By Chimezie Anaso
The menace of cultism has been identified as a major threat in Anambra, a state that prides itself as one of the safest in Nigeria.
In the past, cultism was largely limited to higher institutions but recent events and popular opinions suggest that it has become a societal and household menace.
The number of youths arrested and paraded by the Police Command in Anambra in relation to cult activities since January this year far outweighs the number of suspects of all other crimes put together.
According to Wikipedia, Cultism can be defined as the practices or activities of a group of people who have extreme religious beliefs that are considered severe.
It is a social crime which is very rampant within the school system, although cult groups are everywhere within the larger society.
A number of youths have died or been maimed in the act of cultism in Anambra that the state government, Police and parents are no longer at ease with the menace.
Mr Afam Nnoli, a resident of Awka, the Anambra capital, says the incidence of cultism related clashes and the resulting deaths and injuries has now become common that people are more afraid of cultists than armed robbers in the state.
Nnoli attributed the rise in the level of cultism to poor orientation at home, quest for money and power as well as politicians who recruit thugs with arms for political supremacy over their opponents.
He said cultism was responsible for most of the vices like rape, drug abuse, armed robbery and general insecurity. This fear is confirmed with the items allegedly recovered from some of the suspects whenever the Police parade them, these include guns, live cartridges, axes, daggers, machetes and hard drugs such as Cannabis Sativa (Indian hemp).
Nnoli said urgent measures like special laws and correctional homes should be put in place to check the menace of cultism and protect the future of the society.
Mr Mustapha Dandaura, the Commissioner of Police in Anambra, says cult menace is spreading like wildfire in the state and is capable of ruining the collective future of the state if nothing is done urgently.
Dandaura said his meeting with Gov. Willie Obiano and officers of the command upon resumption of office three months ago revealed that cultism was the new face of crime in Anambra.
He disclosed that no fewer than 40 people have been killed in cultism-related violence in the state between March and June 2019, while more than 100 person have been wounded and were receiving treatment in different hospitals.
According to him no fewer than 700 suspected cult members have been arrested during the period.
“Upon my assumption of duty since March this year, the first courtesy call I made to the governor of Anambra, he specifically mentioned that cultism is spreading like wildfire in the state and that he will love to see that I concentrate on this menace.
“And in the first briefing I had with my officers from the Criminal Investigation Department and Operations Department, they all also lamented this menace of cultism and that is what informed my concentration on it.
“From my observation, virtually every community in Anambra have the issue of cultism, young people are being initiated into it on daily basis, killing themselves, wasting their lives, while their parents watch helplessly.
“These young men are being initiated into cultism right from the secondary school not just university, even the non-students, uneducated ones are being initiated by the local people in the communities.
“I am aware that since I assumed duty, over 700 suspected cultists have been arrested in the last three months, it is a daily affair,” he said.
Dandaura said cultism spread across all the communities, especially places where there are traditional title tussle, adding that families and communities join in the fight against the vice.
He, however, says the Police are winning the war through the Special Anti-Cultism Squad (SPAC) Unit, headed by CSP Chris Bassey but decried the absence of legal framework that is amenable to successful prosecution of suspects.
The commissioner corroborated Nnoli by calling on Anambra Government enact special laws to try cult suspects as the extant system is lenient and allows magistrates to grant them bail with option of fines.
“Anambra government has to intervene seriously, I recommend that strong laws be enacted against cultism to stop the menace here, the major issue is prosecution, we need a clear law just as some states made laws for robbery and kidnapping.
“I have had meetings with traditional rulers and presidents-general and I have told them that only police cannot fight cultism, the communities have roles to play.
“Most communities have problem of cultism, every community where you have `Kingship’ tussle you will see young men being killed in cult-related clashes but the worst place of cultism activities is Obosi, it is daily affair there.
“The present law and magistrates are not helping matters, anytime you charge them to court they are granted bail and nothing is heard again about it, these same boys will come back to the society to continue with what they are doing.
“I want to call on the government to enact a law for effective prosecution of these cultists who are everywhere in the state, if nothing drastic is done, I am afraid we will not have future leaders,” he said.
Another worry expressed by Dandaura is the large number of below legal age youths involved in cultism and the inability of the Police to either prosecute or detain them.
He said the Anambra Ministry of Women Affairs should be empowered to build correctional homes.
“You can’t charge some of them to court because they are underage, you wait for their parents to come and claim them they won’t show up, some of these boys have abandoned the parents, it is difficult to unite them with their families.
“At the end of the day, you have to release them because you can’t confine or detain them, the police doesn’t even have the facilities to keep these set of people.
“The state government should takeover reformation of these youth, we cannot continue arresting and releasing them, the social welfare and development department of the state should build corrective facilities to keep these juveniles till they attain legal age.
Mr Chinedu Obata, a social commentator acknowledged the exploits of the Police in waging war against cult menace but called for the strengthening of SPACS unit for more effectiveness.
Obata, who lauded the unit, said deploying more personnel and logistics, including communication and vehicles will enhance their capacity to cover the nooks and cranny of Anambra and smoke out cultists.
“The Police have been doing well, the SPAC which is the lead unit has been producing results, I just want them to improve on their intelligence, ensure that only the real suspects are apprehended and prosecuted.
“Obviously, they need more empowerment in terms of man and machines to enable them do better,” he said.
But the Police Commissioner said the command understands the strategic nature of SPACS and is providing it with the best motivation.
According to Dandaura, the anti-cultism department of the police has been empowered through posting of more and professionally trained personnel, just last two weeks, we reshuffled there based on the recommendations of the officer in charge
“The Police is ever ready, we have the manpower, logistics and even finance to make sure SPACS succeeds and that is why they are able to be raiding hideouts and effecting arrest daily,” he said.
But Mr Valentine Ezeh, a Senior State Counsel in the Department of Public Defender in the Anambra Ministry of Justice, says a major hindrance to successful prosecution of cultism suspects is lack of evidence.
Ezeh, who said no fewer than 58 youths had lost their lives to cultism-related killings between Jan. 2018 to May 2019, averred that cultism was the most prevalent of criminal matters handled by the DPP ahead of armed robbery and murder.
He commended Governor Willie Obiano for his support to the Police through the provision of vehicles and motorcycles for effective patrol which, according to him, have limited the activities of cultists to hideouts.
He said jurisprudence on cultism was still little as there were no enough case laws and authorities to attend to such matters.
“We have not had enough case laws and authorities to attend to cult cases, sometimes the society, due to the fact that those involved are minors and students, would have pity on them, such pity starts from the police.
“Their case files are empty, most of the time without much evidence to convict accused cultists, you hardly see a cultist that goes to prison rather you see they are on bail,” he said.
The senior legal counsel who also blamed desperate politicians for encouraging cultism among youths called for social reorientation to change their mindset.
“You find out that most times, the politicians use them as thugs; give them money and arms during elections and after elections they abandon them.
“These cultists will now be acting believing they have a boss behind them that will save them if they fall into the hands of the law and when after the election, they no longer get that support, they go haywire.
“I believe that with orientation and re-orientation in schools, things will be better because I can tell you authoritatively that things are going out of hand.”
-News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)