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Rivers harvest of deaths: Recurring rage of cultists on killing spree

Imagine this scenario: It was 7pm one fateful Friday last December in Omoku, headquarters of the Ogba Egbema Ndoni Local Government area of Rivers State. Suddenly sporadic gun shots were heard. Nobody could say what provoked the shooting. But at the end of it all, 12 persons
including a mobile police man, were confirmed killed.
A lady who witnessed the incident said the gun men who were armed with sophisticated rifles went from house to house, dragging out their victims and killing them on the spot. She, however, could not identify the killers or the motive of their action.
But then state Police Public Relations Officer, DSP, Ahmad Muhammad, had immediately blamed cultists for the dastardly act. According to him, the killings were the outcome of the usual supremacy contest between rival cult groups in Rivers State. Indeed, a source who pleaded anonymity informed that cult killings have become a recurring decimal in Omoku due to the vicious struggle by cult groups to control the rich resources flowing from oil majors doing business in the area. He identified the leading cult groups in Omoku as Icelanders, Big 5 and Dewell.
The story is the same in many other parts of Rivers State. In the last six months no fewer that 30 persons have lost their lives in cult-related clashes in the state. The state Commissioner of Police, Mr Chris Ezike, who assumed duties in June this year, said cultism remained a hydra-headed monster in the state.
He recalled that on July 11 this year in Agbonchia, Eleme Local Government Area, five persons were shot dead by some cultists on a motor bike at a car wash centre close to the evening market in the area. Though the commissioner put the death toll at five but community sources said about nine persons lost their lives in that gory incident.
In Port Harcourt several youths have been hacked to death under cult-related circumstances. For instance, 21-year-old Alex Jona was shot dead by suspected cultists who came on a revenge mission to Gada area of Port Harcourt where he lived with his parents. Those who knew the late Alex said he was certainly not a member of any cult group, but was simply at the spot where he went to eat at the wrong time. They said his assailants trailed their target to the spot, but reportedly missed him. They still opened fire on those they saw there, including Alex.
In Etche local government some suspected cultists killed Hope Alison and in a bizarre manner, went to the morgue, grabbed his corpse and set it ablaze.
Political dimension of cultism
Recently, a political dimension crept into the recurring cult crises as is the case in Ogba Egbema Ndoni Local Government Area. Some persons who spoke to the Vanguard Features, VF, under strict condition of anonymity said the situation had become worst in the area because most of the cultists have been recruited by the political class to prosecute political battles.
The two top contending political parties in the area are the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and the All Progressives Congress, APC. They parade high profile members in the area. According to community sources, what started as cult-related killings have assumed political dimension in several communities in the area.
They recalled the brutal murder of a former Chairman of the local government, Chief Christopher Adube and seven others in his house in April this year. In that sad incident, three of Chief Adube’s children were also murdered.
A journalist, Fred ( not real name) residing in Omoku, headquarters of the local government, said it had been harvest of deaths from cult-related killings in communities in the area. According to him, since the local government is host to Agip and Total, two major oil multinationals, youth groups sprang up seeking attention from the oil giants.
“On several occasions elections into youth bodies in communities in this local government had led to blood shed. This happened because of the bitter struggle by the youth leadership to get the attention of the oil companies operating in the area and the benefits therefrom,” he said.
Fred said there are over 15 cult groups in the area. Some of them, according to him, have no links to the university cult groups. “They just sprang up here and are just limited to the local government. The various cult groups have been actively recruiting followers and members from innocent secondary school boys. It is so bad here. What you often hear are hits. By hits the cultists mean going to houses of their rivals to snuff life out of them, “he said.
Some of the active and most vicious cult groups include Dewell, Debam, Aromaid, K 5, Black Axe, Icelanders and Vikings.
VF gathered that the cultists have also introduced kidnapping as part of their nefarious acts. They kidnap for ransom. In some cases after payment of ransom kidnapped victims are not allowed to come out alive as they are killed by the cultists and their corpses dumped by the road side.
Police boss, Mr Ezike, said the Police has the local government on its record as an area with high record of cult-related activities.
Cultism spreading to other communities in Rivers
According to the state Police Chief, cultism is not restricted to only the local government. It has extended to other areas he styled as fringe communities to Port Harcourt. These include Ubima, home to former governor Chibuike Amaechi in Ikwerre Local Government Area, Rumuji communities in Emohua Local Government Area, Bori in Khana Local Government Area , Eleme and some communities in Asari Toru,Akuku Toru and Degema local goverment areas.
In Ibaa and some other communities VF gathered that the tussle for chieftaincy stools have been largely responsible for proliferation of cult groups. In Ibaa two top contenders to the chieftaincy stool of the community, Eze Kingsley Iyenke and Eze Princewill Nwakama alleged that a third contestant recruited cultists to harass and intimidate members of the community.

