The above headline is a sharp reminder of an incident recorded in the Christian Scriptures about an encounter that Jesus Christ had with money changers inside the Synagogue which ended with the horse whipping by Jesus of those money changers and their clients and a statement by the infuriated Messiah that: ” My Father’s House is a place of worship and not a den of money changers and rogues”.
Recall that money changers of those days were regarded as fraudsters and profiteers compared to our modern day money doublers or those who are members of organised crime gang of advance fee fraudsters. However, the connotations of the term ‘den’ remarkably depicts a cell where crimes and criminality are hatched and executed with deadly consequences.
The various encounters that certain persons have had with the law enforcement agents in many states of the Federation which in summary are termed cult related killings and activities bring an inquisitive mind to probe if the Country is becoming one big den of cultists. Is Nigeria then a big den of cultists?
Conceptually, it may be a misnomer or a disjointed form of logic to categorically baptize Nigeria as one big den of cultists if we judge by the categorical imperative included in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in which secret cult members are legally forbidden from occupying public offices of significance. Take for instance, one of the major legal stumbling block for a Nigerian to seek the office of a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is the membership of a cult group. Section 66(1) (g) says that a citizen can’t seek for office of a senator if he is a member of a secret society. The Constitution however did not categorically list out those secret societies therefore allowing the legislators or the Courts the leeway of determining which organisation is a secret cult.
In reality however, there have been incidents since the last couple of Years which intensified recently which may qualify Nigeria to be so termed as one big den of cultists.
Two of such cases stand out clearly.
Firstly, suspected cult members desperate to free a detained member of their gang on Tuesday set ablaze the Oporoma Police Division in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa.
Media report gathered that the cult member who was on Police wanted list for various crimes including kidnapping, sea robbery, armed robbery and acts of pipeline vandalism was being temporarily detained at the Oproma Division when his gang members struck to free him.
Community sources in Southern Ijaw said that the timely reinforcement by security agencies deployed to protect oil facilities in the area saved the situation.
The Spokesman of the Police Command in Bayelsa, DSP Asinim Butswat, who confirmed the incident, said that a policeman on guard duty shot at the detained suspect to prevent his escape from lawful custody.
“The suspect was arrested and detained at the Oporoma Police Division, Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, preparatory to being transferred to the State Criminal Investigation Intelligence Department (SCIID), Yenagoa.
“The suspect on March 21, 2018 attempted to escape from lawful custody and was shot by the police officer on duty.
“Other members of the suspected cult group mobilized and attacked officers on duty at the police division and set it ablaze.
“Additional policemen were deployed to restore normalcy in the community.
“There seems to be emergence of cases of cult activities in Bayelsa; we call on members of the public to volunteer useful information and to assist the police to tame the trend of cult activities amongst the youths in Bayelsa,” Butswat said.
Reports have it that on Nov. 7, 2017 some 10 suspected armed robbers and cult members that were detained by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad cell (SARS) in Yenagoa broke free from detention and escaped.
Secondly, but much more deadly is the story that broke out on New year day that stated that no fewer than 20 persons have been reportedly murdered by gunmen who went house-to-house in Omoku, the headquarters of Ogba-Egbema-Ndoni local government area and other adjoining villages in Rivers State, killing and in some instances eliminating an entire family.
The incident happened at about 2 am on New Year day.
Also, reports have it further that some of the persons were killed by unknown gunmen while coming back from church’s cross over night in Omoku and the surrounding communities in Ogbe-Egbema-Ndoni local government area.
The motive behind the shooting was later attributed to a deadly cult group.
Nnamdi Omoni,the Rivers State Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, has however confirmed the incident assuring that the Police will do all it can to arrest the gunmen.
Although the Police Spokesman refused to narrow down the attack to the Militant Leader in the area popularly known as Don Nwanee but the military and DSS specigically blamed his cult group for the bloodshed.
However, out of the total number of those killed, 14 are from Arigbo, Don Nwanee’s community. It is alleged that his band of loyalists carried out the attack accusing them of not defending when the local government council security outfit swooped on his village to arrest his boys few months ago.
News report also stated that tragedy also struck at the family of one Port Harcourt’s best dancer known as Rokky.
He was reportedly among those who shouted “Happy New Year” at midnight only to be found dead in the morning.
He was said to be hit by a stray bullet in Abonnema, Akuku Toru LGA of Rivers State.
Understandably, both governors Dickson and Nyesom Nwike of Bayelsa and Rivers States are not resting on their oars to rid their states of the afflictions of youth involvement in cult related activities.
Rivers State had also rolled out fundamental measures to address the rapid rise in cult related killings.
Unfortunately, whilst the Rivers State governor made effort to ensure that all the cultists implicated in the dastardly criminal act of mass killings are brought to justice, some of these cultists were seen at a ceremony by the Imo state governor Rochas Okorocha who reportedly granted them pardon for a crime they purportedly committed in Rivers State and for which the suspected cult leader Mr. Don Waney and his close commanders were slaughtered by combined teams of soldiers, DSS and Police.
