Fighting Cultism

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Okon Bassey, in this report, writes on the measures taken by the Akwa Ibom State Government to contain cult-related activities in the state  

Worried by the activities of cult groups in Akwa Ibom State, the state Governor Udom Emmanuel recently passed an order proscribing 33 identified cult groups in the state. Out of this number, 14 groups including Vikings; Black Axe; KKK; Buccaneers, Mafia, Luttox (Junior Black Axe); Debam; Dewell; Icelanders; Red Skins; Pirates; Amoc; Akwa Marines; and Utoto Groups (419),  were said to have been operating in some communities in the state while 19 cult groups namely the Luttox; the Red Skins; St. Stephens; Dewell; Sept 11 Group; Secret Sons of Satan; King Cobra; J.V (Junior Vikings); Bats; Predators; Black Ladies; Black Cross; Scavengers; Skylolo; Sons of Nights; Blood Brotherhood Junior Buccaneers; White Angels; and Musket; operated at secondary and primary school levels in the state.

In outlawing the groups, Governor Emmanuel stressed that it was in the exercise of the powers conferred on him by Section 70 of the Criminal Code Law, Cap 38, Vol.2, Laws of Akwa Ibom State 2000 and all other powers enabling him in that behalf, declaring illegal and proscribing forthwith cults, groups, or societies in the secondary and primary schools in the state.

He maintained that the activities of all cult, society or group identified by the order “are hereby prohibited and defaulters shall be prosecuted in accordance with the Cultism, Offensive Weapons and Violent Behaviour  (Prohibition) 2004, or any other enabling law in that regard.”

The governor explained that the order may be cited as the Cultism and Other Violent Behavior (Prohibition) Order, 2018 and shall come into force on the 12th day of March 2018; indicating that the order re-energises the already existing criminal code law, Cap 38 Laws of the state.

Emmanuel said the security issues reported recently in Ika, Etim Ekpo and Ukanfun local government areas necessitated this and other security measures put in place. According to him, although only three local government areas have security flashpoints, the law was binding and would be effected in all the 31 local government areas of the state.

In stepping up the fight against cultism and cult-related violence and killings in the state, the state governor in addition to the proscription order on the 33 cult groups in the state also announced the imposition of curfew on Etim Ekpo and Ukanafun local government areas because of the high number of killings in the areas. Residents in the areas are to stay indoors between 6.00 p.m. and 7.00 a.m. daily. The government, which said the ban on motorcycles in Uyo metropolis was still in force, also banned the use of motorcycles in Etim Ekpo, Ukanafun, Ika, Ikot Ekpene LGAs between the hour 6.00 p.m. and 7.00 a.m. daily; warning that anyone who violates the ban will be prosecuted until further notice.

Apart from the curfew and ban on motorcycles, Emmanuel again followed it up with a town hall meeting at Etim Ekpo with the heads of various security operatives and the people of the affected LGAs where he further discussed the security crisis in the areas. At the meeting, the governor was desirous of ensuring a restoration of peace, security and order in all the affected LGAs to pave way for development and growth of indigenes of the areas. To avoid further security challenges in the areas, the governor urged would be aspirants in the forthcoming 2019 elections to avoid any form of insistence, if not favoured by the internal zoning arrangement of the area, for fear of unduly heating up the polity. “If you know zoning does not favour you, please don’t bother spending money, don’t tell me you sold your house and properties to contest for election, I am saying it now so you don’t say you did not hear.”

Emmanuel repeated himself again at the 8th matriculation ceremony of the Akwa Ibom State University (AKSU), Ikot Akpaden, Mkpat Enin LGA where he insisted that the state government’s position on the fight against cultism and other related vices was not open to negotiation; maintaining that anyone found guilty of involvement in cult activities, however highly placed the individual may be, must face the full wrath of the law.

For some years now the activities of the cult groups had been more alarming specifically in Ika, Etim Ekpo Ukanufun, Orok Anam axis of Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District of the state. Before now there was no week that issues bordering on kidnapping, killing and clashes among cult groups were not reported in those LGAs. Reports had it that more than 100 people have been killed in various cult wars and cult-related issues in the areas. Hitherto, areas were like ghost towns as most of the indigenes refused going home for fear of being attacked or killed while those who resided in their areas sought refuge in neighbouring LGAs.

A commercial driver was recently burnt to death along Etim Ekpo-Iwukem-Abak Highway when suspected cultists attacked and robbed his bus, while the male passengers were shot the female passengers were abducted. In November, last year, gunmen stormed the Ukanafun country home of the then Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs in the state, Udo Ekpenyong, his younger sister and two more persons were killed by the gunmen while escaping. A village head, an Apostolic Church pastor and an INEC officer’s wife had also been abducted but released on payment of ransoms; security operatives equally lost their lives in the fight against cultism in the areas among other high profile cases of cult issues.

The issue of cult scheming became so frightening that some politicians and top government officials were being accused or fingered in having hands in some of the killings tagged as political. This, the State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Barrister Uwenedimo Nwoko in an interview dismissed such insinuations and the claims that only cultists were given appointments or contracts by the state government.

 “Let me be very straight, I, Uwenedimo Nwoko can tell you clearly without any equivocation and with all sense of responsibility that I am not a cultist and I will never be, I hate it. It is not true that if you are not a cultist you cannot occupy any position in government and the governor cannot say there are no cultists in his government it might be very minute,” Nwoko said; adding that even among the security operatives there are cultists. “The governor of this state (Akwa Ibom) is 100 per cent a Christian; he is not a political Christian. That is why he is taking this step to disassociate government from any kind of things to encourage cultism in Akwa Ibom,” he added.

