Wednesday, 27th September 2023

Cultism: From campuses to neighbourhoods

By Onyedika Agbedo
17 August 2019   |   3:50 am
The rising cases of clashes between cult groups in the country have no doubt added to its present security woes. From Lagos to Rivers, Plateau, Akwa Ibom, Enugu, Federal Capital Territory....

Some suspected cultist being paraded by the Lagos State Police Command…recently

The rising cases of clashes between cult groups in the country have no doubt added to its present security woes. From Lagos to Rivers, Plateau, Akwa Ibom, Enugu, Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja and other parts of the country, the activities of cultists have been on the increase of late. And a lot of lives and property have been lost to the nefarious activities of these unlawful groups whose credos are at best inane and self-destructive.

Awawa Boys, Deybam, Icelanders, Deywell, Vikings Confraternity, Junior Vikings Confraternity (JVC), Greenlanders, Black Axe, KK Confraternity, Aiye Boys, Klansman Confraternity, White Angels for Women, Black Brass for Women, T-Stars Confraternity, Ayez Confraternity, Axe-men aka Edege, Bukanias, Eye and Vikes aka Aro Bargars are just a few of the cult groups that today exist in the neighbourhoods.

They pursue their cause with brazen audacity and outright disregard for the laws of the country and law enforcement agents. The arrest and prosecution of some of their members is no deterrent to the majority of them.Just last Thursday, unidentified gunmen suspected to be cultists killed no fewer than 10 persons and razed the home of the President of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Legoborsi Pyagbara, at Nyokuru in Khana council of Rivers State. Reports had it that the gunmen raided Taabaa, Nyokuru and Okwala communities between last Tuesday and Wednesday. The incident is just one of the many reported cases of cult killings/violence across the country, an indication that unlike in the past when cultism was limited mainly to university campuses, it is now regular on the streets.

In July this year, the Lagos State Police Command identified more than 10 active cult groups in various parts of the state and clamped down on their activities against the July 7 initiation day, also known as 7/7. No fewer than 100 suspected cultists were arrested in the raid.

The question, therefore, is why are Nigerian youths taking to cultism even in their own neighbourhoods instead of engaging in worthwhile tasks? How has their activities impacted on the everyday life of other law-abiding Nigerians? How are their activities impacting on national security and development? What is the law enforcement agencies doing rein them in? The reports below address the above posers pointedly.

With Over 50 Cult Groups, Rivers Is Nigeria’s Hotbed Of Cultism
From Kelvin Ebiri, Port Harcourt

IN recent months, Rivers State has been in the grip of vicious cult violence. The atrocious activities of these cult groups are forcing people, particularly in the rural areas, to flee their homes in record numbers.Presently, a climate of fear pervades several communities in Rivers State, especially in the Ogoni area, where cult related homicides have been on the rise since this year.

On July 28, members of one of the brutal cult groups in the state, the Greenlanders who had earlier left Bodo town in Gokana local council, to join their cohorts in Andoni council, which is the acclaimed hub of the Greenlanders in the Niger Delta, attempted to re-enter the community. But another ruthless group, the Deybam/Icelanders, which hold sway in the Bodo, ambushed them, killing 20 of them.  

Sources in Bodo told The Guardian that some of those killed were from Okrika and Akwa Ibom.  Similarly, on July 29, a final year student of the Department of Agricultural Economics, Faculty of Agriculture, Rivers State University, Prince TuakabBari, a suspected member of the Vikings confraternity, was shot dead in front of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) hostel while celebrating the conclusion of his last paper.

Sources within the institution presume that his murder was actually a reprisal attack for the shooting of a rival cultist at the back gate of the university three days earlier.Barely 48 hours after, another 300-Level Marine Engineering student of Rivers State University, Linus Chioma, popularly known as Montana Million, a member of Klansman, was hacked to death with machete in a reprisal attack while on his way to school. His corpse was found close to a bush near Ignatius Ajuru University of Education, Iwofe Rumuolumeni in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area, with several parts of his body severed by the assailants.

The killing of these two students is pointer to the fact that animosity between rival cult groups in Rivers runs deep. The borders of the competing gangs’ turf are invisible but well known among rival cult groups.A few days afterwards, at about 10:00p.m on August 3, the Greenlanders launched a reprisal attack. During the invasion, any male they saw whether old or young was attacked. It was gathered that women were spared because their talisman abhor them from coming in contact with women.

