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Resurgence of cult war puts Benue residents on edge

Kela Dimba, a resident of North Bank community in Makurdi metropolis of Benue State, has fled from her home again after rival cult clashes broke…

Kela Dimba, a resident of North Bank community in Makurdi metropolis of Benue State, has fled from her home again after rival cult clashes broke out in the vicinity.

Our correspondent reports that this would be the third time within a space of one year Dimba would be taking a flight from her home in the North Bank, a suburb of Makurdi metropolis densely populated by different tribes in Nigeria following cult disturbances.

“I can’t stand it when those ‘boys’ begin their ‘wahala’ (trouble). It affects my sanity so I had to seek refuge in a friend’s house at the South bank – main township – pending when the waves of reprisal settle,” she said.

Dimba is one among many residents of the North Bank community who usually flee their homes when cultists go on rampage in the area only to return whenever the dust settles.

For her, the resurgence of cult war in the past three days, during which seven people were killed, puts many residents like her on edge.

“We mostly live in fear. No one wants to be caught in the web. The manner of killings is terrifying,” she added.

Apart from Dimba, there are others, including landlords, who have permanently relocated from the vicinity after they were threatened by the cult-related activities while many others stayed have stayed back since they have no where to run to.

Sadly, in the latest cult-related clashes in the North Bank community, seven people were hacked death.

Residents said the killings occurred over the weekend after members of rival cults whom they popularly referred to as “black” and “red” locked horns in a battle of supremacy.

Worriedly, many residents narrated that the rivalry between the different cult groups, especially the Black Axe and Vikings (red) in the area, had led to loss of lives almost on daily basis last year, until some form of reprieve came when security outfits and government agents launched several strategies as well as campaign to nib the menace in the bud.

The ugly trend however resurfaced on Saturday, February 24, 2024 to destabilise the peace of inhabitants in spite of the fact that the North Bank of Makurdi plays host to three Army formation – the Nigerian Army School of Military Engineering (NASME) barracks, 72 Battalion barracks and 401 Brigade – among other security outfits including the Division ‘C’ Police Station.

Residents believed that the presence of security formations in the locality hasn’t deterred criminals or cult activities as it’s been observed that it’s either the cultists are fighting themselves or criminals are dispossessing victims of valuables and killing them in the process.

Commander of a local vigilante known as Operation Shara (Sweep) in North Bank, Nura Umar, told our correspondent that between Sunday and Monday, a total of seven people were killed.

Umar said one person was first injured on Saturday evening by a member of one of the cult groups and he (commander) took the young man who was a commercial motorcyclist to the hospital but he (victim) died on Sunday morning.

He added that the rival group irked by the sad development went and killed two of their perceived opponents which also triggered a reprisal that led to the killing of another four, bringing the number to seven.

“They severed one’s head and went away with it. The “red” killed two persons while the “black” killed four people. One Okada (motorcyclist) man was first killed,” he narrated.

Umar, who worried that the trend has continued to scare residents, causing some of them to flee, however disclosed that calm had been restored and there were no longer issues except that people retire to their houses before dusk.

He said, “But, yesterday (Monday), a group – the red men – from Wadata (another suburb of Makurdi) came with a boat through the river; they wanted to come and strike at North Bank but we (vigilante) were at the river side, so we chased them away. Normalcy has returned in the meantime.

“It’s however true that residents are deserting North Bank for fear of the cult crisis. By 6pm, you would not see people outside any longer. Everybody would have run into their houses because they are afraid.”

A shop owner in North Bank, Jose Umu, said his salesboy had observed more than 20 boys enter the community from behind his shop in search of rival members on Monday and when they couldn’t find any of them, they shattered all the windows of a house in the locality.

“We live in constant fear,” Umu posited.

Similarly, Comrade Sabinus Odinaka, the North Bank Market Chairman, regretted that the activities of cultists have continued to hamper the operations of the market which serves part of the largest population in Makurdi metropolis.

Odinaka, who also said that sanity has been restored as at Tuesday to the area, however revealed that the market has resumed normally but skeletally transacting businesses such that in the event of any unrest, traders can quickly lock up their shops.

“Market was not opened on Friday and Saturday due to cult war; we expect that there should be military presence so that traders can go about their businesses and be happy. The market did not fully open on Monday and traders cannot be relaxed without the presence of police or military men there.

“The market look like a battlefield where the two rivals come to fight. They had tried to turn this to look like a Tiv, Hausa fight but it is not. From the little information I gathered, trouble started when a member of one group came to the market to buy something and the other people saw him and harassed him, so he went back and told his friends and they came back to fight; that was how the whole issue started. Between that day and today (Monday), six persons have been killed.

“To calm the whole issue, a stakeholders meeting is necessary. And as market leaders, they should provide us with security. Even if we have six security men, three behind and three in front of the market, it will give the people peace of mind to transact without fear,” Odinaka emphasised.

When contacted, the Police Spokesperson for Benue Command, SP Catherine Anene, confirmed that the reports of cult activities in North Bank were reported and that the command deployed police officers to take charge.

She added that investigation was ongoing but that she does not have report of the number of victims killed at the time of filing this report.

Anene said though she had yet to receive reports about any arrest made following the unrest but the command deployed police officers to take charge and secure the community.

“There is absolute calm now. People are going about their businesses,” she had said on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the state government through the State’s Special Adviser on Security and Internal Affairs, Chief Joseph Har, said they had deployed both non-kinetic and kinetic approaches otherwise known as the carrot and stick approach to tackle insecurity in the state, including cultism.

Har, who led state security outfits – Livestock Guards, Vigilante Guards of Nigeria, Community Volunteer Guards and Hunters/Forest Security Service – on campaigns against all social ills amounting to insecurity to specific places including North Bank market, had expressed optimism that the boys would embrace good behaviour or face the law.

“We are talking to them; we are engaging them. We have told them that what they are doing is destroying their community; it’s destroying our economy, it’s making the society look ugly and it’s giving the state a bad image.

“So, we are going to build back the confidence in them, using the traditional institutions. In a very short while, you will see results,” he said.

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