Cult-related violence is posing serious security challenges to schools, communities and businesses, leading to the death of many people, including a senior police officer working in the Niger Delta region.
Investigations by LEADERSHIP Sunday show that the violence is mostly confined to states in southern Nigeria, and is engulfing entire communities, and in some cases forcing the police and other security agencies to withdraw. This is in spite of the relentless efforts of the police to stem the menace, with dozens of arrests made in recent times.
And according to the narrative of the police and residents of communities where cultism-related violence is prevalent, the willingness of cultists to venture into crime is linked to the use of hard drugs.
The most frightening aspect is the way cultism has found its way into secondary schools in some states, with authorities unable to do nothing.
In Akwa Ibom, incidences of cultism fuelled by youths indulging in hard drugs have been on the rise over the years which, according to the state command’s police public relations officer (PPRO), SP Odiko MacDon, was the major reason behind the establishment of the Anti-Cult Unit (ACU) to combat the scourge.
The violence, LEADERSHIP Sunday gathered, has led to the death of dozens of people in the state over the last one year.
“Several crimes recorded in the state are fuelled by cultism and so many of them (cultists) are in detention, while several are facing different court cases and those found culpable have been jailed to serve various terms of imprisonment, with even others on death row,” a senior prosecuting officer of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) at the Ikot Akpanabia, state headquarters, told our correspondent on condition of anonymity.
He recalled that one Akaniyene Isaac, 23, who murdered his 55 -year-old mother recently for failing to give him money to satisfy his urge for illicit drug indulgence and to pay his confraternity dues, is currently facing his trial in court.
“The major crisis of cultism in the state is that it has permeated the basic school system with children as young as 10 being indoctrinated to what they call ‘family’ in their parlance,” Comrade Akpan Asuquo, a civil society advocate, said.
Worried by the problem which had, during the immediate past administration of former Governor Udom Emmanuel, led to several cult clashes in some notorious secondary schools on the Uyo metropolis, including Aka Comprehensive, Uyo High School, Ewet Technical, Four Towns and others, the government was forced to intervene by ordering the erection of perimeter fencing with some culpable students banned, while others were asked to come with their parents to sign an undertaking before readmission.
Besides, the ministry of education led by the commissioner, Mrs. Idongesit Etiebet, had banned off-season enrolment of students to, according to Ms Agnes Thompson, a public school teacher at Government School, Iba Oku, “check the influx of students expelled from other schools because of cultism from being readmitted.”
At the University of Uyo (UNIUYO), a security officer who identified himself as Ime Edet said the two campuses at Ikpa road and the main campus at Nwaniba, Uyo, that used to be theatres of frequent cult clashes over the years had been calm in the last one year, due to “effective investment and management of security by the school management led by the vice chancellor, Prof. Nyaudoh Ndaeyo.”
But at the state-run Akwa Ibom State University (AKSU), especially the main campus at Ikot Akpaden in Mkpat Enin Local Government Area, incidences of cult killings, LEADERSHIP Sunday gathered, have instilled fear in the minds of the students, with the killing of a final year student a couple of months ago, a night after a Mr Campus pageantry.
And Governor Umo Eno, determined to contain the upsurge in cultism and other forms of criminalities, he said, compelled him to create a new Ministry of Internal Security headed by a retired general as commissioner.
Rivers: Most Cult Groups Operate In Communities
Activities of most cult groups operating in Rivers State are not in the educational institutions, but in communities, especially in Ahoada-East, Ahoada-West and Port Harcourt City local government areas of the state.
These activities, LEADERSHIP Sunday gathered, are between factions of the Iceland cult groups that exist in the communities.
The activities of these groups have led to the death of scores of people in the state, including the former Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in charge of Ahoada Police Division, Bako Angbashim.
Speaking on the activities of the cult groups, a civil right activist, Prince Wiro, said the activities have affected businesses in most of the communities.
Wiro, who is the national coordinator of Centre for Basic Rights Protection and Accountability Campaign, said: “The cult activities in some communities in Ahoada East have affected businesses as many residents have fled the town. Also for fear of insecurity, some investors are now scared to invest in the area.
“I think in curbing the menace, the police and security agencies should engage more in intelligence and technological-driven policing.
“The security agencies must do everything possible to earn the trust of the people so that people can feel secure giving timely and useful information to the police to nip the issue of cultism in the bud.”
Cultists Ravage Imo Communities
The astronomic rise in the incidents of cult-related activities appears as great concern to the government of Imo State, the police and residents.
