By Anayo Okoli, Vincent Ujumadu, Ebele Orakpo, Dennis Agbo, Chimaobi Nwaiwu, Nwabueze Okonkwo, Ugochukwu Alaribe, Chinedu Adonu, Chinonso Alozie, Steve Oko & Emmanuel Iheaka

ENUGU–Cultism is one of the problems threatening the peace of the society, especially in many communities and schools in the South-East region. It serves as an incubator for criminal activities and helps in destroying the youths.

Unfortunately, it has indeed gotten so bad that it now rears its ugly head across all segments of the society, including secondary schools, among mechanics, keke and motorcycle operators and traders. Regrettably, women are not exempted. They have no regards for human life; they kill, main and destroy and create fear in the society. Many of them graduate to become very hardened criminals that terrorize the society.

However, some communities have decided to rise against the evil and stamp it out. In Anambra State, for instance, many of the cult groups have become very daring and a threat to the peace of most communities.

Unarguably, Awka, the Anambra State capital boasts of the most daring cult activities, and this year alone, over 20 persons have been killed during battles between rival cult groups. At a stage, it became a common sight to see dead bodies of suspected cultists littered on the streets of Awka, particularly areas inhabited by the indigenes.

When the various villages could no longer condone the menace of cultism in the area, they used the local vigilante to fish them out from their homes and kill and set them ablaze publicly. This development reduced their activities and those who witnessed what was done to their members, fled the town to other parts of the country.
Anambra State Commissioner of Police, Echeng Echeng has been fighting the menace headlong. In a recent progress report of the battle against cultism in Awka, Echeng said:

“You are aware of the menace of cultism in the state, particularly in Awka and environs. You will recall that on December 14, 2021, cultists attacked the chairman of Tricycle Owners Association in broad daylight near Nnamdi Azikiwe University (UNIZIK) junction, Awka.

“Two police officers who were in the vicinity were killed and their two AK 47 rifles carted away. Again on February 26, 2022, the same cult gang attacked a funeral party at Ebenebe in Awka North Local Government Area, killing several mourners.

“In the past two weeks, several members of the gang were arrested by police operatives working in synergy with important stakeholders in the security sector. On Tuesday, March 15, information was received that the same cult group had launched an attack on a UNIZIK vigilante group at Miracle Junction, Ifite, Awka. Police operatives were mobilised and they ambushed the gang as they fled from the scene.

“The effort paid off as the Police succeeded in demobilising the gang. The leader of the gang, one Uchenna Nwobu a.k.a Anali was killed, while the other gang member was arrested. Arms and ammunition recovered from them included two AK-47 rifles, three pump action guns, three locally made Beretta pistols, one locally made Chief revolver pistol, nine AK-47 magazine, two battle axes, assorted ammunition and one Mercedes Benz V-Booth, marked Lagos HC 661 AAA.”

Tracking down the gang

Investigation is ongoing to track down other members of the gang and establish the rightful owner of the recovered car.”
While the arrests were being made, sponsors of the cult groups have remained untouchable, even when some of them have been identified.

Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, in the state, Mr. Tochukwu Ikenga, however, said some of those who were involved in the shooting at the Unizik junction have been apprehended, stressing that the command was ready to flush out cultists in the town.
A community leader in Awka, Chief Polycarp Okeke in a reaction said: “Since 2019, there have been persistent killings of young people perceived to be cultists, by members of rival cult groups. The tempo of killing, however, increased in 2020, especially after the #EndSARS protest, when police operations were stalled as a result of attacks. The killing, however, continued into 2021.

“But many villages in Awka came together and decided to join efforts to tackle the issue of cultism and this paid off. You will notice that the problem of cultism has reduced considerably in the city following that effort. We are happy that the new governor, Professor Chukwuma Soludo does not have to contend with the menace of cultism as the stakeholders in Awka had successfully tackled the problem. Our city is now safe.”

Obosi youths move against cultism

Recently,the youths in Obosi, Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State, vowed to end cultism and other social vices threatening decent growth and development of their youths. For them, joining a cult translates to signing death warrant for such a person. Besides Obosi community, many communities in the region have also joined in the war against cultism. Notorious for cult activities, which have taken dozens of lives of many promising young men in the Obosi youths rose up to say no more! Some concerned members of the community led by Mr. Obichukwu Anyafulu, organised a seminar to create awareness on the negative effects of cultism on individuals and society with the aim of seeking ways to eradicate the menace.

