It is time to deal with cult violence decisively

From Plateau to Ogun and Cross River States, the rate at which young men butcher one another in the name of cult killings has become a worrisome development. Last week in Awka, Anambra State capital, there was widespread violence within members of rival cult groups leading to the death of no fewer than 15 persons. The state police spokesman, Superintendent Haruna Mohammed, confirmed that the Command has embarked on an aggressive manhunt for the perpetrators of the killings “following actionable intelligence received about their hideouts.”

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. But the menace has moved from the campuses of our institutions of higher learning to the streets and these criminal gangs operate without restraints, perhaps because they have powerful backers within the society.

Four years ago, some prominent personalities 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 authorities at the time, to curb the growing killings and cult activities. 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. Among those arrested for their alleged involvement in the mayhem were 14 Junior Secondary School students between the ages of 12 and 15.

During the last Christmas holiday period, there was hardly a day when some young men and women would not fall victims to this goring spectre of criminal violence most of them as a result of battles for turf between rival cult groups. From Cross River to Edo to Ekiti and several other states, gang wars are now almost a daily fair with several innocent bystanders becoming victims. Besides, members of many of these cult gangs are also involved in armed robbery and kidnappings as the nation has, in recent months, witnessed with the ‘Badoo’ cult group in Ikorodu in Lagos State.

In what the police confirmed as a clash of rival cultists, a man believed to be a student of the Ekiti State University (EKSU) was last October in Ado Ekiti shot several times before his assailants dismembered his body with a machete. At about the same period, in what was described as a face-off between two criminal gangs, the ‘Baggars Confraternity’ and the ‘Klans confraternity’, no fewer than 19 persons were killed in one such deadly encounter in Calabar, Cross River State.

In all the foregoing, what is particularly disturbing is that 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.