June 8, 2024

Cultism: The menace scaring Awka people from their palatial homes

Suspected drug peddler, one other, killed in renewed cult war in Bayelsa

By Vincent Ujumadu

Cult-related killings have become a new normal in most of the villages that make up Awka community, the capital of Anambra State, such that many residents of the city, particularly the elites, now abandon their palatial homes to check into hotels at night.

In the past five years, it had become a common sight to see dead bodies litter the streets, usually after an exchange of fire between rival cult groups. There had been instances where indigenes residing outside the state met their deaths on the night they stepped into Awka and when questions were asked, the answer would be that previous killing was traced to the victim and his rival cult group only waited patiently for him to step into Awka for a revenge.

Cultism had in fact, permeated many segments of the youths in Awka, with the result that it has moved beyond the tertiary institutions to the markets and even to secondary schools and among tricycle operators. Areas where the killings have become a common occurrence include Ifite, Okpuno, Dike Street, near Eke Awka Main Market, Obinagu, Nkwelle, Ezinano, UNIZIK junction, among other places.

Recently, there was pandemonium at the busy Aroma area of Awka when, in a broad daylight, gunmen suspected to be cultists, killed one youth in his 20s. The development caused business houses in the area to quickly close, with many people scampering to safety. The victim, who hailed from Amudo Village in Awka, was said to be a tricycle revenue collector who was previously a Keke operator himself. It was gathered that the assailants trailed him from the Ifite area of the state capital and shot him at close range at a filling station, which serves as a popular bus stop for buses and tricycles. Few hours later, another youth wearing the apron of the taskforce set up by the state government to enforce traffic violation, was gunned down by suspected cultists who sped off in a Siena bus after ensuring that he died on the spot.

Also, in the afternoon of this year’s Easter Sunday, there was shooting at Eke Awka area, which later escalated to the other parts of Awka and at the end of the shooting, some people were also gunned down by suspected cultists. One of the persons hit by a stray bullet was a staff of the Anambra State Judiciary, simply identified as Mr. Nwofor, who was said to be innocently going about his normal business before the cultists struck.

It was therefore not surprising when the member representing Awka 1 state constituency in the Anambra State House of Assembly, Hon Henry Mbachu, a Labour Party lawmaker, lamented that no fewer than 34 persons were killed during cult-related clashes in Awka in the last three weeks, expressing worry that Awka is degenerating into an unsafe place, despite being the capital of the state. He said the killings have continued even though the governor and his deputy, as well as heads of all the security agencies in the state live in Awka.

Worried by the ugly development, Mbachu convened a summit after mobilizing Awka people from all parts of the country. Major stakeholders, including the Ozo title holders, village heads, women leaders, clergy men, and politicians, attended the summit. Before the summit, he toured all major cities of Nigeria where Awka people reside, such as Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Enugu, among others and consulted elders and stakeholders to rally their support for the summit.

Mbachu said: “The situation appears to have overwhelmed everybody, but we cannot continue like this. We have to come together and fashion out a way forward. Awka is the capital of our dear state and it houses the governor, deputy governor, speaker and all members of the House of Assembly.

“The Police Commissioner lives in Awka, same for the director of DSS, commandant of NSCDC, and various security agencies. So, who are these cultists that these people cannot team up and combat their activities? We need to look inwards to know what the problem is because I no longer believe this is just about cult killings..

“Between Easter and now, I have kept count and no less than 34 youths have been killed. These are people’s children, they are people’s husbands and fathers. Should we continue to fold our hands and let these continue?

“It is as if we are afraid, but something has to be done. That is why we are convoking a security summit for everyone in Awka to come together and seek a way forward.

Mbachu, who traced the menace to falling moral values amongst the youths and the failure of parents and elders to inculcate moral values in their children, said that despite the fact that gates have been constructed and mounted at the entry and exit points of virtually every street, numbering currently about 54 gates, and, about 18 villages vigilant groups in Awka working day and night, the situation required that a more deliberate action should be taken to proffer solutions to the problem.

As part of the solution to the cult menace, Ozo Ndu Nwakalor, secretary of the Ozo title holders in Awka, disclosed that Awka people have decreed that henceforth, any of their members who facilitated bail from security custody for offenses connected with cultism, would be excommunicated and disrobed as a member of Ozo society. President General of Awka Women’s Town Union, Mrs Ogechukwu Ekwuozor urged various security agencies in the state to prioritize the capital city’s security so that their men should no longer run away from their homes. She also called on mothers to take up the challenge of monitoring their children’s behaviour and stop shielding them when they indulge in criminality.

Labour Party chieftain, Mr Valentine Ozigbo, urged the state government to prioritize security, adding that the provision of employment opportunities for the youth wash critical to fighting insecurity.

The Senator representing Anambra Central Senatorial District, Chief Victor Umeh urged residents of Awka to mobilize and bring to an end the worrisome cult activities and allied crimes in the area, saying the Igbo nation is not known for wasting human blood. According to Umeh, insecurity was impeding the development of Awka capital city despite the presence of Government House and other institutions in the area.

He said: “Security should be everybody’s business as it affects both economic and social life of the people. Awka is bless,ed like every other town made capital city of a state and I urge you to secure your land so that the residents and strangers can live happily and their business thrive. If Awka is well secured, people will come to invest. No one likes to invest in an insecure environment”.

Also, the member representing Awka North and Awka South Federal Constituency at the National Assembly, Professor Lilian Orogbu, said she was pained as insecurity in the state capital had forced many scholars and!State House of Assembly, Mr Somtochukwu Udeze, expressed optimism that cult related crisis would become a thing of past once the executive arm of government fully implements the anti cult law already passed by the state legislature.

The bill stipulates relevant punishment and sanctions to cultists, including their friends, sponsors, landlords, producers and marketers of riffles, owners of vehicles or premises used for cult- related activities and whoever showed up as witness or signatory to meet their bail conditions.