Dealing with the menace of cultism – Thisday

The authorities must do more by bringing criminals to justice
That cult wars and gang violence have exacerbated the climate of lawlessness and fear in the polity is no longer in doubt. What is more worrying 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 today, cultists of various stripes act with impunity, killing, raping and maiming victims while causing widespread destruction. Yet the authorities seem helpless in dealing with this crime.

During the last Christmas holiday period, there was hardly a day when some young men and women did not fall victims to this goring spectre of criminal violence, most of them as a result of battles for turf between rival cult groups. From Cross River to Edo to Ekiti and several other states, gang wars are now almost a common fair with several innocent bystanders becoming victims. What is even more worrisome is that members of many of these cult gangs are also involved in armed robbery and kidnappings as the nation has, in recent months, witnessed with the ‘Badoo’ cult group in Ikorodu, Lagos State.

Last September, a pregnant woman and a student of a polytechnic in Abeokuta were killed when youths suspected to be members of a secret cult invaded the Onikolobo area of the Ogun State capital. And in what the Police confirmed as a clash of rival cultists, a man believed to be a student of the Ekiti State University (EKSU) was last October in Ado Ekiti shot several times before his assailants dismembered his body with a machete.

At about the same period, a face-off between two criminal gangs, the ‘Baggars Confraternity’ and the ‘Klans confraternity’, left no fewer than 19 persons dead in one such bloody encounter in Calabar, Cross River State. Although the motive behind the New Year day gruesome murder of scores of people in Rivers State on New Year day is still unknown, there are speculations that they could be cult-related against the background that the state has, in recent months, become notorious for such gang killings.

For sure, cultism is not new in Nigeria. For a very long time, 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 while 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.

Four years ago, some prominent personalities were among 67 suspected cultists arrested and quizzed in Benin City, by men of the special squad deployed in Edo 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 in the madness 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 no plausible explanations have been provided, most people believe that the fact that there are no convictions for such crimes encourage many young people into it. And as long as this persists, Nigerians may have to brace up for more gang violence.

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