The Odofin of Sonyindo in Sagamu and member of the Sagamu Security Committee, Oba Gisanrin Lasisi, talks to OLUMIDE TAIWO about the recent cult clash that claimed eight lives in the area, the curfew imposed by the local government council and ways to curtail the problem
What is your role in Sagamu?
I am Oba Gisanrin Lasisi, the Odofin of Sonyindo, Sagamu, in the Sagamu Local Government Area of Ogun State. Next month will be my 16 years on the throne. I was on the principal cadre in one of the secondary schools in the state before I ascended the throne of my forefathers. I have been a member of the Sagamu Security Committee since my enthronement.
On Monday, the Force Public Relations Officer, Olumuyiwa Adejobi, via his X handle, stated that almost everyone young in Sagamu was a cultist. As a community leader in Sagamu, how true is this?
That’s not true. Yes, we have a problem to deal with but that does not mean we have to demonise an average young man in Sagamu. That type of sweeping generalisation is wrong. I know Muyiwa very well; he was with us here in Sagamu when I just became the king. We interacted a lot before (he) moved to the state command (headquarters), Abeokuta, where he became the Police Public Relations Officer and then moved to Lagos. After which he was moved to Abuja as the Force PRO. That generalisation is not the truth. In fact, through our investigation, we found out that many of the cultists were strangers. They are not from Sagamu. Many of those boys are from other states, like Osun, Oyo, and the like. When you hear them speaking, you can easily spot that they are strangers; they really don’t have anything at stake, so destroying a place that is not their root means nothing to them.
Talking about the fight against cultism in Sagamu, I want to say that as traditional rulers, we have not been folding our arms but it is unfortunate that our resolve to fight this menace to a standstill has yielded little result.
On Monday, the Ogun State Commissioner of Police, Abiodun Alamutu, confirmed that eight people were killed during cult clashes in the Sagamu area of the state, though some residents claimed that no fewer than 20 people were killed in the clashes. What have traditional rulers been doing to address this problem?
Yes, there are some I may not divulge all but in the past, we brought out our deities like Oro and Eluku in the night to lay curses on those disturbing the peace of Sagamu and environs. We have also made some of the cultists swear to an oath before our deities that they will not disturb the peace of the town again. There are other things that we are doing that are not for public consumption but it appears as if we had all along been doing nothing about these shameful and horrible acts.
Following the violent cult clashes that left some people dead and others injured in Sagamu, the local government council declared a dusk-to-dawn curfew on commercial motorcycles and tricycles, citing their alleged role in facilitating the escape of the perpetrators involved in the killings. To your mind, what is responsible for the mindless killings?
Sometimes, you really can’t say this is why those young men are maiming and killing one another but many times too, money is involved. For instance, in the one we are just coming out from, we gathered that someone sold a property and gave a group some amount of money but the other group also wanted a share of the money and that was how the battle of supremacy and blood bath started. It is really disturbing and the politicians are also not helping matters.
What do you mean?
When you think you are being patriotic and assisting to strengthen the security architecture of your community and the state and maybe through your efforts, some of the cultists are arrested by the police, after two or three days, you will see them back in the town because one or two politicians have intervened. Another challenge in this fight against cultism is our law. After a cultist is arrested, the police would still demand that you come to the court to serve as a witness. Many people are really not willing to do this because it is quite risky. Or who does not value his precious life? At the end of the whole drama, the cultist would be left off the hook. Such a person (cultist) is back to town feeling so good that even after his arrest nothing could still be done. He would grow more wings and become more daring. It’s really a helpless situation.
Can you confirm that the incessant cult clashes are taking a toll on the socio-economic development of Sagamu?
That may not be incorrect because peace engenders development, so when there is no peace, there can never be development. Look at what happened in Sagamu during the cash crunch crisis early this year when almost all the banks in Sagamu were attacked. Up till today, some banks are still not operating in Sagamu and people have their little money in those banks. So many people have to go outside Sagamu to places like Abeokuta, Ijebu Ode, and NNPC before Ogijo to make banking transactions. If you say you want to do online banking, you will always have issues because unlike before the cash crunch crisis when many people were not used to online banking, many people are using this option now but the facilities have not been expanded to take care of the number of users. So, you will have issues that you will need to get to your bank to solve. Yes, one may safely say that the crisis is hurting our development.
