By Okon Bassey in Uyo
Efforts by the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel to return peace to Ukanafun and Etim Ekpo local government areas of the state have begun to yield result as more than 200 leaders and members of various cult groups in the area surrendered their arms and ammunitions to the government.
For the past two years, the areas have been noted to be kidnappers’ den as scores of people had either been abducted, assassinated with houses, vehicles burnt while most of the resident deserted their abodes to neigbouring LGAs.
In the presence of the governor, the cultists in a coordinated environment by the State Commissioner of Police, Adeyemi Ogunjemilusi surrendered various weapons used to terrorize the residents of the local government areas.
When the Governor made his fourth visit to the localities to see the response to his olive branch, the born again cultists went on their knees and prayed for forgiveness for all the pains they brought to their people over the years.
The venue of the meeting, the Central Primary School, Ikot Akpan Nkuk in Ukanafun was filled as people went out to witness the meeting between the governor and the cultists.
At the gathering, the cultists unveiled some of their grievances against the government that had made them take up arms and cause instability in the areas.
According to them, poor social amenities, lack of government attention in their communities for several decades, lack of good public schools and lack of employment opportunities compel to take arms and rise against the society.
They equally added that politicians over the years abandoned them after being used to attain their political aims, and without provision of good jobs stressing that their frustrations drove them into criminal activities.
For the cultists, government should rehabilitate and empowerment them to start meaningful means of livelihood.
One of them, who gave his name as Mentor said he hailed from Ukanafun and wished the Governor to right the wrongs of past administrations that failed to look into their plight.
“We don’t have a village head, we don’t have any youth leader, and we didn’t have anyone to talk to us. I am sure Your Excellency will provide these for us so that we can stay together and support him for second term,” Mentor said.
Also another cultist, Victor Frank from Ikot Udobong, Etim Ekpo local government area, said he had lived in the bush for several years in the course of the cult activities and expressed happiness for the window for peace to return to the area.
He appealed to the Governor to intervene in restoring freedom to some of their members who had been apprehended earlier in the spirit of forgiveness, pledging their readiness to sustain the peace.
“For this great feat, we promise to stand with the Governor, and ensure he succeeds in his second term so that he can continue to bring development to our communities.” Frank said.
Another repentant cultist, Utomobong Aniekan Sunday aka Small Money, said he regretted being part of the clash that led to the destruction of live and property in his communities, as well as the closing down of economic and social activities.
“We had to sound the gong and invite all our members to answer to your amnesty call and we have surrendered our weapons, we have nothing to give to you but peace and we want all our people who ran away to come back and let’s live together again.”
Others who also spoke amidst tears before the Governor included Goodluck Emmanuel nicknamed Small DPO from Ikot Udo Obo village, appealed to the Governor to help in rehabilitation of the destroyed markets and power supply infrastructure in his community.
Ifiok Ukpong, aka Gymnast said he hails from Ikot Ukpong village of Ukanafun Ward 2, and his ward has suffered persistent neglect in terms of appointments while Faith Friday Benson from Ikot Etim aka Fine Face thanked the Governor for coming to their rescue.
Governor Emmanuel who said he was saddened by the condition of the repentant militants recounted how difficult it has been for him to bring development to their areas because of insecurity.
“I wanted to bring a World Bank assisted project to Ukanafun, but those people preferred to go elsewhere. At the moment, because of you people, no contractor accepted our offer to come and execute a project in Ukanafun.”
He thanked them for embracing the reconciliation and rehabilitation meeting, and also called on one of their dreaded members ‘Overcomer’ to come out of the bush like others and surrender.
The Governor warned them from listening to any politician who may come back to lure them into cult related activities, saying that it would not augur well for such people.
“I promised you people that the day you come out, nothing will happen to you. Have I not kept my promise?”