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‘Native and settler cults’ in battle for supremacy

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• We don’t know whether slain policeman was a cultist —Edo CP

By Alemma-Ozioruva Aliu

THE last five weeks have not been the best for residents of Benin-City following the upsurge in cult killings in which not less than ten persons are dead in the Edo State capital.

Sunday Vanguard reliably gathered that the killings happened when clashes erupted between Eiye Confraternity and the Black Axe popularly called Aye.

The rivalry between the two cult groups assumed a new dimension as they are believed to be fighting over the “ownership” of the land. Members of Aye are alleged to be fighting alleged attempts to dominate the ancient city by the Eiye Confraternity which they believed is a migrant cult group that came into the city from another region of the country while Aye, they say, was formed in Benin-City and should therefore have unfettered control of the land.

The killings have created concerns among families, groups and individuals living in the city.

Sunday Vanguard reliably gathered that one of the cult groups, said to be on the hunt for the kingpin of the rival cult, has a hit squad it has been deploying for the killings.

“Somebody who has public respect, and who has been their senior, has been calling them to stop, but they are not even picking his calls”, a source said.

“If they arrive at a bar and learn that their target is found elsewhere and they have bought drinks, they will abandon the drinks but pay and leave in a hurry so that they do not miss the target and then strike and disappear. This is a killer squad and they move in a group of fives with pump action rifles”.

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Late last year, Edo State House of Assembly passed a bill for a law to repeal and re-enact the law to prohibit the existence, membership and activities of secret cults in the state.

The bill prescribes 21 years imprisonment for convicted cultists while anyone who harbours them will, on conviction, be sentenced to seven years imprisonment.

The bill also prescribes that all offences under the law shall be by summary trial and empowers the police to arrest suspected cultists without a warrant.

Governor Godwin Obaseki is yet to assent to the bill to make it operational. No reason has been given for the delay in the signing of the bill.

Meanwhile, reports say the personnel of some security agencies are themselves members of cult groups in Benin-City.

The reports said no less than two policemen had been caught operating as cultists in incidents which claimed dozens of lives of recent.

The reports came in the wake of the killing of a policeman, identified as Oise Monday Ehigie and attached as an orderly to the Chairman of a local government area, who was said to have been caught in a cross fire around Nomayo in Upper Sokponba area of the state capital.

The state Police Commissioner, Hakeem Odumosu, was reported to have said that the slain officer was a member of a cult group.

A report said the CP expressed surprise that a police officer was fighting on the side of a cult group.

He was quoted as saying, “The information we have is that he was fighting on the side of one of the rival cult groups. Cult war is either inter or intra. They are either fighting themselves or fighting another cult group.”

But responding to the reaction the statement credited to him has generated, Odumosu said it is only when investigation was completed that it could be ascertained whether the dead policeman was a cultist or not but that, in the meantime, the force would give him a befitting burial haven died fighting “gallantly”.

He said: “On that day, I personally went to the scene, met the people on the ground and you know when such things happen, series of information will be coming out. He was alleged to be a cultist but what I told them is that if he was a cultist, investigation is going on; so it is at the end of investigation that we will know whether the allegation is true or not. “Everybody that commits a crime is a suspect until evidence is adduced, and he is taken to court and it is the court of competent jurisdiction that will declare the status. The police cannot declare a suspect guilty or not until investigation is complete. At the police level, everybody under investigation is a suspect until trial. We have a lot of processes, so I cannot stand here as a police officer and declare him a cultist. Far from that but the allegation is that he was a member of a cult group and I said investigation will prove that and not that I have declared him a cultist.

“It is not also true that he was declared a cultist so that he will not get his entitlements. Far from that because he died in action. He fought gallantly and, unfortunately, he lost his life. I had a discussion with the dad today and I said the police will fully participate in the burial and give him a befitting burial. “We are investigating and, out of the people arrested, five have been confirmed to be among the people that carried out that murder. We are not just charging them with cultism, we are in addition charging them with murder.”

A non-governmental organisation, Legends Anti-violence Foundation, which focus has been advocacy to end violence and cultism in the society, said it was miffed by the several killings that have occured.