“For so many years, we have been encountering premature deaths; people were too scared to speak up when they see things going wrong because they feared for their lives and those of their family members. That was what motivated us to organise this summit and talk about ways to bring back the glory of this great kingdom. In the past 10 years, the kingdom has been in darkness and the youths have risen today to do something about it,” Anyafulu explained.

Mr. Chimezie Onowu, a member of the organising committee noted that the concerned youths of Obosi decided on their own to say no to violence and abuse.
He was worried that “today, if you have a little issue with a little boy, before you know it, he comes with about three or four boys with guns to fight you. They don’t value life. I want to assure everyone that we are out to face cultism and social vices. I thank the police and the anti-cult people because anytime we call on them, they respond promptly.

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“I want to tell you that we are ready and anytime you call us, we will respond. You are not from Obosi but we are from Obosi and the assurance we want to give you is that we are at your service. Anytime you need us, call us, we are not scared of anyone. This is the beginning of a new dawn in Obosi.”

One of the reasons they acted, according to Emeka Okolo, the secretary of the summit planning committee was that “we realised we have lost our heritage. Obosi had been a very lovely and peaceful town; this is evident in the fact most of those who are not indigenes but were born and brought up in Obosi wish to become indigenes. That is because Obosi people receive visitors and treat them as brothers and sisters but at a time, we found out that some of the visitors were not reciprocating the good gesture in the sense that some of the crimes that happen in Obosi are perpetrated by these non-indigenes.

“Most of those killed in cult wars are Obosi indigenes and the actual people killing them are non-indigenes. If we continue to keep quiet, before we realise what is happening, we would lose our future leaders. We have already lost so many of them. Whenever things like these happen, I recall the poem by J. P Clark entitled: The Casualties! That is exactly what we are experiencing because when the cult crises begin, not only the cult members are affected; everybody is affected including parents. We have lost many young people to the ugly hands of cultism and cultism-related crimes. So we decided to bring the youths together to dialogue with them because there is nothing that dialogue cannot achieve. What war cannot achieve, dialogue can,” he noted.

Regrettably, Okolo said that some of the youths don’t even know what they are going for when they join these evil groups.

“There are many reasons why people join cults. Some of them don’t know what is involved in cultism and that is the essence of this program because if 80 per cent of those joining cults actually know what is involved, they will not join. There are two ugly things in cultism; it is either you kill or you are killed, so if somebody knows that he is just signing his death warrant without any benefit, do you think that person will join? Others are peer pressure, carelessness of parents, early exposure to corruption etc.”

Implications of drug abuse

Specifically addressing secondary school students, who were well represented at the summit, the organisers warned that all these things start from the secondary school. According to them, 70–80 per cent of those that take drugs don’t know the implications and the negative effects of drug abuse.

Unveiling the photos of over 20 young men killed in cult wars in the town, Hon. Tony Muonagor, popularly known as Tony ‘One Week’, Special Adviser on Diaspora Affairs, Indigenous Arts, Culture and Tourism to former Governor Obiano of Anambra State, encouraged the organisers not to relent in their resolve to stamp out cultism in the town while pledging his unalloyed support to the youths. He noted that cultism in his university days was more about fighting the ills in society and for the welfare of students, regretting that today, it is a far departure from what it was. Now, it’s all about bloodshed and criminality.

The seminar was sponsored by Chief Kenechukwu Molokwu.

The traditional ruler of Obosi, Igwe Chidubem Iweka who spoke through his Palace Secretary, Ugonabo Shedrack Okenwa, said that cultists have portrayed Obosi in bad light so much so that the royal cabinet vowed to tackle it head-long. He affirmed that Obosi youths recently staged a peaceful rally against cultists in the community with a stern warning that anyone caught in cult-related activities would either be ostracized or have other forms of punishment meted out to him.

The Nigeria Police is also involved in fighting cultism. Apart from its establishment of anti-cultism units that handle the war against cultism, the police have also set up a Police Campaign Against Cultism and other vices, POCACOV, which has been going round the states, particularly South-East states, preaching against cultism, using different advocacy strategies that appeal to youths.

