•Gun-wielding gangsters invade suburbs, spreading death and distress
By Job Osazuwa and Ola Kehinde-Balogun
Right now, all over Lagos, cult groups are back on the rampage. When they strike, they leave sorrow, tears and blood in their trail.
Long before now, many had thought that the activities of cult groups were only restricted to most Nigerian tertiary institutions. But their increased presence and activities in some Lagos communities are fast assuming frightening new levels.
Everywhere you turn, incidents of merciless killings during cult clashes reverberate in the air.
Sorrow, blood, tears
In some communities in the Ikorodu area of Lagos, the fear of cultists is the beginning of wisdom.
At all times in some of the communities between Maya and Imota areas of the expansive Ikorodu town, apprehension pervades the air like a thick, early morning haze at the peak of harmattan. Recently, no fewer than five men were mowed down in the area by bullets from the guns of suspected cultists.
Early this month, no fewer than 100 youths unleashed mayhem on the residents of Okepopo/Odunfa areas of Lagos Island. The assailants, believed to be cult members, were allegedly involved in supremacy battle over who should collect levies from traders, motorists and hawkers in the area. By the time the dust settled, three lives had been lost, with considerable damage to property.
Debo Uturu, a 25-year-old computer engineer-turned tricycle operator, was brutally killed during a cult related war on Lawani Street, Mushin.
Shortly before the incident, another resident of Lawani Street, Sodiq Shittu, whose wife was then said to be six months pregnant, was also killed by the same group of cultists. His assailants allegedly crushed his skull with a sledge hammer before wheeling his remains to the street.
Lagos Island residents are still mourning the recent killing of five of their neighbours, who were returning from a naming ceremony in the Ajah area of the state. The deceased were allegedly ambushed by some cult members. Gunned down were Ganiyu Lawal, aka Ebe, Idris Kolapo, Samsudeen Osoja, aka Songa, Rafiu, aka Ralph and Ladi. Songa was decapitated and had his head taken away for allegedly showing disrespect to the leader of a rival cult group.
Not long ago too, gang members numbering about 50 invaded Akoshile Junction in Lagos and engaged one another in a gun battle. When the duel was over, no fewer than 17 people, including passersby, were either dead or wounded. Five persons identified as Ramon Oladejo, Lateef Abdulahi, Yusuf, Rasheed and Alausa were killed in the fracas.
It was in a similar manner that Waheed Yusuf, aka Skippo, the leader of the notorious gang, the Apapa Boys, was shot dead. After his death, a member of his gang who deserted was allegedly abducted and had his head chopped off. The police recovered his trunk in Surulere, while his head was found in Ebute-Meta area of the city.
Deadly groups for everyone
In Lagos at the moment, cult groups are everywhere with more and more people, mainly youths, joining. The cult members’ thirst for blood leaves many wondering what has become of their moral upbringing.
Although they are dubbed members of secret cults, these young men and women now operate in broad daylight, leaving Lagos residents shaking in dread. Each time their rivalry breaks out, violent clashes follow, blood flows, and human parts are strewn all over.
What’s a cult?
According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia, “a cult is a religious or social group with socially-deviant and novel beliefs and practices.” Cult members are said to hold and share beliefs that are significantly different from those of established religions and practice traditions that are contrary to those regarded as normal and acceptable.
According to Daily Sun’s investigations, cult activities in Lagos are predominant in Agege, Mushin, Ikorodu, Bariga and Ojuelegba. Lagos Island, Ketu, Orile Iganmu, Meiran, Ikotun, Oshodi, Yaba. The Lagos-Ogun old tollgate and Ipaja areas also have their own fair share of the menace. In these places, members of the groups openly display their identities without fear.
A woman, Adetokunbo, who lives close to Pen Cinema, Agege, admitted that cultists’ activities within the area were upscale, regretting that the police were not helping in stopping the trend. She also regretted that the suspects got bail as soon as the complainant left the police station.
“The police can do better to save us from living in fear and danger. Everybody knows those bad boys. But if you report them, the police will detain them for a while and discharge them just before you get home. The next thing they would say was that they were investigating the suspects, but the persons they were investigating would soon be seen freely walking the streets and still committing more crimes. What kind of society are we in,” she lamented.
Cult groups operating in Lagos
In Lagos, there are different cult groups, each bearing distinct names. According to Daily Sun’s investigation, the popular cults included the Buccaneer, Alora, Black Axe, Eiye, Aiye, the Brotherhood, Kings of the Street, Black Boys, Harmless Progressives, Black Angels, Yellow Bra, Happiness and Owonikoko, among others.
It was gathered that different groups were known for their mottos and catch phrases, deliberately designed to lure new members to their camps.
