Residents of Imota in the Ikorodu area of Lagos State have raised the alarm over forceful initiation of pupils into cultism in the community.
Some dwellers, especially parents, lamented that it has become tough to raise children in the neighbourhood due to cult activities.
They said children, particularly those in junior secondary school aged between 12 and 15, were soft targets for cultism.
No fewer than five cult members lost their lives recently when two rival gangs – Eiye and Aye confraternities – clashed during annual Oro Festival in the community.
About 19 suspects were arrested by the police while several others, including a notorious ringleader popularly known as Spirit, are on the run.
The recent deadly clash was a resurgence of perennial cult fights in the community which was curtailed in November 2017 when almost 120 cult members allegedly renounced their membership.
Our correspondent, who covered the event, had reported how some youths smoked a substance suspected to be Indian hemp to celebrate the renunciation presided over by the then Commissioner of Police, Edgal Imohimi.
Although peace had returned when this reporter visited the community on Tuesday, residents, most of who spoke on condition of anonymity for safety reason, expressed worries over initiation of schoolchildren into cultism.
A parent, who gave his name only as Samuel, told City Round that his 12-year-old son could have been initiated some months ago, but for his drastic actions.
Samuel, who narrated the recent deadly clash, stated that he had intensified the supervision of his son’s movements.
He said, “The fight started around 12pm, on Sunday, September 1 while Oro Festival was on. Only men were allowed to come out that day. As I was having fun with my friends, we saw some boys on motorcycles moving about with guns without any restriction. After a while, we started hearing gunshots and went inside.
“We later learnt that some rival cult members had killed one another. Five corpses were recovered, but I only know one of the deceased persons. His name is Sheriff. Most of the cult members are outsiders. They fled immediately after the killings.
“The major issue we have is that those boys are forcefully initiating pupils, who are in junior classes. They will waylay them, beat them up and warn them not to tell their parents. That is the beginning of the initiation process. As a responsible parent you have to closely monitor your children in this community right from home to the school. I handed over my child to his teacher for proper monitoring and asked him to inform me whenever he is not in school.
“One evening, my wife sent our son on an errand. They ambushed him and beat him up. He told me when he got home and I immediately went to meet the mother of one of the cult members he identified. I told the woman to warn her child to stay off my son. That boy had been expelled from school.”
A mother of three, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also lamented the rate at which children were being forced into cultism.
The woman blamed the ugly trend on broken marriages, stating that most of the children initiated into cult groups were not living with their parents.
She added, “But some parents are nonchalant about the movement of their children and that is what these cult members capitalise on to recruit young boys into their folds. Most times, children who are not living with their parents are their targets. This community is peaceful but the moment those hoodlums start clashing, everywhere will be deserted.”
A civil servant and resident said he was planning to relocate from the area for the sake of his children. He accused the police of collecting bribes to release arrested cult members, adding such act discouraged people from giving police information.
He said, “I learnt some of the cult members that participated in the clash have been arrested. Unfortunately, the police would release them soon. Their notorious leader is Spirit. He is still at large.
“I am already planning to relocate from this community because I don’t want my children to end up joining cultism. They are forcing small boys to join them.”
Asked about the veracity of the residents’ claim that schoolchildren were being forced into cultism, the Chairman, Imota Local Council Development Area, Mr Wasiu Agoro, replied in affirmative, saying, “It is very true.”
Agoro, however, said some parents aided cultism by giving bribes to bail arrested cult members from police custody.
He said, “What we learnt was that two people had a little misunderstanding and it snowballed into the clash. No innocent person was attacked. They ambushed one another in a guerilla warfare during which three of them died. The law has to take its course. Arrests have been made and other measures have been put in place to forestall a recurrence.
“The parents are the number one factor fuelling cultism. Like Yoruba will say, ‘your child is not into laundry yet he brings many clothes home,’ and you are not asking questions. Whenever the children are arrested, they would sell land to raise funds to bail them at police stations. I advised them in one forum that instead of using this money to bail them, why not use it to train the children. The parents are the ones giving them information that police are coming after them.
“The children won’t go to school or learn any trade; what do you expect them to become? You will see young boys of 14 piercing their ears and moving around and the parents will not bother.”
Ranodu of Imota, Oba Ajibade Bakare-Agoro, said the fatal clash would have been prevented if a team of Special Anti-Robbery Squad deployed in the community were on the ground.
He said the hoodlums took advantage of the absence of the officers who went for an assignment in the Ikeja area of the state to foment trouble, adding that the operatives were back into the community.
He stated, “The Oro Festival is an annual event which happens between the end of August and early September. About two years ago, we went to the extent of inviting the leadership (of the cult groups) for a peace meeting. Nobody ever knew some elements among these people are still contacting their allies outside Imota.
“They came in unknowingly while we were celebrating the festival and started causing trouble. They visited one of the leaders who had renounced cultism and after they got drunk, they started attacking one another.
“It was when we concluded the festival and returned to the palace around 7pm that we heard five persons were killed. The perpetrators came from outside. I have told the police to track down the leader called Akeem aka Spirit.”
The Police Public Relations Officer in the state, DSP Bala Elkana, denied the allegation that police collected bribes to release cult suspects.
He said the suspects were charged but could have been granted bail by the court, urging the community to always follow up on cult cases in court.
He stated, “They should give a specific example of a cult member released by the police. As soon as we arrest them, we take them to court. The 19 suspects arrested have already been remanded in prison. It is the responsibility of the community to follow up the matter. If they see it as a problem affecting their community, as soon as arrest is made, they should follow up at the police station and be willing to go to court to testify. They should also follow proceedings in court. We are doing our best; the community should also support us.”
How my husband was murdered – Suspected cultist’ wife
Meanwhile, Temitope Sani, the wife of one of the suspected cult members killed during the clash, Sheriff Sani, said her husband was sleeping at home when the hoodlums struck.
The nursing mother debunked the claim that her husband was a cult member, saying that he was a surveyor.
She told City Round that their newborn baby – and only child – was 23 days old on the day Sheriff was killed.
She recalled, “A day before the incident, he ironed all his clothes. The dress he wore that day was the uniform clothes (aso ebi) used for his mother burial. His mother died about a year ago. I even tried to convince him not to wear the clothes because the trousers had torn at the private parts region but he refused.
“He went out to visit his father and while he was coming back, he bought ‘pepper soup’ for me. He returned home that day around 12noon and complained of headache and he used a pain relief drug. I was in my room while he was in his apartment sleeping. All of a sudden, some hoodlums stormed our compound and attacked him. We could not come out until they left. He was a surveyor; I didn’t know him as a cult member.”
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