How to Combat Cultism in Ebubu
Ebubu was once regarded as the most stable and peaceful clan in Eleme. Several factors gave credence to this perception. As the traditional headquarters of Eleme, Ebubu remains both the ancient rally center and melting-pot of Eleme. In times of war and crisis Ebubu provides the necessary manpower, wherewithal and strategies for victory. Ebubu is known in Eleme as “Unmovable Community”. During the several wars (including the Nigerian-Biafra War of 1967 – 1970) that have one way or another impacted Ebubu, the community withstood them all and stayed unmoved. It is unfortunate that the peace that Ebubu enjoyed from inception is being shattered by our own children in connivance with the enemies of Ebubu. People of all ages and background have continued to wonder the rationale behind the recent upsurge in gang violence and cultism, which is questioning the genuine efforts of the traditional rulers, chiefs, elders, security agencies and the government to contain.
The efforts of youth leadership and security agencies in checking the activities of these hoodlums are appreciative. Especially when considered from the backdrop that as soon as normalcy returned, these cultists will resume their evil activities. Today new dimensions are being introduced in to the ugly situation – the use of dynamites, and killing and burning. These developments have increased the level of fear and worry among the residents.
The concerns of some of the chiefs and elders is that when some of these cultists are arrested and taken into custody by the police, they are quickly released on bail by the same police that is looking for them; a situation that makes the cultists to return home to boast and threaten those who are said to have masterminded their arrest. “This unending circle of search for the criminals, get them arrested and released them on bail is frustrating”, said one of the chiefs who pleaded anonymous.
Policing is a shared responsibility between the Police and the People. Chief Olukanke (not real name), observed that while the police bear guns, the cultists carry guns; the people (Youths, Chiefs and Elders) do not. Therefore, the police have more to do to check violent crimes in Ebubu in particular and Eleme in general, since the people who do not bear arms are not expected to confront well-armed criminals bear-handed”, he reiterated.
The general opinion is that the police to be more active in their duties without assuming that the citizens are avoiding their own responsibility which include the provision of vital information.
Chief Olonta (not real name) also lamented the attitude of some police officers who compromise security by fraternizing with these criminals; and pointed out that some of these law enforcement officials have over stayed their usefulness in Eleme and deserve to be transferred out.
Chief (Mrs.) Ada, Emere Owa, described a situation where the cultists strike from the bush and retreat into the bush, yet the law abiding Chiefs and youths are arrested and detained by the police for no reason; and appealed for cooperation in the fight against cultism and other violent crimes in Ebubu. She warned against antagonism among security agencies and between them and citizens if the war against crimes and criminality must be won.
Explaining the efforts that the Ebubu Council of Traditional Rulers, Chiefs and Elders has made to solve the security challenges facing Ebubu since 2013, the Oneh Eh (Paramount Ruler) of Ebubu Kingdom, HRH Emere Emmanuel Osaroeke Bebe pointed out that the Ebubu Council of Chiefs and Elders donated the Old Primary Health Center Building in Ebubu to the Nigeria Police Force to serve as temporary site for Ebubu Police Station but wondered why nothing has been done to put the place into use by the police since then. He observed that when the police in Eleme came to inspect the place and the then Rivers State Commissioner of Police directed the matter to the State Police Anti-Cultism Unit in Port Harcourt, the people’s hope were raised. But, the matter died a natural dead. The people continue to live at the mercy of God.
He lamented that no sooner has a cultist been arrested and handed over to the police than the police release him into the community to continue terrorizing the residents, then turn around to blame the Chiefs and youths who these criminals are also after.
The royal father pointed out that the cooperation between the police and the people has already unveiled the identity of these known cultists. But wonder why nothing has been done to keep them out of the community. He questioned why the police should assume that unarmed Chiefs and Elders should chase and catch cultists that are well-armed.