Consequently, there was panic recently in Akalovo, Emekuku, Owerri North Local Government Area of the state as residents woke up to behold the corpse of a young man reportedly slaughtered in what looked like a cult war.
A resident, Chidi Uwandu, told journalists: “The young man lying lifeless was slaughtered last night at Akalovo Emekuku Owerri in what looked like a cult war. The police division at Toronto Uratta has been contacted but they are yet to respond.
“There is panic in the community as the area is said to be a den of cultists who operate without hindrance.
When LEADERSHIP Sunday visited the scene of the incident, residents were seen moving away in haste.
They urged the government and security agencies to rise to the occasion by providing adequate security to enable Nigerians go about their daily activities without fear.
The police public relations officer, Henry Okoye, assured journalists that he would alert the divisional police officer (DPO) of the area immediately.
In a related development, the Imo State police command has pledged improved surveillance for residents, students and business owners in the Umuerim Nekede community over the activities of cultists in their area.
According to them, they now live in fear as cult groups continually torment and extort residents.
Two weeks ago, peace in the polytechnic community was threatened as rival cult groups clashed.
An eyewitness and business owner, Osondu Azubuike, lamented that the incident was becoming a daily affair.
Azubuike, who owns a café and Point of Sale (PoS) centre in the area, said he now closes his shop as early as 3pm to avoid being robbed by cult groups.
He said: “On several occasions, I have been slapped, beaten and tormented by the Aye cult group for refusing their demands.
“The activities have increased in the area due to the lack of constant police presence. Lack of moral upbringing of children by parents is also a contributory factor.”
Another resident, Ebere Odunze, highlighted that the cultists are now bigger than the local security personnel employed in the area.
According to him, it is not uncommon to see them with different types of guns, machetes and other weapons, threatening and beating passersby on sight.
He stated: “On one occasion these cultists entered my residence and stood at the gate and started what they named as offering time, whereby they brought out a large container and asked every occupant of the building to drop their phones, money and other valuables in the container and later went away with it.”
An undergraduate of Federal Polytechnic Nekede, Emeka Opara, who lives in the community, said he was forced to flee his home and relocate to another apartment because of the threat he received from the cultists.
Also lamenting the menace of cultists, an indigene of the Umuerim, Miss Ifeyinwa Nwosu said shop owners, students and villagers now live in fear and at the mercy of cult groups operating in the community.
“On one occasion I have been molested for refusing their sexual advances. Their activities are now carried out in broad daylight with residents living in fear of being killed if they speak out. We plead with the state authorities and the police to intervene and save our lives and property as we now live in fear. The cultists operate unhindered because of the lack of police presence in the community.”
When contacted, the officer in charge of Ihiagwa anti-crime unit of Imo State Police Command, Sunday Ojoagbu said the command had increased its presence at Umuerim community back gate.
Ojoagbu warned students and residents who engage in cult activities to desist from such acts as they would soon be caught and prosecuted.
Cult War In Edo
Even though cult-related clashes appear to have abated in Edo State in the last few weeks, 2023 has recorded several cult clashes which claimed hundreds of lives, especially in Benin City, Ekpoma and Auchi town respectively.
Victims of the deadly attacks are youths in institutions of higher learning and motor park touts who have gone to their early graves in deadly rival cult clashes.
On 28th October, 2023, a 500-level student of the University of Benin was shot dead in the campus while three other students sustained injuries in a renewed war between rival cult groups in the institution.
In September, members of Edo State Security Network (ESSN) were reportedly killed by unknown gunmen in Okhun Community, Ovia North-East Local Government Area of the state.
Also, on 11 July, 2023, three persons were killed in a renewed cult fight between rival groups in Benin City, the Edo State capital.
The killing came less than 24 hours after one person was reportedly killed on Sunday while coming out of a church service.
The cult war in the state is usually between Aiye and Eiye confraternities. Some ‘juju priests’ have been reportedly arrested for allegedly making charms for members of the confraternities.
In Auchi polytechnic, the assistant public relations officers of the institution, Mrs Adebola Ogunboyowa maintained that most of the said cult clashes occurred outside the campus of the polytechnic.
Police Public Relation officer, Chidi Nwabuzor said most of the killings were cult related, adding that arrests and investigations conducted so far point to cultism.
Trend of Cultists Activities in Osun
The intervention of Governor Ademola Adeleke of Osun State to curb the activities of cultists across the state has stemmed the ugly trend in recent times.