The Campaign took off in Enugu in 2019 and was later launched in Abuja by the former Inspector-General of Police, Adamu Mohammed, as a national programme domiciled in all the communities.

National Coordinator of the programme, DSP Ebere Amaraizu confirmed that through the programme, which has three-pronged approach of using the communities, schools and families, a lot of cultists have been able to surrender their guns and renounced cultism.
According to Amaraizu: “In the South-East, we have a program in Abia and Enugu states and beyond the South-East such as in Rivers, Delta and Ogun states. We work in communities as well as in schools and families. We have POCACOV in my family, POCACOV in my school and POCACOV in my community. We trace the root cause of all these vices, starting from parental responsibility, advocating what the government should do and sensitize teachers to live up to their responsibility to revert to the old system that every child is everybody’s child.

“We are looking at prevention, sensitizing different stakeholders and multi-agencies not only on the dangers of cultism but dangers in substance and drug abuse, yahoo-yahoo, violent behaviours and other vices, but then, you trace it to the roots because when the family is good, the entire society will be good.

“In the communities, we engage the traditional rulers, the Presidents-General and market leaders. In Enugu State, we have visited many communities. We have worked in Ezeagu, Ebe town in Udi, Nnome-Unateze in Nkanu East and other parts of the state. We work in classrooms too.

“Because we do evidence-based policing, from what we have, the primary schools are no longer left behind in the menace of cultism because that is where vices thrive. Today, we have many people in primary schools telling lies; we have some of them cheating in exams. However, the worrisome aspect of it is that communities are also in the game, posing threat to communal values. The communal values are bad and that is why we have a problem now in the communities. That is why there is a need for value orientation and that is what we are doing, cutting across all strata.”

Sensitising the community

Amaraizu disclosed that in some communities in Enugu State such as Iwollo-Oghe, POCACOV exploited the community’s masquerade festival that attracts large audience, to preach and sensitise the people on the effects of cultism and other vices, as well as on how to tackle the vices.

“In a community where you have these types of vices, the people will be running helter-skelter and so we bring them together for advocacy of how to tackle the danger. The communities embrace the campaign because we also work with community youth organisations; the town unions and the monarchs and we have been able to establish POCACOV in those communities. We also play football matches as part of the advocacy and there we tell them that these are the benefits of coming together and remaining law-abiding.

“You need to explain to them that what they are doing is bad, they ask questions and they become better informed because people perish for lack of knowledge. The campaign has paid off as many of those working with us are those that have changed and renounced membership,” Amaraizu disclosed.

President-General of Owerre Ezukala Development Union, Orumba South Council of Anambra State, Sir Anayo Emejue agreed that cultism is actually ravaging the entire society and educational institutions. He blamed the movie industry operators for doing scripts on cultism and ritual murders which he said pushed our youths into thinking that they can become what they cannot be if they indulge in cultism and ritual murder as seen in the movies, and called on the film censors board to either censor such movies thoroughly or outrightly ban them.

Emejue disclosed that his community has liaised with appropriate government authorities like NDLEA and anti-cult groups to hunt for cultists and drug addicts and send them to reformation centers for proper rehabilitation for an agreed period after which they would be released to the town union for onward transmission to their respective families.

“We have collaborated with NDLEA and others to visit communities and lecture our youths. We have also used the police to detain those who are into cultism and drug addiction because they go into cultism out of pressure. We have also enrolled some of them in schools through our friends in the education committee and we have told everybody in the community that no matter how highly placed, they would desist from cultism because nobody is above the law and cultism is devilish and it can make you lose your life and your soul.”

Cultism, new normal of modernity

Speaking about his community, the Crown Prince, Muonago Royal Family of Okigwe, Prince Christopher Muo, lamented that cultism in Igbo communities have degenerated into anti-social behavior and criminality as the new normal of modernity in Igbo communities.

“Cultism is a function of seven key factors, namely: the bastardization of the Igbo socio-cultural concept and belief system as encapsulated in the masquerade. Second, the introduction of occultism into Igbo communities in the quest for quick wealth and protection from perceived enemies, promoted the menace of cultism in the Nigerian society and Igbo land in particular.

