and did not know what came over me.
“I am pleading with the Federal Government to forgive me. I want to renounce my membership of the group. We are many that are cultists on that street.”
In 2011, Edurance Obanor gained admission into the College of Education, Ekiadolor with a high hope of a great future. But the future ended even before it found good ground to stand on. Young Obanor was beheaded and his severed head dumped in front of the school gate.
It took the police three months to locate where his body was buried and two suspects, Osagie Omorodion and David Odigie, arrested.
In his desperate bid to be respected and be among the leaders of his cult group, Believe Agbonlahor decided to sell his parents’ only motor-cycle for N25,000 to buy a gun. This was three years after he was initiated into the cult group.
Believe told newsmen that his status among his fellow cultists rose, but his quest for respect and leadership status ended in regret three days after he purchased the gun. He had taken the gun to a burial ceremony from where they were planning an attack when the police swooped on them.
“I sold the motor-cycle for N25, 000 because I was not having money to buy a gun. I bought a small Awka-made gun for protection because I am a cultist. I want to use it for protection,” Believe said, adding “My father knew I took his motor-cycle, but I did not tell him I was going to sell it. I took the gun to a friend’s burial and was caught.”
The story of the cruel death of Abu Oje and Edurance Obanor are just two of the several cult-related deaths that have gripped Benin, the state capital, and other major towns in the state.
While deadly fights among the various groups have been common in Edo State, the recent surge in their activities can be traced to the ‘free cash’ doled out by politicians, especially during elections, and the desire of some community leaders to remain in power. Members of the cult groups are mostly used as thugs to intimidate rival party members or anybody who may want to rival them.
The story of cultism in Edo State has taken a dangerous and deadly turn. More and more secondary students are now getting involved in cult activities in the state. Louis Ebogbe and Charles Osayande, who were arrested at Ekosodin village, where they were to be initiated into a cult group, said they wanted power and influence.
Recovered from them by police during the raid were one locally-made pistol, one cut to size and 30 live cartridges.
Louis said he wanted to join the cult group because his co-workers told him that was how he could stop being oppressed and intimidated. He said: “Many of my friends that I work with in Lagos told me that the only way I cannot be oppressed and intimidated is to be a member of a cult group. I work in a clearing and forwarding company in Lagos. Police came to where we were doing initiation and arrested us. Others ran away, but we were arrested.”
For Charles, a borehole operator, the need to constantly get jobs prompted him to want to belong to a cult group.”It was a friend, Junior, that asked me to join a cult group. Nobody really oppressed me, but I was not getting jobs as I wanted. Only two of us were arrested. We were arrested at Ekosodin during initiation process. We brought gala and drinks to the occasion. We passed through drilling sessions, which involved beating us with stick. The initiation was yet to begin when we were arrested.”
Ekpoma, the administrative headquarters of Esan West Local Government Area, is renowned for cultists’ activities. Five persons- 300 level Engineering student, 24-year-old Ohizokhai Vincent; 200 level accountancy student, 20-year-old Ebhoma Humpery; 200-level Chemistry student, 20-year-old Ohonsi Success; 400-level Accountancy Education student, 25-year-old Williams David and Akhimien Ehis, an instrumentalist, said they paid N5,000 and a bottle of a popular gin drink to become a member of Warlord Confraternity at the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma.
Four of the suspects said they joined the group to advance their educational pursuit. But they landed in trouble when a new initiate scored D in a course after paying money for the course to be upgraded to A.
Last year, a raid by the police on Ekpoma community led to the arrest of 46 suspected cultists, while sophisticated arms and ammunition were recovered.
Residents of Aruogba community are yet to come terms with the whereabouts of the severed head of the community’s assistant head, Goodluck Uwumahongie. Goodluck was beheaded in 2014 by a cult group over a land tussle. Two years after, his head remains missing. His family had to bury the corpse without a head.
Before Pa Goodluck was beheaded, the community was sacked by some suspected hoodlums.
Last month, the Chief Priest (Ohen-Ogba) of Aruogba community, Pa Clifford Omosomwan, was shot dead in his bedroom. Sources also claimed that the assailants cut off his head.
Last week, a teenager cultist, who has been on the wanted list of the Nigeria Police, shot dead a retired headmistress, identified as Clara Uwaifo. The teenage cultist, Happy Agbangbanyan, was identified as a serial killer who has been on the wanted list of the police.
Two weeks ago, suspected cultists invaded Evbuekoi community in Uhunmwode Local Government Area and ransacked the residence of the traditional head of the community, Igiohen Okhuare Ni- Ikhuen, Adesuwa Osaghea Osarodion. The attackers vandalised the community’s shrine, a place where ordinary humans were forbidden to enter.
In many communities where the residents have been made to flee, members of OPC have always been named. The OPC has its state headquarters at Ogbe quarters in Oredo Local Government Area of the state.
The ‘governor’ of the OPC in the state, Prince Sylvester Eweka, said the OPC helped the state government to maintain peace and not to fuel communal crisis.
Prince Eweka said government and law enforcement agencies should be blamed for cult-related activities in the state. According to him, “The allegation that we were hired to fight in communities are untrue and baseless. We do not entertain community issues. Nobody can hire my members to go and fight for them.
“Go and check all the prisons, there are no OPC members held for cult activities and attacks on communities. How did they know the attackers were OPC members? We do not oppress and we do not take what does not belong to us.”
Abia’s ugly cult war
The news jolted the entire nation. Even the stone-hearted cringed at the bloody sight. Ebuka Nwaigbo, a 300-level student of the Department of Estate Management, and Samuel Ethelbert, 300-level student of the Department of Political Science of Abia State University, were not only brutally murdered, they had their heads cut off and used as goal post in a football field.
