At The Mercy Of Cultists: Killer Gangs Shift To The Neighbourhoods
THERE is a disturbing new trend in communities and on the streets. It is the relocation of cultism and secret cult clashes from tertiary institutions’ campuses. The trend seems to be a fad among youngsters as almost every street in the country, particularly in Lagos, now has one form of confraternity (cult) group or the other. More worrisome is the rate at which primary school pupils and secondary school students are getting involved in clandestine acts.
Today, residents of some communities in Lagos, Rivers, Bayelsa, Kogi, Benin, Delta, Anambra, Enugu, Cross River, Ogun, Kwara, and wherever there is a tertiary institution, live in palpable fear as cultists have taken their game from the campuses to the street, brazenly wielding various weapons without fear of apprehension.
Before now, cultism was said and believed to engaged in by those in the universities, polytechnics and colleges of education. But today, it is different as children and even parents now belong to one cult group or the other. And if you are not yet ‘blended’ (a phrase for the initiates) into a group, you are considered a ‘Jew man’ (a catch word for the uninitiated).
Every group wants to overpower the other, and the other would not accept defeat or weakness. Hence, a bloody clash is imminent in order to settle the rift. Issues like girlfriend snatching, beating, among other trivial and minor issues are the main reasons they cite to begin a bloody clash.
These groups are identified by their members’ age, social standing and level of education. The primary pupils at tender ages are taught their cult groups’ slangs; how to handle weapons such as guns, machetes, axes, knives and even acid, and fight for survival when faced with opposition in street fights as well as harass people they consider foes or threats in daylight and at nights.
For them, it is a taboo for a ‘Jew man’ to speak to a girl they fancy or in love with as they attack and injure such person or possible kill him. A little misunderstanding often degenerates into full-blown crises until the law enforcement agents such as the police or sometimes the military intervene.
Some have taken their game a notch higher by engaging in armed robbery, thuggery, kidnapping and are even hired as killers (hired assassins). Daily, there are reported cases of cult clashes in different parts of the country. This is aside reports of the bloody clashes that occur in the university campuses, which oftentimes, claim the lives of the innocent who are deceived and coerced to join the cult groups.
How It All Began
Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, who has been labeled the progenitor and father of university cultism in Nigeria, when asked the reason behind the formation of the Pyrates Confraternity, also known as the ‘Magnificent Seven’ at the time in the University College, Ibadan (now University of Ibadan) in 1952, said it was to abolish convention, revive the age chivalry, and end tribalism and elitism that was prevalent at the time in the university. They adopted the motto ‘Against All Conventions’, using the skull and crossbones as their logo, while members adopted confraternity names such as ‘Cap’ n Blood’ and ‘Long John Silver’.
Soyinka, alongside six others: Aig-Imoukhuede, Pius Oleghe, Ralph Opara, Nat Oyelola and Muyiwa Awe wanted to separate themselves from stodgy establishment and its pretentious products in a new educational institution different from a culture of hypocritical and affluent middle class, different from alienated colonial aristocrats. Today, the lofty idea for the formation of the group has degenerated as some individuals expelled for failing to meet the expected standards of the group went on to form rival a group called the Buccaneers, also known as Sea Lords.
From that time to date, several groups like the Neo-Black Movement of Africa (NBM), also known as Black Axe, Aye or Axe men Confraternity, Air Lords aka Eiye Confraternity, Supreme Vikings Confraternity (SVC), Klansmen Konfraternity, Brotherhood of Blood (Black Beret or Two Two), Mafia, De Norsemen Club of Nigeria, Daughters of Jezebels, Black Brazier, White Angels, Viqueens, Damsels, among numerous others have been formed, and there is daily, increased membership perpetration of all sorts of heinous acts that include armed robbery, assassination, drugs trafficking and abuse, arms dealings, and kidnapping.
The Break Away And Shift
Beginning from the early 1990s, cultism activities expanded dramatically in the Niger Delta as some groups engaged in a bloody struggle for supremacy. The Family Confraternity (the Campus Mafia or the Mafia), which modeled itself after the Italian Mafia, emerged. Shortly after, some students who were expelled from Abia State University, Uturu for cheating and cultism, began to practice confraternities, which marked the beginning of a shift of confraternity activities from the university to off-campus.
However, the consolidation of confraternity activities outside the university campuses was boosted by the nationwide renouncement of cultism by university students and the breakdown of traditional campus cults all over the country as a result of amnesty granted to all former cultists at the onset of the current democratic governance in Nigeria. This led to migration of cultism from the campuses to residential neighbourhoods and streets, as the campuses were no longer safe haven for the cultists.
