From Paul Osuyi, Asaba
For over two weeks, residents of Asaba, Delta State, West of the Niger, were held spell bound by the gruesome killings of persons in cult-related attacks. Cult clashes in the capital of the oil rich state have become recurring rituals in recent times.
But the bestial manner the latest killings were carried out left jaws dropping. Victims were slaughtered like animals in local abattoir. No fewer than six, all males, were hacked down in the latest episode between two confraternities.
In a video that trended a victim was dismembered by his assailants in cruel circumstance. His throat was slit while his body was butchered. In another reported case, eyewitnesses said a severed head of a victim was dropped off at Otuogwu area of the town with the body recovered around the Oshimili South Local Government Secretariat where it was staked.
Unlike in the past when youthful members of cult group were killed, the recent clashes seemed to claim the lives of adult members said to be the capons of the groups.
Although the cause of the killing was not ascertained, sources said it started from a disagreement over a lady among members of Neo Black Movement (NBM) otherwise known as Black Axe and the Vikings confraternity in the nearby Ogwashi-Uku, a polytechnic community in Aniocha South Local Government Area, where over 20 lives were reportedly taken in bloody clashes.
In Camp 74, Asaba, a former chairman of the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), Oshimili South chapter, was killed by members of a rival cult group who also shot his wife by the arm. Just before the end of the day, a 67-year-old surveyor was hacked down in a street opposite the Stephen Keshi Stadium, Nnebisi Road. Another five, including those whose bodies were dismembered followed that fateful night in various parts of the town.
The late ex-NULGE boss was said to be a very senior member of his group. His members vowed to use 12 heads of members of the rival group to bury him in retaliatory attacks.
As a result, residents of Umuagu, Umu-Uda, Umuezei, Ogbeoswe, Ikpoto and Koka of Asaba where the killings occurred, have become more conscious of their environment for fear of the unknown. A resident, Daniel Osadebey, said people were afraid of what might happen next: “It is our prayers that the situation does not degenerate to the 2006 episode.”
Another resident, Ben Anuku, said in 2006, cult clashes became a routine, such that the police declared a shoot-at-sight order to restore normalcy. He said the police action calmed the situation until two years ago when the deadly clashes resurfaced:
“Young boys were attacked either in their houses, bar, restaurant or shops. One was killed at Ibusa Junction in his shop where he sold bread. The reprisal led to the death of eight people.
“Last year, one person was killed at a bar, and over 11 persons died in retaliatory attacks. They have started again this year. In the last two weeks, I know of eight persons who were gruesomely killed.”
Some residents blamed politicians for the bloody clashes, alleging that the cult boys were usually empowered with arms during elections, and that the arms are never recovered from them.
“Politicians are the real cause of the present clashes. They use these boys as thugs during elections. They give them arms, which they do not recover after elections.
“There should be capital punishment for cultism. It is not enough for police to parade cultists. They should be charged to court to face trial and jailed if found guilty,” a resident said.
The state police command said operatives were doing their best to halt the killings and bring the suspects to book. Acting Public Relations Officer, Bright Edafe, said over 100 suspected cultists were arrested in the last two weeks:
“In the course of operations and raids by police, cult initiation ceremonies were foiled with arms, cars and other items recovered. Arrested suspects would have their days in court when investigation is concluded.
“Commissioner of Police, Ari Muhammed Ali, has mandated Divisional Police Officers and tactical commanders to embark on continuous raid of cultist hideouts. He urged them to maintain and sustain the tempo because Delta State under his watch will never be a safe haven for cultist to hibernate.”
Nevertheless, Asaba community embarked on a spiritual cleansing to end the killings, placing curse on the perpetrators if they refused to renounce their membership of cult organisations. The rituals started with processions in the wee hours of the day, to designated traditional spots in the five major quarters (Ebos) where other rites were performed.
Our correspondent learnt that the procession was led by the Odogwu (Warlord) of Asaba, Ogbueshinabo Nwanze Oduah; the Onihe (Chief Priest), Ogbueshi Ubaka Atoh; the Onoi, Ogbueshi Uche Nwajei, with members of the Ogbu Traditional Cult, Asaba Community Youth Council (ACYC) and the Asaba Community Vigilante, participating. Ogbueshi Oduah said the decision to cleanse the land of desecration was reached by the Asagba of Asaba, Obi Chike Edozien.
He traced the recent killings to the tussle over a woman by two members of the rival cult groups: “Our gods are angry because our land has been desecrated. The Asaba community resolved that for us to put an end to this menace, we must place curses on not just our sons who are involved but also the strangers who started this recent killings.
“The laying of curses is a deterrent, not just to the youths but also to their parents who must be prepared to bear the consequences for allowing their wards indulge in cultism. We cannot condone these killings anymore. We have visited all our shrines and deities, invoking our gods to rise against those who plan, sponsor or execute these killings. Enough is enough.
“We are giving opportunity to those cultists who are willing and ready to repent to come before our shrines. Let them renounce their membership now or the gods of the land will go after them.”
A red cap chief, Obi Illomechine Amuwah, said Asaba, which used to be a peaceful community, had been invaded and sullied by criminals and hoodlums: “Hence, the resort to the ancestral gods to cleanse the land.”
Spokesperson of the community vigilance group, Mr Chukwuma Ajufo, pleaded with youths to embrace peace or leave the community, if they would not heed the warnings. He solicited assistance from the state and local governments to boost activities of the vigilance outfit in complementing the efforts of security agencies.