The Greenlanders killed one Icelander member and three other innocent persons, including Mr Baribefe Bornu, a respected community activist, who played an important role in efforts by the Bodo community to hold the Shell oil company to account for two massive spills caused by operational failure in 2008.A prominent activist who pleaded anonymity told The Guardian that after these two tragic cult violence occurred in Bodo, many streets in the community were deserted. According to the source, the locals believe that the night is for the cultists, as that is when they do most of their killings.

“There is tension everywhere because of the way these boys operate. In Bodo, by 7:00p.m, everyone is indoors because you don’t know when the boys will strike. Our people have accused a chief and a prominent politician of funding the Greenlanders,” he said.In Ogoni area of the state, cult related killings have become an everyday conversation among families since April this year.On May 19, cultists invaded Kono Boue community in Khana local council, killing 41 persons.  It was gathered that when they arrived the community, all women were ordered to leave before they went for their targets. The cultists went from house to house killing, maiming and burning houses. When they were done with their mission, initially 21 persons were confirmed dead, but before the end of the day, the casualty figure rose to 41.

One of those killed in the gunfire was Mr. Nenale Bari, a deacon in the Ascension Apostolic Church in the community. Some of the victims were reportedly burnt beyond recognition.On that same fateful day, a young man identified as Bobo a.k.a. Ogbobga and one Mr. Bright were killed and burnt to death in Isiodu, in Emohua council. Their killing was linked to cult rivalry.On May 22, cultists attacked and killed three persons in Betem in Khana council.  The victims were the king of Betem II, Nnaa Akiika; a youth leader, Kiabari Yaabari and one Meshack.

Although there are over 50 cult groups in existence in Rivers State, the Deybam, Deywell/Icelander and Greenlander have been blamed for some of the notorious violence recorded in the state of late. Investigations showed that Klansman confraternity formed the Deybam cult group as their street wing. Deybam in the parlance of Klansman confraternity means be strong.

In response, the Supreme Vikings, which originated in Port Harcourt, responded by forming the Junior Vikings Confraternity (JVC). They later considered JVC inefficient and then formed the Deywell. And in a bid to further strengthen Deywell, an alliance was reached with some street cult groups in Okrika to form the Icelander. The trajectory has been JVC, Deywell and the Icelander. Findings also showed that lots of their esoteric terminologies are just the same with those of the Vikings.

Greenlanders is a splinter group from the Icelander. The Greenlander broke away in 2003 in Okrika with the same esoteric code. Consequently, cult related violence has been a cataclysmic issue in Rivers State. According to the State Commissioner of Police, Mustapha Dandaura, cultists have overrun almost all communities in the state. 

Nevertheless, there have been efforts to tame their activities in the state. Both the state government and council authorities had at different times granted amnesty to cultists with promises to train them and provide them entry into the workforce.Governor Nyesom Wike has warned cultists in the state to embrace the offer, declaring that his administration was working with security agencies to frontally go after cultists across the state. “We are going after all cultists and kidnappers in the state.  We will not spare anyone. Security agencies are prepared to tackle these cultists and kidnappers.  For us, we are releasing further logistics support to them.  By the time this crackdown starts, we will not listen to any pleading,” he said.

The governor has also sent the names of all lecturers at the Rivers State University to the Department of State Services (DSS) for comprehensive profiling.  He said any lecturer linked to cultism would be sacked. A civil society group, We the People, which has been chronicling violent activities and killings in the state, said 21 incidents were documented in the month of May that led to 80 verified deaths. The group claimed that cult groups committed most of the killings.

The executive director of We the People, Ken Henshaw, said the major drivers of cult violence in the state were the high level of proliferation of small and light weapons and the character of her politics.

“In the Niger Delta region, politics is impossible without having groups. The character of politics in Rivers State is the bigger driver. For you to gain any political relevance and prominence, it is just by how much arms you wield. That is why it is easy to create Deywell, Deybam, Icelanders and Greenlanders as standby groups waiting for political contestation. It is for this reason that almost every four years there is a spike in cult related killings. Politics is driving this principally,” he said.

‘The Many Promises That Lured Us Into Cultism’
From Lawrence Njoku, Enugu

A FEW months ago, Enugu State Commissioner of Police, Suleiman Balarabe, paraded some notorious criminals. Among them were some secondary school students who are within the age bracket of 17 and 20. They were said to be members of different cult groups in their different schools.

