By Patrick Ochoga, Benin City; JOSHUA DADA, Osogbo; RICHARD NDOMA, Calabar; HEMBADOON ORSAR, Makurdi, OGUNTADE ISMAILA, Lagos.
There are growing concerns across the country over the high level of involvement of teenagers in cultism, leading to killings and arson by different cult groups.
LEADERSHIP Sunday findings revealed that youth aged between 13 and 20 years execute their deadly activities across the states, especially in Edo, Lagos, Osun, Anambra and Cross River considered as hotbed of the nefarious act.
Further checks showed an upsurge in activities of cult groups after the recent #EndSARS protests across the states.
Most Nigerians who spoke to LEADERSHIP Sunday expressed displeasure over the killings and arson by cultists, especially as the yuletide approaches.
The upsurge in cult-related activities in Benue State, especially the initiation of primary school children in cult groups, have been attributed to the negligence of parents and caregivers who entrust their children in the hands of people that wrongly guide them.
The state’s police spokesperson, DSP Catherine Anene, in a telephone interview with our correspondent, said most parents and caregivers leave their children in wrong hands without monitoring the kind of language they are taught or friends they keep, thereby leaving them at the mercy of people who expose them to societal ills.
According to her, during the COVID-19 lockdown, over 250 cult members aged 14 and above were arrested from various initiation meetings, especially in rural areas.
“Most of the parents and caregivers are causing this problem, you can imagine leaving your child with a relation who exposes him or her to the internet to watch things that are not meant for children, and as they grow they grow with this and redirecting their steps becomes a problem, especially when noticed late,” she said.
She added that cultists have adopted new strategies to get young children and have gone ahead to initiate them right in primary and secondary schools and from the way they brain-wash the teenagers, it is usually difficult to change them when they join the fraternity.
“You can imagine that at ages of 14 and 15 these children are already initiated as cult members, we have been arresting them and bringing them here, so it is as bad as that,” she added.
DSP Anene who described cultism as one of the major criminal activities in the state appealed to parents and caregivers to always be vigilant in monitoring activities of their children and wards.
“We have discovered that the most targeted places now are schools in the rural areas they go there to initiate children so that they start early, because they are ignorant at that level,” she said.
In Edo, successive governments have had the herculean task in confronting cultism.
Two months ago, four rival cult groups engaged in a supremacy war which led to the death of no fewer than 50 youths.
The situation became more worrisome in Benin-City, the state capital, after the police discovered that teenagers were initiated into two cult groups- the Hallah of the night and Eiye confraternity in Uromi.
Penultimate week, some arrested cult members were paraded by the state police commissioner, Mr Johnson Kokumo. Among them were two teenagers aged between 13 and 15, with different arms and ammunition.
The teenage cultists confessed that they were initiated by other members of the group, adding that belonging to a cult group boosts their confidence as they feel they now belong to the group of “big boys”.
It was gathered that some of them are secondary school students while others are school-dropouts, especially those in the Eiye confraternity while the members of the Hallah of the night are secondary school students.
But a police source told LEADERSHIP Sunday: “The law will not spare them if they commit any offence, no matter their age. What they are doing is unlawful and that is how they enter into crimes like armed robbery and kidnapping.
“We have discovered that the cultists are fearless and they are the ones who can do anything, they can be ruthless. These are people who will storm people’s houses and slaughter their targets. These cultists behead one another when they are fighting. And that is why people like us are bothered because it has gone down to secondary and primary schools and it is worrisome and unfortunate.”
According to Chief Bessong Etta of Ekimkai community, Akaparabong village in Ikom local government area of Cross River State, cultism is one evil that the traditional institution has to rise up and fight even if it means resorting to the local measure, where voodoo powers will be used to rid it.
The monarch stated that on several occasions, ancestors had been called upon to take care of the perpetrators.
He said, “It is worrisome that we spend money and go the extra mile to borrow money with interest to train these children in school, only for them to join forces with the so-called local boys to terrorise the community.
“This is why we often pour libation with fervent prayers to our ancestors to ensure that justice is done to the perpetrators of this heinous crime where several innocent persons are killed.
“It’s so pathetic that even street boys who had never enrolled in any tertiary institution are now the ones recruiting the educated ones to wreak havoc in our communities”.
He said cultism is the reason other traditional rulers, including himself, approved moves by their counterparts in Efik Kingdom where spiritual invocation and incantations and libations were invoked by royal fathers, begging their ancestors to rise up to the challenge.
