By Charles Adingupu, Oghene Omonisa & Tofarati Ige
The increasing rise in cult-related violence has given most Nigerians food for thought as many innocent souls are wasted. While the spread of these cult activities are attributed to the urbanization of many Nigerian rural communities, especially in the case of Delta State, that of Lagos cannot be said to be urbanisation.
Bariga, Mushin, Ikorodu and a few of other places in Lagos have become dens of cultists. Recently, the residents of the riverine community of Ilaje, Bariga, Lagos, have been known no peace just as many of them live in palpable fear, others have resolved to contend with violent acts which occur daily.
Similarly, residents of Mushin through Odi-Olowo, Idi-Araba, Olosa, have also cried out as violence activities have become not only a norm but a way of life among teenagers and young-adults.
The recently installed Ayangbunren of Ikorodu, Oba Adewale Shotobi declared that he would make life uncomfortable for the cultists in the town except they halt their violence and clandestine activities. The gladiators are not fighting over land, but control of economic resources through violence. The ‘Strong Men’ of the area make a lot of money from security levies collected from shops, illegal collection of levies from motorcycles and other commercial vehicles, as well as through other shady avenues.
Some of these gangs are known as Downtown Boys, Shaggy Boys amongst others. Checks revealed that many of the gangs are named after their leaders. Barely a month ago, it was reported that the police had killed one of the most notorious cultists in Bariga, “Anarchy”, who had been on the police Most Wanted List for a long time.
Anarchy, who was said to belong to the Eiye Cult group was allegedly killed in a shoot-out with police officers during a superiority battle with rival cult groups in the area. In the wake of Anarchy’s death, several reprisal attacks were carried out in the area. It got so bad that residents regularly woke up to the sight of dead and severed bodies of people on the streets.
According to frightened residents of the community who spoke on the condition of anonymity, majority of these deadly cult members are teenagers and youths. “Many of these cultists are young boys. Some of them are secondary school drop-outs, but they are very deadly, and have no mercy. It is not unusual to suddenly start hearing gunshots around here …. In fact, we don’t feel safe at all as anything can happen at any point in time,” a resident said.
Residents also alleged that the police know the identity of these murderers, who have practically become untouchable. “Many of them have political godfathers who use them for their nefarious activities such as rigging of votes during elections, and to silence their political enemies. Whenever the police arrest them, their godfathers would readily bail them out, and before a blink of the eye, they’re back on the streets again,” another resident added.
Apart from the street gangs, some of the cultists are also students (both current and former) of tertiary institutions who live in the area. Some of the cult groups dominant in the area are Eiye, Aiye, and Buccaneer, and they are often involved in superiority battles to have the upper hand in controlling the area.
Because of the incessant violence in the area, many residents have had to move out of the community. Meanwhile, cultism in Lagos is not peculiar to Bariga alone. Other areas such as Mushin, Oshodi, Ikorodu are also places that have recorded lots of cult-related murders lately.
Far away from Lagos, the oil rich Delta State is another home for the dreaded boys as cult activities thrive unhindered in Warri, Agbor, Ogwachukwu among other areas.
In Delta State, everyday, every hour and every moment, they maim and kill one and other in open confrontations. Just recently, a secondary school boy was murdered in cold blood, the situation threw the entire community into pandemonium as residents scampered for safety. However, the quick intervention of the police helped to rescue the family from extinction.
According to Gabriel Ewenji, a writer and native of Ogwashi-Uku, virtually all manners of people have been conscripted into the various cult groups operating in the town. Ewenji who authored the Anioma International Biography said that cultism is not only restricted to Ogwashi-Uku, adding that cultists have spread their tentacles to the state capital, Asaba and other parts of the state.
The Delta State Police Command Spokesperson, DSP Celestina Kalu in an interview with Saturday Vanguard, corroborated the claim that cultism is spreading fast in Delta State like wildfire. “Wherever there is a presence of an higher institution in the state, cultism prevails. In Asaba, there is a College of Education and also in Agbor.
In Ogwashi-Uku, the State Polytechnic has attracted both indigenes and non-indigenes into the town. In Oleh, we have another campus of Delta State University;in Warri, the Petroleum Training Institute (PTI) and the Petroleum University are present,” said DSP Kalu.
The police spokesperson admitted that recently, cult activities are on the increase, hence, the command has declared war against cultism in the state. He DSP Kalu disclosed that no fewer than 200 boys and men are currently cooling their heels at Agbor prison for allegedly being involved in cult-related activities, said that the cult boys were hired mainly by land speculators.
The police mouthpiece disclosed that plans were underway for their trials and subsequent persecution, adding that a handful of the cultists are currently in prison awaiting trial. “Once we charged them (that’s the cult boys) to court, then we have done our job,” he said.
A commercial bus driver, Ochuko said: “The cultists who predominantly are students in different schools are natives of these areas. They fight regularly over group’s supremacy. Sometimes, they come all the way from Orhuwhorun to intimidate people living in Aladja over what they call ‘deve’, meaning development levy for the construction of houses”, he disclosed.
Saturday Vanguard scooped that most times, fracas ensue among the cult boys over the sharing formula of development levy paid by developers. An artisan who would not want his name in print, disclosed that the entire Owvian, Aladja, Orhuwhorun, Oleh have become theatres of war for cult boys.
“Sometimes, you see them (cult boys) brandishing dangerous weapons and chanting war songs and in extreme cases, fighting one another. They perpetrate all sorts of vices with impunity. A day hardly passes without the boys wreaking havoc in a particular area.”
Agbor: Theatre of cult war
Ironically most families in Agbor could have at least three of them belonging to one cult group or another. Saturday Vanguard investigations revealed that the reason for this sad development is merely for “protection”. People in the various communities that make up the town live in perpetual fear. Every other day, one person may either be massacred with knives or fell by bullets.