Before the intervention early in September, 2023, rivalry between cult groups, violent attacks of innocent people that led to spillage of blood in most cases were the order of the day across the state.
The peak of it was the violent attacks between the Aye and Eye cult groups in Ilesa in early September that led to the death of about five residents in less than one week.
Earlier, no fewer than eight people were killed in different political clashes and cult-related attacks before the elections.
However, five months after the elections, specifically, on Wednesday, July 19, the cultists resumed their violent activities, shooting and attacking one another with cutlasses, daggers, swords, broken bottles, charms and clubs.
The renewed attack led to the killing of a reported leader of Eiye confraternity identified as Segun Agbadaye, notoriously known as Shigo.
Also, three students of Osun State College of Health Technology, Ilesa, were accidentally shot during the shootout between the two cult groups.
The clampdown on the cultist by the state police command has contributed to the peace enjoyed by residents of Osun State.
The command Public Relations Officer Mrs Yemisi Opalola stated that diverse measures were taken to stem the trend of violent attack on innocent residents and deadly rivalry among groups.
A student of a public secondary school notorious for cult activities, Bola Titiloye, said the threat of expulsion and possible prosecution was responsible for the peace being enjoyed by students across the state.
The spokesman of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Mr Abiodun Olarewaju said the management of the institution will never handle activities of cultists with kid gloves, adding that the students are also aware of the management’s stance.
30 Suspects In Police Net Over Cultism
Fear gripped Benue State residents over the high increase in bloody clashes by rival cultists in the state and its environs leading to the death of so many young persons.
Following the unrest, the State Police Command declared a war against cultism and kidnapping in the state which led to the arrest of over 30 suspected cultists across the state.
The Benue State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Catherine Anene, who disclosed this in a statement, said the command will not in any way watch criminals take over the state, warning all aspiring criminals that it will not be business as usual.
Some of the suspected cultists were arrested in connection with the killing of three persons during a clash by rival cult gangs in Gboko while others were arrested in Makurdi and Otukpo LGAs of Benue State.
Anene, who confirmed the killings and arrest, explained that the suspects were conveyed to the State Police headquarters, Makurdi, for further investigation.
Our correspondent gathered from an eye witness that the rampaging cultists killed two young men in Gboko south but were pursued by an angry mob who overpowered them and butchered three of them.
Our correspondent also gathered that five persons were again killed in a two-day bloody supremacy fight between rival cult gangs in parts of Gboko town.
Bayelsa Records Reduced Cult Activities in 1 year
Unlike others states in the Niger Delta region, Bayelsa has recorded few incidents of cult-related incidents, particularly in the past eight months, due to legislation and proactiveness of security agencies to curb the menace of cult violence and killings in tertiary institutions.
The special adviser on media to the vice chancellor, University of Africa, Mr. Tonye Yemoleigha, the institution had not recorded any cult related incidents so far, adding that the university is barely seven years old and the student population is just about taking a rise.
Bayelsa Police Public Relations Officer, CSP Asinim Butswat, told LEADERSHIP that cult related incidents had reduced drastically in the state because of the operational strategies and measures implemented by the command to curb the issues of cult related violence.
However, there few notable incidents. On Sunday, June 3, 2022, four persons were reportedly killed close to the popular Swali market, when the Dey-Well and Bobos cult groups clashed barely two days after communities in Yenagoa placed a ban on cult activities in the area.
Recently, a 20-year-old Owei Mathew was sentenced to 29 years in prison by a Bayelsa State High Court for cultism, robbery, and unlawful possession of a firearm. The convict, a native of Amasomma in Southern Ijaw local government area, was apprehended by security operatives in September 2021.
On 18th May, 2023, operatives of the anti-kidnapping unit while responding to a distress call about cult activities in Swali community, Yenagoa arrested four suspects – James Peter (20), Esuye Ikeloti (22), Nathaniel Godwin (21), and Taretobou Indikeye (22).
Exhibits recovered from them are one English-made pistol, two locally made pistols, one knife and one 9mm ammunition.
Also, troops of the Nigerian Army arrested ten suspects for their alleged involvement in kidnapping and cultism during operations in Bayelsa State on October 18, 2023.
According to the director of army public relations, Onyema Nwachukwu, the suspects were arrested following a raid of their hideouts in the Oloibiri oil field in the Otuabagi community, Ogbia local government area of Bayelsa State.
He noted that exhibits such as guns, live cartridges, and mobile phones among others were recovered from the suspects.