Akwa Ibom Under Siege As Cultists, Militants Take Over

Akwa Ibom Under Siege As Cultists, Militants Take Over

In several communities in Akwa Ibom State, residents are fleeing their ancestral homes to strange lands and IDP camps as over 30 cult groups have gone on rampage, wreaking havoc on the state.

By Iniobong Sunday, Uyo

On Thursday March 8, the police in Uyo deployed special anti-riot policemen as well as men of the Police Mobile Force, PMF, popularly called Mobile Po-lice, along with Armoured Personnel Carriers, APCs, and other operational weapons in Akwa Ibom communities ravaged by militants of the Icelaand and Debam cult groups.

This followed intense supremacy battle involving the cultists, leading to wan-ton killings and dislocation of local residents of Etim Ekpo and Ukanafun Lo-cal Government Areas. Worst affected areas include Udianga Enem, Obon Ebot, Okoyo, Abakobong, Ikot Edet, Ikot Ibekwe, Otoro, Uruk Atta 11, Ikot Udobong and Ikot Obioma group of villages.

According to leaders of the affected areas, no fewer than 50 persons have so far been killed, while scores have been displaced, seeking refuge in safer areas including Iwukem, Abak, Ikot Ekpene, Uyo and Ikono Local Government Are-as.

In the latest incidents, the hoodlums laid siege on travelers along the ever busy Iwukem-Abak road, killing a bus driver after his vehicle had been set ablaze. Several passengers sustained gunshot wounds as the militants shot sporadical-ly to scare away security forces and local residents.

Worried by the renewed offensive and the sheer display of firepower and crass brutality in the affected areas, the Police have drafted more combat personal with APCs, with the mandate to dislodge the militants.

Confirming the development, the Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, DSP Odiko Macdon Ogbeche, said “Well armed Policemen have been drafted to the troubled areas of Etim Ekpo and Ukanafun.” He expressed worry that the cult crises in the areas have continued to linger because of the absence of a holistic action plan against the menace and urged the people to “cooperate with the Po-lice to fish out criminal elements in their midst.”

Worried by the menace of cultism which has pervaded every sphere of public life in Akwa Ibom State, the House of Assembly has advocated for a tougher legislation to curb the problem. In the last couple of years, the state has come under the vice grip of terrorism including violent crimes such as kidnapping for ransom, armed robbery, rape and politically-motivated killings, with many of these vices linked to cultists.

Successive Commissioners of Police, CPs, including Mr. Donald Awunah and the current one, Mr. Samuel Ogunjemilusi, have blamed the proliferation of crimes in the state on youths propelled by cultism.

Over 40 cult groups, according to Police record, are currently holding the state to ransom with their nefarious activities, forcing the State Police Command to establish an anti-cultism unit to combat the scourge.

Disturbed by the problem, CP Ogunjemilusi, has taken the matter before the State House of Assembly, urging it to collaborate with security agencies in tackling the scourge of cultism and violent crimes in Akwa Ibom. He told the Speaker, Hon. Onofiok Luke (Nsit Ubium) that the Police have done the ut-most to rid the society of cultists, armed robbers and kidnappers and solicited for effective collaboration to address the matter.

“The Police working with other security agencies are working to bring total peace especially in the troubled areas of Ukanfun, Etim Ekpo and other trou-bled areas and I am happy to inform you that peace is gradually returning to the area and people who fled the crises have started returning,” he said.

With the Police grossly understaffed, Ogunjemilusi, noted that the fight against cultists and other criminals would only be effective when every stakeholder and ordinary citizen collaborates to take the battle to the criminal elements.

The Speaker, who commended the CP for his efforts so far, lamented the pro-liferation of cultists in Akwa Ibom society and promised to support the Police in the task of addressing the scourge.

Luke, who urged the CP to take the battle to every strata of Akwa Ibom socie-ty, denied being a cultist and impressed it on CP Ogunjemilusi, to also beam the searchlight to the Assembly, for any member found to be an apologists and or sponsor of cultism.

On Wednesday March 14, the state government, disturbed by the unrestrained siege in some communities by militants drawn from different cult groups, Gov-ernor Udom Emmanuel approved the imposition of a dusk-to-dawn curfew in five Local Government Areas affected by the scourge. They include Etim Ekpo, Ukanafun, Ika, Ikot Ekpene and Eket, in which hundreds of local residents have relocated to the Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, camps in Iwukem, Abak, Uyo and other safer places in the state in the last two years.

