By Emma Nnadozie, Crime Editor, Evelyn Usman, Esther Onyegbula and Victor Arjiromanus
…Attacks, killings, rape on the increase
…Rival-cult gangs clashes order of the day as Police seem helpless
…Victims, community leaders cry out
…We have embarked on sensitization, special talks — Police
RECENTLY, a certain Jude Igho, 45, was relaxing with members of his family in their one-room apartment at Akpasa area of Ajegunle, Lagos State when, suddenly, hell was let loose in the neighbourhood.
This came in the form of what initially sounded like maniacal shrieks and guttural expletives that triggered immediate commotion as residents panicked and started running in different directions.
He peeped through his narrow wooden door and saw more than 200 machete-wielding young men, also brandishing other dangerous weapons, including guns. It soon dawned on him that the community was under invasion by a group of cultists whose maniacal screams sent a chill down the spines of those that heard them.
Within a twinkle of an eye, Jude mobilised members of his family of four and exited from their house through a back door. They ran into a neighbour’s scantily protected upstairs residence where many other families were taking refuge. While they were there, the invading young men, dressed in black attires with tattoos all over their bodies, were breaking into houses and shops and carting away valuables.
They were also freely attacking, with the dangerous weapons in their possession, anyone who stood in their way. Worse still, they engaged brazenly in massive rape of young girls who were heard crying helplessly while the rampaging cultists carried out their attacks. This ugly scenario persisted for over four hours after which the invaders exited the street and moved leisurely to another area of the city to continue their deadly exploits.
The same ugly scenario was re-enacted in Somolu, another area of Lagos, few days later. In fact, the case of Somolu/Bariga has become a re-occurring decimal which seems to have defied all solutions. It is also as if security agencies, especially the police, have given up since they no longer seem interested in responding to the worsening situation and fail to check the excesses of cultists who now delight in invading homes and attacking people at will.
Though the above may read like a storyline for a Nollywood movie, the fact is that these are true incidents, with shocking reality. Indeed, the news media have lately been featuring screaming headlines of attacks by cultists in different parts of Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre. It is a development that has left Lagosians in fear, especially against the backdrop of the intensification of attacks by different criminal elements in the state, often resulting in loss of lives and wanton destruction of property.
Over the years, cult activities have more commonly been associated with tertiary institutions. Indeed, there is hardly any academic session with no reported incidents of cult-related violent clashes in most schools in the country. In the event, cutting short the lives and dreams of promising youths.
Incidentally, cultism did not originate from the school environment neither is it a recent development. In fact, it can be traced to the pre-colonial period when individuals of like minds would come together to conduct rituals with the main aim of seeking protection from their ancestors. Secret cults have always existed in many parts of the country, with the Ogboni secret cult notable among the Yorubas, the Ekpe secret cult among the Efiks, Ekine cult in the Delta region and Owegbe cult among the Edos.
Cultism in higher institutions
The root of cultism in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions has been traced to a group of seven students who introduced it in the University College Ibadan in 1952 and addressed themselves as the Magnificent Seven. They formed the Pyrates Confraternity following their observation that the university was populated by wealthy students with links to the colonial powers. To them, the privileged students enjoyed certain favours at the expense of poor students who were in the minority and usually struggled to be accepted by the rich students. Between 1952 and 1972, the Pyrates, which was later registered as the National Association of Sea Dogs, was virtually the only confraternity on Nigerian campuses.
However, another brotherhood known as Buccaneers Confraternity was registered as National Association of Sea Lords, with its membership extending off campus and spreading beyond the shores of the country. Today, almost all tertiary institutions across the country have confraternities otherwise known as secret cults. Some of them include the Supreme Eiye Confraternity, also referred to as Air Lords. Records have it that this confraternity which broke away from the Black Axe emerged from the University of Benin and its symbol of identification is the skull and crossed bones.
Another popular confraternity is the Black Axe otherwise known as Neo Black Movement of Nigeria. Report also has it that it emerged from the University of Benin and has an upright axe with a wide blade fixed to a short handle as its symbol.
There is also the Supreme Vikings Confraternity said to have been founded by a former member of the Buccaneer Confraternity and it has the inscription SVC as its symbol. Again, there is the Klansmen Confraternity also known as Eternal Fraternal Order of the Region Consortium.
It was founded by students of the University of Calabar and has KKK as its symbol, and the Two-Two or Black Beret, which was founded at the Enugu State University of Science and Technology. Other confraternities include Second Son of Satan, Red Sea Horse, Fraternity of Friends, Mgba Mgba Brothers, Night Cadet Sonmen,Theme of Eden, Executioners, Dreaded Friend of Friends, Eagle Club, Black Scorpion, among others. Aside these are also female cult groups which came to limelight in the 1990s on Nigerian campuses. Notable among them are the Damsels, Viqueens, Daughters of Jezebel, Black Braziers, among several others.
Artisans as cultists
Vanguard gathered that the major reason for forming cult groups in the distant past was to break the barrier created by privileged or advantaged students. But sadly, there is now a growing shift from its original purpose as it now tends to thrive more on intimidation, oppression and brutalisation of rival cult groups, leading to violence which, in most cases, proved fatal. Not only has cultism witnessed a shift from its original purpose, membership now cuts across artisans, farmers, traders and so many illiterate persons across the country.