Don Waney’s younger brother suspected for been the most powerful member of the cult group responsible for the New Year Eve’s attack in Rivers State was trailed to Edo state and killed by security forces.
Cult related violence aren’t limited to Bayelsa and Rivers States. Edo; Imo; Anambra with the Ozubulu Catholic Church genocide, Akwa Ibom; Lagos and Cross Rivers states are the flashpoints of other intensive cult related attacks.
The Akwa Ibom state house of assembly only last week banned certain groups they identified as cult groups. The Cross Rivers State government is not sufficiently committed towards resolving cult related attacks.
Cultists have therefore increased the tempo of coordinated attacks. Edo state has also seen many cult related activities with over one dozen persons dying from some of the deadliest attacks.
The Lagos state scenarios are some of the most disturbing that Nigeria has witnessed since Independence.
The entire Ikorodu Local government area was held hostage for months by the monstrous activities of a deadly cult group known as Badoo boys whose nocturnal encounters with innocent persons taking their sleeps have often ended in the gruesome bludgeoning to death of hundreds of innocent persons in what are suspected to be ritualistic gathering of blood in handkerchiefs which are sold for money making rituals.
Many months after several bloody encounters, it seems the police of Lagos under a fresh commissioner of police found a formula which was used to extinguish the threats of these cultists in Lagos. However, cult related fights have always flared up in Mushin area of Lagos with considerable amount of shedding of innocent blood. In all of these, not one cult member or sponsor has successfully been prosecuted and punished.
The Cross Rivers State case is pathetic because there is this allegations that most politicians belong to one cult group or the other and most times the cult group that produces the highest number of members holding choice and juicy jobs in the state would want to dominate their environment by elimination of the other rival cult groups.
Imo state has similar political case of top level officials belonging to one cult group or the other to an extent that a former Speaker of the Imo State House of Assembly who is now a senator confirmed this story to me in an informal conversations in his house.
Apart from these cult groups constituting huge nuisances through their lawless and bloody encounters, there are other ‘gentleman’s cult groups in which such top level professionals like lawyers, judges; Clerics and Engineers are members and these are known as confraternities and therefore not usually termed as cults.
The unfortunate scenario out of this type of clean looking cult groups is that professionals who aren’t members can hardly find career progression because these cult members in these professions who usually pulls the strings have often ensured that only their registered members and affiliates enjoy those promotions and prosperity.
The members of these cult groups who are judges and lawyers are said to always used the solidarity and what is generally seen as espirit de corp to win big briefs for each other. Let us make a detour to see what the Akwa Ibom state house of assembly legislated on the case of cult groups operating in their state.
The Akwa Ibom State governor, Udom Emmanuel signed the Cultism and other Violent Behaviour Prohibition Order 2018.
In signing the prohibition order which takes effect from March 12, 2018, Governor Emmanuel said security issues reported recently in Etim Ekpo, Ukanfun and Ikot Ekpene local government areas necessitated the proactive measures.
Speaking during the signing ceremony at Government House in Uyo, he said the Order would re-energize the already existing criminal code law, Cap 38 Laws of Akwa Ibom State dated 2000.
He said, “Let me also implore other local government areas that have actually embraced peace to continue to show that in their conduct and everything that they do, because we want peace in every part of this state.”
The proscribed Cult groups are Vikings, Black Axe, KKK, Buccaneers, Mafia, Luttox (Junior Black Axe), Debam, Dewell, Icelanders, Red Skins, Pirates, Amoc, Akwa Marines and Utoto Groups (419).
Others, which have more members in Secondary Schools are The Red Skins, St. Stephens, Dewell, Sept 11 Group, Secret Sons of Satan, King Cobra, J.V (Junior Vikings), Bats, Predators, Black Ladies, Black Cross, Scavengers, Skylolo , Sons of Nights, Blood Brotherhood, Junior Buccaneers, White Angels; and Musket.
Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Barr. Uwemedimo Nwoko, explained that the Secret Cult Prohibition Law provides a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment for culprits.
He said, “Just like any other law, it will serve no useful purpose if the members of the society do not rise up to support the law because even security agencies will need the cooperation and information from communities, schools and principals to identify the operations of these groups.
“Some of the cult groups are operating in secret manners and it is the responsibility of every Akwa Ibomite and every resident of Akwa Ibom who identifies or knows where they operate and the name under which they operate to bring to the knowledge of the security agencies and the government for effective action.”
However, even with the constitutional ban and the effort of some state legislatures, there is very little to be happy about because these cult groups have top level members wielding positions of influences in almost all facets of our national life and sadly, the religious bodies are also infiltrated by cultists. The citizens who are at the receiving end must rise up to the challenge of sifting the cultists from the other decent members of the society so the Country can make effort and take bold legislative approach towards the eradication of cultism in Nigeria. The ball is in the people’s court and indeed these cult members holding positions of influence aren’t ghosts who can’t be identified. The task is for the society to identify and disallow these evil persons from coming close to holding powerful positions.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is the Head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and [email protected]; www.emmanuelonwubiko.com, [email protected].