Initiation ceremonies for new members normally take place in the bushes in the wee hours of the night. New members are asked or coerced to take an oath of allegiance to the groups’ rules and regulations. It was said that some also test new members’ capacity to endure rough circumstances by subjecting them to severe punishment that often leave them with bruises.
Cult activities in secondary schools
A Lagos resident, Oluwatosin Adura, recently told the reporters that state-owned school in the Meiran area of Lagos where he completed his secondary education three years ago, was renowned for high-level cult activities, with severe fights among rival groups.
“There were so many cult guys in my time. Perhaps nothing has changed now. They fought with different weapons over girls.
“Most of the cult students expelled from school later came back to terrorise the school community. They used charms and often bragged about the charms. The cultists usually referred to themselves as ‘big boys and girls’ while non members were mocked and sometimes oppressed if we crossed their paths.
“There were different cult groups in that school. Some called themselves ‘fine boys’, ‘no nonsense’ and ‘freedom fighters.’
“A boy, known as Scorpion, a leader of one of the groups, was so dreaded by all, including the teachers. They said his father was rich but had disowned him. He was tall and handsome, but he was a notorious cultist.”
Ikorodu, a hotbed of cult activities
Ikorodu is always in the news for cult clashes. Last December, five persons were killed with others injured in a cult clash in the area. The fight, it was learnt, was between the Aye and Eiye groups.
Sources said trouble started after the Eiye cult group killed two Aiye members who were invited to the carnival. The Aiye group then allegedly took the fight to the Eiye group, killing three of their members.
Soon after, the Ikorodu area boiled again when a group of cultists attacked the property of the father of the leader of a rival cult group. According to reports, the suspected cult group set buildings ablaze and damaged vehicles. They allegedly poured petrol on a building and set it on fire, while keeping watch to ensure it was completely razed..
Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway, another hotbed of cultists
Residents of Dalemo -Toll gate, a Lagos-Ogun border community on the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway, constantly tell tales of torture at the hands of cult groups.
Many residents of the community confirmed that they had been under constant attacks of different cult groups in the area. They alleged that oftentimes, several residents had been waylaid and brutalised, while many shops had been looted. They narrated how erratic power supply, which the community often experienced, had aided the cultists’ activities.
Killing under the cover of darkness
A resident of Dalemo, who identified herself as Mama Risi, recalled a few instances of cult activities that led to the gruesome murder of some persons in the area.
“Very recently, Gbenga, a 20-year-old boy, was tortured to death during their initiation ceremony. The boy, who appeared gentle and known to many, attended Sango High School, where he completed his secondary education in 2009. He later became a tiler (a man that fixed tiles) after some years. Nobody believed he would be initiated into the group. People only saw him being dumped in the night around his home. He was very weak and tired following the severe beatings he probably received during his initiation rites.
Another resident, Mrs. Shehu, narrated her husband’s experience at the hands of the cult-assailants. She said he was attacked and shot in the leg and was hospitalised for six months.
“They attacked our house sometime in 2012 and shot my husband in the leg. He survived it by God’s grace.
“The cult activities have got so bad that everyone has to watch out because you don’t know who is who. Almost every grown up boy in this area is into one form of the devilish group or the other. And since some of their fathers are landlords, everyone is careful.
“Somewhere around Ola Anobi community down there, they struck recently. They smashed a man’s head with the butt of the gun. They also carted away people’s laptops, handsets and money. You can’t even differentiate them from thieves.”
Cultists as robbers and ritual killers
A youth leader in Iloye area, Babatunde Jamiu, said that there was hardly anyway anyone could differentiate between a cult operation and an armed robbery activity in the area.
He recalled how a gang of bandits numbering 39 men and one woman stormed the community on two consecutive weekends, inflicting untold injuries on the residents and carting away property.
Vice Chairman, Adedotun Ifedapo community, Mr. Adekunle Danyiwo, said many unemployed youths in the area, who were cultists, usually chose the nights to attack innocent persons.
Some residents of the community admitted that they had been subjected to some form of ritual harassment by the cult groups. A resident, who spoke anonymously said: “At a playground in the community called ‘Ithiad’, belonging to a Muslim group, we woke up sometime last year to see a woman’s dead body. Her breast was severed. We also suspected that she was raped, because of things we saw in her private part area.
“Same way, a boy, Kola, in his early 20s, whose father’s house was on Anikulapo Street, was kidnapped late last year. Till now, nothing is known concerning his whereabouts. At first, some suspected cultists contacted his father, and told him not to bother any more about his son, as he was in their custody. Later, they stopped calling him.”
Community leaders seek help
The traditional ruler of Ire Akari community in Dalemo town admitted the presence of the cultists in his domain. However, he said that the community was collaborating with the police to rout the groups operating in the area. He said the community had advised parents to warn their children to refrain from engaging in cult activities.