From the North to the South and East to the West, cultism thrives everywhere. Checks by Vanguard showed that even commercial motorcycle riders, commercial bus drivers and bus conductors are also members of various cult groups spread across the state.
Vanguard investigations show that Lagos State has in recent times become a home to different cult groups with members drawn mainly from artisans. Areas such as Mushin, Yaba, Amukoko, Ajegunle, Ikorodu, Odogunyan, Okokomaiko, LASU Road, Ajangbadi, Ojo, Festac, Lagos Island, Ijora Badia, Ilasamaja and Idi-Araba are their popular haunts, a reason why these areas are usually prone to violence owing to attacks and reprisal attacks by rival cult groups. In some cases, innocent residents are killed and private and public property destroyed.
Why artisans join cult groups
Investigation reveals that some artisans seek membership of these dreaded secret cults due to the windfall which accrue to them while serving as errand boys for some politicians, particularly during elections. Others joined confraternity groups for protection against members of rival cult groups, and to gain financial assistance from politicians and some members of the elite who want to attack their opponents.
Another crazy reason some artisans gave for joining cult groups is the easy access it grants them to rape coveted girls or women within their localities. While some of them see rape as a means to have their pound of flesh, particularly on ladies who have turned down their love advances, others just derive pleasure from it. For those who rape for pleasure, they record such acts and threaten to upload same on the internet if their victims report the act to the police or their parents.
Rape as part of initiation into cult groups
Another startling discovery is that some cult groups rape new female members as part of initiation into the confraternity. Recently, it was discovered that cultists set aside a particular day when they avenge killings of their members by rival cultists. The months of July (7/7) and August (8/8) were allegedly slated for this purpose this year, particularly in Lagos. But the Police Command, acting on intelligence, frustrated their efforts following the arrest of some of them in Ilasamaja, Ikorodu and Odogunyan areas of the state.
Forceful initiation of children
Another worrisome dimension to cult activities is the forceful initiation of children into different confraternities. These children are made to swear to oaths of secrecy under a threat to their lives if they revealed names of the cult groups. These children, as gathered, are used to fight rival cult groups based on the assumption that their frail frame would never give them away as cultists. In January this year, a 16-year-old boy who was arrested by the Lagos State Police Command, confirmed that their ages or innocence serve to mask their intention.
This was after admitting to belonging to a dreaded cult group that has been terrorising Satellite Town, in Amuwo Odofin Local Government Area of Lagos. He further exposed activities of members of various cult groups in various areas of the state. Most startling was the revelation that children as young as 10 years old are initiated into the various cult groups in Satellite Town.
In an encounter and interaction with Vanguard, Akiola, a Secondary School Certificate holder, revealed that primary school pupils and secondary school students and artisans in the area were forced into cultism. Resistance by anyone, according to him, meant the outright forced relocation of the child’s parents from the area.
He further disclosed that children between 10 and 13 years, who were initiated into major confraternity groups such as Arrow Baga popularly known as Arrow, were usually sent out to spy on their rivals. The children, as gathered, were also sent to survey places like the massive Navy Barracks before their masters would strike.
How I was forced into Eiye Confraternity
Narrating his experience, the source revealed that he was approached at the age of 10 to join the Eiye Confraternity group. He said: “When the pressure was too much, I had no choice than to give in. My father was an Okada rider (commercial motorcyclist). He was never at home. There was no one I could approach when the pressure to join Eiye was much on me. Even if I had approached my father, he would not have done anything because everyone is afraid of the cult guys.
He would be forced to pack out of the area if he tried to stop me. And he didn’t have the financial strength to do so. On one occasion, one of them, Samuel, seized my phone and my shoe. I went home barefooted. As if that was not enough, I was beaten to a pulp by members of the cult group even though I did not commit any offence. I eventually joined Eiye Confraternity in 2013 shortly after I finished my secondary school education.”
His account showed that most robbery operations in Lagos and some other states were perpetrated by cultists. He said he usually received between N1,500 and N3,000 at the end of any operation. This teenager further disclosed that killings earned members promotion, revealing that hit-men were referred to as Flyers and Adaba. A 10-year-old boy, according to him, can head any unit in a cult depending on his ability to kill.
In Lagos at the moment, the trending cult group is known as Awawa, with its members spread across densely populated areas like Ikorodu, Ajegunle, Old Ojo Road, Agege, Ikorodu, among other places. Symbol of this cult group is a rain-like incision by the side of their left eye.
But Police say they are not unmindful of what is going on and are taking appropriate steps to ensure that activities of cultists are curtailed. Indeed, information at Vanguard’s disposal show that the Lagos State Police Command made several arrests of suspected cultists during raids on flash points. The command said it has succeeded in dousing the tension created by cultists in the Mushin area of the state, where attacks were witnessed before now on weekly basis.
The command under the leadership of commissioners of Police, Fatai Owoseni and Imohimi Edgal Fatai, also succeeded in curtailing the activities of the rising Awawa cult group. Only recently, operatives of the Lagos State Task Force arrested 15 notorious cultists popularly known as Awawa Boys who have been dispossessing members of the public of their valuables as well as raping young girls around Aluminium Village, Valley Estate and the entire Dopemu community in Agege area of Lagos.