Another prominent chief who asked not to be named said it is unfortunate that Ebubu, a once peaceful community, is today in anarchy and crisis, saying to rout these cultists from Ebubu, thorough understanding, cooperation and united efforts are needed to be harnessed by all stakeholders in Ebubu security. He said that one of the major challenges facing our efforts to fight crimes in Ebubu and Eleme is incessant transfer of Heads of Security in the area.
In his words, “Before an incumbent can familiarize himself with the terrain and be conversant with the environment he will be transferred. This is not good for the security of the place”.
Another important factor is the presence of a nearby seaport. Chief Obo observed that wherever there is busy seaport there is always high crime rate. He gave example of Apapa Lagos and Onne Eleme but was quick to add that the high presence of security personnel in these areas helps to check the activities of criminals.
Trailer Park in Ejamah Ebubu was also fingered as one of the depots and meeting points for all sorts of criminal elements in Ebubu. It is believed that “all the criminals that were dislodged from the various waterfronts in Port Harcourt are now in Trailer Park Ebubu from where they carry out their nefarious activities in collaboration with their local counterparts”.
Chief Obo also identified Dabor Swamp/Forest in Ebubu as one of the base of these cultists and queried why such places should not be dismantled and put into beneficial use. Also of concern are Eta Osaro and Okenwikoro villages in Egbalor that acts as possible hiding places for these criminals.
Our investigation revealed that releasing these cultists when arrested is the function of the police and this is due mostly to unavailability of concrete evidence to nail the criminal to the crime. Evidence is the foundation on which any criminal can be convicted and this is the working of the law. “If someone is arrested and taken into police custody, but there is no evidence for the law to take its proper course and the police are in one way or another induced with money to release the suspect on bail they will have no other choice because they cannot detail someone forever”, a concerned Elder narrated.
The parents are also accused of not paying proper parental attention to their children. “What are the parents doing to check their children between 12 and 15 years old that are being initiated into cultism?” queried CSC Joseph Gbarasung, DO, NSCDC, Eleme. He said if the parents say they are not aware, then they are being economical with the truth. They should check the chest and back of their children and they will be surprised how deep cultism has penetrated Eleme”, he instructed.
Fear of Personality was also identified as contributory factor to rising cases of cultism in Eleme. It was observed that while children of the poor are pointed out to the police or other law enforcement agents for arrest, children of the influential and well-to-do in society are covered and protected. This, it was observed, encourages crime and criminality.
The commander of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps in the area advised the community leaders and youths to “Inform the law enforcement officials about these cultists, their movement, and ongoing attacks and we promise you that we are equal to the tasks,” he assured.
Speaking on behalf of the Eleme Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in charge of Eleme Division, SP Amos Olugbenga Taiwo, DSP Thompson Ebikeme, the Divisional Crime Officer 1, agreed that incessant transfer of Heads of Security Agencies in the area is a major problem as far as crime fighting is concerned; but observed that it doesn’t take too long for trained officers to adjust to their new environment. He promised that the police will continue to do their best to ensure a peaceful and stable Eleme. “I am aware that Ebubu is a volatile place, but the police are doing everything to reverse the situation, and return Ebubu to its original peaceful, stable and tranquilized state”.
Continuing, he said that the law must take its proper course, stressing that it won’t be business as usual. He further explained that police will sort out all black spots in Eleme and raid then to clear the area of criminals, and agreed that there is urgent need for greater police presence in Ebubu, saying the jobs of the police in the area are enormous and therefore require support and assistance to perform efficiently and effectively.
Our investigation discovered that lack of modern policing facilities, like communication gargets, vehicles; personnel and so on are some factors militating against effective police performance in Eleme.
The police boss solicited for regular information about crimes and criminals, and assured that any information made available to the police will be treated as secret, and the identity of the informant will be properly protected.
