By Samuel Oyadongha, Yenagoa
The high number of repentant cultists that converged at the banquet hall of Bayelsa State Government House penultimate Saturday has again rekindled hope that the state is gradually moving towards becoming the ‘oasis of peace’ in the troubled Niger Delta.
Clad in white T-shirts, symbolising peace, these cultists, hitherto seen as messengers of death have decided to turn the page on a terrible chapter of the state’s history and start a new phase.
However, some of their confederates were not lucky to be alive to witness the event which would have benefited them.
Over 11,000 of the youths, drawn from across the eight local government areas of the state, have formally renounced their membership of the cult groups in the predominantly riverine state.
Unlike during the youth militancy days when some aggrieved youths in protest over the many years of neglect of the oil bearing communities, resorted to arms struggle and launched guerilla-styled attack on the oil industry which almost crippled the nation’s economy, the cult groups were more vicious as they not only gunned down members from rival camps but also mowed down other innocent citizens during their operations.
This was the period the state capital and its environs were turned into a battle turf by the rampaging cultists some of whom resorted to wilful killing in their struggle for territorial control or sphere of influence.
Night life in this predominantly civil-servant state took a flight as residents were forced to retire early to the safety of their homes so as not to be caught in the cross fire of the rival warring cult gangs.
This was the sad scenario when the Seriake Dickson administration came on board on February 14, 2012, a development that prompted the administration to establish the ‘Operation Doo Akpor’, a security outfit manned by highly motivated and combat-ready policemen to rid the state capital of the rampaging cultists.
Governor Dickson also sponsored a bill to the state House of Assembly proscribing cultism and also prescribing death penalty for kidnappers.
Rather than exploit its new anti-cultism law to hunt down the cultists and make them face the wrath of the law the government in a surprise move adopted a dovish stance by extending the olive branch to supposed repentant members of cult groups in the state, who still indulge in criminality, especially in far-flung communities in the state to be reintegrated into the society.
To underscore its seriousness in ensuring the success of the programme, the government in a statement issued by the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr. Daniel Iworiso-Markson, urged all cultists who are genuinely willing to renounce their membership of various cult groups to register their names and other relevant information about themselves at the office of the SSA on Civil Society.
The gesture, according to the Governor’s media aide, also applied to cult members in higher institutions of learning in the state and called on them to take advantage of the window of opportunity created to turn a new leaf and do something meaningful with their lives.
Vanguard Metro, VM, findings, however, revealed the initial fear that the amnesty option may not succeed in luring the cultists out has turned out to be misplaced as it received a boost with 11,000 youths openly renouncing cultism at an oath-taking ceremony administered by the state Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice, Chief Francis Egele.
An elated Governor Dickson who spoke at the event said the government plans to train 10,000 youths drawn from the eight local government areas of the state in different vocations.
He said the sum of N1 billion had been set aside as soft loans for young entrepreneurs, adding that a youth summit would soon be held in the state to enable government identify their problems.
Dickson who commended the decision of youths in the state to renounce cultism and other acts of criminality said that the empowerment programme was part of his administration’s Restoration Agenda.
He said that the training will commence in two months time after the conclusion of their verification exercise.
“If we do not help to build you all, then our future will not be assured. You are all aware of what our restoration government is doing; building schools, roads, hospitals, investing in security and making our state safe, talking to people to come here to invest so that we can create jobs for you.
“All of these will come to nothing, if we don’t equip you with the skills that you need to partake in the economy to protect our future. This exercise is not the end but the beginning; by the time my team concludes the verification exercise, which will be detailed, local government by local government, when we are through with all of these, we are going to engage you in a special youth empowerment programme. A total of 10,000 youths will be engaged.”
The beneficiaries, according to the Governor will be trained in agriculture, traffic warden and the special surveillance system.
Also speaking, the Commissioner for Youths Development, Mr. Akpoebide Alamieyeseigha urged the youths to avail themselves of the various vocational programmes being set up by government.
He warned that with the reintegration programme of the repentant cultists, anyone caught fomenting trouble would be penalized in accordance with the anti-cultism law.
The state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Tonye Ebitibituwa and the Special Adviser to the Governor on the Security, Col Bernard Kenibai (rtd) advised the youths not to renege on their promise to shun cultism and other criminal activities.