He vowed that with the direct commitment of the state governor to eradicate cult activities, the state government is going to fight it to the end; stressing that anybody who believes that until he uses cultists to win an election was on his own because he will not have the support of the governor.

“And let me say that if the governor had it on good record that a particular person is patronising cultism because of his re-election, that person may find it very difficult to work directly with the governor. By the order that cultism, violent behaviour and all such activities are banned in Akwa Ibom State shows that the governor doesn’t care whether you are his supporter or not. Anybody capable of doing anything to undermine this exercise will come in direct collusion with the governor and the law,” Nwoko stated. The commissioner called on everybody in the state, churches, communities, and youth groups to support the governor’s efforts to fight and contain cult activities in the state.

He said it was a serious issue to note that cultists equally exist in secondary and primary schools in the state. “There are cultists in secondary and primary schools in the state. We cannot hide that. Security agencies have identified that. That is why the governor is interested in the safety and well-being of the society. That is why the governor is so angry and decided to take this step. If we allow this to continue to build up from a strong foundation in children as low as primary and secondary schools then we are mortgaging our future and will live under threat,” the commissioner stressed.

At one of his briefings and youth conference on security held in the state recently, the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Adeyemi Ogunjemilusi, disclosed that no fewer than seven murder cases due to cultism had been recorded in the state since the beginning of the year, and 600 cultists prosecuted in 2017 with over 40 lethal weapons recovered.“The circumstances of the killings were gruesome and seems there is no end in sight” as all the killings were by youths associated with cultism. This cannot be allowed to continue in a civilised and progressive society like Akwa Ibom State where the government is working hard to create jobs and build wealth on tourism. A stitch in time saves nine,” he warned.

The State Police Command, the commissioner said would not fold its hands and allow these heinous crimes to continue saying security operatives intend to adopt soft and hard policing strategies in tackling crimes in the state stressing that those barbaric acts could be due to ignorance, misinformation, poor upbringing, youthful exuberance, unemployment or poverty of ideas among others stating that all machinery would be employed to mitigate the activities of cultists and bring to book all who hide under such unlawful societies to perpetrate heinous crimes against the peace-loving people of the state.  

“The Force will be compelled to bring the full weight of its authority on criminal elements to face the full weight of the law. That would mean that many of your dear colleagues will spend a long time, in fact, their most productive and precious years, behind the bars, in prisons. The Command will cooperate, coordinate and collaborate with other security agencies to chase them out of the state or incapacitate them to make sure they cannot be a threat to our collective peace and security anymore, there wouldn’t be any hiding place,” Ogunjemilusi stated.

According to him, the state is witnessing the emergence of a wide range of cult groups, very vicious and with the ability to promote and inflict harm on the local communities. For the Police Commissioner, Oron, Uyo and Ikot Ekpene local government areas were the worst infected areas by cult activities adding that other highly infested LGAs were Abak, Itu, Obot Akara, Udung Uko, Mbo, Okobo, Ika, Etim Ekpo, Mkpat Enin, Ibesikpo, Nsit Ibom, Etinan and Ukanafun. In line with the efforts of the Police Command to rid its system of cult members, he said two police officers have recently been sacked and prosecuted for reportedly abetting cultism and insecurity in the state. “We have caught two police officers, we have dismissed them and we are prosecuting them.”

To support security operatives to end criminal enterprise under the guise of cultism, Ogunjemilusi called on the State House of Assembly to review the state law on cultism and imposition of stiffer penalties on perpetrators.

 “The Akwa Ibom State Police Command under my leadership is resolute to dismantle cultism and contain its spread in the state. We are determined to confront violent crimes head-on, put an end to senseless killings amongst our youths and stamp out criminality in all forms,” Adding,  “The Command’s efforts at containing the menace of cultism and violent crimes include the establishment of Special Anti-Cultism Team, SARS and Anti-Kidnapping Unit, arrest and prosecution of over 600 cultists in 2017, recovery of over 40 lethal weapons in six months, sensitisation and awareness and effective cooperation and collaboration with other security agencies.”

He identified consequences of cultism in addition to drug abuse and increase in violent crimes in the state to include, decline in the school’s academic performance, youths involvement in violent crimes such as murder, armed robbery and rape, instruments of political violence, long jail terms, seizure and forfeiture of property, untimely death and jeopardised future of youths and the state. He stressed the need for social re-orientation, the establishment of youth empowerment programmes by the state and local governments, parents and school authorities to collaborate in the fight against cultism and crime in educational institutions, enforcement of liquor and drug laws and tougher legislation on cultism as a solution to rising cult activities in the state.

Speaking on the cult crisis in the state and before the latest position on the cult issues in the state, by the state government, the state chapter of the All Progressives Party Congress (APC) had called on the federal government to intervene in the insecurity in the three identified LGAs in the state endemic with cult activities. The party said it was saddened and worried by the unending orgy of violence, kidnappings and killings that have continued unabated in Etim Ekpo, Ukanafun and Ika LGAs of the state in the last two years. The APC in a statement signed by its Publicity Secretary, Mr. Edet Eyo Bassey noted with concern the alleged apathy reportedly exhibited by the state government before now towards the resolution of the security challenges in the affected LGAs.

According to the party “reports have it that over 100 people have been killed by rival cult groups allegedly used by the PDP in the last general elections to perpetrate electoral fraud and who now feel abandoned by the politicians.” Adding that thousands of people have been displaced as refugees and were in rehabilitation at internally displaced persons (IDPs) camp hence the federal government urgent need to wade into the security situation in the state.