Security Challenge in Ebubu
The major security challenge facing Ebubu is cultism, which manifests in rival cult clashes with its accompanying violent crimes such as killing (mostly rival cultists), arson (burning of houses and properties belonging to rival cult group members), armed robbery, burglary, rape, kidnapping and extortion among others. This development has not only grounded the social and economic life of Ebubu but also led to the desertion of the area by residents – both indigenes and strangers.
The following salient challenges also emerged during the course of investigation, which we observed are very important that solutions are proffered for them if efforts to solve the security challenges in Ebubu are to be fruitful.
These issues require in-depth investigation by the various security agencies, especially the DSS. They include:
a. Remote and immediate cause(s) of incessant violent crimes in Ebubu.
b. Source(s) of their Funds.
c. Source(s) of their Weapons.
d. Source(s) of their Recruits.
e. Means of their Transportation and Communication.
f. Modus Operandi of each Cult Group.
g. Their Base Before, During and After Operations.
1. Remote and Immediate Causes of Violence in Ebubu
The collapse, destruction, and denial of those component elements that bind the people of the four autonomous communities of Ebubu namely: Ejamah, Egbalor, Agbeta and Obolo, together such as belief (common oracle, culture and dialect with which the communities halo and worship together no longer exists), is a major factor in rising cases of hatred among the youths and violence in Ebubu.
Closely related to the above as one of the remote causes of the violence in Ebubu, is the absence of the streams from where the four communities fetch their drinking water which are now history. Also connected are the people’s farmlands that have been decimated and forcefully acquired and the environment that is devastated by the activities of oil companies in the area.
In addition to the foregoing are festivals that used to bring the people together such as Ogbo Nja, Aken O’e, Agba Esaa, and Eso Mba among others which has been discarded due to the forces of Christianity, exploitative industrialization, and unorganized education, thus eroding the people’s age long ties, unity, cooperation, love, and communalism.
Other important remote causes of rival cult clashes in Ebubu include the struggle for supremacy, territorial lordship and control. Campaign for recognition as lord of the area, search for responsibility that will yield immediate financial benefits (such as being hired for a fee to terrorize electorates and political opponents during elections to create political advantage for the benefactor; or, during chieftaincy tussles, youth and CDC elections, etc.) and to satisfy their immediate financial and social needs and aspirations through the perpetuation of violence in society, are some of the causes of continues violence in the area.
The immediate causes are as diverse as there are events and human needs. The unprovoked murder of Emere on April 19, 2013 was said to be the immediate incident that triggered up the series of killings and violent crimes which has lingered until today. Since then, “you kill one of us, we will kill one of you” had been the order of the day.
Argument over girlfriend or boyfriend and other trivial issues also constitutes immediate causes of incessant rival cult clashes and violence in Ebubu.
However, the community is afraid that the crisis is gradually expanding and extending, and may eventually result to killing an innocent citizen thus bring more mayhem upon the community. “Our fears are that, if, mistakenly or otherwise, a non-cultist, an innocent person from any of these communities is killed, Ebubu will be plugged into total chaos and disarray. God forbid!” Chief Nsan, who asked that his real name not be used, said.
2. Source of Funds
It is no gainsaying that cultist in Ebubu source for funds to purchase arms and ammunition, procure charms, and finance their operations through Kidnapping, Armed Robbery, Burglary, Theft of Motorcycles, and extortions from businesses in Ebubu and environs.
3. Source of Weapons
The sources of weapons used by these cultists are diverse and shrouded in secrecy. However, during the course of study, it was disclosed that Trailer Park in Ejamah Ebubu is likely a ready market for arms for these cultists. Their counterparts in neighbouring communities are also suspected as possible source of supply of weapons. Some masquerading “do-or-die” politicians, chiefs and youth leaders, have also been accused of aiding and abetting the supply of arms to these cultists, perhaps to support their selfish pursue.
