End the menace of cult, gang violence


THE recent cold-blooded murder of some students of the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos by suspected cultists is a sad reminder of the severe damage that cultism is inflicting on the country. Cult killings are on the rise and criminal gangs have become bolder, killing, maiming and destroying property of rival gang members and innocent citizens alike. Security agencies and state governors should mobilise all available resources to stamp out the menace.

With neither conscience nor comeuppance, cultists often strike in broad daylight, sometimes operating for hours unchallenged, leaving in their wake, death, destruction and broken bodies. The bloodbath thrives because of the involvement of state actors. In unison, the society must neutralise cultists and their sponsors before they render the country ungovernable.

The Yabatech incident highlights the reality of tertiary institutions as frequent theatres of cult violence. Media reports said five persons were killed, though police confirmed only two deaths in violence that erupted both on and off campus. Among the victims was a Higher National Diploma student, Adisa Akoredele, 23, who was shot in the head. In July, a Computer Science undergraduate at the National Open University of Nigeria, Mohammed Isiaka, had been similarly killed in Ilorin, Kwara State, by suspected cultists.

Cultism also flourishes outside the campuses. Most worrisome is the involvement of children and teenagers. As the ‘leaders of tomorrow,’ this portends grave implications for Nigeria’s future. The ‘Awawa Boys’ cult group of Agege and the ‘One Million Boys ’of Ajegunle-Apapa in Lagos, among others,  are primary and secondary school pupils. High on drugs, they rob and rape, and terrorise communities. Sometimes, their fights result in deaths and serious injuries. In several high-density areas of Lagos, neighbourhood gangs regularly invade streets, damaging vehicles and shops, and attacking both opponents and the innocent with assorted weapons.

For several months, the rival Eiye and Aiye cults destabilised Sagamu, Ogun State, as they battled for supremacy. A report in July 2022 said no fewer than 30 people were killed by the gangs in the state.

In Rivers State, ritual killings and kidnappings are also rife, perpetrated by cultists. About 101 cult groups were once identified and outlawed in the state. But this has not stopped gang and cult-related killings. In August, a final-year student of Rivers State University, identified only as Emmanuel, was shot dead in the school’s cafeteria.

Some callous cultists in Anambra State were not satisfied with killing a rival cult member in February 2022; they also stormed his funeral at Ebenebe, in Awka North LGA and opened fire on mourners, slaughtering 20. Cult killings got so bad in Owa Kingdom, Ika North-East LGA, Delta State, that its traditional ruler led a ceremony to place a curse on cultists.

A report by NGO, Nextier Violent Conflict Database, stated that between January and June, 124 persons were killed in cult clashes nationwide. This carnage has to stop.

In the South-West especially, violent transport unions and thugs are known hirelings of political office holders and other politicians. Some get government appointments as compensation. A self-confessed member of the Black Axe Confraternity, Tony Kabaka, in a recent BBC documentary, exposed how politicians used him and his network during elections. “Cultism still exists because the government is involved. That is the truth,” Kabaka declared. This explains why cultists arrested by the police are often promptly released without prosecution.

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In Benue State, a notorious gang leader was once appointed a special assistant to a serving governor. The leader of a gang that killed 17 people in multiple bank robberies in Offa, Kwara State, in 2018, was once allegedly close to an ex-governor and senior federal lawmaker.

Research has established that drug abuse fuels cultism and crime. Cult members are emboldened by Tramadol, cocaine, cannabis, and other stimulants. The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency said 40 per cent of Nigerian youths aged between 18 and 35 are deeply involved in drug abuse. In September, the agency uncovered 1.8 tonnes of cocaine in a warehouse in Ikorodu, a haven of cultism.

Experience elsewhere shows that untamed, gang violence, especially when linked to the drug trade, can grow to become a major social and economic problem and threaten the stability of a country. Fuelled by gang violence, Brazil has the world’s highest number of murders with 57,956 persons killed in 2018 and 45,503 in 2019, reported Statista. Some regions have been devastated by gang violence, including the country’s two biggest cities, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

Haiti’s violent gangs have almost cut off the capital, Port-au-Prince, from the rest of the country, killing, kidnapping, raping, and destroying property. NGOs say 92 gangs out of a total of 150 countrywide infest the capital, where 934 persons were killed and 680 others were injured between January and June.

Urgent and effective steps should therefore be taken to avoid this in Nigeria. With bandits, terrorists and assorted criminals already tormenting the country, cult violence should be crushed. State governors and the police should adopt zero tolerance for cult violence. Governors and other politicians should terminate their unholy alliance with violent gangs and transport unions. A former president, Goodluck Jonathan, once declared that his re-election was not worth the blood of any Nigerian. Every politician should imbibe this commendable attitude.

The police must fight cultism to a standstill. A Divisional Police Officer, Joseph Egwuonwu, was celebrated by residents of Ebute Meta, Lagos State, for drastically reducing cult clashes and street fights in the community within six months on the job. Egwuonwu reportedly identified and arrested troublemakers in the area and transferred them to the State Criminal Investigation Department. DPOs, Area Commanders and Commissioners of Police should similarly re-strategise and effectively address cultism within their jurisdictions. Arrested cultists must be prosecuted.

State governments should upgrade social services, monitoring and surveillance of schools to stamp out cultism in primary and secondary schools.

Traditional rulers, religious leaders and community elders should not shield known cult members. Religious leaders should use their platforms to condemn cultism. Civil society groups and rights activists should mobilise the people against cultists and their backers. ,

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