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Rising cultism menace should be crushed

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CULT and gangland clashes continue to afflict towns and cities across many parts of Nigeria. More than 10 persons, including three secondary school pupils, were killed in cult attacks last weekend in Sagamu, Ogun State. In Osun State, five persons were murdered as two rival cults-cum-criminal gangs, Aiye, and Eiye, battled for supremacy in Ilesa. The police should intensify their efforts, while state governors, traditional leaders, and other opinion leaders should join with state agencies to halt spiralling lawlessness in their respective areas.

Within two weeks in Ilesa, two suspected cultists identified simply as ‘Machine’ and ‘Skay,’ were shot dead at Imo Junction. Two others were killed around Sabo/Irojo Junction in revenge for the Imo killing, and another resident of Oke Omiru was murdered on Tuesday, in reprisal for the earlier attack.

In Rivers State, the Divisional Police Officer of Ahoada, Bako Angbashim, was brutally murdered and his body dismembered by cultists who later offered to turn in their arms in exchange for “amnesty.”

This menace is entrenched in Lagos State, the country’s economic nerve centre. In broad daylight, rival cults frequently clash many areas, including Isolo, Mushin, Fadeyi, Surulere, Agege, Ajah, and Somolu-Bariga, and Ipaja. There have been mindless killings, rapes, shootings, traffic robberies among others. The Badoo cult gang operated in the Ikorodu area between 2016 and 2018 until its leader and fetish priest was captured, ending its reign of terror. Cult violence has taken root in Sagamu and Ijebu-Ode, among other cities in Ogun State.

An alarming twist is the involvement of children and teenagers, and primary and secondary school pupils. Police and local security operatives and vigilantes are increasingly encountering underage boys and girls initiated into gangs, and engaged in crimes such as pickpocketing, mugging, and burglary at major bus stops and roads across Lagos State.

Cultism is also resurgent in tertiary institutions and cult supremacy battles are extended to school environments, and target teachers and other students. A minimum of 21 years jail term now awaits cultists under the new Lagos State’s anti-cultism law.

In August, 116 members of the Aiye cult in Ifo, Ogun State, were arrested while celebrating their 20th anniversary. Police said over 300 cultists, including female invitees, were sighted. In April, security operatives in Oyo State reported a resurgence of cult clashes in Agbowo, Orogun, Sango, and Oke-Ogun.

Similarly, in April, two persons died in a conflict between rival cult groups in Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State. One of the victims, a middle-aged man, was shot at repeatedly by the cultists and when they realised the bullets did not kill him, they battered him to death with stones.

There is an urgent need for state-wide and regional initiatives to stop the menace. Accusations that some politicians employ cultists as political thugs to intimidate opponents, for assassinations and for electoral violence should be investigated.

In fairness, Amotekun, the South-West regional security and other vigilance groups in Ondo, Ekiti and Osun states have succeeded in arresting many cultists. However, these efforts should include an overall strategy and integrate intelligence-gathering and ICT tools. Other states should strengthen the police, security outfits and vigilance groups. They should have specific units to combat cultism and ritual killings. All cultists and criminals should be tracked down and brought to justice.

Elders, socio-political groups, community development associations and NGOs, should join hands with the law enforcement agencies to combat rising cultism. They should expose and prosecute the fetish priests, spiritualists and religious charlatans that invest the criminals with their bravado and false sense of invincibility.

Faith-based organisations and traditional rulers should intervene to emphasise and inculcate sound ethical values in the young. Parents, teachers and education sector stakeholders should take a firm stance against cultism, and ensure that all those who indulge in it are identified and prosecuted.

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