“Third, the decimation of ethno-cultural ceremonial activities that are used to initiate the adolescent into adulthood without providing constructive developmental alternatives is another factor. Fourth, the deliberate recruiting of economically disadvantaged Igbo youths into criminal gangs that operate in Nigerian townships aggravated the already bad situation of cultism in Igbo and Nigerian communities. Fifth, the introduction of criminal vocation as an occupational engagement and source of financial independence in Igbo communities, contributed to the menace of cultism in the region.

“Sixth, the exclusion of the employable segment of Igbo communities to accessing and leveraging on the national common wealth to attain personal economic/financial uplifting, hence the allure or attraction of the underworld passage to exiting generational poverty, aggravated the situation of cultism menace. Seventh, the criminalization of politics, political pupilage, political protégé, political patronage, political advancement and the adverse political struggle to occupy political office in Igbo communities, have bequeathed Igbo communities with a large population of armed assailants who for a fee, are engaged to commit all manner of criminal atrocities,” Muo said.
Prince Muo, an Onitsha- based legal practitioner, however suggested what he called nine strategic steps to eradicate the menace.

“To stem and eventually reverse the process, first, Igbo communities must respectively decriminalize political struggle at the community level. That is to remove violence from town union elections.

“Second, Igbo communities must reject all incumbent political office holders who perpetrated violence to attain political office. The same rule should be applied to those seeking political office. The glorification of known criminals by conferring awards and chieftaincy titles on them must be stopped by Igbo traditional institutions. Igbo communities must deliberately make open space for the intelligentsia in each community to come out of hiding and participate in the community life.

“Igbo communities should consciously engage the less than 50 years generation to engage with the Nigerian state institutions instead of the current phenomenon of Igbo absentee disposition to the Nigerian state. Igbo communities must resume the practice of celebrating genuine success stories in the communities.

“Each Igbo community must of a necessity, look inwards to rediscover its economic advantage and channel its youth to leverage on the existing economic advantage as means to exiting poverty. Communities must find the temerity of purpose to bring legal action in the name of the community to enforce their access to the implementation of budgeted projects in each community.

“Ndi Igbo should look in the mirror and come to terms with the image in the mirror which is the basic step for applying facial make up. You have to look in the mirror while powdering your face. So let each Igbo community look in the mirror and tell itself the truth about how crime and the enthronement of criminality became the gold standard,” the crown prince said.

Justice system is frustrating efforts at eradication

The former Chairman of Umuahia North Traditional Rulers Council and Traditional Ruler of Oriendu Autonomous Community, Eze Philip Ajomuiwe, commenting on the issue, expressed displeasure on how the criminal justice system is frustrating the efforts of his community to eradicate cultism and other forms of criminality.
He said his community from time to time arrest criminally-minded youths in the community but regretted that they later regain their freedom at the court.

“In my community, we organise our youths who go after these bad ones and they are handed over to the police. But surprisingly, shortly after they are charged to court and taken to the prison custody, the courts will grant them bail.”
The monarch called for tighter criminal administration system that would make it difficult for criminal elements to gain their freedom easily at the courts.

He also regretted that lack of prompt response by security agents when given a tip-off about the presence of these bad boys in the community also frustrates the efforts to combat the menace.

According to him, the security agencies most times complain of lack of logistics, hence their inability to respond promptly.

“Traditional rulers need adequate funding to effectively combat criminality, including cultism. Unfortunately, when we invite the police, they will tell you they have no fuel in their vehicle.

“So, if government wants us to handle the situation well, they should fund traditional rulers. We don’t have the capacity to do it alone. We need adequate funding to be able to fight crime in our communities”.
In his contribution, the traditional ruler of Isuochi ancient kingdom, Eze Godson Ezekwesiri, decried the rising wave of cultism among youths as alien to Igbo culture and tradition. The monarch, who described the new trend as abominable, blamed the increase in cult activities on poor parental upbringing.

He urged parents to consciously educate their children and wards on the dangers of cultism and other criminal activities.

According to the traditional ruler of Ihim Autonomous Community in Isiala Mbano Local Government Area of Imo State, Eze Oliver Ohanwe, his community will never condone cultism or spare any cultist.
Eze Ohanwe explained that he started in time to warn the youths against indulging in cultism and the consequences.This, he said, has kept the community away from being under siege by cultists.