A statement by its Director General and Secretary General, Comrade Kadiri Christopher and Comrade Dumbiri Larry, respectively, expressed “gross displeasure over the destruction and murders carried out by some persons involved in cult activities in Edo State, especially in Benin-City”.

The statement went on: “We are aware that cult groups clash. But in the beginning, when cult groups clashed, they clashed for intellect. Why are we now experiencing clashes that lead to killings and destruction?

“Edo people are known for strength, sound mind, progress, unity and peace. “These cult activities are not to be condoned for any reason because they are already giving the land a bad image. “Therefore, our youths should return to channelling their strength to something meaningful and progressive.

“The royal father of the land, Omo N’Oba N’Edo, Uku Akpolokpolor, Oba Ewuare ll, has addressed this issue severally, but it seems the members of Aye and Eiye confraternities around Upper Sokponba area are deaf to such royal warnings and plea.

“Cult clashes, which have seen not less than two hundred Edo youths dead, have also recorded two men of the Nigeria Police killed.”

The statement called on Governor Obaseki to take urgent action to stop the menace “before it turns to a tumour”.

Among the several killings of the past weeks is that of a young man popularly called ‘Sea Never Dry’ who was said to be operating a hotel along Oguola off Siluko road and his assailants were said to have gone to his business place and shot him in the chest.

His offence, Sunday Vanguard learnt, is that a rival cult group held meetings in his hotel and he was therefore identified as an active participant.

Some days after that, suspected cultists were said to have visited the residence of one of their targets around Ogida quarters but were said not have met the target but met his father. They were said to have threatened to kill the father if they came back next time and did not meet his son.

Not less than four persons were reportedly killed in different parts of the state capital thereafter but the police say they are investigating with a view to bringing the perpetrators to book.

It was learnt that three of the victims were killed at different locations in Ogida quarters of the metropolis, while the fourth victim was shot dead at Ugbor area of the GRA.

It was gathered that the first victim at Ogida just finished having a plate of pepper soup at a beer parlour and was going home when his assailants chased him, shot him dead and left him in his pool of his blood.

The second victim was said to have met his death in his bedroom, when unidentified gunmen shot him on the head through the window.

The third victim was allegedly chased by his attackers and hacked to death with a battle axe.

In the Ugbor GRA incident, the deceased was allegedly in company of a friend when his assailants attacked him and shot him from the back several times between 9 and 10 pm on the fateful.

A source said: “I learnt that the young man was with one of his friends when some people attacked him. The friend ran into his house thinking that the victim also escaped, unknown to him that his friend was shot dead by the gunmen.”

In another incident, a cult group attacked a rival cult member along Benin New Lagos. The attack, which was said to have been carefully executed, left one of the targets dead and others fled with injuries.

An eyewitness said the attackers drove in a black Mercedes Benz GLK SUV with tinted glass and reportedly arrived the spot before their targets were sighted trekking from Lawani street towards Upper Lawani road.

It was gathered that the targets, numbering six males, and said to have been dressed in jean and blue polo shirts, were not aware of the lurking danger ahead before the attackers launched their mission, shooting at close range and leaving one dead and others injured.

On Sunday, December 16 last year, two persons were killed. One was on his way to church while the other was on his way back from church. Two days later, precisely Tuesday, December 18, 2018, two other persons were shot dead in the same area. One was a suspected cultist while the other is alleged to be innocent. On Friday, December 21, a suspected cultist was attacked at his place of work, but escaped with bullet wounds while his innocent colleague was hit by stray bullets.

Following the attacks, Edo State government launched a new security outfit, named ‘Operation Wabaizigan’ (Stop All Bad Things), where Obaseki said the gesture was geared towards ensuring that various security outfits lived up to their responsibilities in dealing with the security challenges such as kidnapping, armed robbery and car theft.

The security outfit was provided with 30 brand new Hilux vans, 50 patrol vehicles and motorcycles, and equipped with communications gadgets.

He said N2b had been earmarked for the outfit in the 2019 budget and hoped that it will be increased to N10b in order to be able to support the state Security Trust Fund.

The killings have reduced patronage of public bars as many persons now prefer to relax in mess operated by security agencies or where there is heavy presence of armed security personnel.

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