Govt, groups kick as cultism sparks concerns in Bayelsa


At the inception of his government in 2012, Bayelsa State Governor Seriake Dickson identified cultism as one of the hydra-headed problems dragging the oil-rich state backward. His assessment was, indeed, correct.

Cultism was widespread and membership of secret cults was a thing of pride. Different cult groups sprang up and took charge of the political landscape. The state’s territories  were divided and shared among notorious and influential cult associations and leaders. With clear-cut boundaries, the territories had their leaders, who must be consulted before activities, projects and programmes took place in their jurisdictions.

Cult supremacy wars were rife. Youths deployed assorted weapons, including guns, to kill and maim one another in such bloody clashes. Most times, innocent residents were cut up in cross fires. Cult members were hired as assassins and political thugs. Others made living in Bayelsa hellish as they attack innocent residents dispossessing them of their valuables and in many cases spilling their blood.

In fact, cultism created many sociopaths, who enjoyed political protection. With their flamboyant lifestyles, cultists became role models for youths. Some of them dropped out of schools to play active roles as cultists. In fact, Dickson inherited a secret cult-infested state in 2012.

Dickson’s first punch

But his administration’s move against the monster was deft, firm, strong-willed and penetrative. Mustering enough political will since he had no linkage or sympathy for cultism despite growing up in a cultic environment, the governor sought a legal framework to deal decisively with the menace.

The Secret Cult, Societies and Similar Activities Prohibition Amendment Bill was the first set of executive bills he sent to the House of Assembly for deliberations and passage. The lawmakers gave it expeditious hearing, passed it and Dickson assented to it on May 2, 2012.

At first, the vision of Dickson paid off. The law restored sanity in the state. Many cultists and their leaders went under. Some left the state. In one fell swoop, thousands of youths came out of their closets and renounced cultism. The police were also busy as they law empowered them to deal ruthlessly with cultists. Some suspects were arrested and tried and those convicted were punished within the ambit of the law.

Resurgence of the monster 

However, in a dramatic twist, cult activities returned in full force shortly after the 2015 governorship elections in the state. The menace unsettled the state especially Yenagoa, the capital. Some blamed the resurgence of cultism on deliberate arming of youths by politicians during the election; hunger caused by the economic recession; unemployment, laziness and materialistic tendencies among the youths.

But others believe that there is no excuse to criminality and ask security agencies especially the police to live up to their primary constitutional responsibilities. The police have taken the battle to the cultists within the limit of their resources. The current Commissioner of Police in the state, Don Awunah, declared zero tolerance to cultism.

After profiling criminals and their activities in the state, Awunah realised that cultism is the catalyst, instigator and propeller of many violent crimes in the state. Cultism and its satanic spirit of abuse of dangerous drugs such as Tramadol, codeine, marijuana and cocaine, compel the youths to engage in armed robberies, rape, kidnapping and other violent crimes.

Through his crack team on mopping up illegal arms and  his Operation  Safer  Bayelsa, Awunah has confronted cultists head-on. Despite his efforts, cult activities continued to threaten residents. Dickson immediately stepped in to assist the police in taming the monster.

Dickson’s second punch: the Amendment

The governor caused the anti-cultism law 2012 to be amended. Without hesitation, he signed the 2018 amended law. The new law prescribes 20-year-jail term without an option of fine for anybody convicted of cultism-related offences.

Assenting to the amended law in Government House, Dickson lamented the rise in cult and other related activities in the state, especially in Yenagoa and its environs. He stressed that, with the amendment, the law enforcement agencies had been empowered to deal decisively with suspected cultists and their sponsors.

Dickson explained that, the amendment to the law was to check the rise in cult activities among youths. He said the amendment was necessary to give the law enforcement agencies more powers to proactively protect lives and property as well as safeguard the future of the state.

The law also empowers the police and other law enforcement agencies to conduct search on the homes of suspected cultists and sponsors, even without warrant. The amendment prescribes that buildings and premises used for cult, activities, initiations as well as the storage of arms and dangerous weapons should be forfeited to the government.

The law further empowers the state government to destroy such buildings and premises, without any compensation to its owners. The governor called on landlords and property owners not to allow criminals and cultists to turn their property into centre of crime and criminality. He urged Bayelsans to report all suspicious and cult related activities to the appropriate authorities.

Amendment yields fruit 

The amendment to the law has brought some respites in Bayelsa. For fear of suffering the stringent punishments prescribed in the law, cultists appear to have reduced their nefarious activities. Recently over 500 youths renounced cultism against the backdrop of the law. They took advantage of the provision in section 6.

The section provides that “any member of a secret cult who voluntarily renounces the membership of the cult and submits any offensive weapon in his possession to the police shall be free from prosecution under this law”.

So, the 500 youths, who came through the state government-owned group, Bayelsa Volunteers (BV), took a stand against cultism and signed the denunciation forms. They were received by the Chairman, BV, Mr. Douye Koroye; the Special Adviser to the Governor on Security Matters, Boma Sparo-Jack; Majority Leader, State House of Assembly, Dr. Peter Akpe; the Central Zone Chairman, Ijaw Youths Council (IYC), Tare Porri and other Dickson’s aides such as Jeremaiah Owoupele and Bonny Aya.

Addressing the youths, Koroye said those who completed the renunciation process would be integrated into the special squad of the Bayelsa Volunteers.

A well-known repented cultist and Special Adviser to Dickson on Oil and Gas, Mr. Felix Bonny-Ayah, told the youths that cultism would not produce any good results.

Social movement against cultism begins 

Following the body language of the governor, informed youths in Bayelsa have started a social movement to end cultism and drug abuse. The Convener of the Patriotism Advancement and Community Orientation Network (PACON), Aluzu Ebikebuna, with his group is leading the anti-cultism campaign which has gained prominence in social media with the hashtag #EndCultismInBayelsa#.

Culled from here


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