RAPHAEL EDE writes on the current upsurge in violent killings resulting from the activities of cultists in the
Around 8.15pm on March 12, 2021, pandemonium broke out at the Relay Railway Quarters in the Enugu North Local Government Area of Enugu State as people ran helter-skelter when some boys said to be members of the dreaded Black Axe Confraternity, otherwise known as Aye, stormed a pub in the neighbourhood wielding axes, guns and machetes.
They rained bullets as they pursued a young man, identified as Nbuma. They were shouting: ‘Ayesman’. About 30 minutes later, they had gruesomely murdered Nbuma and his body was riddled with bullets, while his head and hands were severed.
Nbuma was identified as the leader and executioner of the Aro Mates, otherwise known as The Vikings, in the state.
The killing of Nbuma by a rival cult came a few hours after he was elected the leader of Aro Mates in Enugu State.
Although the reason for the killing of The Viking’s leader has not been ascertained, The PUNCH gathered that the murder triggered the fresh cult war in the state, which has since spread to other states, including Anambra. At the last count, four persons have reportedly been killed in Enugu, while in Anambra, about 12 persons have reportedly lost their lives and in Ebonyi State, three were allegedly killed in the last two weeks.
Investigation showed that about 30 persons, who escaped the attacks, were badly injured. Their family members are treating them in hiding for fear of being sought after.
Meanwhile, the police in Enugu State have arrested 16 members of both confraternities across the state.
Parading them at the police headquarters Enugu on Friday, March 19, 2021, the Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Aliyu, said the command had yet to figure out why Aye members began the war that led to the killing of the alleged leader of the Aro Mates. He said the command had launched a manhunt for members of both groups.
Those paraded were Eneh Chizoba, 40, of Ugwuaji, Enugu; Ugwu Nnanna, 38, of Ugwuaji, Enugu; Eneh Chibuike, 45, of Ugwuaji, Enugu; Egbo Chimezie, 31, of Ugwuaji, Enugu; Ani Sunday, 25, of No. 15 Old Artisan Quarters, Ogui, Enugu; Chinonso Nnaji, 24, of Obuofia Akagbe, Enugu; Ani Friday, 26, of New Garriki, Enugu; Uwa Chinaza, 20, of Emene, Enugu; Israel Opoke, 22, of New Garriki, Enugu; and Kelvin Ukadike, 30, of No. 6, Asubo Street, Independence Layout, Enugu.
Others are, Isaac Chidera Ekene, 28, of Nwaforani Street, Garriki Awkunanaw, Enugu; Ani Obinna, 28, of No. 6 Ezila Street, Trans-Ekulu, Enugu; Ndubuisi Onyedikachi, 22, of Ugba village, Emene, Enugu; Edeh Chigbogu Emeka, 22, of Oye-Emene, Enugu; Chinecherem Chibuzo, 22, of No. 22 Rehab Road, Emene, Enugu; and Arum Chukwuebuka, 21, of Police Post, Trans-Ekulu, Enugu.
The suspects, according to the CP, were arrested between March 12 and 14, 2021, through the combined effort of operatives of the Anti-Cultism Squad, Crack Squad, Anti-Kidnapping Squad and police divisions in the command.
He said, “Their arrest was sequel to credible information received about bloody clashes between two rival cults namely: the Black Axe and Vikings confraternities, which led to the gruesome murder of the alleged leader/executioner of the Vikings Confraternity on the night of March 12, 2021, at the Railway Quarters, Njamanze Ogui, Enugu.
“The suspects, who all confessed to being members of the above mentioned rival groups, were arrested at different black spots in New Garriki, Holy Ghost, Obiagu, Ugwuaji and old Artisan Ogui areas of the metropolis.”
Aliyu said that they would be charged as soon as investigation was completed.
Some of the suspects, who spoke to our correspondent during the parade, admitted that they were members of various cults, but noted that they had since denounced their membership since 2010.
A criminologist and security expert, Emeka Umeagbalasi, said violent cultism ravaging the southern part of Nigeria was as a result of lack of decency in social relations.
He stated, “Violent cultism or violent confraternity is a sign of a society that never allows decency in its relationships or social relations; members always get things like this and to take prominent position in social relations. To that extent, the issue of violent cultism has persisted because things have gone awry in the society.
“Violent cultism can never rear its ugly head if it does not have triggers and if you look at the triggers, they are personified. They represent the key players in the society – rich people and political actors and their quest to grab political positions for political actors, and the quest of the rich people to dominate the material wealth market and to dispossess their rivals in the area of, for instance, land grabbing and chieftaincy tussle, and community politics, among others.
“Another aspect of it is cultism in the higher institutions of learning, because the institutions are places that are suitable for the involvement or engagement of youths in violent cultism; that’s why it appears that the higher institutions of learning hold custodianship of violent cultism in terms of practices and formations.
