23 July 2012
Calabar: Battling cultists to a standstill
For about a month, cult groups and robbery gangs held sway in the once peaceful Calabar, the capital of Cross River State and its environs. MUDIAGA AFFE reports how peace was restored to the beleaguered city
They disrupted the peace of residents of Calabar metropolis for some weeks. Those mainly affected were residents of Calabar South who were constantly traumatised as a result of the activities of cult groups and armed robbery gangs that held sway before the security agencies stepped in.
Calabar is noted for its serenity and has been adjudged the country’s tourism destination. The city is not only peaceful, it is also clean and green with rich culture and cuisines.
The issue revolved around two cult groups which were out to prove their supremacy, but instead of going for the rival members as cult groups are known to do, they turned the streets, especially Watt Market, Goldie, Nelson Mandela, Bedwell, Harcourt and other adjoining streets within the Calabar South area — into theatre of war, shooting sporadically to ward off intruders, looting and destroying property.
The activities of the suspected cultists got to a peak three weeks ago when they forced residents of Calabar South into self-imposed curfew for three days.
The cultists, said to be cadet members of two rival cult groups, who are mainly secondary school dropouts; and were also said to have been groomed by politicians in 1999 at the inception of the Fourth Republic to deal with political opponents but were not disarmed after the elections.
But the state government rose to the occasion when, after three days, it deployed personnel from the State Emergency Response Centre, Quick Intervention Squad and the military joint security outfit, Operation Messa to check the situation.
Areas suspected to be the hideouts of the cultists were raided and random arrests made.
Displaying some of the items recovered from the cultists, the Commissioner of Police, in the state, Mr. Osita Ezechukwu, noted that the last few weeks had been challenging, as cultists tried to create panic in Calabar.
Although he was not specific on the number of arrests made, he said over 30 cultists had been charged to court for various offences.
He also stated that five armed robbers in a gang of eight were earlier arrested in Boki Local Government Area on May 20 about 6.00pm after a robbery operation.
Ezechukwu added that about 11.30pm on July 2, the Police at Odukpani division carried out a raid on a black spot at Netim village, where cultists suspected to have escaped from Calabar South were hiding in an uncompleted building.
He said, “An eight-man gang of armed robbers left Gbedue village in Logo Local Government Area of Benue State for Isor Bendeghe in Boki LGA of Cross River State, where they robbed several people of cash and valuable items.
“The robbers who came on three motorcycles hid their weapons in a big loudspeaker while on transit. Five of them were arrested and various arms and ammunition, including a cash of N46, 340, were recovered from them.”
Other items recovered included two human skulls, charms, two bottles of concoction, four AK-47 rifles, 12 locally fabricated pistols, four single-barrel rifles, machetes, four vehicles that had been declared stolen and 13 mobile handsets.
Two weeks earlier, 93 suspects arrested by the officers and men of the 13 Brigade of the Nigerian Army were paraded at the Akim Barracks in Calabar. The Public Relations Officer of the Brigade, Capt. Joseph James, said some of the suspects were arrested in the twilight of the third day after the cult group had held residents of Calabar South hostage, while others were arrested in hideouts and brothels where they sold hard drugs, including Indian hemp and cocaine.
James said, “Following an intelligence report we got after a cult clash incident on Tuesday, June 19, 2012 in Calabar South and a similar mayhem the following day, our men and officers, alongside the Quick Intervention Squad, went out and conducted a raid.
“When they got to the scene where this clash happened, several arrests were made. Men of the Operation Messa and Quick Intervention Squad also raided some hideouts where Indian hemp was sold and where some members of the group used to gather very late at night. The essence is to investigate and to get the perpetrators of the clash.
“The total number of people arrested is 93, comprising 74 males and 19 females. Most of them were caught in the act. They are suspects until when investigations confirm them as cultists. We searched them thoroughly, but none of them was found with any ammunition or weapon. Very many of them were arrested at the scene where the cult clashes took place in Calabar South.”
Although among the 93 arrested were those who had gone to viewing centres to watch the Euro 2012 match between Portugal and Czech Republic about midnight of Monday, June 25, the officers from 13 Brigade also arrested another 14 persons at the Hawkins cemetery in Calabar South Local Government Area.
The Brigade PRO said the arrest was as a result of a tip off and that 12 of the suspected cultists were holding meeting at the cemetery, while two persons who had fled the scene of the meeting venue were arrested on the road.
He said the army had been looking for the cultists that harassed, intimidated and inflicted injury on innocent citizens for three days, adding that the 14 persons arrested were handed over to the State Criminal Investigation Department of the state police command.
James assured that the Army was ready to smoke out “criminal elements” that were disturbing the peace of the state and that the intelligence unit of the force was still working hard to fish out all the people that were involved in the mayhem.
Not too long after the Army’s arrest, members of the Quick Intervention Squad on Saturday, June 30, arrested another 14 persons in different locations in the state and recovered over 226 wraps of Indian hemp, 258 wraps of substance suspected to be cocaine, kitchen knives and a pair of scissors.
The QIS second in command, Mr. Innocent Ayabotu, said some suspected cultists were hiding at a shrine near Etim Edem Park, where they were arrested when the squad raided the place.
Ayabotu also disclosed that areas where cult activities had been heightened in the state capital such as Jebbs Street, Anantigha area, Atamunu, Ibesikpo and Afokang were raided and some suspects arrested.
Commenting on the development, the State Security Adviser, Mr. Rekpene Bassey, said Governor Liyel Imoke had been unrelenting in his efforts against cultism. He said as far as the governor was concerned, the war was total, warning that the government would not sit by while some undesirable elements made Calabar or the entire state unsafe for residents.