Lanre Jegede (not real name) has abandoned his home in North Bank, a suburb of Makurdi metropolis in Benue State, for the past one week over the resurgence of cultists’ war in the area.
Jegede and his wife are now forced to live separately with their relatives in different parts of Makurdi town, at least in the meantime, so as to avert being caught up in the web of the fight among rival cult groups.
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This is because they had been privy to plans by rival cult members to burn down their rented apartment on account that a resident in their compound belongs to an opposing cult in the ongoing fight.
“For now, we are still running for our lives; we have not returned home. We have abandoned our house. People are still running away for fear of being attacked.
“For the past one week, we couldn’t sleep as gunshots rented the air consistently day and night. The worst happened this Easter weekend; we learnt some persons were killed and in retaliation, others were being haunted.
“So, residents have relocated to safer places. It’s plainly a cult war. The Triangle area, Angwan Jukun, and the other side of the Veterinary vicinity are more endemic to the crisis,” he said.
Jegede also told our correspondent that he was not considering returning home soon because of the threats, adding that on previous occasions, God had saved his household from the violence carried out in the vicinity by cult members.
For Atoo Tyu, a landlord in North Bank, who also relocated to a safer part of Makurdi even before the latest unrest, the move became necessary in the interest of his family’s peace.
“There has been a gathering of very bad people; not just cultists but criminals are multiplying in their numbers in North Bank. As someone with a young family, I didn’t think that it (North Bank) is a place convenient to raise them so that was why I moved,” Tyu said.
Many residents narrated that the rivalry among the different cult groups, especially between the Black Axe and Vikings, in the area had led to loss of lives almost on a daily basis since the beginning of this year.
There are similar tales from Otukpo and Gboko towns of the state which are no longer frightening as they used to be in the past.
Only few weeks ago, several houses were razed in Adeke area, another suburb of Makurdi metropolis, when cult groups clashed.
Sadly, as the Adeke incident was being contained, the cult groups rivalry intensified in North Bank vicinity of Makurdi in the past one week such that residents at the weekend fled their homes in droves.
The irony of this is that while the Mobile Police barracks situated in Adeke, North Bank is host to the Nigerian Army School of Military Engineering (NASME) barracks, 72 Battalion barracks and 707 Brigade among other security outfits.
“There is nearly no day you won’t hear of killings in some parts of North Bank. It’s either the cultists are fighting one another or criminals are dispossessing victims and killing them in the process,” a resident, who declined to give his name, said.
Piqued by the unbearable situation, some women under the shade of Christian and Muslim mothers within North Bank on Wednesday trooped out in a peaceful protest during which they marched from the New Bridge to SRS/University junction.
The women, adorned in black attires, bemoaned the several killings of young people following the activities of cultists.
They also prayed for God’s intervention and called on the state government to step up a security outfit in the area.
Most of the residents hesitate to speak openly on the issue for fear of being trailed by the cultists.
An elderly man who braved up to speak said: “Even as we speak, before the rainfall (on Monday afternoon), they killed a boy who is a mechanic very close to NASME junction. It isn’t like the security don’t know what to do; they have their own intelligent network and know what to do. Government should do the needful.
“We are in the hands of God because our government is not sincere. If they want to stop this issue right away, they can do it by starting first from the government, then to political parties and bad security personnel. We can only rely on God to help us, especially as the general elections are around the corner.
“This year alone, over 10 people have been killed in cult- related war in this North Bank. Those of us still in North Bank live in fear. These boys continue to terrorise the village market every day and collect money from traders.
“We are not safe here; many people have packed out, many rooms are empty here with no occupants any longer.”
Another resident of North Bank, a young university graduate, decried the shootings going on almost every night.
“In North Bank now, people are just deserting their homes; in a street, you can find between 10 and 20 houses where the occupants have fled.
“Nobody wants to live in North Bank. Even some landlords have packed out of their homes to live in rented apartments in other areas of Makurdi.
“At least 18 people have been killed this year alone in North Bank following cultists’ activities. We also have counted up to 40 people killed between last year April and now.
“In fact, one innocent young man whose phone they collected was also killed by the cultists because he recognised them. So that has been our predicament here. They don’t just kill each other but other innocent people. They have become so daring that even in broad daylight, they corner their victims who might even be making calls and order them to hand in their phones after the calls,’’ he said.
Our correspondent recalled that a former Commissioner of Police in the state, Bashir Makama, had initiated a carrot and stick approach, which helped to curb the menace. Many cult members in different higher institutions renounced their membership and were reformed to become responsible adults.
Our correspondent reports that there has been a decline in campaigns against the activities of cultists by Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), which is making the residents worried.
One of such outfits introduced in the Hausa quarters of North Bank known as “Operation Shara”, which some residents admitted did a good job in curbing the excesses of criminality in the area, is no longer active.
Now, the resurgence of cultism in the state capital with the North Bank example currently causing hardship for families despite presence of heavy security outfits brings to the fore the effect of the state law on cultism (2017) which was intended to deter offenders.
In 2019, Governor Samuel Ortom had ordered a statewide crackdown on kidnappers and cultists following the setting up of a task force comprising the military, the police, civil defence, as well as other security agencies to fish out the criminals.
Also, in 2020, the Benue State Security Council resolved to strengthen the state laws on ranching, kidnapping, cultism and other related crimes to ensure that stiffer penalties follow offences.
The governor who is Chairman of the State Security Council had told journalists at the end of its meeting that the rule of law must prevail in the state, as he noted that the council resolved to amend necessary laws to provide more stringent punishments to offenders.
Reacting to the North Bank issues, Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) for Benue Command, SP Catherine Anene, said that, “The Commissioner of Police ordered a special operation which they started about two days ago.”
Anene, however, declined to give a breakdown of how many people were arrested and prosecuted for cultism activities.
“That information has not come from state CID and it would take a long time. You have to write to the commissioner who will direct the department to act.”