Like in Colombia, a sovereign state largely situated in the north of South America, with land, and territories in North America, two dreaded cult groups in Akwa Ibom State, one of the big oil and gas states in Southern Nigeria: Axe Confraternity and Vikings are locked in a fierce supremacy battle. The emerging cult war in the state has a huge security implication for the industrialisation drive of the Udom administration.
Drugs finance the left-wing insurgent Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the far-right United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) to a large degree, and thus are an integral part of Colombia’s conflict.
The Colombian conflict, according to Wikipedia, began in the mid-1960s and is a low-intensity asymmetric war between the government of Colombia, paramilitary groups, crime syndicates and communist guerrillas such as the FARC, and the National Liberation Army (ELN), fighting each other to increase their influence in Colombian territory.
The most important international contributors to the Colombian conflict are multinational corporations and the government of the United States. Cultists in Akwa Ibom like in other parts of the Niger Delta, have links in the big oil corporations and other companies that fund their activities.
From Awa, Governor Udom Emmanuel’s home town in Onna Local Government Area, sources say the most prominent cult groups involved in the current fight are Ku Klan Klux (KKK) or Axe Confraternity and Vikings known in local parlance as Ekpat and Ekut over battle of supremacy control and disbursed cash given to youths by one of the state government owned industries operating in the community.
This is happening in spite of the ban on cultism and a threat by the government to jail any person arrested for cult related offences. Members of the cult groups do not appear to be scared. As a result, there is an increase in cult activities across the state as cultists are parading themselves as untouchable folks in most villages across the state.
In Awa Iman, one of the traditional rulers says there is no village in the clan that does not have at least two cult groups, pointing out that the menace of cultists in the area is currently before the clan council.
But, the traditional establishment in the area is scared of discussing the menace or taking any traditional action to stem the violence for fear of reprisal attacks by the armed cult groups. Some of the armed groups are also alleged to have the backing of some traditional rulers, who make use of them in harassing and attacking their perceived foes.
In the past three weeks, cultists have killed three persons in the Awa community. Apart from Governor Udom’s village, the other affected villages include Afaha Ubium, Ikot Obong Ishiet,Edem Idim and Ikot Asse as well as other neighboring villages in the area.
The cultists laid siege on the affected villages killing three persons and left scores with various degrees of injuries.
A resident, Sunday Enang, claimed that the money was released to the youth leader who was a member of Ekpat and he shared it to only his members without giving to those of Ekut, a rival cult group in the emerging industrial area.
Apparently irked, the rival cult group members regrouped on a killing mission o the youth leader who marginalised them in the cash bazaar. Luckily for him, he escaped to a neighbouring village in Etinan Local Government Area when he observed a strange movement around their compound.
According to Enang, the younger brother of the fleeing youth leader was killed, butchering his body to pieces since they did not meet their target at home. And, at Ikot Obong Ishiet, where another cultist escaped, the mother, father and son of the ‘ run away ‘ cultist were seriously injured.
While claiming that some of the persons killed were relatives of the cultists who escaped on sighting the rival groups, Enang added that the cultists operate freely in Awa, Governor Udom’s home town, and make a counter-parade to shame the Nigeria Police who often show up in their surveillance vans and retired to their stations when the battle between the rival cult groups get bloodier.
For commuters and motorists, it is a common sight to see cultists mounted road blocks, to and barricades on entrance leading to the governor’s residence and seizing motorcycles from the ubiquitous okada operators passing through that road to neighbouring villages
Eye-witness accounts have it that the brother of another cultist in Ikot Asse was cut to pieces when they could not get their elder brother who is a member of a rival group to show up.
‘’Nobody is arrested since this incident started in Onna. When they wanted to kill in the Governor Udom village , security was beefed up . But the cultists have vowed to kill in the governor’s village.
‘’As we are speaking now,from 7 pm everybody in this village would leave their house for another village for safety because you don’t know when the boys will strike to kill their rivals or relations. Even residents in Awa our governor’s village are not spared. We all run away at night and return in the morning. Right now movement is restricted’’, an eye-witness said.
Police Public Relations Officer in Akwa Ibom, Odiko Macdon, a Superintendent of Police (SP) says nobody has been arrested but confirmed that three persons have been killed and others injured. ‘’Yes there is cult clash in Onna though nobody is arrested for now but three persons have confirmed dead. Investigation is ongoing. Whenever the culprits are arrested we would bring them to book. You know this government has zero tolerance for cultism and we would not condone their activities. We are trying to restore normalcy to the area’’, the police said.
In the mean time, residents of some parts of Uyo, the state capital, have vacated their homes following incessant attacks and harassments by hoodlums suspected to be cultists. Areas said to be mostly affected, are School Road, Itu Road, Ikot Ekang, Church Road, Nelson Mandela Street, Ikot Ndem Street, Udoette Street, among others.
Ibesikpo clan in Ibesikpo Asutan Local Government Area, it was gathered that more than 40 cultists on motor cycles allegedly invaded the residence of a retired Superintendent of Police in Owot Uta Ibesikpo, behind a primary school along Uyo-Hung Udoe Road.
The retired police officer is said to be a thorn in the flesh of cultists and other criminal elements in the community. He was able to arrest about three of the invaders who were handed over to the police.
While cultists in the state capital are suspected to be the masterminds of the series of robbery attacks at a femsle hostel in the Town Campus of the University of Uyo (UniUyo), the Town Campus areas appear to be the breeding ground of cult activities. Some of the campus confraternities are alleged to be recruiting local people from the surrounding communities of Itam in Itu Local Government Area and Oku in Uyo into their fold.
The situation appears to be getting out of hand as some cult groups now colonise streets to ensure that only their members rent houses along such streets, while other residents who are neither students nor cultists live under constant harassment and extortion.
The menacing cultists invade homes and shops frequently with guns, machetes and other weapons any time of the day and night, claiming that stealing is allowed in their unwholesome craft. ‘’Their major operations are entering people’s shops collecting phones, money, drinks and others valuable items. This happens in almost all the areas I have mentioned especially in Itu and School roads’’, a source said.
A shop owner along the troubled School Road lamented that she used to stay in her shop up till 10pm or 11pm to do business but can no longer do so due to frequent attacks by cultists. ‘’I used to keep my shop open to customers till 10pm or 11pm but i close early these days for fear of being robbed or killed by these bad boys.
‘’Many people who own shops around here have closed. Personally, I have been robbed four times since I opened this shop. Some of us have run away because we don’t want to be killed. There was a lawyer who owns a house in this area. We learnt that he is in the state Ministry of Justice. He ran away and abandoned his house because of cultists.’’
Interestingly, the police said they are aware of the situation and have beefed up security around the cult-infested university and its environs. ‘’We are trying our best to handle the situation. But, we are urging residents of the affected areas to provide us with vital information that will help us fish out the hoodlums’’, the police spokesman said.
Like in Colombia, the development of the reign of cultism in Akwa Ibom is historically rooted in the post-Obong Victor Attah years. Attah dominated the affairs of the state from 1999-2007, and was succeeded by Godswill Akpabio, the incumbent Niger Delta Affairs Minister and a former senator. The Akpabio years allegedly witnessed a lot of state-sponsored terrorism and the emergence of plural armed groups.
In Colombia, the conflict known as La Violencia, was triggered by the 1948 assassination of populist political leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, and in the aftermath of United States-backed strong anti-communist repression in rural Colombia in the 1960s that led liberal and communist militants to re-organise into FARC.