Increasingly, criminal gangs – euphemistically referred to as cultists in local parlance – are painting our communities with the blood of innocent people. Apart from Abia, these gangs have seized the soul of cities in Enugu, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Oyo and Kwara states. To the chagrin of the majority, fresh rumpus has gained national attention in the past few weeks in Lagos, Ogun and Rivers states. It is wrong for the gangs to be having a field day at the expense of the law-abiding populace.
Hiding under the façade of staging oro, an annual traditional festival in the South-West, rival criminal gangs unleashed mayhem on each other and members of the public in Imota, Ikorodu area of Lagos State, early this month. The police recovered four corpses from the scene at the end of the mêlée. Officially, the Eiye and Aiye cults were fingered for the attacks in four separate locations. As in previous breaches, the police made 19 arrests this time, but the gangs are becoming more daring chiefly because they suffer no serious repercussions for their villainy.
For a long while, the gangs have been tormenting different parts of Lagos. Their lawlessness is widespread in Somolu, Bariga, Oshodi, Agege, Ikotun and Isolo. In the Fadeyi-Onipanu-Palmgrove area, they frequently go on the rampage to protect their “territories.” They shot two people dead in April, before looting shops and sending residents into hiding, with the police claiming 33 arrests. In Gbagada and Oworonshoki, their repeated clashes claimed four lives last July. An innocent roadside trader identified as Iya Igbo was reportedly hacked to death during the clashes; a barber, identified simply as Oreoluwa, was the second casualty.
This anarchy is being replicated in Ipokia, Ota and Ilaro in Ogun State. Every July, hoodlums take over parts of Sagamu, Ijebu-Ode and Mowe, disrupting commercial activities and schooling. Seeing the helplessness of the police, residents and pupils of these areas simply stay at home. Three people lost their lives in Awa, Akwa Ibom State, last week, when Vikings and Axe gangs clashed.
In Rivers State, the hoodlums are very bold. Within a space of 24 hours last June, the so-called cultists murdered 30 people in Emohua, Etche and Ikwerre local government areas. First, bloodthirsty gunmen sent 11 victims to an early grave in Rumuji, Ovogo and Rumuewhuo in Emohua; a day earlier, 19 others had suffered a similar fate in Etche and Ikwerre. Unchallenged, they stormed the Rumuji Divisional Police Station. After sacking the station, they looted the armoury. For the past two months, the criminals have laid a siege to the Ogoni area of Rivers.
Over time, these gangs have been operating freely in tertiary institutions, where they maim and shed blood. Their tentacles have also spread to secondary schools, and depressingly primary schools, too. For proof, suspected cultists slaughtered a final year engineering student of the Rivers State University, Diobu, in July in the Ada George area of the state capital. He was found dead with machete cuts on his body. Forty-eight hours previously, Prince Barisua, another RSU student, had been shot dead near a hostel in the institution.
Unfortunately, the police appear overwhelmed more so in an election year. At this period, crime peaks alarmingly as desperate politicians arm their foot soldiers to perpetrate violence, right from the primaries to the real balloting. Before he was gunned down in 2018, a notorious cultist in Lagos confessed that politicians in the state recruited him and his gang members for nefarious purposes. On at least five occasions, he had escaped from both police cells and prison detention.
Not much changed in this regard in this year’s elections. Civil society organisations put the tally of deaths in election-related violence in the February/March polls at 35. Undoubtedly, much of this was masterminded by hoodlums, cultists, thugs and sometimes road transport unionists, who were armed for those missions by their political masters.
In 2011, 800 Nigerians had lost their lives in the post-election violence, mostly in the North, the Human Rights Watch, a global rights advocacy NGO, stated. Pre-election violence claimed 58 lives in 2015, the National Human Rights Commission stated in an 80-page report. On the presidential Election Day on March 28 that year, the European Union Observation Mission said 19 people died in 41 incidents. This is a manifestation of the wider picture of insecurity in the country, which has defied the pedestrian solutions being half-heartedly implemented.
Unlike in Nigeria, which is imprudently dependent on a single police force, the authorities are determinedly tackling gang violence in other parts of the world. Take the case of Georgia in the United States as an example. Relying heavily on inter-agency cooperation, a federal jury in May convicted five members of the Gangsters Disciples (a criminal organisation) of racketeering, conspiracy involving murder, car snatching, attempted robbery and other crimes, according to the US Department of Justice records.
Instructively, their arrests were made possible by the Federal Bureau of Investigation-led Safe Streets Gang Task Force; the Georgia State and local collaborators, in this case, the Atlanta Police Department and DeKalb County Police Department. “The Gangster Disciples are a ruthless gang that has preyed on the good people of our communities for far too long,” FBI Special Agent Chris Hacker said. “We are dedicated to continue dismantling these organised and violent criminal enterprises until we reach our ultimate goal of ending their reign of terror.”
Therefore, it is time to adopt unwavering strategies to counter these rampaging gangs defiling our communities with fear, blood, destruction and death. A 2007 report from Human Rights Watch establishes a nexus between politics and criminality in Nigeria. It says, “Many of Nigeria’s elected leaders use corruption and political violence to prevail in sham elections. Struggles for political office are often waged in the streets by criminal gangs recruited by politicians to help them seize power.” Sponsors of criminal groups should be exposed and prosecuted. The Federal Government and legislature should devolve policing. Before then, the state governors should establish intelligence-gathering teams in their communities, and empower neighbourhood security/vigilance officers.
Technology goes a long way in modern crime fighting. States should acquire simple and sophisticated technology to combat criminal gangs. CCTV cameras should be installed in strategic spots and databanks built on criminal gangs terrorising the citizens. The justice system should be reformed to allow the seamless prosecution of offenders.