The Commissioner of Police explained during a security meeting involving stakeholders in the troubled areas that the measures became necessary to stem violent activities including killings, kidnappings, armed robbery and other vio-lent crimes prevalent in the five councils.

Ogunjemilusi, therefore, warned the militants to surrender their ammunitions as Police action would soon be enforced to mop up small arms and light weap-ons in the affected areas. “Give yourself up and surrender your weapons at the nearest Police Stations You are to surrender your weapons at the nearest Po-lice Stations within 21 days,” he stressed and warned that security forces would soon comb the areas to dislodge the criminals and mop up offensive weapons.

Currently, the PPRO, DSP Odiko Macdon Ogbeche, said the CP has declared large scale offensive against the militants, and would prosecute suspects cap-tured during the raid. He advised local residents to be in the vanguard of the war against local terrorists, who have been holding the affected areas hostage, forcing them to flee their ancestral homes to strange locations.

Meanwhile, Governor Emmanuel, determined to checkmate the activities of the militants, has announced the proscription of no fewer than 33 cult groups in-cluding the Pyrate Confraternity (Seadogs), Vickings, Akwa Marine, Ice-laanders, Debam, Dewell and other nocturnal associations in the State.

He said he would approach the House of Assembly for stiffer penalties that could serve as deterrent against violent activities of cult groups that have led to the death of hundreds and kidnappings of several individuals in the state.

Barely 48 hours after the state government outlawed activities of the no fewer than 33 cults groups in the state, suspected militants of the Icelaand group shot dead one Udeme Daniel Akpan. Until his gruesome murder early on Wednesday morning, March 14, the deceased father of three, was the youths leader of Ikot Edet community in Etim Ekpo Local Government Area.

It was gathered that the deceased who was at the forefront of fighting the cult menace in his community, was served a notice to pay some undisclosed amount to the militants or risk being killed. According to family sources, “he had to escape to the neighbouring community of Ibio Nnung Achat, where he remained as a fugitive until the militants obtained information through their network and mobilised to kill him. In fact, the shooting this morning was so heavy that Policemen stationed at Ibio Nnung Achat, had to scamper for safe-ty,” he explained and called on government to deploy soldiers to the area as local residents flee the area in droves.

When contacted, the PPRO, Mr. Odiko Macdon Ogbeche, expressed surprise, that the action could jeopardise the peace deal the government, security agen-cies and stakeholders were trying to broker for the militants to drop their arms. He assured that the security agencies would have no other option to declare mass Police action in order to dislodge the hoodlums, while mopping up small arms and light weapons in the affected communities.

It could be recalled that governor Udom Emmanuel, apparently worried by the frequent security breaches by militants in the area, read a riot act on Wednes-day last week, at a security stakeholders’ meeting held at Etim Ekpo Council Hall. At the meeting, the governor had urged the militants to embrace the peace deal and comply with the 21-day ultimatum given by the Commissioner of Po-lice, Mr, for them to handover arms in their possession in return for amnesty.

But barely 24 hours, the militants spurned the carrot and breached the cease-fire with the gruesome assassination of the youths’ leader.  “It is shocking and surprising,” Effiong Obot, a member of the community vigilante group la-ments.

For many, this may not be unconnected with the forthcoming 2019 elections as politicians, especially in the South south states rely so much on cult groups to intimidate political opponents.  Speaking in an interview in Uyo, the state cap-ital, the Commissioner for Housing and Special Duties, Mr. Akan Okon, said “there is no vacancy at the Hiltop Mansion.”

“Opposition exists only on the pages of newspapers in Akwa Ibom State,” he stressed and challenged the opposition parties in the state to show cause as to why “a performing administration should not be given a second chance.”

According Okon, former Finance Commissioner, it was time for the admin-istration to be assessed on the prism of truth, adding that the scorecard of gov-ernor Emmanuel was rich enough to recommend him for re-election in 2019.

Okon, spoke against the backdrop of calls by the former Minister of Petroleum and APC chieftain, Atuekong Don Etiebet, that Akwa Ibom voters should get their Permanent Voters’ Cards, PVCs, as a weapon to chase away “the non performing PDP government in the state.

But Okon dismissed such insinuations as “empty and shallow”, noting that “the APC came to power through propaganda and that is why we are facing this kind of harsh situation in the country today.” How far these killings would go is yet to be seen especially as a lot of residents have fled their homes and communities for strange lands and Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, camps. And as the scheming and counter-scheming continue, it is hoped that the secu-rity agencies especially the police lives up to this huge challenge of ridding Akwa Ibom State of cultism, and securing the lives and property of citizens.

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