Security agencies must do more to contain the menace

The recent bloody war between rival cult groups in Benin City which led to the death of no fewer than 30 persons has once more brought to the fore the increasing menace of cultism in the country. These frequent violent clashes and criminality in the Edo State capital and environs have their roots in a fierce struggle for supremacy and control of spheres of influence. Unfortunately, in the latest madness, an Assistant Police Commissioner lost his life as a result of injuries sustained while two other senior police officers were reportedly injured in the attempt to tackle the criminals. We urge the police to get to the root causes of this depraved behavior that constitutes a threat to the entire country and bring the culprits to justice.

For sure, cultism is not new in Nigeria. For years, several people have identified with one form of cultism or another either for personal protection or for the promotion 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. From the campus of Yaba College of Technology to the streets of Mushin in Lagos, from Benue to Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Edo States, these criminal gangs operate without restraints. What’s more, their activities are no more restricted to campuses of institutions of higher learning as secondary school pupils are now being recruited into the fold. Only recently, men of the Akwa Ibom State Police Command arrested a student of West Itam Secondary School for allegedly killing his colleague during a cult clash between SS2 and SS3 pupils of the school.

In 2015, some prominent Nigerians were among 67 suspected cultists arrested and quizzed in Benin by men of the special squad deployed in the state to curb 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. The unwholesome activities of the miscreants then and now, have severely impacted commercial activities in the city as many shops, markets, banks, schools, and government offices were on different occasions hurriedly shut down as a precaution.

Cult wars and gang violence have exacerbated the climate of lawlessness and fear in the polity. More worrying is that the menace has become so widespread that armed robbers, kidnappers, drug peddlers and other sundry miscreants are now being recruited into the fold. Across the states, cultists of various stripes act with impunity, killing, raping and maiming victims while causing widespread destruction. In the aftermath of the EndSARS protests, many residents of Ajah in Lagos have been raising the alarm over incessant cult-killings and robberies in their neighbourhood. Yet the authorities seem helpless in dealing with this crime.

The security situation in Benin has particularly become dire since about 2,000 inmates were forcibly set free by hoodlums from the two correctional facilities during the EndSARS protest. Many of the escapees were reported to be cult members. Unfortunately, it appears our security outfits lack what it takes to address this nagging problem, even more so after the hoodlums burnt down many police stations and looted their armoury. And in the face of this incapacity, cult groups have continued to mutate.

The perennial violent clashes by cult groups have gone on for too long in Edo. And until these criminals and their godfathers are fished out and prosecuted according to the laws of the land, residents of the state may have to brace up for more gang violence.