They were reportedly arrested in the premises of a secondary school located in the new layout axis in Enugu while attempting to initiate new members into their cult.Giving further details about the boys numbering eight, the Commissioner said that they were members of the T-Star and Ayez confraternities, adding that they operated in the secondary schools in the state.

Interviewed by The Guardian, one of them, Ikechukwu Odo, 18, from Isiogbo Nara in Nkanu East council of the state, said he was the state coordinator of the T-Star. He said he joined the cult group in 2015 when he was in SS1 in one of the secondary schools in the state and was initiated at a bush behind the school.

“I joined the cult group out of peer influence and they promised me that they would always be there for me in case anybody troubled me. They also said that I would become a notable person in the society,” he said.He said he was also promised to have free reign with any woman of his choice anywhere, stressing that intending members were made to consume a full bottle of the liquor among other fetish things that go with it.

“You need to show that you are strong and that you can improve the group with your actions. You cannot be allowed when you shiver in the face of danger. We were promised so many things that could entice one, including protection whenever there is trouble and attack even in the midst of people,” he added.

Odo, who said he abandoned school to learn plumbing, disclosed that “this is to ensure that I operate better in the midst of the members, most of whom are students in their junior or senior classes.” He gave names of other cult groups existing in the state as Black Axe, White Angels for Women, Black Brass for women and Vikings for boys and girls, explaining however that White Angels cult is a sub-cult for female folks in T-Stars and Ayez Confraternities.He added: “Intended girls in secondary schools who want to belong to White Angels confraternity are gang raped before initiation. It is a criterion they must fulfill for membership. That is to say that when any girls withstand such, she can automatically handle any situation, because there are other things associated with the group.”

A female student, who simply gave her name as Ngozi, told The Guardian that she was initiated in a bush at the Miliken Hills, Ngwo, three years ago. She said they were 10 in number from her SS1 class, who took off after school that fateful day.The police did not arrest Ngozi and her group. She said they hired a bus belonging to a member of the Vikings that operates between Gariki and Enugu State College of Education at Polo Park.

“The bus driver and his conductor are members of the group. We know ourselves and we greet in our usual manner.  I leave our house at times to go to school and end up in one of the joints in town with some of the members,” she said.She said the modus operandi of the cult groups were similar, adding that “we are meant to love each other and support ourselves the best way we can.”She said she was forced to abandon the group when the state government engaged the services of Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), to arrest suspected cultists in secondary schools in the state.

“I was lucky to escape and this was basically because I was still on my way to school that day when one of the members called me to alert me of the danger in the school. It was terrible because most of my friends were arrested and taken away by the police.“I do not see what I have benefitted from it except the power we showed from time to time to indicate that we run things in the school. We were not afraid of any teacher and nobody could tell us what to do in the school,” she disclosed.

Only recently, the State Post Primary School Management Board (PPSM) expelled nine female students of Urban Girls Secondary School, Enugu, over their membership of various cult groups. The board had warned that any student found to belong to a cult group would not only be sent packing, but would not be allowed to school within the state. Enugu State Police Public Relations Officer, Ebere Amaraizu, said the desire to contain cultism in the state has led to the establishment of the Police Campaign Against Cultism and other Social Vices (POCACOV).

Amaraizu, who had taken the campaign against cultism to almost every secondary school and higher institution in the state, said it was an ill wind that should be discontinued.“Cultism is like an envelope containing many crimes such as murder, ritualism, drug addiction, murder, stealing, robbery, fraud and exam malpractice, among others.“You must know your friend and what your friend is up to. You must also be able to resist any pressure to lure you into becoming a member of any cult group.

“Do well to quickly report such pressure or threat to your parents, guardians and teachers for prompt and necessary action,” he advised students of Coal Camp Secondary School, Ogbete, Enugu, during a sensitisation visit recently. State leader of Youths for Action, Nnamdi Ibe, said that continuous sensitisation on the dangers associated with cultism was the best way to tackle the trend, adding that parents should be mindful of what their children do from time to time and also inquire on their activities while in school.

Govt May Withdraw Amnesty Granted To Cultists In Imo
From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri

ALMOST every part of the 27 local councils in Imo State witnesses the activities of cult groups from time to time. Stories of cult clashes pervade the state and there are confirmed cases of some of the members being initiated in the secondary school. 

Recently, the Imo State Police Commissioner, Rabiu Ladodo, got a tip off that some young boys were being initiated into a particular cult group in a remote area and quickly dispatched a team of operatives who arrested about 26 suspects. Since then, the state Police Command has not given cultists a breathing space. According to Ladodo, the dragnet of men under his Command was all over the state. He called for useful information from members of the public to sustain the crackdown.

