Anambra State, Southeast Nigeria, with a population of 4.87 million, is endowed with people of strong entrepreneurial spirit, who dominate the economy, especially manufacturing and commerce as well as education sectors. However, the state is threatened by the activities of cultists who rape, rob, kill and abduct thereby raising concerns for the security agencies.
In July, Mr John Abang, the Commissioner of Police in Anambra State, held an emergency meeting of the police operational hierarchy where he charged them to work hard to stem the rising menace of cultism in the state.
The meeting was attended by Area Commanders, Divisional Police Officers and tactical commanders. The commissioner directed immediate and aggressive manhunt for the perpetrators, including their sponsors, to deal with the problem.
Before the meeting, the state command, through the Special Anti-Cultism Squad (SPACS), headed by SP Uche Oyinnaya, arrested 147 suspected cultists from various parts of the state, in May.
The Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Haruna Mohammed, said the team worked with Puff-Adder/Kpochakpu operatives.
“From all the raids carried out, a total of 147 suspects were arrested. Fifty-five suspects were screened out and released unconditionally. Thirty-five suspects were charged to court; 17 were profiled and placed under police supervision for being underage, while 40 suspects are undergoing investigation,” Mohammed said.
Also on July 24, the police command said it arrested no fewer than 103 persons suspected to have been involved in cult activities and located in different hideouts across the state, he said, adding that the suspects were caught with firearms, ammunition and narcotic substances.
The police said some of the locations where the arrests were made included Awka, Ogidi, Oko, Ihiala, Nkpor, Igbariam, Amawbia, Oraifite, Oba, Abagana and Nanka.
“Among those arrested include a notorious cult member who is responsible for initiating young persons into a secret cult at a tender age,” Mohammed said.
He said the cultists were involved in numerous crimes, including robbery, rape and kidnapping and added three persons were arrested over the rape of two teenage girls in Awada Obosi near Onitsha not long ago.
Mohammed said that on one occasion cultists abducted two young girls aged 15 and 17 years and forced them to undergo initiation rites before gang-raping them and letting them go.
On Sunday, August 9, 2020, unknown persons butchered 43-year-old Azubuike Ekwegbalu, the Senior Special Assistant to Governor Willie Obiano on Security, in his residence in Awka in a suspected cult attack.
Ekwegbalu who hailed from Oyi Local Government Area of the state, was an intelligence officer leading the campaign of the state government against cultism. Three years earlier, August 6, 2017, the cult war was carried into a place of worship wherein a gunman entered St Philip’s Catholic Church, Ozubulu, during Mass, killed 12 persons and wounded many others.
On May 21, 2018, the police in Anambra State reported that no fewer than nine persons were killed in one day in Awka, the state capital, when rival cult groups clashed during an annual cultural festival.
Also on June 6, 2018 the police said 16 persons were killed during a two-week gun-battle between rival cult groups, Black Axe and Junior Vikings fraternity in Awka. Thirty-five suspected cultists allegedly involved in the fight were arrested.
The police also said that on August 5, 2019, five deaths resulting from a cult clash were recorded in a day at Ogidi, Idemili North Council Area and Ogbunike in Oyi Council Area.
Mr Garba Umar, a former Commissioner of Police in Anambra, said cultism had permeated all segments of the society, including students, artisans and motor-parks workers. He attributed increased cases of robbery, rape, abductions, among others, on the cultism menace.
Dr Nnamdi Umezinwa, a lecturer in the Department of Quantity Surveying, Federal Polytechnic Oko, Anambra State, noted that cultism had grown from a campus activity to a societal problem.
Umezinwa said the major push factor was a sense of insecurity or complex among the cultists and their desire to belong to groups to enjoy some forms of imaginary protection.
According to him, cultism is not about youths, it is a societal problem which predates modern society.
“A major cause of cultism is the craze to belong. Various forms of cultism are seen in schools, business places, religious and professional organisations. The thinking, though erroneous, is that belonging to these cult groups will enable the individual enjoy some assumed group protection and connection.
“The poor value orientation at the family level, idleness and peer influence are also to be blamed for the problem,” he said.
Umezinwa said the pervasive nature of cultism in the society was a huge challenge to the fight against the menace, adding that a strong will was needed among security agencies and the judiciary to deal with it.
“The use of force in tackling cultism has not yielded the desired result because of how cult interest have permeated the ranks of security agencies and judiciary.
“What is needed is to work on the psyche of the youth, we have to return to our fire values as a people and change the orientation of the people, “ he said.
On his part, Franklin Emeremgini, a security expert said in spite the entrepreneurial nature of Anambra man, it was worrisome that cultism has become rampant among the youth.
Emeremgini said the most common cult groups were Black Axe, Junior Vikings and Eiye confraternities.
He attributed the rise of cultism to the displacement of the youth often hired by politicians in the build-up to elections and abandoned thereafter.
He said the few who were lucky to enjoy the protection of the principal after elections got compensated with management of parks and unions of tricycle and motorcycle operators where cultism activities were most noticeable.
Emeremgini also blamed the problem on idleness and unemployment and urged the government to create a more enabling business environment to encourage entrepreneurship among the youth.
“Our motor parks and intra city transport operator unions have been taken over by these people. They also make returns to their godfathers in political positions so it is difficult to successfully arrest and prosecute their leaders.
“The anti-cult unit of the Police Command is doing a lot but I think they need more intelligence gathering and logistics to effectively smoke these miscreants out of their holes.
“But more importantly, for the war on cultism to be won decisively, their leaders most of who are in government, must be fished out and a lot of political will is needed to achieve that.
“There was a time when a well-known party chieftain was arrested for evidently being linked to some cult killings here in Awka. The media celebrated it but the fellow is walking free in the streets with security as I am talking to you.
“His release was secured after high powered interests in the state intervened,” he said.
Emeremgini added: “Cultism seems like one of the evils that have come to live with us but people believe that it is not impossible to stamp it out as it is a human creation which has far reaching negative social consequences.
“It is advised that parents take the front role in the fight by ensuring that their children and wards have strong moral values and guided upbringing while government take it as a responsibility to safeguard the lives and property of citizens.
“It must muster the political will to activate instruments of state like security and judiciary to combat the menace of cultism as special form of crime.
“The negative impact of cultism on security and societal values cannot be exhausted. This is inclusive of small armed robbery in the major cities of Awka, Onitsha and Idemili Area which often result to injuries and sometimes death of victims.’’
Additional reporting by Augustine Okorafor
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