The Klansmen Konfraternity expanded its influence by creating a street and creek wing, known as Deebam, to fight for and control territory outside of the universities through violence and crime. In response, the Supreme Vikings Confraternity (SVC) established its own street and creek group called Deewell. And when it was unable to match Deebam, the SVC created a second confraternity wing, the Icelanders (German), which was led by militant leader, Ateke Tom.
The Outlaws, another well-known street and creek confraternity, began as a splinter group of the Icelanders (German). To make matters worse, the involvement of under-aged pupils and secondary school children who lack moral upbringing, has put the society at a risk as our primary and secondary schools have become veritable grounds for breeding cultists. Female confraternities have supplied spies for allied male confraternities as well as acting as prostitution syndicates.
Tales From Across The Land
From Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital to Ogwashi-Uku, Ozoro and Abraka all in Delta State, Ijora Badia, a slum in Apapa-Iganmu, Oju Irin (Railway line) in Odi-Olowo, Ilaje in Bariga, Kadiri in Fadeyi, Shipeolu in Shomolu, and Ikorodu all in Lagos, residents live in fear as cultists roam the streets brandishing dangerous weapons like knives, guns, machetes and axes in broad daylight.
The expulsion of 26 secondary school students in 2002 in Cross River State for involvement in cult-related activities, the killing of one Victor, a.k.a Papa, a secondary school student in Oron, in January 2004, the beating of a secondary school typist to death in Eket, the arrest of seven secondary school secret cult kingpins in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital the same year, and the massive initiation of primary school children into more than 150 cult groups identified by the anti-cultism law of Rivers State helped expose the menace at secondary school level in Nigeria.
On September 27, 2015 in Onitsha, Anambra State commercial hub, luck ran out on eight out of about 30 masked cultists that terrorised residents of Obumseli, Nwuga, Ogbolu, Abagana and Ijeh streets, all located at the Niger Bridge Head in Ogbaru Local Government Area, when men of the Nigerian Police Force, Atani Division and members of the five communities’ vigilante group arrested them.
Narrating their ordeal in the hands of the cultists, chairman of the community vigilance group, Mr. Ejike Onwa, explained that the residents no longer rest as the cultists have taken over the area, stressing that once it is 6.30pm, people run into their houses.
“It is because of these cultists that the five streets, Obumseli, Nwuga, Ogbolu, Abagana and Ijeh came together and formed a vigilante outfit to fight them and it has been yielding results,” Onwa said.
In July 2015, Ebonyi State Police command foiled the initiation of 46 graduating students of a popular mission secondary school in Izzi Local Government Area of the state, who were said to be members of a cult group identified as Junior Vikings. The students had just concluded writing their NECO Senior School Certificate Examination.
Also, seven students of Nazareth High School in Imeko-Afon Local Government Area, and 11 from Lisabi Grammar School, Idi-Aba, Abeokuta, Ogun State were arrested in their schools in 2013 for cultism by officers of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC). The Nazareth High School students were caught while they were initiating some other students into their cult group, while the students of Lisabi High School were apprehended for breaching the peace in the school, and after a thorough investigation, they were discovered to members of a secret cult group.
Although there exist secret cult groups like Aye (Axeman), Eiye and Bucca boys (Buccaneers), the rivalry between the Ali Iwo boys with their main rival, the Moshalashi boys (also known as Oju Ina boys) in Ijora Badia is very visible. Other splinter groups like the Akamaye boys, Orita Ogbana boys, Kudeti boys, Campus boys, Baale boys, and Church Street boys, all hold strong their various domains.
According to a resident of the area who simply gave his name as Ibukun, so many factors are responsible for the growth of street cults in the community, but paramount is the show of supremacy through the control of motor parks, bus stops and other territories that often make the cult groups engage in show of power.
“Every group wants to overpower the other, and the other would not accept defeat or weakness. Hence, a bloody clash is imminent in order to settle the rift. Issues like girlfriend snatching, beating, among other trivial and minor issues are the main reasons they cite to begin a bloody clash,” he said.
Now, the major rivalry is between the Ali Iwo boys and Oju Ina boys, a bridge and canal divides the two groups. When vehicles break down on the bridge, the groups have to clash to know who will collect ‘security’ (as they call it) from the motorist. The groups have fought countless times and settled, but start again at the slightest provocation. In March this year, no fewer than nine people were killed in the battle for the control of territories and bus stops between Ali Iwo boys and Oju Ina boys.
Ibukun noted that it took the intervention of the traditional ruler of the area, the Ojora of Ijoraland before the Orita Ogbana boys and Kudeti boys could settle their differences on who controls which motor park and where each territory ends. He added that before the intervention, between 2008 and 2009, many lives were lost in bloody clashes between the two groups.
