Residents of Awka, the capital city of Anambra, Southeast Nigeria are currently living in palpable fear over increasing cases of deaths of young men believed to be cultism related.
Before now, the police Special Anti Cult Squads (SPACS) was at the forefront of the battle against cultism in the state but the policy that restricted all Tactics Squads in the wake of protests against SARS whittled down the effectiveness.
The menace assumed an alarming dimension during the #ENDSARS protests and the period immediately after it when police retreated to safety following violent attacks on personnel and formations by hoodlums who hijacked the peaceful protest.
Some suspected cultists were gunned down in their numbers after the #ENDSARS protest. This compelled the residents to raise the alarm calling on the governments and the security agencies to stem the tide of killings and maiming among youths in the town.
Toochukwu Okoye, a resident who spoke to HumAngle said no fewer than 12 deaths were recorded between the EndSARS protest period and the end of November.
Okoye said such deaths were recorded around Unizik Junction, Udoka Estate gate, Umukwa Village, Amaenyi Village and other areas within the capital town.
He said there were already growing fears among Awka people in the diaspora who usually return home during the yuletide period because the security situation at home was so worrisome that they felt their safety at home may not be guaranteed.
According to him, families whose sons died of cult killing usually don’t report such incidents to the police. This, he said prompts gang members to mobilise to bury their victims or one of them gunned down during a rivalry clash, thereby, leaving no trace for an inquiry into their atrocities.
In a letter entitled “ Open Letter To The Anambra State Governor Willie Obiano”, youths of Ezi Awka, a village in the capital town raised the alarm that victims of cult killings were no longer cultists only but innocent youths.
The letter dated November 10 and signed by Obinna Charles ljeomah, chairman of the group, stated that the youth called on the governor to set up a special security outfit to tackle the menace of cultism in the town.
Ezi Awka Youth in the document sighted by HumAngle “condemned cultism in its entirety,” adding that the blood bath among young people in Awka by” a few hooligans who had chosen to bring shame to the kingdom was an abomination”.
“Sequel to the motion passed by the entire good people of Ezi Awka Community Awka, we wish to bring to your notice on the incessant killings in Awka the State Capital of Anambra State,” the youth group said in the letter.
“In the recent past, few misguided elements who are notoriously bloodthirsty had unleashed mayhem and caused chaos in the state capital, Awka under the auspices of cultism, leading to broad day shooting and killing of able-bodied young men within Awka.
“Your Excellency, these killers conspicuously slaughter and kill our youths with impunity, some of these victims are innocent young men full of ambitions and brighter future but their lives were cut short due to cult wars.
“We hereby appeal to the State Government to come to the aid of our dear youths and set up a special security operative to nip these bloodthirsty killers in the bud, Awka Youth Say No To Cultism.”.
A woman who wished not to be named for her safety told HumAngle that the community leaders were not doing enough to curb the menace of cultism in Awka. She lamented that many youths were leaving the town for fear of being attacked.
She said he had asked his undergraduate son to leave the house and stay in his hostel near his school for fear of being the next victim.
According to her, the cultists brazenly barge into peoples homes to shoot suspected rivals.
When they don’t see their target, anybody around will pay for it and they will still go back to get their target, she said.
“That is why I have asked my son, my only son to leave the house for his hostel because I cannot vouch for other boys living in the neighbourhood, youths are running away from their homes because of this,” she added.
But the police in the state has stepped up a 24-hour patrol in the wake of cult clashes and attacks on innocent citizens.
“It would be recalled that of recent, cases of the cult clash was on the increase in Awka prior to the commencement of a robust 24hours patrol by the Command Rapid Response Squad and other patrol teams in the State,” Haruna Mohammed, Public Relations Officer of Anambra State Police command said in a statement.
The patrol seems to be yielding results already- on November 18, two youths suspected to be cultists who were moving in a tricycle with firearm and ammunition were arrested in Awka.
Mohammed said the suspects were intercepted at about 2 pm by a police patrol team that noticed their ominous behaviour and had in their possession, an English made Baretta Pistol and live ammunition.
He, however, did not disclose the mission of the suspects but noted that they were still being investigated.
“Police patrol team on stop and search operations along millennium road Awka intercepted a tricycle with two occupants behaving in a suspicious manner,” Mohammed said.
“A bag was concealed inside the tricycle and upon a search of the bag, an English made Baretta pistol with filed out breech number loaded with three rounds of .9mm live ammunition was recovered therefrom.
“The suspects were arrested and they include Obiako Chukwujekwu Henry 21, from Umudioka Village Awka and Emmanuel Echezona Ogbonna, 27from Ikwo in Ebonyi State but resident at Ezejiaku street Umueri Awka,” he stated.
He said the suspects were assisting the police with useful information to unravel their motive of being in possession of a prohibited firearm after which they would be brought to justice.
Ikemefuna Ononye, a resident who reacted to the arrest said the stop and search operations on tricycle and shuttle bus operators should be intensified and sustained as most of the cult killings were perpetrated by people using tricycles.
The police Spokesperson, however, said the alleged killings credited to cultism were exaggerated as the number of reported cases did not correspond with the death claims.
He said the police were in full and firm control of the situation, noting serious efforts were being made to eliminate the vice.
“It is all social media allegations, where are the bodies, what are their identities, where are the families of the victims, how come they are not complaining? Mohammed said.
“The situation is exaggerated, bring us the proven cases and we will investigate them.”