THE WAR IN EDO STATE

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Security agencies could do more to contain the rising wave of crimes in the state

That cult wars and gang violence have exacerbated the climate of lawlessness and fear in our country is no longer in doubt. But in no state are these atrocities more prevalent than Edo where cultists of various stripes act with impunity, killing, raping and maiming victims while causing widespread destruction. There is hardly a day when some young men and women would not fall victims to this goring spectre of criminal violence most of which are as a result of battles for turf between rival cult groups. In Benin and environs, gang wars are now almost a daily fair with several innocent bystanders becoming victims. What is more worrisome is that members of many of these cult gangs are also involved in armed robbery and kidnappings.

To address the problem, the Benin Palace is invoking traditional powers against these criminals. In an unprecedented move, traditional priests and priestesses of different deities, native doctors and different ancient traditional worshippers in their traditional regalia recently paraded some major streets in the city. They were out to invoke the age-long traditional practice of scrubbing the ancient kingdom, and assuaging the gods given the seeming inability of security agencies to stem the drift. They heaped curses on those responsible for what they described as sacrilege in the land. The curses were also targeted at traditions’ violators, sponsors of cultism, kidnappings and other atrocious crimes in the land.

For a people that respect the Benin Palace, the intervention is commendable. At a period when hundreds of lives are being lost on daily basis, businesses are ruined and the populace living in fear, any effort to address the problem deserves support. While the situation undoubtedly poses a serious danger to governance and socio-political economic growth in our troubled country, the government’s action or inaction has also proved to be unable to secure the citizenry. That those who started as cultists, especially in Benin and environs, have ‘diversified’ into armed robbery and kidnappings and thus worsening the security situation in Edo State is worrying and that is why the invocation of traditional powers may not be out of place. But the responsibility for security of lives and property still rests squarely with the authorities.

For sure, cultism is not new in Nigeria. For a long time, 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. Four years ago, some prominent personalities were among 67 suspected cultists arrested and quizzed in Benin City, by men of the special squad deployed in the state by the police authorities 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.

Given the prevailing situation, the response by the Benin Palace is timely, and it also shows serious concern by the respected traditional institution. But from the unfolding happenings, it appears the security agencies are yet to fully understand the nature of the challenge they confront, hence the inability to proffer the right solutions. We therefore call on the federal government to take appropriate measures against the sponsors of this savagery. It should not hesitate to apply the full weight of the law in dealing with culprits involved in this depraved social behaviour.