Now, the major rivalry is between the Ali Iwo boys and Oju Ina boys, a bridge and canal divides the two groups. When vehicles break down on the bridge, the groups have to clash to know who will collect ‘security’ (as they call it) from the motorist. The groups have fought countless times and settled, but start again at the slightest provocation. In March this year, no fewer than nine people were killed in the battle for the control of territories and bus stops between Ali Iwo boys and Oju Ina boys,” Ibukun said.
He further explained that another major cause of bloody clashes in the area is politics. According to him, desperate politicians often employ some of the cultists during elections to perpetrate violence and instigate the different cult groups to clash in order to gain more ground to win elections.
Earlier this year, there was a clash between a group of boys and suspected cult members at Afariogun area of Oshodi, Lagos, and this left one person dead and several others severely injured, while 40 vehicles were destroyed and shops looted by rampaging youths.
Nicolas Esekhile, a staff of Vanguard Newspapers, his wife and two-year-old child, narrowly escaped death after suspected members of a cult group shattered his windows with machetes in an attempt to break into his apartment.
In 2013, fast rising hip-hop act Olaniyan Damilola Ibrahim well known by his stage moniker Damino Damoche was shot dead by a rival cult gang after a writing a test in the Faculty of Management Sciences (FMS), Lagos State University (LASU), where at the time of his death was a final year student. He was said to be a member of the Buccaneer cult in the institution.
For Odusote, a barber in Ibeju Lekki and a secondary school drop-out, who confessed to being a member of the Aye confraternity, he alongside 50 others, were initiated in March 2012 when he joined the group.
“I dropped out of secondary school in 2012, and became an apprentice barber. It was a friend, Lukman, who introduced me to the cult. We were initiated in a bush in Epe around March that year. More than 50 of us were taken to the bush. It was at about 9.30pm. They beat us inside the bush. They were seven masters, and they flogged us with matchetes. We also drank some hard drinks. That was all,” he said.
Idris 25, father of two from Ajegunle, said he joined the cult to protect himself from attacks, adding that his wife knew he was a cultist. “We do not see any big deal in cultism. We joined to protect our area and ourselves because hoodlums were always invading the Alaguntan area where I stayed.”
In Ekpoma, Edo State, the host community of Ambrose Ali University (AAU), it is difficult to tell who is a cultist. The town has become a tapestry of cultists as membership of cult groups is no longer a special privilege enjoyed by students of the university. Locals including mechanics, farmers, electricians, commercial cyclist (Okada riders) and other artisans/technicians have enlisted and they are the new bosses.
Speaking with The Guardian in a telephone conversation, a resident of the community and graduate of AAU, Osazuwa, explained that street cultism is the new order in the town as all sort of people are joining cult groups. According to him, when a mechanic goes under your car, you see a gun attached to his waist and he openly wears his band or cap to displays the cult group he belongs to.
“Even Okada riders threaten you and openly tell you that they belong to a cult group and nothing will happen to them. Secondary school students are members of cult groups in the town now. Some carry guns to school and this is very common in public schools. They see cultism as a lucrative venture and many young people are lured to join,” he said.
Mrs. Agnes (surname withheld), a widow had to make a painful decision of moving out of her Ikorodu home earlier this year in order to have her life and that of her six children saved as a result of the continued reign of terror by secret cults group in her domain. Indeed a hard decision for her, she had to as John her first son was killed right in their home 2014 by a rival cult gang to John’s erstwhile cult group, and they continued to send death threats to her and the other children. This is a microcosm of what goes on daily in Ikorodu, a Lagos suburb, where cultists and gang wars have become the order of the day.
Residents live in fear as they do not know when the next attack will occur, even in broad daylight. Ikorodu North and Central Ikorodu comprising of Odogunyan, First and Second gate, Odonla, Odo-Kekere, Rofo, Agbede, Ladega, Ayangburen, Ojubode, Etunrenren, Ejina and the popular Garage are flash point areas.
In Ikorodu North, the Aye (Black Axe) and the Air Lords (Eiye) confraternities, battle for supremacy and this has resulted in the loss of lives and properties worth millions of naira. Not only have their constant bloody clashes affected businesses in the area, it has also grossly affected real estate as the chairman of the Landlords Association, Mr. Michael Obasanya lamented.
Speaking with The Guardian via the telephone, Obasanya decried the activities of the marauding gangs and called on the Nigerian Police and the state government to come to the aid of the residents of community. According him, despite efforts undertaken by the communities to nip the menace in the bud, the cultists have continued with their gang wars unabated, and this has given birth to other vices like armed robbery, petty stealing, larcenies and rape.