4. Source of Recruits
Both rival cult groups scramble for recruits from the population of innocent children between the age bracket of 10 and 15 years old in the community. They lure these children with promise of protection, wealth, and fame. Where such enticement failed to convince the invitee, he or she is forced and initiated into cultism. After initiation, the neophyte is kept with threat of death or madness, thereby subjecting him or her to perpetual slavery, manipulation, control and life of crime.
Our investigation shown that these rival cult groups have seriously invaded and infiltrated all the secondary schools in Eleme – both public and private; and that most children between the ages of 10 and 15 are being initiated and used to perpetuate crimes in the neighbourhoods.
The situation is lamentable. Heads of Schools and Parents and guardians are advised to monitor their children, know the friends they keep, their acquaintances etc.; where they pass nights, and to regularly check the back and chest of their children for “marks” – signs of initiation in to cultism and report same to law enforcement agencies for proper investigation.
5. Means of Transportation and Communication
These cultists are known to invade the community either in stolen cars or on captured motorcycles. During the course of our investigation, we discovered that the cultists usually abandon these cars when chased; while in most cases the motorcycles which they also stole at gun points and use for their operation are sold after the operation.
The GSM handsets remain the major means of communication among themselves and with their informants who are within the neighbourhoods and close to their targets. Girls between the ages of 12 and 16 are recruited and initiated; and they serve as road observers, spies, informants and arrowheads of these cultists as well as links between the cultists and the probable victim and the community. Underage boys also play these roles and in most cases security agents are not aware of this ugly development.
6. Modus Operandi
They adopt the hit and run guerrilla warfare type tactics. During operation, they normally split themselves into two or three groups of four or five boys armed with sophisticated weapons and machetes. Their tactics involves carjacking, drive into the community, attack a predetermined target and pull out at the speed of light. After some days, weeks or month, they will seize motorcycles at gun point and the scenario is repeated again and again. The same techniques are applied during kidnapping.
However, during house to house robbery or burglary, they attack in large numbers, at times, between 8 and 15 persons, well-armed with sophisticated weapons, slug hammers, iron cutters, and so on with which they break walls or cut protectors to gain access.
It was uncovered that the cultists do not undertake attack at random. Rather, they gather intelligence information about their selected victim, conduct surveillance and reconnaissance operations on him/her before finally attacking.
We found out that underage children both boys and girls are used by these cultists to carry out these deadly activities. And because they are insiders, usually very close relatives to the victim, (children, friends, brothers, sisters, or repentant cultists who are still sympathetic to their former cult group), the information they provide is mostly timely and current and these cultists utilize it very effectively.
However, there is need to balance the above with case of friends and relatives who make honest mistakes by ignorantly disclosing details of parents, friends, or neighbours’ movements or whereabouts. Security awareness is recommended which is at its lowest ebb in the area need to be boosted.
7. Hiding Places
Their hiding places are probably, Trailer Park in Ejamah, Eta Osaro and Okenwikoro in Egbalor, and Dabor Swamp/Forest. It is also suspected that these cultists also hide in Okrika, Ogoni and Amadi-Ama; and retreat to these places after operations. Only well-coordinated investigation can unveil their very hiding place.
There is therefore urgent need for the authority to facilitate the establishment of a Police Station in Ebubu without further delay, since on their part; the community has donated a place for that purpose since 2013.
One of the issues pointed out by the residents during our interaction is widening gap among heads of security agencies in Eleme. It is suggested that the Heads of Security Agencies in Eleme promote cooperation and sharing of intelligence information among themselves, and treat information delve out to them by citizens as confidential to reinforce the people’s confidence and trust.
The Youth Council on their part must be more vigilant to check the types of vehicles and motorcycles that come into Ebubu all round the clock, and alert security agencies as soon as they identify or suspect any criminal movements or activities.
Since these criminals are known to be stealing cars or motorcycles for their operations and abandon same when pursued, the police are advised to introduce stop and search on vehicles, and persons carrying either backpacks or front-packs. The stop and search to be extended to persons wearing clothes that are extra big for their body size.