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Renewed cult war puts Benin on edge

Since September 2019 when a cult war was re-ignited between rival groups in Benin has become a theatre of war with many casualties.

The renewed cult war in Benin City, which is said to be largely due to a battle of supremacy among rival groups over who would control the town, has left over 70 people dead since it started. The war is majorly among Aiye, Vikings and Eiye confraternities.

Hardly would a day pass without a member of a rival cult group shot dead in the city.

Following the development, there is palpable fear and tension in the city as economic and business activities close by 7pm, while residents who are caught in the crossfire are forced to run for their lives, while praying not to be hit by stray bullets.

Between January 1 and 3, 2021, no fewer than five persons were killed in the city.

Edo CP Kokumo

Two of the casualties were said to have been shot dead in the Oluku area, another two killed at Adolor College area in Ugbowo, while one was also shot dead at Ahunwan Street, Ugbowo Quarters.

The victim in Ahunwan Street was shot dead on Sunday night when he visited a friend in their neighbourhood, a few metres away from his residence.

According to findings by Daily Trust on Sunday, the cult war climaxed with the recent #EndSARS protest, which was hijacked by hoodlums suspected to be mainly members of cult groups.

During the protest, over seven police stations were destroyed while several patrol vehicles were set ablaze by the hoodlums. Arms and ammunition were carted away from the destroyed police stations.

The hoodlums also attacked two medium custodial centres on Sapele Road and Oko within Benin metropolis and freed over 2,000 inmates, who were said to be mostly members of their group.

Soon after the escape of the inmates, the wave of crime, especially armed robbery, skyrocketed in the state, with causalities recorded on a daily basis.

Cult groups have been attacking and killing members of rival groups and carrying out armed robbery attacks on innocent victims.

It was learnt that most of their victims during robbery operations are usually Point of Service (POS) operators, shop owners, drivers and market women.

  • Jungle justice blamed

It was also learnt that the jungle justice meted out on two robbery suspects caught in the act by a mob in the Upper Sakpoba area of the city also fueled the cult- related war.

The victims were said to be members of Eiye Confraternity, but their group members believe that they were not robbers but framed by the Aiye group due to the perceived rivalry between them.

A resident of the city who simply gave his name as Jeremiah also attributed the increase in cult violence to the jailbreak during the #EndSARS protest, attack and looting of arms and ammunition from the burnt police stations and the absence of police on the road.

“As you know, before the #EndSARS protest, the cult war was not as frequent as it is now. Members of a cult group masqueraded as hoodlums and attacked the police station to get arms and ammunition to carry out their activities,’’ he said.

Another resident who didn’t want to be mentioned also attributed the rise in attacks to the allegation that cult groups are initiating all kinds of people, including mechanics, touts and jobless people.

“In the past, members of cult groups were restricted to higher institutions, but now, they initiate all kinds of people into their folds, and this makes it difficult to control them,’’ he said.

  • Politicians too

According to him, political patronage by politicians also fuels cultism in the state as opponents use different groups to settle political animosity.

Meanwhile, three local government areas – Ikpoba Okha, Egor and Ovia South West – are known as the epicentre of cult war in Edo State.

In Ikpoba Okha Local Government Area, Upper Sakpoba, Third Junction, Three House, Nomayo and St Saviour areas became the epicentre of the cult war.

Similarly, in Egor, the epicentres of the violence are Medical Road, Textile Mill Road, Ogida and Siluko, Wire Road and Uselu areas.

In Ovia South, areas like Ugbowo, Isihor and Oluku are turned into war zone as most people were reportedly killed there.

Sadly, as the cult war continues in the state, on November 13, 2020, Assistant Police Commissioner Agabi Aboki Godiri, the area commander in charge of Benin metro, and two other police officers were shot at the Upper Sakpoba area while they were trying to restore normalcy after about five persons were allegedly killed in a cult-related violence.

Addressing journalists during the period, the commissioner of police in the state, Johnson Kokumo, said his men were working within existing limitations to restore normalcy to the state.

“You can imagine what it means that three police stations along Sokponba Road were destroyed. Patrol vehicles were also destroyed in several other parts of the state capital. All the officers in these stations now operate from the headquarters,’’ he said.

  • Peace deal fails

However, in December, it was learnt that after many lives had been lost, leaders of various cult groups in the state had a meeting aimed at putting a stop to the killings.

The decision for the truce, according to findings, was at the instance of the leader of one group, who believed there was the need to end bloodletting in the state.

A source said cult groups agreed to sheathe their swords and offered to take care of the losses suffered by one of the leaders, whose attack led to the mindless killings.

He said part of the agreement during the meeting was to collectively deal with any recalcitrant member who would go contrary to the peace accord the leaders jointly signed.

But despite the truce, senseless killings by rival cult groups persist.

Another resident, Raphael Osasuwa, said the cult war was not targeted at the common people, but some of them, he added, could be hit by stray bullets.

“They know their targets and move straight to them. And once they hit their targets, they disappear. And this makes it difficult for security agents to apprehend the perpetrators,’’ he said.

  • Cultists having field day

He said the cult groups now operate freely in the day time since the public space is no longer dominated by the police and other security agents.

Also speaking, Osazee Edigin attributed the ugly development to parental failure.

“The family constitutes the society, so whatever we see in the society today is what the family is pushing out. Parents don’t have time for their wards and that creates the lapses we see today in the name of cultism and other crimes,’’ he said.

Edigin, a member of the Edo State Civil Society Organisation, also attributed the rising wave of cultism to unemployment, which he said somehow pushed the youth into illegal things, such as cult-related violence.

“If the government and parents address the issue of unemployment and lack of good parental upbringing, it will go a long way to solve most of the vices in the society today,’’ he added.

He called on government at all levels to invest more on security so that concerned agencies would have the capacity to deal with crimes.

  • End SARS protest beget cult war – police

The police public relations officer, Edo command, SP Chidi Nwanbuzor, also said the activities of hoodlums during the #EndSARS protest gave birth to the rise in cult war and other related crimes.

He said, “Arms and ammunition are now in the domain of the criminals. Recall that during the era of the late Lawrence Aninih, only seven of them held the then Bendel State to ransom, not to talk of losing 2,000 criminals in Edo in a day. You can imagine the havoc 2,000 criminals may wreak in a state and beyond. That is what we are facing today.

But the Edo State police command is not resting on its oars as it is working with the Nigerian Army, Air Force, Department of State Services (DSS), the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and other security agencies to ensure that the state is free of crimes, as well as protect the lives and property of people in the state.’’

He said the command had arrested a good number of suspected cultists; but he could not disclose the number so as not to jeopardise investigations.

As part of measures to curb the menace of cultism, the Edo State Government had recruited 877 volunteers for community policing.

Also, the chairman of Ikpoba Okha Local Government, Dr Eric Osayande, recently inaugurated a 70-man vigilante group to assist the existing security agencies in curbing violent cult activities in the area. He said the group would be under the payroll of the local government.