At first, many believed that such a heartless act could only have happened in Syria and Iraq, where the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) holds sway. But it soon dawned on them that the self-styled God’s own state may have borrowed a leaf from the hard-line ISIS fighters.
According to sources, the killing of the two undergraduates was a retaliation for an earlier attack, which claimed the alleged leader of Burkinafaso, one Collins Agwu, who was allegedly killed by members of Mafia, a rival cult group.
The two groups, according to sources in the campus, have engaged each other in a battle for supremacy in and around the institution.
“Last month, one Collins Agwu, a member of Burkinafaso, was gunned down by the Mafia. His colleagues decided to retaliate by killing members of the Mafia,” a source, who pleaded anonymity, told The Nation. Collins Agwu, who was also known as Biggy, was buried at Ihechiowa in Arochukwu Local Government Area of the state.
The killing and beheading of Ebuka Nwaigbo and Samuel Ethelbert, sources say, was meant to be a signal to rival gangs by the Burkina Faso group.
A source said: “The members of Biggy’s group came on a reprisal attack on the isolated hostel where the two victims lived. They arrived the hostel just as their victims were preparing to cook at about 9pm on Saturday, and went on to butcher them. After killing their victims, they took their heads in a Ghana Must Go bag to the university football field close to the gate and fixed them on the ground as goal posts, where they were left for other students to see the next day.”
On why it was easy for the cult group to operate, a security chief in the university, who did not want his name in print, said that the incident happened in one of the off campus hostels owned by private people on the Uturu-Afikpo road, and that the school authorities’ jurisdiction does not extend to the area. You know that the incident happened outside the campus, therefore, the university security cannot be held responsible.”
Another source in the university told The Nation that there are about 41 cult groups in the institution. According to the source, 26 of the cult groups are male-dominated, while 15 are populated by female students.
However, while the cult groups may be divided along gender lines, there is no visible difference in their mode of operation, as they are designed to inflict pains on anybody who dares to question their authority. On the campus, Vikings, a male-dominated cult group, is said to be identified by their red head bands. As a result of this, other students of the school who are not members of the group are forbidden from wearing any red coloured dress
For the female cult groups on the campus the Pink Lady can easily be identified by their pink-coloured dresses. Another female group, the White Angels, are known by their white coloured attires, while the Amazons are identified with their leg chains.
While reacting to the incident, the Vice Chancellor of Abia State University Uturu [ABSU], Prof Uche Ikonne, expressed condolences on behalf of the institution to the families of the two students who were killed. He described the incident as despicable and unacceptable, adding that it came as a surprise to all concerned.
The VC said he was in the church when he received the news of the attack. “What I saw at the place was shocking. There was blood everywhere,” adding: “We condemn the activities of some foreign elements who are trying to dent the good image and reputation of the university. We are known as a peace-loving, disciplined and academically-oriented institution.
“I was shocked that people live in that type of building, situated about four kilometres away from the university campus. It is an accident-prone part of the road leading to Afikpo in Ebonyi State.” Prof Ikonne urged parents to endeavour to get to know where their children live while in school.
When contacted, the state PPRO, DSP Onyeke Udeviotu, said that the Commissioner of Police has directed the homicide department of the state CID to commence investigation into the matter. Udeviotu said the attack is suspected to be a reprisal attack from a rival cult group and that the command has launched a full-scale investigation into the case and assured that the perpetrators will be fished out.
The Abia Police PPRO said the third victim of the attack, Samuel Umeaforo Chigozirim, also a 300-level Political Science undergraduate, was receiving treatment in an undisclosed hospital.
While the ugly incident of Saturday, March 12, 2016, may have brought the danger of the proliferation of dangerous cult groups in Nigerian higher institutions to the fore, but those with discerning minds know that the seed for the ugly trend was sown in Abia State almost two decades ago.
It started in1998 when a group of boys organised themselves into a vicious group that specialised in dispossessing hapless residents of their possessions. The boys, whose ages were given as between 18 and 21, went about with the name- MAF, and turned themselves into outlaws and robbed the people of their valuables in broad day light, with the people seemingly helpless.
Having established themselves among the people, the group proceeded to extend their area of control to the markets by extorting money from the traders with guns, machetes and cudgels. Anyone who offered any form of resistance was either killed or maimed.
Because of their activities across the state, the fear of MAF became the beginning of wisdom among the people.
But it got to a point where the people had to defend themselves or be doomed for life. As solution, the Bakassi Group, a group of cobblers at the Ariaria International Market, was formed by the people to fight MAF. The heavily traumatised cobblers allegedly armed themselves with machetes and other dangerous weapons as a form of protection against the dreaded MAF Boys. And one after the other, the Bakassi Boys went after the MAF Boys and eliminated them from the state.
For the people, it was a big relief from the dreaded MAF Boys. And the state governor at the time, Orji Uzor Kalu, wasted no time in given teeth to the Bakassi Boys by legalising them to help rid the state of the bad boys. Unfortunately, the vicious circle continued in the state as cult activities moved into some motor parks in Umuahia. At the heart of the war in the motor park is a supremacy fight over who gets what. The war was so bad that police was called in to save the situation from escalating.
However, it was not the same at Okigwe motor park were the war over who becomes what attracted the attention of both the state Commissioner of Police, Joshak Habila, and the Assistant Inspector General of Police [AIG] Zone 9, Usman Bwari, who mediated for peace to reign at the motor park.