“We were so happy when we came across a statement from Efik traditional rulers, warning everyone hitherto involved in cult activities to soft pedal or be ready to face whatever consequences that follows,” he said.
The monarch, who said as fathers, they had tried in their own little way to ensure that cultism doesn’t persist in the state, stressed that it’s unfortunate that children hardly listen to their parents nowadays.
The state’s police public relations officer, Irene Ugbo, said the state command had been working round the clock to ensure that cultists were arrested.
Ugbo said many had been apprehended by the command and charged to court for trial.
Although she didn’t say the exact number of cultists arrested, she said the police had been working assiduously to ensure that anyone caught in the act faces the full wrath of the law.
She said it’s really unfortunate that Nigerians aged 20 to 34 years belong to cult groups, stressing that only a few advanced individuals get involved in cult activities.
In Osun, the recent surge in cultism has been a major concern for residents, particularly teachers, parents and security agencies.
It was initially limited to youths and adults, especially in tertiary institutions before teenagers within the ages of 13 and 19 years started joining the groups.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP Sunday in Osogbo, the police public relations officer, Mrs Yemisi Opadola, said the police were strategically stamping out the menace in schools.
Opadola said suspected cultists when apprehended, are promptly charged to court to serve as a deterrence to others.
An old student of Osogbo Grammar School who expressed sadness over the development said the alumni association of the school had organised periodic lectures to curb the menace in the school.
He blamed the rise in cult activities on moral decadence in society, adding that the recent development where discipline has been relaxed by authorities has largely contributed to the menace.
Pastor Sam Olatunde, the district superintendent of CAC, Glorious Arena English Assembly, Osogbo, called on religious leaders to speak-out on the evil effect of cultism in their places of worship.
According to him, most of the teenagers that are involved in cult activities don’t know the consequences, adding that some were lured into it.
Pastor Olatunde noted that there is nothing God cannot do, adding that there is the need to pray to God to touch the hearts of the teeming youths.
A student who spoke on condition of anonymity attributed the rise in cultism to the influence of peer groups.
According to him, many of the cultists in schools are children of the elite, adding that the urge to ‘belong’ is responsible for the surge in membership of the secret movements.
In the Southwest, security operatives, residents and many communities have been struggling with the menace of cultism in Lagos and its environs.
It has gradually assumed an alarming trend, following the orgy of killings and wanton destruction of public and private property.
An instance is the case of a commercial motorcyclist identified as Lukeman, a father of two, who was recently hacked to death at Odo-Eran area of Oworoshoki by suspected cultists.
In the Ikorodu area of Lagos, the battle is between Aiye and Eiye confraternities.
However, in the densely populated Ajegunle area of the state, the One Million Boys gangsters hold sway, while there is Fadeyi Boys in Fadeyi, Akala Boys in Mushin, Nokia Boys in Surulere and Shitta Boys in Bariga, Oworoshoki, Shomolu and Palm Groove areas.
In Dopemu, Agege, Ogba, Iyana Ipaja and parts of Ago area, Awawa Boys hold sway, while Badagry, Lekki, Okokomaiko and Ajah areas have Aiye and Eiye groups slugging it out. At Ipaja and Ayobo areas of the state, the Koko cult group dominates there.
Surprisingly, cultism has been transported into markets, as some traders in almost all the popular markets in Lagos belong to a cult group. One of the popular cult groups among traders is the Arobago group.
LEADERSHIP Sunday checks revealed that the menace of cultism and other vices are especially among the youth aged between 16 and 30 years.
The Lagos State commissioner of police, Hakeem Odumosun, said he arrested about 13 youths across the state for belonging to cult groups.
The police spokesperson, SP Muyiwa Adejobi, said the command would not tolerate cultism.
He said four suspects were arrested on November 8 for their alleged involvement in a cult rampage in Mushin area of the state.
“20-year-old Popoola Michael, Daniel Adome,18; Kayode Thompson,18 and Taiwo Okiki, 18, were accused of being members of Omo Kasari confraternity,” he noted.
He added that another group of suspects were arrested on November 9, 2020 in connection with the recent cult-related violence in Ikorodu, where 21-year-old Segun James, Agbelusi Sunday, 20, Kareem Ishola, 20; 19-year-old Opeyemi Oderinde; Olasojo Gbolahan,18 and Ayodele Olasunkanmi,18, were arrested by a special team.