However, the pronounced axis where cult groups frequently clash include Ohaj/Egbema, Imo State University (IMSU), Owerri; Federal Polytechnic, Nekede (near Owerri); Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO); Alvan Ikokwu Federal College of Education, Owerri and Imo Polytechnic, Umuagwo in Ohaji local council.

Two weeks ago, a suspected student of the Imo State University, Owerri, was shot dead near the school around Aladinma axis. Ladodo confirmed the arrest of three persons who were suspected to have committed the act. In Ohaji/Egbema, suspected cultists engage themselves in killing spree once in a while. The situation became so intense under the immediate past administration that then governor, Rochas Okorocha, asked the cultists to submit their guns and be granted amnesty.

Recently, the deputy governor of the state, Gerald Irona, said the state government might cancel the amnesty due to increased cult clashes recorded in the area. Speaking on the ways to keep youths out of cult activities, a retired teacher, educationist and counselor, Dr. Nma Olebara, said the political leaders should carry them along in the scheme of things.Her words: “Let our youths be carried along not just merely on the facade but in reality. A good percentage of positions in government, about 30 per cent, should be given to them instead of recycling expired politicians who have run out of ideas in this digital age. 

“These youths have the political will, dedication, patriotism, love for humanity, fear of God and experience to make good leadership at any level of governance in this country.”Olebara, however, urged youths to use their energies in positive and constructive manners instead of indulging in cultism. 

“They should avoid violence and rioting but seek peace and create a change for the better. After all, tomorrow belongs to them and they should be found fit to take over from the current leaders,” she said.

‘Jos North Is Centre Of Cult Activities In Plateau’
From Isa Abdulsalami Ahvovi, Jos

ASIDE from the spate of insecurity in Plateau State, which has virtually eroded its pride as home of peace and tourism, street cultism is one of the challenges facing the state presently.Residents of the state, particularly in Jos North local council, now go to bed with one eye closed because of the activities of cultists.

Investigations by The Guardian showed that cultism is rampant in Jos North more than any other local council of the state. In fact, hardly will a week pass without at least one person being killed in the area in cult-related incidents.On August 1, 2019, people suspected to be cult members shot dead a man in his shop near Abdulsalami Street, adjacent Moonshine Hotel, Chorbe, in the area. The man was shot dead by the assailants around 11:30a.m.

According to an eyewitness, the assailants came in tricycle popularly called ‘Keke Napep’. “They came down and shot the victim at a very close range three times and drove away slowly in their keke without harassing any other person within the vicinity,” the eyewitness said.

Security personnel were not on ground to arrest the suspects, who didn’t show any sign of fear while committing the act.Again, just last week, a man was also shot dead by suspected cultists at Tafawa Balewa road also in Jos North. Tafawa Balewa is a busy federal road in Jos North but it is increasingly becoming a danger zone due to cult activities. As a result, the residents do not go out from 7.00p.m. Even security personnel hardly patrol the area late in the night, especially when there is no electricity supply.An elder statesman, who does not want his name in print, described the rise in cult activities in the state as the “handiwork of advanced socialisation.” He stated that cult killings were unheard of in the past when there was community cooperation where a neighbour could discipline another person’s child and receive appreciation from his/her parents.

Another resident, who also pleaded anonymity, blamed parents for the upsurge in street cultism, saying some parents fail to rebuke their children when they indulge in alien behaviour only to start lamenting when things go out of hand. “There is a man who lives close to my house in Apata area in Jos North that deals in Singer Machines. The man’s son is now suffering form Parkinson disease because he was shot at the spinal cord by suspected cultists and he is no longer looking like a normal human being,” he said.He added: “The police cannot also be exonerated completely because we see most of the arrested culprits moving freely again in the streets even when there are solid evidences against them. Even their perceived hideouts like hotels, brothels and beer palour joints have been turned into money-making ventures by the police.” The spokesman of the Plateau State Police Command, Deputy Superintendent Matthias Terna Tyopev, however, said the Command was doing everything possible to control the menace.

There Is No Joy In Cultism, Ex-Cultists Declare
From Tina Todo (Calabar) and Maria Diamond (Lagos)

IN the past three months, cult activities leading to gruesome killings of rival cult groups in Cross River State, mostly in Calabar metropolis, have been the order of the day.The cult groups operating in the state include KK Confraternity known as Klansmen, Axe-men, known as Edege, Bukanias, Eye and Vikes also known as Aro Bargars.