He expressed sadness over the consistent power outages in the area which he said was aiding the cultists. “We have fought so hard on this matter. The power distribution companies would say they would do something about it, but these cult boys take the advantage of the darkness to attack us each time.”
Cultism in Mushin, Surulere
Recently, chairman of the Police Community Relations Committee in Mushin, Lagos, Dr. Emmanuel Abiodun Williams, accused parents in Mushin and Surulere of being responsible for the incessant cult clashes in the areas. He regretted that parents of such children did not raise them properly.
“For long, Mushin and Surulere have become volatile areas due to constant cult clashes. It is so bad that some residents have had to relocate. During one of their clashes, two brothers were gunned down, while a pregnant woman was also killed.
“Most parents just go to work and not bother about their children. Some don’t even care to study their children’s movement and habits. That is a grave mistake on the part of the parents.
“These are issues parents should look into. Can anyone ever imagine that the other time, those boys started killing themselves because a faction exchanged phone numbers with a lady who was a girlfriend to another faction member at a naming ceremony? Isn’t that crazy?”
Young teenagers now cult members
Recently, the Lagos State Police Command arrested six teenagers for alleged involvement in a cult clash on the Lagos Island. It was gathered that the six boys, aged between 13 and 15, were apprehended around Campos Square by policemen from the Lion Building division.
Police recovered axes, knives and machetes from the boys who were allegedly on a revenge mission against a rival cult group when they were rounded up. The boys were said to be members of Happiness and Owonikoko cult groups..
A police source at State Criminal Investigations Department, Yaba, said parents of the teenagers claimed ignorance of their children’s cult activities. The state Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni, called the development a disturbing trend, urging both the police and the parents to be vigilant.
‘Police must do better’
A community leader in Agbelekale in Alimosho Local Government Area of Lagos, Mr. Waheed Banjo, blamed the police for not complementing the efforts of vigilance groups in his area to expose suspected cult members.
“Sometime ago, we were organising vigil every night to ensure that our community was safe. We caught many of our youths and handed them over to the police since we didn’t have the power to detain or punish criminals. But some parents of those children colluded with the police to free them. At some point, we called the police but they didn’t respond, and it became frustrating for us, especially when the bad boys began to see some of us as their enemies and they started hunting us.
“Every community knows its bad boys. If the police can genuinely collaborate with us, the war against cultism on the streets will be won faster.”
Stakeholders support solicited
Stakeholders have been charged to monitor their children and inculcate in them the right values. Mike Chukwuma, a public affair analyst, said parents could do better in bringing up their children to respect the laws of the land and have regard for their fellow citizens.
“Everything starts from the home. More than 80 per cent of the people who belong to one cult group or the other were actually not given the right moral upbringing. Some children just grow up without any parental care. Why would such person not be hijacked by those evil groups we are complaining about?”
He regretted that some parents always left home while their children were asleep and returned while they were also back in bed.
“The family can help a great deal to correct the situation in Lagos. It is unfortunate that some parents refuse to accept the fact that their children are involved in those illicit acts. By so doing, they are encouraging them to continue in them instead of reprimanding their children.”
Police decry school pupils’ involvement, promise action
Meanwhile, the Lagos State Police Command spokesperson, Dolapo Badmos, has admitted that cultism in the city was worrisome. But she told Daily Sun that the police were working round the clock to rid the state of cult activities.
She also lamented secondary school students’ membership of various secret cults, disclosing that the state police had resolved to reform and rehabilitate those suspects who were under age 18.
Badmos said it was not correct for anyone to say that the police were not doing anything to arrest the situation, explaining that the force’s strategies needed not to be revealed to the public.
“We are curbing their activities day and night. In fact, a lot of arrests are being made and suspects are being charged to court.
“It is disturbing to note that some of the suspects are minors. We have resolved to do everything possible to ensure that cultism does not flourish in Lagos. We have designed a reformation system for suspects below 18 years. This special unit places the cult members under surveillance. The aim is to re-position them to become responsible citizens.
“We are also getting parents involved in the reformation process. So, we are counselling both the parents and the children. When we are through with counselling the suspects, we hand them over to their parents, but on the condition that their parents would be bringing them to us once a week for a certain period of time. When we see the expected change in behaviour, we will fully be released them to their parents. But those of them above the age of 18 years cannot be treated as children. They would be prosecuted accordingly.
“I don’t understand why people will just belong to a cult to destroy themselves and the society. It won’t be business as usual anymore.
“The Commissioner of Police in Lagos, Mr. Fatai Owoseni, has always emphasised that parents needed not cover up their children’s misconduct, but to assist the police in correcting them so that the society would be safer for all of us, including the parents. That is also one of the reasons we initiated the reformation and restructuring system.”