“Then again, you have another trigger in the context of the availability of had drugs like codeine, tramadol and cocaine, among others. These are the triggers, because when someone is normal, the tendency of the person behaving violently even when provoked is very slim; but when somebody is addicted to hard drugs and alcoholism, the person more or less transforms into retreatism and to that extent, that person automatically loses control of his or her self and as well as control of his/her activities and to that extent, anything goes.”
He added, “Statistically speaking, if you look at Okija in Anambra State for instance, it is a place where the level of violence being perpetuated by rival cults and some locals is getting out of hand.
“If you trace the root, that problem originated from the dispute over land grabbing. For instance one big man tried to grab community land by force and some prominent persons in the affected community rise up to challenge the person and the big man bounces back and brings in all manner of people with deficient characters, including rival cultists.
“In fact, in the past six months in Okija, not less than six persons have been killed; some of them were members of rival cults brought in by key players in Okija. No fewer than 30 others have been injured. So, Okija is a very good case study when you talk about violent cultism in Anambra State and with particular reference to community involvement.
“So, violent cultism is now spreading and has been escalated. It has moved from the university community or institutions of higher learning to the street, from the street to communities, from the communities back to the street, and it is speedily descending down to children like primary and secondary school pupils, who’re now belonging to cults.”
Another security expert, Dr Paul Obianaso, a chief consultant criminologist, security and counter terrorism expert, described violent cultism as sponsored crimes, which if not properly checked, would destroy the country.
Citing the current cult war in Okija, Obianaso said, “Truth is that Okija is the biggest casualty in the spate of sponsored crimes and crises that are gradually pummelling Okija to her knees, which may soon break fully.
“Over 100 rounds of gunshots were fired at Nkwo this morning. In Oghalegbu, the shooting is every day. Given the cost of pump action rifles and a packet of cartridges, one does not need a soothsayer to realise that these cultists are being bankrolled as they can’t afford the guns on their own or even buy the hundreds of pieces of live ammunition they waste daily.
“It is so sickening that Okija is now largely a town peopled by cowards, pretenders, conspirators, praise singers and lawless individuals.
“Anyone in doubt that we shall soon experience God’s judgment and a total breakdown of law and order if things continue the way they are going now is obviously living in a fool’s paradise.”
Obianaso, who is the immediate past legal adviser to the Anambra state Governor, Willie Obiano, and Director-General of the Centre for Criminal Justice Reform, said youths, who were into cultism, were often deceived and lured into it due to ignorance, greed, lack of knowledge and understanding about life and God.
“It is acknowledged that such youths are often vulnerable due to certain factors arising from their homes, upbringing, family backgrounds, environment, societal values and current trends, among others,” he stated.
He explained that the use of psychotropic substances and hard drug abuse often turn the youth into readymade casualties for cultists.
He said “Peer pressure and pressure from cult kingpins also contribute to reasons why youths engage in cultism.
“Similarly, illiteracy, unemployment and poverty also account for a whole range of factors why youths join cults.
“Therefore, to prevent the ugly trend of youth cultism, creating awareness about the dangers of cultism is critical to addressing the menace.”
Obianaso stated, however, that youth programmes and vital creative projects must be evolved at various levels.
Reacting to the development in Okija, the Centre for Criminal Justice Reform and Citizen described the situation as unfortunate.
The Director of Public Affairs, CJRCA, Rotimi Asher, regretted that since November 2020, a sponsored cult war had been raging in the town, one of the largest towns in the South-East, while security agencies stay aloof.
The group stated that “cultism and cult wars are not new criminal phenomena,” but, queried “why are the Okija cult wars and killings so violently ferocious and intense? Why has the Igwe of the town not taken very drastic steps about the situation since the killings are still continuing? Why have the Okija police been acting strangely?
“Yes, it is strange that the killings are going on in broad daylight and the perpetrators are known and they are not hiding or running from the police either. Why?
“In fact, after the killings, the police usually go to the scene of crime and collect the corpses of the slain youths and deposit them in the mortuary and will now extort the families before the corpses can be released to the families for burial.
“However, the fast way those corpses are released raises some more questions about whether the police are being used to destroy evidence of the horror crimes and protect the criminals, yes the cultists?
“For instance, did the Okija division of the police conduct any investigation into each or any of the killings? If they did, were investigation reports forwarded to the State CID? Forwarding such reports, which are usually required in murder cases, is not an option. It is a must and a key procedural requirement in murder cases.
“All the written and unwritten questions concerning the fierce cult wars in Okija’s various villages were made possible through the foundations laid by Okija’s infamous land grabber and thief, who is the big time grand patron of criminals.”