The Guardian investigation gathered that two young girls in Oduyebo Street were attacked and raped on their way to the church for a vigil few months back at a lonely part of the street by some members of unknown cult group. Residents of the street confirmed they heard shouts for help by the girls, they however, were afraid to come out and help them. The girls and their families have since moved from the town as a result of the unfortunate incident.
According to the Oodua Peoples’ Congress (OPC) Coordinator, Ikorodu North chapter who preferred anonymity, the group has made and continues to make efforts by collaborating with the law enforcement agents like the police as well as well as a local vigilante group called Onyabo, to rid the area of crime and clandestine acts.
He applauded the efforts of the Divisional Police headquarters situated at Shagamu Road, which usually sends a detachment of officers whenever crisis breaks out, but stressed that the police were outnumbered as well as overwhelmed by the criminal gangs. According to him, before the police usually arrive at the scene, the cult boys would have carried out their deadly attacks and melted into the night.
For Mrs. Sola Ibiyemi, a resident of the Rofo area, government needs to come to the rescue of the residents, stressing that she had to move her family out of the First Gate area when attacks by the cultists became too frequent. She disclosed that the genesis of the problem was when an Aiye member, accused a member of the rival Eiye Confraternity of snatching his girlfriend and all hell was let loose. The battle raged for months with each gang ‘counting scores’ (killing a member of the rival gang), and sometimes innocent bystanders are victims.
According to Ibiyemi, youths in the area capitalized on the unrest to steal and attack shop owners. Okada snatching became the order of the day, as riders were forced to resume late in the morning and close early in the evening.
The Guardian gathered that after several security meetings held by the Baale with the landlords, OPC and Onyabo members, a decision was reached that any landlord who houses a cult member would lose his house and be handed over to the police for prosecution. Despite this measure, the activities of secret gangs have not reduced nor the crime rate lessened.
For residents of First and Second gate area, what ought to be a blessing to them has become a curse as they have continued to point accusing fingers at students of Lagos State Polytechnic (LASPOTECH), insisting that it is the students of the polytechnic that have brought the evil vices upon the area. And it is made worse by the fact that the school is non-residential.
According to them, cultism has continued to gain ground in the town as the various cult groups have embarked on a sustained recruitment of not only students of the institution but also land speculators (Omo-onile), commercial motorcycle riders popularly called Okada riders, touts and even bus drivers as members.
Anybody who shows interest is quickly initiated into the fold, as the various gangs feel that the larger the membership, the stronger the group becomes. Primary and secondary schools children are not left out as they are now being recruited into these gangs; some have even formed their own amateur gangs.
Nine-year-old Joseph (surname withheld) was dragged before the OPC, and he confessed to being a member of one of the cult groups, but claimed he was lured into it by one of the boys living in their multi-tenant house, popularly called ‘face-me-I-face-you’. According him, he was promised money, power and a number of other things but was yet to get any of those promised goodies. In the meantime, he and his friend engage in petty thieving.
Investigations reveal that the Black Axe (Aiye) and the Sea Lords (Buccaneer) confraternities often engaged each other in battle for supremacy and control Central Ikorodu. Ladega, Ayangburen, Ojubode and Ejina are the flash spots. And just like what obtains in Jibowu-Fadeyi, a member of one gang cannot cross into a territory controlled by a rival gang; if he does, hell will let loose.
In September this year, a child christening (naming ceremony) turned into a bloodbath as members of Aiye went to war against a perceived insult as a member of Buccaneer had attended the naming ceremony in the Aiye territory. Although he escaped, innocent bystanders were attacked and robbed.
Also in September, members of the Neo-Black Movement (Black Axe) burnt down the house of the father of a Buccaneer member at Ogijo. They didn’t go about it secretly as it goes to show the level of brazenness these cultists have attained. They threatened the fire service personnel that came to put out the fire. Innocent residents scampered for safety amidst flying of bullets and brandishing of dangerous weapons by the rampaging cultists who used the opportunity to rob people.
For the OPC coordinator, the situation is being brought under control and peace has returned to the area. Most residents dismissed this claim as they cite various attacks that have taken place in recent times that put paid to this claim.
According to them, last week’s attacks by the cultists on a number of businesses at the Garage area have thrown a question mark to this assertion. They pleaded with the governor and security operatives to step up the security in Ikorodu saying: “We are at the mercy of these boys,” Obasanya said.
When contacted, the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of the area refused to comment, directing all inquiries to the Police PRO and command headquarters.
Get the latest news delivered straight to your inbox every day of the week. Stay informed with the Guardian’s leading coverage of Nigerian and world news, business, technology and sports.