By Anayo Onukwugha, Port Harcourt
For some years now, clashes by rival cult groups have become a daily occurrence in parts of Rivers State.
Hardly is there a community in the 23 local government areas of the state that has not been marred by activities of cultism. Sadly, perpetrators are usually aged between 13 and 40 years.
In Diobu, a densely populated axis of Port Harcourt, no fewer than 10 persons were killed in less than a week as a result of cult clashes between two rival groups, Deygbam and Iceland. In Andoni local government area of the state, most communities are deserted as cultists decide who visits and who stays away.
Prince Wiro, a human rights activist and resident of Diobu, says the collection of ‘Matching Ground’, a sort of illegal local levy from market women and men as well as oil companies and campaigners was the main reason behind the clashes among rival cult groups in the city.
Wiro told me that as long as cultists are not barred by government from collecting this illegal levies, cult clashes will continue.
“Our investigation shows that from Mile 1 axis of Fly-Over to Railway axis of Sangana Street, and its adjourning streets that hosts markets (all in Diobu), the hoodlums make not less than N100,000 daily on illegal levy from market people and vehicles that come to off-load goods or carry goods,” he said.
A group called the Movement for the Survival of Izon Ethnic Nationality in the Niger Delta (MOSIEND), attributed the rise in cult clashes in parts of the state to failure of state government in fully implementing the disarmament, debriefing and reorientation (DDR) initiative when it granted Amnesty to repentant cultists and militants in 2016.
Apart from initiating an amnesty programme for repentant cultists in 2016, Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, in 2018, signed into law, the Rivers State Anti-Cultism Law aimed at criminalising activities of cult groups in the state.
In a chat with the director general of the Rivers State Neighborhood Safety Corps Agency, Dr. Uche Mike Chukwuma, he says the agency has been proactive in nipping cult clashes in the bud through intelligence gathering.
“We are worried and we have set our network all over the place. Our searchlight is all over the place. What we are trying to do is to prevent insecurity.
“All over the state I can tell you authoritatively that we have done so much to prevent cult clashes and other criminal acts. I monitor intelligence as they come and I send them out.
“Intelligence is the oil with which security architecture is lubricated. It is down-to-earth, traditional, community-based, stakeholder-based intelligence that we are using. We are concerned because it affects us as a society.”