The monarch, however, placed the blame on rise in activities of cultists, partly on some churches that create the impression that one can automatically become rich without having legitimate means of livelihood. He described cultism as the mother of robbery, murder and rituals which are against the culture and values of the Igbo.

“Cultism brings shame and destroys the future of the youths. In my community, we are strongly against cultism. And we have kept warning the youths to shun cultism. Most times, what they are told before joining is not actually what they see when they are initiated. In most cases, it becomes extremely difficult to come out, with its attendant consequences.
“Some of them are deceived to believe that they cannot be killed, but at the end, they die.

“I begin to caution them from childhood. That is why my community is not under siege by cultists. Schools and churches should be serious in condemning it. Some churches that tell people without jobs that miracle will make them rich should stop it. They are part of the reason the youths engage in such vices.

“So, in my community, we are united against cultism and will never condone it”, the monarch stated.

Community partners security agencies

The President-General of Amufie community in Igbo-Eze North Local Government Area, Enugu State, Bethel Onu, said his community is partnering with security agencies to fight cultism.

Onu, also disclosed that they have set out to sensitize the people on the ills of cultism and the need for parents to join the action plans of the community leaders.

“We are really challenged by the menace of cultism and it is truly affecting security in our community, however we are not relenting.

“Presently, we are cooperating with the Police and other security agencies through our Neighborhood Watch in this regard. We are planning campaigns and very serious orientation of our people on the ills of cultism and the need for parents to be involved in the action plans of the Town Union, Igwe-in-Council and other relevant authorities in a bid to stamp out cultism in and around our community.

“In all, we are hopeful that with the measures we are putting in place, we should be able to curb the excesses of cultists and God helping us, it shall be stamped out in our community,” he said.

In his opinion, Chairman of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Abia State chapter, Chief Okey Nwankwo, called for strict enforcement of laws on cultism to punish and keep away cultists from the society. Nwankwo lamented that even secondary school students and jobless youths have joined cultism, inflicting pains on the people. He noted that cultists have become too daring and operate in day time without fear of arrest by security agents and called for the establishment of more neighborhood watch and local vigilante groups to tackle the menace.

“The only solution is to strictly enforce laws on cultism and punish anyone who is identified with cultism, killing and maiming innocent people. Any cultist arrested should be prosecuted and jailed if found guilty. Cultism should not be treated with kid gloves because it feeds other criminal activities whether it is armed robbery, kidnapping or assassination. We must report suspected cultists to security agencies. These security agents are not spirits, they need information to work and secure our society. People should not hesitate to volunteer information to the security agencies. I am sure most heads of the various security agencies will treat such information confidentially.

“Nigeria has good laws that stipulate adequate punishment for cultism, but the problem is non- enforcement of the laws. Sometimes, when suspects are arrested on cultism charges, they are not prosecuted with diligence and you see the suspects regaining freedom to start tormenting the society again,” Nwankwo noted.

Offenders should face punishment

Contributing, Professor Okee Okoro of the Department of Library and Information Science, Imo State University, Owerri, said part of the strategy to end cult-related killings is to make sure that offenders face the punishment for committing such crimes.

“It is against the norms of good citizenship and ethic and ethos of humane upbringing to think evil against our fellows, engage in vices and any form of wickedness, and or the orgy of taking human lives. Call it banditry, cultism, kidnappings, robberies or other violent crimes, it goes to show the debasement of the individual as well as systemic failure of the family, community, state and nation due to the trepidation of hitherto cherished moral mores.

“The family should reestablish itself as the foundation of the principles of life, living, association and development. Parents and children should know that an enviable upbringing is important whereby virtuous living is enshrined and applauded and vices are disdainful and reprehensible.

“The government should stop paying lip service to education, employment, orientation and provision of facilities that enhance life for the enjoyment of the citizens. The issue of wicked/evil societies should be sanctioned and culprits treated in line with the criminal code.

“The legal framework should uphold the tenets of all men being equal before the law should be upheld. Every crime has a punishment and every criminal should not evade/escape punishment. These would reduce /curb/ curtail violent killings by anyone/group in our society”, Okoro said.

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