They further alleged that their houses were destroyed by the cultists, adding that they had to flee the community for their dear lives. “I have not been to my community for a long time now because of these cult boys being used to intimidate innocent people. They burnt my house. I even live in hiding in Port Harcourt,” Iyenke said.
Iyenke recalled that these cultists allegedly murdered his brother, Samuel Iyenke, a masters degree holder in Analytical Chemistry from a university in the United States of America when he came home some time ago.
A resident in Ikwerre local government, Mr Amadi James, said in communities in the local government, some persons recruit cult groups to settle scores over land ownership and farm lands.
Mr Ezike said his command was doing everything to redress the challenges of insecurity arising from cultism. He paraded 74 cultists arrested from different locations in the state. He said his men also arrested a native doctor providing charms for some of the cultists.
The Police boss said AK47 rifles and locally made guns were among items recovered from them. He also paraded about 15 suspected kidnappers arrested by his men from different operations.
Mr Ezike called for support from the public to rid the state of hoodlums and brigands.
On his part, Governor Nyesom Wike said his government will be intolerant to criminals, kidnappers and other criminal elements, assuring that they will be fished out and dealt with.
The governor gave force to his position with the recent signing into law of an amended anti kidnap bill.
With the new law in place any convicted kidnapper will lose his landed properties and other valuables to the state. The governor explained that the new law will deter others from going into such crime. There has been a close relationship between kidnapping and cultism in the state. Most of the kidnappings have been carried out by suspected cultists.
Council boss hands 7-day ultimatum to cultists
Chairman of Eleme Local Government Area, Mr Philip Okparaji, said he had handed a seven-day ultimatum to all cultists in his local government to repent or be ready to face the wrath of the law.
According to him, cultists recently chased the paramount ruler of Ebubu community, Chief Emmanuel Bebe, from his domain because he was preaching peace in the area. He gave the names of the group terroriSing his area as Red and Black. The paramount ruler could not, however, be reached for comment. Meantime, Mr Okparaji, said his government was ready to rehabilitate repentant cultists in the local government.
He blamed the rise in cult activities in his council to what he termed failure of government in the past.
“They call themselves Red and Black in Eleme here. We experience incidents of cultism; rivalry between two groups are what we face here. We have given them seven days to renounce their membership. We want them to live a meaningful life. We will give them skill acquisition.
Failure of governance in the past was responsible for the situation. This problem has been on in the last two years.
Emmanuel Bebe, the Paramount ruler of Ebubu does not stay in his place because of cultists. They chased him away. The traditional ruler called for a peace meeting in his community sometime ago and one group said they didn’t want peace, while the other group sued for it. Somehow one group chased him out of the town, “ he said.
Intervention of the Church
The churches have also been actively involved in the move to rid the state of cultists. Recently about 40 youths who confessed to being members of various cult groups renounced their membership of the sinister organisations at a deliverance programme organised by about 50 clergymen in Onne, Eleme Local Government Area.
Reverend Nwachinemere Okundo, who led the other clergymen in the deliverance programme, charged the repentant cultists to completely flee from such, saying cultism had claimed so many lives of energetic youths in their prime.
Some of the ex-cultists blamed idleness for their involvement in cultism. They said they were recruited by their leaders who promised them jobs and other empowerment packages.
“They told us that we could get jobs in companies operating around us in Onne when we belong to cult groups. But most of us have not seen the jobs. Rather we were being used to fight battles of supremacy among our leaders,” one of them told VF.
He further appealed to the state government to create jobs for the youths, stressing that if they were productively engaged they will not have time for acts of cultism.

On his part, Reverend Okundo and the other clergymen enjoined parents and guardians to give adequate attention to their children and wards. He said they should mind the type of friends their children keep, adding that they should strive to be good examples to them.