For some months now, cult-related activities, banditry, kidnapping, destruction of public properties by hoodlums and unknown gunmen have been in the rise especially in the South East. In Anambra, clashes by rivalry cultists seem to have become a weekly activity.
Scores of lives, unfortunately, had been wasted while others had been maimed during such clashes by these young boys and (sometimes) girls at various parts of the state, particularly in Awka, the capital city of the state and its environs.
The state, which prided itself as the safest state in the country, regrettably is fast losing that testimony in view of frequent cases of cult activities and the alarming number of deaths being recorded in the state.
The ugly trend has taken a greater dimension following recent attacks on Police formations and personnel by unknown gunmen who had successfully killed several security operatives, razed their formations, and looted their armouries.
The police, who had hitherto moderated the activities of these cultists, appeared crippled by these killings as many of the officers have gone underground for fear of losing their lives, thereby creating room for a “free for all” for the cultists.
These cultists, who apparently have taken advantage of the ‘absence’ of the police in the state to wreak havoc in the state, had created steady tension and panic among residents of the state.
Aside from making life unbearable for the people, the activities of the miscreants have made it difficult for residents to go about their daily activities because of fear of attacks from the youths.
Two weeks ago, three persons were gunned down in a clash between rival cult groups in Awka South Local Government Area of the State. One youth was killed in Umubele, while the other two were killed in Okpuno.
It was gathered from an eyewitness that four young men alighted from a tricycle and opened fire on the boys at Okpuno, while he described that of Umubele, which sent residents scampering for safety as akin to that of a movie.
“Nobody is safe in Awka nowadays. These boys kill themselves on a daily basis, but the worst part of it is that policemen are helpless,” the witness said.
Residents of Okija in Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State were also said to have been gripped by tension following killings of two persons in a clash of two rival cult groups in the area.
The incident, which took place in the compound of a former top chief in Umuzu community, witnessed the beheading of one of the victims, while his head was taken away by the assailants.
The other victim, who was killed somewhere else in the same community, had his feet severed from the ankles in a trending video on social media, while the other parts of the body had machete wounds.
The former president-general of the community, Chukwudum Ndedigwe, said the compound where the incident happened belonged to their late monarch, Igwe Ubakanonu.
He said: “Ohalegbu, Umuogu and Umuzu villages where the killing of the young man took place are the descendants of Ikeasomba, our great grandfather.”
In the same town, four persons were killed and one admitted in a hospital after renewed cult activities.
A young man was said to have had his head severed in the presence of his nonagenarian mother and taken away by suspected cultists.
Three persons were killed while the latest victim, who hailed from Umuatuegwu village, was hit by a stray bullet when rival cults were exchanging gunfire.
A source said members of the groups created tension in the area as they continued to harass each other at the busy Nkwo Okija Market.
The source said: “As I am speaking, there is a commotion at the Nkwo Market and the disturbing thing is that these boys are using the opportunity to extort money from people.
“Those who refuse to give them money usually have their cars torched. The development has forced many people to hurriedly leave the market for their homes.”
He said police personnel had been deployed in the area, adding that the expectation was that they would return normalcy to the town.
Just between last Sunday and Monday, six persons were reportedly gunned down in separate attacks between suspected cultists within the state capital.
One person was shot dead at a motor park, another near UNIZIK Junction, while another one was shot at a beer parlour near Aroma junction).
Two others were killed at Ifite, Awka on Sunday, while a young man was also gunned down at Amansea on Monday.
A resident of the area, who said the assailants drove in with tricycles at each of the operations, also disclosed that one of the deceased was a fitness instructor in a gym and a councillor in one of the local government areas in the state
The situation is not different in Onitsha, the commercial city of the state. Aside from the cult-related activities, robbery of all forms had been on the rise.
A lady, who preferred anonymity, narrated how she escaped a robbery attack on Obosi Road
She said: “People should avoid entering Onitsha late if they are driving in order to avoid being caught in traffic. They now target people in traffic and rob them in turns.
“I now leave my office much earlier after a woman’s windscreen was smashed with a cutlass and she was robbed along Obosi Road. She was like three cars before me. Still haven’t gotten over the shock. I was lucky her car was the last to be robbed before they took off. Please, let’s all be careful. These hoodlums are mean.”
Another resident, Chukwuma Egwu, described the cult killings in the state as alarming.
“What’s happening in the city of Awka? The killings are getting too much. Ifite and Amansea have not known peace for a while now. The level of cultism among the youths in town is so alarming.
“One was killed last week after burying his father, other killings ensued. This morning, four have been murdered along the same axis,” he lamented.
Leaders and other stakeholders in the state have continued to express worry over the ugly development, calling on government and security agencies to rise to the occasion.
The Special Assistant to Governor Willie Obiano on Political Matters, Ifeatu Obi-Okoye, while speaking on “Cultism: The role of women in combating menace amongst youths” at a leadership summit, urged parents to beef up their involvement in curbing the cultism, which he blamed on failed homes.
Tracing the history of cultism in Nigeria, Obi-Okoye identified poor leadership, poverty and peer group pressures responsible for increasing cult activities, calling for its eradication from home.
The traditional ruler of Ogidi, Igwe Pharmacist Alex Uzor Onyido, frowned at the increasing menace, calling on parents to intensify their efforts in providing guidance to their children.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chiedu Igbokwe, urged parents to warn their children on the dangers of drug abuse, as well as to instil in them, the spirit of hard work.
He also recommended education, the establishment of community counselling centres, inclusion of drug abuse in the school curriculum, sensitisation, among others, as measures to curb drug abuse and cultism in society.
The President, Ogidi Women (Home and Abroad), Hon. Mrs. Ify Okonkwo, lamented the increasing cases of cultism and other vices among the youths, calling for a holistic approach by women and other stakeholders to find a lasting solution to curbing them.
She said it was not time for parents to sit on the fence and watch citizens of the state suffered at the hands of the cultists, neither was it time to be docile and unresponsive to the ugly trends.
She said: “The menace of cultism is glaringly seen and felt, following the recent development in our dear state. Such notorious groups must be discouraged – here, women and mothers have roles to play in cautioning their wards.
“Similarly, parents must ensure they pay closer attention to their children to prevent them from indulging in illicit drug intakes. The negative effect of drug abuse on our children is staggering: It is often a catalyst for other heinous crimes in our dear community and state.
“No doubt, without women involvement and engagement in leadership positions, our community will be in imminent jeopardy. We need women to change the status quo in our society.”
A public commentator, Victor Aguiyi, blamed the situation on years of unbridled bribery among the Police.
“But there’s a psychological dimension to security. The political symbolism attached to it scares. Ask Bakassi boys and SARS. Too many weapons in private hands, too many drugs close to the noses or palates of younger people.
“Failure of police over the years of unbridled bribery to do the right things. These are dangerous times.”
For Tony Okafor, a lawyer, the Police should not be totally blamed for their temporary withdrawal from duty posts, describing it as a wise step to take at the instance.
He said: “I think we need to empathize with the police at this stage. They are not superhuman. They are parents, husbands and wives. They have families. When they suddenly become targets of attacks, it’s only wise that they should retreat and re-plan their strategy.”
While confirming most of the cult incidents, Police spokesperson Tochukwu Ikenga had assured residents of the state that the force was on top of the situation.
He said series of arrests have been made, while police operatives were on track to apprehend those at large.
Ikenga added that the Commissioner of Police, Monday Kuryas, had called for calm and also called on parents to pay closer attention to their wards.
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