A month ago, Calabar metropolis was ravaged by a gang war by cultists when a rival cult group killed a 500-level student of the Engineering Department, Cross River University of Technology (CRUTECH), James Jay, after writing his final exams. This was followed by reprisal attacks by members of his group leading to the killing of over 20 people from both groups.

Recently, a traffic warden, suspected to be a member of one of the cult groups in the state, was also shot while on duty, but he survived the attack. The Guardian gathered that his attack was one of the several reprisals to avenge the death of Jay.Speaking with The Guardian in confidence, an ex-cultist in the state, who renounced his membership sometimes last year, said there is no profit in belonging to a cult group.

The source said he was into cultism for 14 years and decided to leave because it gave him more sorrow than joy.He said: “I left the cult group because there is no profit in being a member of a cult group. If you have five minutes joy from the confraternity you belong, you will in return have like 10,000 sorrows in return; so there is no joy in being in the cult. I renounced being a member of one of the deadly cult groups in my village in August last year after 14 years.“I was initiated into it by somebody I called my godfather as a young boy in the church and since then I operated with the group until last year when I decided to renounce my membership during a church programme in my village.”

Charles (surname withheld) is an ex-cultist who used to reside in Edo State. He relocated to Lagos after escaping death by a whisker during one of their operations. He narrates his story thus: “My mother handed me over to my grandmother when I was about four years old because she and my father got divorced and she needed to re-marry. As I grew up, I didn’t recognise her as my mother because I was told to call her aunty, so I called my grandparents ‘mama and papa’.

“When I was in Junior Secondary School (JSS3), my grandmother died after a brief illness. About a year after, my grandfather died too and things changed. My uncle who was the eldest son took me in, but his wife couldn’t tolerate my shortfalls. I felt displaced and disconnected from everyone so I left home without telling anyone my whereabouts.

“I went to a neigbouring town and started running errands for a group of guys who were dreaded in the neighbourhood. They gave me money and allowed me to sleep in one of their empty rooms. I soon realised they were armed robbers and also cultists. “I felt compelled to prove myself worthy of earning trust. I worked hard for them, got them to trust me and they initiated me. I also started going out to rob at night with them.

“But one night we went out and the operation went wrong. We were six, five of them were shut at close range and they all died. But for a reason I still cannot explain, I wasn’t hurt; I ran into the bush for safety. I hid in the bush that night and as early as 4:00a.m, I went straight to the park to join the first bus to Lagos. When I got to Lagos, I went straight to a popular church in Lagos and started serving God. Since then, I have lived my life under the radar and everyday I am grateful for life.”

Meanwhile, the Cross River State Police Command has declared that it has been able to curtail cult activities in the state, saying about 10 persons had been arrested.The State Public Relations Officer, DSP Irene Ugbo, who spoke with The Guardian in Calabar said: “We have been able to curtail cult activities. Two weeks ago when the incident happened in CRUTECH when a 500-level student was killed, about 10 persons were arrested in regard to that incident. They were charged to court; so the state is calm for now but we are still on it.

“Our patrol men are on the streets day and night trying to make sure that such gruesome activities do not occur again. We are working hard; police is working hard to curb cult activities in the state.” To the Chief Executive Officer of Church Girl Foundation, Mrs. Gedah Etefia, said the only way to curb cultism, especially in primary and secondary schools, is for parents to spend more time with their children.

Etefia said: “The first way we can go about this thing is that parents need to have more time for their children; you do not just send them off to school and forget about them. I was shocked to realise that primary schools close by 2:30p.m these days whereas in my days it was 1pm. Today, some kids even stay back for lessons until 5:00p.m and the parents come to pick them by 6:00p.m.

“There are some families that once the children are back from school, the lesson teacher takes over till about 7:00p.m. The parents don’t even look at their home works. So, I believe that parents should have more time for their children. When they have more time for their children, they will impact the right values and in so doing protect them against being lured into cult groups at young age.”
Youth President, Kingdom Outreach Ministries Ikotun Egbe, Lagos, Adebiyi Daniel also believes that good parenting helps to keep children off dangerous paths.

“When you see a child who is into so much vices, find out who his or her parents are. You will certainly find the loopholes there. The only solution to the issue of rampant cultism in this country is to set a parameter for parenting. If you are not responsible to yourself, you cannot be responsible to someone else and as such, shouldn’t take up parenthood,” he said.

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