One of the hot spots in Agbor, Boji-Boji which hosts a state College of Education remains a beehive of activities for these dare-devil boys. “The cultists do not kill arbitrarily though”, said Ekeru, a street trader who made bold to venture information to Saturday Vanguard said: “They trail their targets and attack them in broad daylight to the chagrin of on lookers in the community. They don’t care who watches them.”
However, a recent killing of a pregnant woman who was a farmer in Agbor angered the Obi of Owa, His Royal Highness, Efiezemor II who inaugurated a task force with a mandate to his subjects to dispense jungle justice against any cultist caught anywhere near Agbor. This decree by the Obi brought a semblance of peace to the community. Though the cultists only went underground tentatively, according to a reliable source.
Clement Okolo, an Agbor resident said: “The boys always threaten one another with guns and knives. At drinking joints, you hear such warnings from the cult boys as ‘Bros, if no be you, I go fall this guy-o’. At other times, they may pull the trigger before the warning would come, leaving a lifeless human body on the ground and every other person scampering for safety.”
Why they join different cult groups
The state police mouthpiece who said that cultism in Delta has gone beyond students’ affairs as artisans, mechanics, vulcanizers, carpenters and other unskilled workers are being conscripted on daily basis into cultism for reasons no one could not explain.
“I don’t know why they join cult groups. They want to belong. Perhaps, it is their belief that joining such notorious groups would help them to intimidate their colleagues and even neighbours. But I earnestly don’t know what benefits they derive by so doing,” she said.
Our investigations also revealed that Aiye cult group is more notorious in Agbor. Their drive for membership cuts across class divide as all manners of persons are initiated into the group. Virtually all the artisans, including carpenters, mechanics, bricklayers, agberos, and even butchers are known members of this group.
They allegedly indulge in vices as armed robbery, rape, kidnapping, killing and maiming. The group is alleged to be deeply involved in witchcraft and other diabolical activities, and are always behind every fracas in Agbor and environs.
Another domineering cult group in Agbor is the Black Axe. They are reportedly deadlier. They are very much on ground in the state and more organised. Their members are usually university graduates and accomplished gentlemen who have distinguished themselves in their respective fields of endeavours.
Another popular cult group is the Pirates. Their members are very influential people and their presence is very much recognised in Delta State. The frequent clashes among these different cult groups are mainly battle for supremacy. “Each of the group wants to dominate the other in virtually all activities in the state”, said Okolo. “Sometimes, they behead one another in Agbor and environs.”
DSP Kalu who denied knowledge of the Obi of Owa task force in Agbor, listed mobility as one of the most critical challenges the force have to contend with in the battle against cultism in Delta. As part of measures to overcome the mobility challenge, DSP Kalu said that the police command have synergy with traditional rulers and community leaders across the state, adding that this explained the presence of vigilante groups operating in different communities in the state.
This strategy, according to the police spokesperson, has helped to curb cult activities in such notorious town as Owvian-Aladja and Orhuwhorun where cult boys are arrested on weekly basis.
Asaba and environs
A widow of about sixty years, Mrs. Philomina Tunen was hacked to death in her sleep at her Umueze Quarter residence in Ibusa by yet-to-be-unidentified men. People in the community are currently battling to unravel the circumstances surrounding the mysterious death of the mother of one.
An impeccable source disclosed that her brutal murder by hired cult boys may not be unconnected with a protracted property case brewing between her and her late brother’s wife. Late Mrs. Tunen’s case was just one murder too many. Before now, ritual killings were rampant in the area.
The Catholic Church was recently forced to shift its 5am mass to 6am while faithful who are in the church premises for vigil programme are not allowed to leave the compound until about 6am for fear of being attacked. Dr. Edozien who runs a private hospital in Asaba, blamed the ugly trend on politicians and land speculators in the state capital.
According to him, the services of these cultists are employed by disgruntled elements to harass and molest innocent citizens in Asaba and environs.
Parents, schools react
The Rector, Ogwashi-Uku Polytechnic, Dr. Edna Mojekwu in an interview with the Saturday Vanguard, dismissed the accusation that the cultists terrorising Ogwashi-Uku and environs are predominately students of the Ogwashi-Uku Polytechnic.
Dr. Mojekwu declared unequivocally that members of these cult groups were neither Ogwashians nor students of the school, declaring that cult activities were being imported into the town by non-natives. “The non-indigenes in Ogwashi-Uku sold the idea to the illiterates, carpenters, vulcanizers who intermittently wreak havoc in the town.
“I have always advised landlords in the town that when people come to rent houses from them and claim to be students, they should insist on seeing their identity cards and call us to confirm,” she said. She disclosed that cases of rift between landlords and students reported so far to the school authority have shown that those involved were fake students and cult members from other areas.
Pascal Adigwe, former lawmaker and now Special Adviser on National Assembly and Inter-governmental Affairs to the Delta State Governor, believes that the menace of cultism in major towns in Delta is a only a strand of development. “A lot of people from diverse culture”, he stated, “have come to such towns as Ogwashi-Uku by virtue of the presence of the polytechnic. These are people who are from less sophisticated and un-organised societies. When things like this happen, crime rate will shoot up.”
The former lawmaker who blamed the upsurge of crime and cultism in the region on the overall decadence the society said they now dissipate their energies unfortunately on the wrong idea.
Adigwe stated that cultism and crime are not peculiar to the Anioma-speaking areas in Delta, adding that, “the difference between ours and others is that we are just experiencing ours now.”
The Special Adviser disclosed that as part of measures to nip this menace in the bud, the agenda of the State government encapsulated in five forms are basically targeted at generating employment in order to reduce the number of idle hands and conversely impact positively on the reduction of crime in the area.