“Otubu Samson,17; Kayode Agoro,17 and 16-year-old Otako Jeremiah, were also arrested with the group and accused of being members of Aiye Confraternity.
“Items recovered from the suspects include locally made guns, live cartridges, axes, cutlasses, charms and some other offensive weapons,” he said.
Adejobi said the commissioner of police, Hakeem Odumosun, had concluded plans to work closely with the Ministry of Justice to ensure speedy trial of the suspects as part of the command’s Operation Say No To Cultism campaign.
The commissioner said cultism must be tackled effectively and urged members of the public to support the authorities to maintain peace.
The Lagos State House of Assembly had in August said it would consider amending the state’s anti-cultism law to include punishing the parents of those convicted of cultism.
Commenting on the development, the chairman, Alagbado Community Development Association (CDA), Comrade Olagbaju Adewusi, said cult activities are not restricted to schools.
“Some of the historical secret cults in the society include the Ogboni among the Yorubas, Ekpe among the Efiks, Poro among the Mende and Ekine cult of eastern Delta and among others.
“Most of these cults render support to a majority of the campuses and the negative activities of the secret cults in our schools seem to have defiled all known solutions, in spite of the collective efforts of the governments at different levels, school authorities, churches and parents in curbing the menace, the reason being that the financiers, supporters and godfathers of the majority of the campus or community-based fraternities are some of the influential members of society who are also cult members.
“Therefore, for the war on secret cult eradication in our schools and society to be successful, all hands must be on deck. In the first place, the government should come out with adequate legal and social sanctions against any confirmed member as well as financiers or supporters of secret cults, whether on the campuses or in the larger society.
“The school authorities should also be given full backing to rusticate any student or lecturer found to be a cult member. Equally, parents and guardians should rise up to the challenge, be duty-bound to monitor from time to time, the behaviours of their children in schools and outside the school, mostly in the higher institutions,” he said.
He added that for the fact that a child is in a tertiary institution does not imply that he is beyond the control of his/her parents, noting that a “stitch in time saves nine”.
Makurdi Varsity Student In Police Net Over Prof’s Murder
Meanwhile, the Benue State Police Command has confirmed the arrest of a suspect who allegedly murdered an associate professor in the department of Mechanical Engineering, Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi (FUAM), Engr Karl Aondona Kwaghger.
This came as the father of the deceased, Pa Peter Kwaghger, urged the government to ensure that justice prevails in the killing of his first son no matter how highly placed the culprit might be.
While expressing satisfaction with the manner in which the police are handling the matter so far, the 70-year-old said all he wanted was justice for his son.
The police spokesperson, DSP Catherine Anene in a statement, disclosed that the suspect, one Nnamdi Jeremiah of Umigwe village in Imo State, who is a student of Crop Production at FUAM, was arrested in Abuja while trying to sell the victims’ car.
He said, “On 28/11/2020 at about 2120hrs, information was received that Dr. Karl Kwaghger, a lecturer with the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi was found in a pool of blood at J.S. Tarka Foundation where he went to relax.
“The command immediately deployed police detectives to the scene where they met the victim brutally stabbed on his ribs and cut on his neck. The victim was quickly rushed to Bishop Murray Hospital where the doctor confirmed him dead and deposited his corpse at the morgue.”
The PPRO added that during police investigation, one Nnamdi Jeremiah of Umigwe village in Imo State, a student of Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, was arrested in Abuja where he went to sell the car of the deceased and confessed to committing the crime.
The suspect has confessed to the crime and further stated that his initial intention was not to kill Karl, but to threaten him with a make-believe gun and then rob him of his Venza car but because of his resistance when he approached him, he killed him.
DSP Anene said investigation into the murder of Karl was in progress, and appealed to the general public to always assist the police with timely and useful information to rid criminal elements in their midst.
Meanwhile, Governor Samuel Ortom has urged the police and other security agencies to ensure that all those involved in the killing are apprehended for prosecution.
While consoling the family, Ortom called for a thorough investigation into the incident and reaffirmed his administration’s resolve to sustain the fight against crime in all its ramifications, adding that those involved in the murder must be brought to justice.
Dr Kwaghger was slaughtered on November 28, 2020 at the JS Tarka Foundation, a popular drinking joint in Makurdi. His remains were found at the car park of the joint, while his car, phones and shoes were taken away by the killer.