Bayelsa State used to be calm and the youths very hospitable, a disposition known to an average indigene of Ijaw origin. That culture is gradually fading away as cultism has now become the order of the day in the state. OSA OKHOMINA, in Yenagoa reports.
The nightlife used to be at its peak with visitors and residents having a robust interaction that promoted business and friendship. That was in the good old days.
Now, Yenagoa and its environs are fast becoming a theatre of armed attacks, blood letting and wanton killings unleashed city by armed youths involved in cultism.
For the records, over 123 cult groups have been identified to exist in the State with the Icelanders, Greenlanders, Bobos and many others competing for supremacy and attention. Not to be left out are female cult groups initiated and groomed as armourer for the male counterparts.
The rampaging cultists have continued to unleash terror on the residents despite the increased efforts by the Police, the State Government and the Civil Society groups to nip their activities in the bud.
On the last count, a corps member, a divisional police station in Southern Ijaw and hundreds of residents have fallen victims to the reign of terror of cult groups.
While some victims have lost their lives, others survived with life threatening injuries and trauma.
A victim, Yebufura Abanze Tonbara, who encountered a cult group invasion, recently said he only escaped through the grace of God. According to his story, at about 8:45pm he went to a nearby shop to buy recharge card. “On my way back, while trying to negotiate my way past a foot bridge known in Yenagoa as “Monkey Bridge”, I heard “Aro mate”! “aro mate”!! (a warning shout by one of the deadly cult groups) from afar,” he said.
“I had to increase my pace back to the shop in which I bought the recharge card. But before I kn`ew what was happening, they were almost close to me. So I ran like I have never ran before while screaming on top of my lungs “make una run o, make uno run o” to passersby. I was able to make my way back to where I bought the card and hid there with one lady.
“Knowing that I was about to be robbed of my phone and little cash, I tactically hid my phone and money inside a ‘big pot” I found in the shop. When they (cultists) finally came to the shop one of them pointing a locally made pistol at the lady and myself, took the lady’s bag containing her phone and money.
This is the typical scenario in Yenagoa, particularly along the Kpansia, Biogbolo, Obele and Down Yenagoa areas of the city. The cultists are usually armed with deadly weapons including machete and guns and usually under the influence of drugs.
The most worrisome part is that unlike in the past when membership of cult groups is limited to youths that have attained18 years and above, the membership drive has moved to secondary schools in the state with the youngest cultist arrested by the police being 13 years old.
A fortnight ago, a 15 year old was arrested with a locally made pistol while on school uniform.
The cultists are now recruiting even under-aged girls as amourers. Recently, the Police arrested four teenage girls between the ages of 14 and 15years for hiding guns for cult groups. One of the teenage girls was found with two bullet wounds at the lower end of her back.
A group, Patriotism Advancement and Community Orientation Network (PACON), told LEADERSHIP Weekend that it is about to embark on` a protest march in the state capital over the alarming rate of killings and nefarious activities of cultists in the state.
Convener of the group, Comrade Aluzu, Ebikebuna Augustine, said that there has been a geometric rise in the number of cult groups in the state and something drastic needed to be done to stem their activities.
“Today, the actual number of cult groups in Bayelsa state cannot be mathematically ascertained because of the Nicodemus way in which they operate,” he said. “But records show that those who have been prosecuted and convicted for cultism in the state are between the ages of 15 to 21.”
The Bayelsa State Police Commissioner Don Awunah while corroborating PANCON claim, revealed that after a careful analysis of crime pattern in the state, the prevailing crime is driven by cultism. “Membership of secret cult criminal gangs appears to have permeated the ranks of some misguided youths in the state,” he said.
“Our in-depth crime mapping identifies the following as active major cult groups in the state. Icelanders, Greenlanders, Nobody, De Bam, De Well, Black Axe and Vikings.
“Anti-cultism has been created in the state crime investigation and intelligence Department SCID to streamline and galvanize coordinated police action against cultism in the state. “
He also informed that it was in response to the upsurge, that the authorities of the Bayelsa State Police Command launched a new crime prevention operation tagged “Operation SaferBayelsa” with the aim of confronting violent crimes in the state.
Rising to the challenge, the Bayelsa State Government and the State House of Assembly have embarked on the amendment of the Secret cult Bill to include a 20 years jail term for any person(s) convicted activities in the state.
Governor Dickson who did not waste time in` signing the Bill into law, explained that, the amendment to the law, which had existed since May 2012, was necessitated by the urgent need to check the rise in cult activities among youths.