Nigeria

Cult members are now lords of our communities, Lagos residents cry out

OLALEKAN OLABULO and SUBAIR MOHAMMED dissect the growing threat to living in Lagos: cultism.

CULTISM has become a nightmare for residents of different communities in Lagos State in recent time. The police in the state have had a hectic time dealing with violent cult clashes among rival cult groups in the Ikorodu, Somolu, Ajah, Ketu, Mushin, Agege and other parts of the state in the last few months. The effect of the increase in criminal activities in the state is fast spreading to neighbouring Ogun communities like Arepo, Magboro, Ogijo and other places.

Despite the onslaught against the cult members by the police in the state, there have been increasing cases of killing and violent clash, especially in Ajah, Ketu and many communities in Ikorodu.

Saturday Tribune gathered that activities of the different cult groups aggravated the violence that characterised the EndSARS protest in the state. Cult members were said to be responsible for some of the attacks on police formations and businesses. Cult members have also been linked to the upsurge in crimes in different communities in the state.

Some days ago, six suspected cult members who have been terrorising residents of Isiu and Aleke areas of Ikorodu were arrested by the police in the Odogbolu area of Ogun State, where they had gone to get more arms and ammunition for their operation. A senior police officer who spoke to Saturday Tribune on condition of anonymity admitted that there had been an increase in the number of cult-related crimes in the state but pointed out that this was not peculiar to Lagos. He stressed that the crime rate in Lagos was even low compared to some states in the south-south part of the country.

The security officer blamed the increasing rate of crime and cult activities on the effect of COVID19, the EndSARS protest and the long strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). He also admitted that personnel in many of the police stations in the state have been demoralised by the public condemnation of their efforts during the EndSARS protest. He said: “Researchers have come out to say that COVID-19 will affect the psyche of human beings. It has affected the economy, social life, security and everything that has to do with human life. Everywhere in the world, people are getting angry over little things. Researchers have projected that lots of African nations will witness serious side effects of the lockdown. Many people have lost their jobs as a result of the lockdown. That is what has led to the increasing rate of crime in many places. The effect of the lockdown also led to the success of the EndSARS protest. People are used to staying at home. There is also the ASUU strike. There are cultists in all these higher institutions but they were left to roam the streets. They met with their colleagues on the streets and they formed larger groups to terrorise people in the name of supremacy battles. They took advantage of the situation to mobilise other criminals to attack police stations and other formations. Any society that wages war against their police should be ready to make friends with criminals. They are now fighting for territories.”

Police always release Ikorodu cult boys –Community Development Association

For many years, residents of Igbogbo, Odonguyan, Elepe, Imota and Igbo Olomu have been at the mercy of cult members. Attempts by the residents and the local police in the affected areas to contain them have yielded little or no results as the numbers keep increasing.

Mr Fasan Silelola, secretary of Kajola Community Development Association in the Igbo Olomu area of Ikorodu, said: “Cultism is now our major problem since the issue of bunkering and pipeline vandalism was tackled by the military through the intervention of the Federal Government.

“I moved here in 2012. There were some gangsters who were suspected to be cultists but there were just a few of them then. But over the years, the situation has worsened. Now you see them in groups at Psychiatric, Elepe, Igbo Olomu, Magbon Junction, Baale and Elepe smoking and harassing law-abiding residents. The greatest problem is when the groups are at war with each other. You dare not come out as they take advantage of the situation to rob people.

“At a time, some of us, including the CDA chairman, visited the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of Ogijo Police Station and he organised an operation that led to the arrest of some of them. They were however released after some time and they returned to ‘duty’. They have initiated some landlords’ children and it has been difficult to really deal with them. A few weeks ago, a leader of one of the cult groups in the Owode Onirin, Ketu and Mile 12 areas identified simply as Salakwa was killed. His death practically paralysed economic and other activities in the areas with no fewer than five people killed in reprisal, while vehicles and other properties worth millions of naira were destroyed.”

‘Schools get shut when Ketu cultists fight’

The Ketu-Mile 12 axis has for long been a den of cultists. A resident of the area, Ovosi, told Saturday Tribune that “during the time that the cult members went on the rampage, schools were closed for more than a week. Parents could not send their children to school for fear that the cult guys might strike.”

The community leader, who said that he moved into the area in 2009, added that cultism had taken a new turn in the area and was becoming alarming every passing day. He called on the state government to find a lasting solution to the scourge.

He said: “What we had in the past were clashes between Yorubas and Hausas but now our greatest challenge is cultism. It is alarming that they are now initiating teenagers into the different cult groups. Some of these cult leaders have the support of their parents. They no longer fight with themselves alone; they take advantage of the clashes to rob and to loot. Now it is a major challenge because some Hausa boys who have been here for a long time and have themselves become Yoruba have been initiated into the cult groups and whenever any of them is killed, it becomes an ethnic clash. The police cannot be trusted because everybody is afraid of being mentioned to the cult leaders. At a time, the new Baale inaugurated a committee to safeguard Maidon Orile and other communities but it did not work out, as the cult members kept increasing in the area. The police have been invited on many occasions but our greatest fear has remained the issue of cultism.”

Ijora Badia, Magboro, Arepo under siege

Cult groups in Badia, Railway and Ojuna areas of Badia have also in the last few years contributed greatly to the high level of insecurity in Ijora Badia and neighbouring communities. Many have been killed during violent clashes among cult groups in the area. Insecurity has also crept into a neighbouring Ogun community. The relative peace in Magboro and Arepo towns, two suburbs on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway in Ogun State are currently under siege of vandals who are tapping crude oil illegally from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) pipelines in the area.

