Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
A federal government agency, the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR), recently organised a one-day colloquium in Anambra State, towards stemming the tide of cultism in the state.
Participants at the event, held at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, include traditional rulers, town union leaders, university teachers, students and representatives of security agencies. They brainstormed on the dangers posed by cult groups and resolved to take actionable plans to fight the scourge.
Welcoming participants, director, Centre for Early Warning and Early Response (CEWERS) of the IPCR, South East zone, Dr. Obioma Onyii- Ogelle, decried the rising trend of cultism in the state.
“This issue, if left unchallenged, can turn the entire state into a large theatre of violent crime, inter-group conflicts and by all these deepen the compromise of the security state of the polity.
“The centre decided to have this programme with the intention to expose and proffer policy options and alternatives to control this malady in Anambra State,” he said.
Several parts of the state have witnessed cult clashes in recent times. One of such was an attack in August, which left about five persons dead in Idemili North and Oyi areas of the state.
The South East zonal coordinator of IPCR, Mrs. Amaka Uzodimma, said the IPCR wanted to issue a warning with the event: “We want to use the outcome of the proceedings here to serve as a response to the surreptitious rise of cultism in Anambra. It is surreptitious because it goes on unnoticed and has not got to a level where it causes state-wide crisis and touches human lives like it is happening in parts of the South-South and South-West.”
She recalled some past incidents and pointed out that some wicked politicians still used cult members to score advantages over their opponents during election.
Uzodinma noted that some cult groups have laid siege to several communities in the state, creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. She lamented that some people now resort to using cult boys in the villages to settle scores, instead of seeking justice through the security agencies. She, therefore, urged the governors to utilise part of their security votes in activities that would quell crisis from the bottom, instead of spending heavily on equipment and instruments of coercion to fight such situations when they manifest.
“It much cheaper to prevent conflict than managing it when it has risen,” she said.
Anambra State governor, Willie Obiano, who was represented by Dr. Emma Udeakpeh, the permanent secretary, Office of the Secretary to the State Government, said security matters were dear to the state government. But he said the government could do little if the twin evils of drug abuse and cultism were allowed to thrive.
He said government was doing much to curb the menace of cultism and drug abuse and would continue to partner with the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and the police to achieve more. He promised Obiano’s government would implement all recommendations made from the colloquium.
A resource person, Mr. Austin Onuorah, who delivered a paper on the rising spate of cultism in Nigeria, said more creative ideas were needed to deal with cultism, not only in Anambra but in Nigeria as a whole.
He recalled that the first cult group berthed in a Nigerian university in 1952 and, 67 years down the line, cultism has remained a serious issue in the country. Onuorah said that the problem had persisted because the Nigerian government has been dealing with the issue from the legal perspective only through enacting laws and spelling out punishment, among others. He said these had failed.
He called for proper engagement with cultists where they could be remodelled and fashioned in such a way that they could remove violence from their mode of operation and also encouraged to open up on some of the hidden things and ways they operate.
A police officer from the Anti-cult Squad, Anambra State Command, Uche Noah, alleged that some people involved in the criminal justice system were also cultists. He said the command had arrested and prosecuted many for cultism in Anambra but regretted that their operations were usually hampered because of the absence of some enabling laws.
He listed communities such as Ihiala, Obosi, and Ogidi as breeding grounds for cultism, while noting that Awka, the state capital, was also topping the chart in cult activities in recent times.
He decried a situation where the police would arrest suspects for cult-related activities and some influential people would call for the immediate release of such suspects even before the police could conduct investigations.
Traditional ruler of Obosi community, Igwe Chidubem Iweka, in his presentation, called for the introduction of anti-cult and counselling courses in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions, so that pupils would know the dangers of engaging in cult activities in their early years.