Are you saying that the incident that happened early this year in Sagamu when most of the banks were vandalised was the handiwork of the cultists?
Yes, if a proper x-ray is done, about 60 per cent of those who perpetrated the destruction of properties of such magnitude and the looting of banks that we witnessed at that time were cultists. How can I have a son who lives under my roof, eats my food, and listens to me go join such destructive protests? How can people from good homes join such crazy and criminal protests? It should also be on record that cultism is not only peculiar to Sagamu, it’s a general insecurity challenge in Nigeria. And I also want to say that a broken home is one huge factor that is at the root of cultism. When some of them who were raised by single mothers or fathers get to a certain age, some of them are no longer comfortable living with their stepmothers or fathers or even the concubines that their parents are bringing home. So, they begin to associate with their friends who are providing food, clothes, and shoes for them. These children too want to make money, so they follow their friends who are already cultists and before they know it, they are initiated too.
We also have Yahoo boys, their activities are so much more pronounced in Sagamu than in any other place in the South-West and the majority of them are cultists. Sometimes when they get their fraudulent money, some elderly ones among them want to forcefully share the money with them hence they need a defence mechanism and the one they could readily hide under is cultism. As cultists, they are assured of protection from their colleagues.
Has it always been like this?
It is really worrisome. I think it is a function of the continued deterioration of our society. When we were in the university, cult-related activities were only limited to the campuses and they were not even these brutal. We didn’t see people fighting one another because they belonged to different groups. However, these days, artisans like roadside mechanics, tire technicians, tailors, barbers, and what have you are present-day cultists.
How does substance abuse play a role?
Well, I am not speaking about the general insecurity in the country but from what we are witnessing in Sagamu, we have discovered that there is so much abuse of substances and drugs in the community and that this is one of the things fuelling the cult clashes because some of those boys may not be able to slaughter a fowl if they were not acting under the influence of drugs. We, however, thank the governor because he has promised to look into this and come so hard on these recalcitrant elements. So, I want to say that broken homes, drugs, and the activities of these Yahoo boys are fuelling cultism in Sagamu
How can the police intervene?
They need to be more trustworthy, serve with integrity, and be more reliable. The public should feel safe confiding in them and once they are willing to do this job as the law requires, then we will have made great leaps in dealing with the criminals.
How many cult clashes have been recorded in Sagamu this year?
The clashes have happened three or four times but the recent one was too brutal because of the reprisal.
Were the casualties recorded in the recent one up to 20 as claimed by some residents?
No, it was not up to 20. I think the police said eight or nine but even if it is one soul, it is a terrible loss because you can’t bring that soul back.
It was said that the clash lasted for four days. Why was it allowed to persist for that long?
The police and the community are at fault here because it was like guerrilla warfare. When you hear about the activities of the cultists in one place today, you do not know where the next one will happen.
What is the situation of things now?
The situation is now under control. The Commissioner of Police and the governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun, have been here and marching orders have been given to the security outfits to deal decisively with any troublemaker. So, we are all at peace now.
Within the given situation I think the police should be ready to synergise and work hand in hand with traditional rulers like never before. Cooperation is more needed now than ever before because of the increase in criminal activities.
Ritual killing has also been a concern for residents in Ogun State. Do you think there is a connection with cultism?
I strongly believe that there is a connection between the two evils of ritual killings and cultism. Let’s take a look at this. Ritual killings are associated with Yahoo boys – internet fraudsters – and they are also associated with cultism. So, there is a strong connection between the two. Sometimes, cultists cut off the wrists of their victims and go away with them and I usually ask: What for? What are they doing with those parts of the body?
The governor said he might be forced to enact laws that will make cultism attract the death sentence. What is your take on this?
Yes, I am in support of any moves to end the mindless killings, though I have my reservations because of our present criminal procedure which centres on having a witness who will stand in the court and point to a cultist as the murderer. Who is ready to bell the cat? Let’s be hopeful anyway.
Sometimes, when I see able-bodied men clustering around doing nothing early in the morning, I am not always happy. I tell them about the importance of being gainfully engaged. That’s another area we must look at to address this problem of cultism. Many of the youths have nothing to do. They don’t have skills, what they only want is easy money, and many don’t want to work. It is really sad the kind of children we have these days and that is why as parents, we must be more committed to Godly parenting. We were also brought up in Sagamu and we are adding value to the community.