By Vincent Ujumadu
FOR several months, especially since the disappearance of police patrol teams on Anambra roads, cult groups were terrorizing various communities in the state such that hardly a day passed without the death of suspected cultists killed by rival members.
In Awka, the Anambra State capital, the 22 villages in the area appeared to be competing on which one should record the highest number of deaths each day.
Places such as the Unizik Junction, Club road, Ichide street, Amikwo, Ifite, among others, became black spots with the result that residents were forced to be in their homes before 7pm. Often, residents would watch while rival cult groups faced each other with sophisticated weapons and the result was usually death.
Some examples of the menace of cultisn can suffice here. On Sunday, April 18, three young men were shot in cold blood by suspected rival cult groups in different parts of Awka. The following Sunday at about 6pm, a young man was shot at Unizik Junction on the Enugu-Onitsha expressway and eyewitnesses said the victim was killed as he came down from a commercial bus that came to Awka from Abakaliki, Ebonyi State.
One of the people who witnessed the horrible incident said the assailants apparently trailed him from where he boarded the bus in Abakaliki.
Same month at a popular eatery at the High Tension Area of Awka, an upcoming comedian, who was an Engineering graduate was murdered by people suspected to be members of a rival cult group. On the same night, a gymnasium instructor simply called Anthony, who was also a local politician was killed at a spot close to Nnamdi Azikiwe University gate on Ifite road in the state capital.
On April 7, two youths were shot dead during a cult war and after the battle, residents of the area said they were surprised that one of the victims who was very popular in the area belonged to a cult group. Another surprising thing was that some of the suspected cultists were secondary school students and Keke operators and they knew their targets and when to strike.
The Commissioner of Police in the state, Mr. Chris Owolabi, said about 90 per cent of cult-related deaths in the state is not documented. Owolabi, who spoke during a peace/security summit organized by the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), in collaboration with the state police command at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka attributed the non-documentation of most of the cult-related deaths to the fact that most parents and guardians of the deceased would not want such cases investigated.
“Cultism can be identified as the mother of all the crimes being committed by the youth and it is unfortunate that many lives are being lost. We are advising our youths in the country, particularly students, to eschew all forms of vices capable of jeopardizing their future,” he said.
Worried by the increasing menace of cultism in their villages, the local vigilante groups in Awka decided to end the menace in their areas by setting up special squads that tacked those identified as cultists in the villages. During the Democracy Day public holiday last Mondaay, the squads for the various villages swung into action and moved from house to house to fish out suspected cultists.
Operating like the dreaded Bakassi Boys that held sway during the administration of former Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju between 1999 and 2003, members of the squad allegedly used their magical powers to identify cultists and brought them out to the street and set them ablaze alive. It was gathered that one of them that refused to catch fire was eventually shot and he died.
That Monday alone, six cultists were burnt to ashes in the full glare of passersby In fact, the battle against cultism has begun fully and indications are that communities outside Awka are already asking the squad, which actually constituted members of the Anambra Vigilante Group, AVG, to avail them of the services of the group.
The action of the Bakassi –like squad has, for now, sanitized Awka as there has not been incident of cult –related deaths for complete five days in any part of the city.
Elated by the success achieved by the special squad, hundreds of youths in Anambra State took to the streets of Awka to condemn the evil of cultism and commended the various communities in the state for fighting the menace openly.
But while the communities were jubilating what they described as the return of Bakassi Boys in Anambra State, government said the new security outfit was not Bakassi Boys. The Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Mr. C Don Adinuba said despite some security breaches of the past few months, the people and government of the state were proud of the record of security agencies, which had substantially overcome the challenges.
Adinuba said: “The purported return of the so-called Bakassi Boys, which is not backed by any law in the state is not true. What some members of the public innocently confused with Bakassi Boys” return to the state is a noble effort of some Awka indigenes to fish out cultists in the community who have attempted to capitalize on the inadequate number of policemen on patrol in the town in the last few months to fight themselves with dangerous weapons.
“The fights among cultists resulted in some casualties. Awka youths, appalled by the sad development in their peaceful hometown, decided to fish out the cultists from their residences and hideouts. A young amateur video photographer recorded one of the operations and could be heard in the video exuberantly screaming “Bakassi! Bakassi Boys are back in Awka!
“This hysterical announcement is far from the truth. Any person who watches the video to the end will certainly see two vans which belong to the Anambra Vigilante Group right on the scene. No fair-minded person can mistake the AVG for the unorthodox security outfit which was outlawed several years ago.”
According to him, “whereas Bakassi Boys used to arrest suspects, tried them within minutes and executed them in broad daylight in a most savage manner, the AVG is a modern security outfit created by law”, adding that the AVG cannot tolerate lawlessness as it works in close collaboration with the traditional ruler and president-general of each of the 179 communities in the state but also the Nigeria Police Force.
“The people of Anambra State are advised to go about their normal business. Anambra State is peaceful and calm. There is no Bakassi Boys security outfit in Awka or any other part of our beloved state. The existing security agencies are doing their best to protect all of us,” the Commissioner said.