By Usman Aliyu
In recent times Edo has been grappling with a surge in cult-related violence leading to loss of lives and a pervasive sense of insecurity among its residents.
Over the past month alone, the state has witnessed the tragic loss of more than 35 persons, including a journalist and a prominent head of a security network.
These incidents have sent shockwaves through the state, raising prompting calls for effective measures to address the escalating challenge.
The increase in cult clashes in this state, particularly the capital, in Benin, raises serious concerns as residents are understandably fearful for their safety.
The brazen nature of the attacks attacks has instilled unease and vulnerability among residents.
The impact of these heinous acts extends beyond the immediate loss of life, as it also disrupts the normalcy of everyday life, leaving communities in a constant state of apprehension and distress.
Media reports indicated that no fewer than 30 persons lost their lives in early part of January in a wave of attacks and reprisal attacks between Black Axe and rivals, Supreme Eiye Confraternity around 2nd East Circular area of Benin,
Another clash between the two fierce rival groups resulted in the death of three persons, according to media reports.
Two of the latest victims simply identified as Denco and Ariba were allegedly killed at a drinking joint at Igun junction between Igbesanmwan and Oza Street, off Sokponba Road in Benin, the reports further said.
The menace is restricted to Benin as media reports show that the killings spread across the state.
A tally published by a national daily revealed that Benin City leads the pack with 97 deaths.
It is followed by Ogbegbe with 31; Ewu-Esan Local Government Areas with no fewer than 13 persons; Egbeta with three deaths; and Ekpoma with two deaths.
According to report, other 34 deaths are spread across several other local government areas in the state.
“The issue of incessant cult killings in the state is really worrisome. The security agencies and the state government should do something urgent about it.
“I remember that in a security summit organised by the state government in 2023, Gov. Godwin Obaseki said his government was putting necessary machineries in place to curtail insecurity in the state.
“He should as a matter of urgency declare a state of emergency on insecurity especially on cultism,” says Umar Idris-Momoh, a Benin resident.
It’s not only Idris-Momoh that is worried, Mrs Esther Idahosa, a business owner whose residence is on the Ekhewan road of the city describes as devastating, the high rate of killings from the renewed attacks which began in December.
Since then, she said, the state has been thrown into a palpable fear and expressed worries that even the innocent, who are non-cult members, are being caught in the cross fire of rival cultists.
“There are cases where family members and neighbours of rival groups’ members are killed simply because they could not find their targets. This is disturbing.
“It is becoming too much in the state, particularly Benin City. There is an urgent need for action from the authorities to restore peace and order,” she says.
Corroborating the call for an immediate action, Mr Tunde Osakwe, a community leader, says night life in Benin is now full of fear, frustration and anxiety.
“They can attack anytime and anywhere. One of the attacks in December was at a place very close to a police station.
“What can be more daring than this,” asked the community leader.
As security agencies and other stakeholders assess the situation, it becomes evident that the prevalence of cult-related violence, poses a grave threat to the peace and stability of the state.
The intricate network of cultism, characterised by rivalries, is also undermining the social fabric of the state.
The implications of this are far-reaching, affecting the economic and psychological well-being of the entire community.
Acknowledging this fact, Obaseki, while receiving the newly deployed Commandant of Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) to the state, Mr Gbenga Agun, said cultism remains one of the biggest security challenges in the State.
Though he says his administration is reviewing existing laws to ensure proper prosecution of offenders, the governor solicited collaboration amongst the security agencies as one of the strategies to combat it.
“Cultism is one of the biggest challenges we face in the state and it involves abuse of drugs and we are working on strategies to deal with the issue.
“Working with your men and other agencies, we believe that the plan we have in place will make significant progress in the fight against cultism.
“We are working with the Edo State House of Assembly (EDHA) to update the laws to make it more effective.
“It will enable us to deal with the issue and those causing us problems in the State,” said Obaseki, the Chief Security Officer of the state.
Similarly, the Commissioner of Police in the state, Mr Funsho Adegboye, expressed worries on the exacerbating cult killings as well as the proliferation of firearms in the state.
He assures the public, however, that the police would deploy every means within the law to curtail the conundrum.
The police chief, who assumed duty in the state at the height of the attacks, also acknowledged that the issue of cultism is worrisome.
The top notch of Nigeria Police Force is equally worried.
“We want to assure members of the public, starting from His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Edo State; we have gotten assurances from him and the Inspector-General of Police, IGP, Kayode Egbetokun.
“Godwin Obaseki has given us a kind of umbrella backing that whoever we get, not minding where he/she belongs to, that the person should be arrested and we should follow the processes of the law”, said the police chief.
Nevertheless, he appealed to parents and guardians to warn their children and wards against any action that could affect the peace of the state.
The escalating wave of this violence represents a critical challenge that demands urgent attention and concerted action.
To effectively address the scourge, concerted efforts and comprehensive strategies are essential.
By implementing a comprehensive strategy that combines effective law enforcement, community engagement, social interventions, and economic development, it is possible to stem the tide of cult violence and pave the way for a safer, more secure, and harmonious Edo.
The time to free Edo from the grip of cultists is now.
News Agency of Nigeria.