THE RISING WAVE OF CULTISM

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The security agencies could do more to contain the menace of cultism

The worrying climate of gang violence and lawlessness crept earlier in the week to a little known community named Iyakpi, near Auchi in Edo State. There, on Sunday, a graduate of the Federal Polytechnic, Auchi, Irale Obas, was murdered along with four others during a cult clash. Obas’ killing came barely 24 hours after the killing of a popular disc jockey, Sekiru Jeliu, also a former student of the polytechnic, in the same community.

From Plateau to Ogun, Rivers to Cross River and Lagos to Kwara States, the rate at which young men butcher one another in the name of cult killings has become increasingly worrisome. Recently no fewer than 16 people were killed following cult crises in two different local government areas of Rivers State: 14 were killed by cultists at Kono Boue and Gbam Boue communities of Khana council while two people were killed in Ishiodu village, in Emohua council. What is more perplexing 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, cultists of various stripes act with impunity, killing, raping and maiming victims while causing widespread destruction. Yet the authorities seem helpless in dealing with the surging crime.

For sure, cultism is not new in Nigeria. 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 where 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. “Right now, schools don’t have much of cult activities and violent cult activities are now community-based because there are structures in schools to identify and fish them out which is not found in the community,” said Dr Peter Olapegba, a lecturer in the Department of Psychology, University of Ibadan. “Those who are involved in cultism are not just recruiting student members but also recruiting members of the community into their group and rather than having violence in the schools, violence takes place in the communities and becomes very difficult to control.”

Some few 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 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.

In all the foregoing, what is particularly disturbing is that the authorities seem bewildered in tackling the endemic problems of cult wars. While some attributed the spike in cult activities to poverty, unemployment, general indiscipline and lack of parental care, most people believe the crime will continue to thrive because there are no convictions as deterrence. And as long as this persists, Nigerians may have to brace up for more gang violence.