Some of the residents of Magboro, especially in Oke Ayo and Gaun communities, said they hardly sleep due to the movement of trucks by the thieves. One of the residents who spoke in confidence stated that right from his pent house, he could see military officers and oil thieves engage in gun battle. At times, he said, military officers on patrol would have gone when these oil thieves would come from their hideouts. He explained that residents were no longer at peace with the state of security in the community. Another resident expressed similar fear, saying if it was possible, all residents would build a fence to prevent oil thieves from using their community as an alternative access route.

In a report, the Deputy Force Commander, Operation Awatse, Major General Godwin Umelo, said: “Arepo is well known for pipeline vandalism and we got information that the vandals would strike any moment from now so we intensified surveillance within the area to monitor them. In the early hours of today, we got information that vehicles were moving into the area and we directed our troops to move in which they did at about 5.30 a.m. and met them loading their trucks with the fuel. Because it was still very early and dark, some of the vandals escaped into the forest as a result of poor visibility but we were lucky to have arrested 10 of them, all males. Six vehicles were arrested with already-loaded products, while three were yet to load. Behind the Forthright Garden Estate, we have the NNPC pipeline coming from Atlas Cove going into Mosimi where they pump and supply products.”

We are raiding Ikotun after killing –Police

The spokesman of the state police command, Olumuyiwa Adejobi, gave further insight into cult activities in the state, noting that the groups were being effectively tackled.

He said: There is no spread of cultism in Lagos State. There is existence of cultists and cult groups in the state and when they fight or engage in any act that could lead to breakdown of law and order, we go after them. We pick them up and charg them to court. There is nothing like spread of cultism in Lagos. The command is on top of the situation. We know about their existence. When they attack themselves, we go after them. In the Ikotun cult fight, one cultist was confirmed dead and three cultists were arrested.

“I can tell you that investigation is ongoing into various cult activities in Lagos State. Also, in Ikorodu, many cultists have been arrested. So, it is not that cultism is spreading in the state but they are in existence and whenever they strike, we go after them.

“On the number of cultists that have been arrested so far, I cannot give a specific figure offhand but I know that we have arrested many of them and they have been charged to court. Yesterday (Wednesday), we arrested some cultists in Ikotun and we will continue today (Thursday) with the arrest. We will continue to go after them until they leave Lagos State for us.”

Girls are initiated by gang-raping them –Security expert

Top security expert, Juliana Francis, disclosed that even teenagers among the groups now handle killings, adding that girls are gang-raped as a means of initiation.

Francis, who runs Youthslens Initiative Development to change the crime narrative among youths, said: “Our present reality is that cultism or cult activities appear to have escalated in the last few weeks or months and it is simply because many young Nigerians were on lockdown and then the protracted ASUU strike. Different (police) commissioners, especially in Lagos, have endlessly battled to wrest the state from the clutches of cultism, but it appears it has come to stay. During former CP Imohimi Edgal’s era, we heard of cultists surrendering their weapons and renouncing cultism, but events have shown that those that renounced it have either returned to their old ways or never really left.

“Cultism, tragically, has been glamorised in the eyes of many young Nigerians and it is simply because they live flashy lifestyles and throw money around. Cultism is now synonymous with cybercrime, cyber bullying, robbery, gangsterism, etc. Most of them, if not all, are linked to the aforementioned crimes and more. The old-timers will not give those they are trying to lure into the fold the opportunity of making choices. They just bully and force them into it. Some are even tricked into it and initiated. The old-timers instill fear in them and cause them not to think of backing out.”

Francis added: “These days, girls are members, too. The initiation of the girls is usually by being gang-raped by their male counterparts, leading to STDs, HIV and unwanted pregnancies. As long as the fear factor, money and proving self to be macho are there, we shall continue to have a serious problem on our hands, and police are not helping matters. Before the EndSARS saga, the police would arrest some of these cultists and allow them go after collecting money from them. And these days, cultism has assumed a dangerous dimension. Before, they targeted themselves and rival members, but these days, they target rivals’ family members and friends.”

On what should be done to curtail the rising cult-related crimes, she said: “The police need to synergise with community members and present all the videos on social media for facial identification. These videos are available and those that attacked these stations were not masked. They should go after them and get them arrested and prosecuted instead of hunting for EndSARS promoters. The real criminals are those that attacked police stations, burnt them, looted the armoury, burnt government infrastructures and murdered policemen.

“Tragically, cultism has left our university campuses and is now with us in our streets and neighbourhoods. These days, you don’t need to have seen the four walls of the university before you can become a cultist. More worrisome is the fact that the ages of children going into it rage from eight to 10 and above, and they do kill, irrespective of their ages. It is a trying situation and everyone must join in speaking out against it and parents and guardians must start their lessons at home with their children.

“I have started my bit by initiating my organization Youthslens Initiative Development where I engage young Nigerians in discussions about crimes and their consequences. The truth is that for every action, there should be consequences. Our youths should know that it is high time they were held accountable for their actions. Those arrested should not be pardoned, rather they should be taken to psychologists and other counselors and get them rehabilitated.

“Again, charity begins at home. Parents and guardians should monitor and watch their wards. What kind of friends are they keeping? What do they bring home in their bags? Community and religious leaders should not get tired of organising seminars for young people where they could be mentored and told about the dangers of taking to crime.”

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