Posted by Nelson Dafe, Benin City | 15 March 2014 | 4,350 times
It was like a movie scene at the Atlantic Bar, on Third East Circular Road, Benin City as two groups of young men engaged each other in a gun battle. After some minutes of exchange, one of them laid dead on the ground. It wasn’t a film but a real life war between members of two of the most deadly confraternity groups: the Black Axe and Eye confraternities. The a war which engulfed several parts of Benin City in the past few weeks, left several dead bodies of impressionable young men in its trail.
That same day, in what looked like a reprisal attack, a barber and his customer were gunned down by the murderous gang in his barbing saloon. The barber is being mourned by friends and family who firmly believe that he was a victim of mistaken identity, by the intruding the assailants. “The barber did not belong to any cult group. Everyone knew him as a gentleman, who never troubled anyone,” said a neighbour who pleaded anonymity.
Dozens of youths have been reported dead in different parts of Benin City. From Ekosodin (a busy off-campus hub of the University of Benin), Medical Stores road, Ekiosa Market area to Upper Sakpoba, it has been a tale of brutal killings by rival secret groups seeking to establish their supremacy in the ancient city and its neighbouring towns.
Although no one can say exactly how this current crisis began, there have been reports making the rounds that it was triggered after disagreements ensued following a deal on the sale of a dog between a member of one of the cults and another from a different group. Previous deadly skirmishes have resulted from trivialities such as arguments in bars. But them, the big question is: How did things deteriorate to this level, where a scuffle between two persons leads to a state-wide bloodbath?
In the streets of Benin City, there used to be widespread news in the whisper, that a particular youth was a member of a secret cult. This was a time when membership of such a group was held in obscurity. But today, things have changed. Conversely, a more striking (even shocking) news among locals would be that an able-bodied young man in Benin City is a ‘jew’ (a name coined by cultists to refer to those who don’t belong to a cult group). Websites advertise these confraternities in a very seductive ways, and members openly boast that their ‘organisation’ is recognised worldwide.
There are no reliable official statistics to show whether more youths belong to cult groups than those who don't, but it is clear (as noted by the Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, in a recent education summit) that the phenomenon of youths being members of secret gangs is a big problem, not only in Edo state but in Nigeria, as the latest spate of killings show.
To get a picture of how much confraternity loyalty has seeped into to system, one only has to look at YouTube video clips of the not-so-long-ago Rivers state House of Assembly crisis where some members shouted what was believed to be slogans of the Viking confraternity group as they engaged in a horribly bloody fracas.
But it was Benin City where the latest action of inter-cult battle centred on in the past few weeks. As reported earlier, several parts of the city were scenes of murder as rival groups sought to rake up the numbers of their victims. In the face of such sadistic bloodletting in recent weeks and in the past, the questions arise: Why do many of Nigerian youths fancy cultism? Why the growing numbers of people who want to belong to groups that are said to sanction, covertly or overtly, the murder of fellow citizens as a way of settling scores?
Various reasons are advanced why young men join cults in Nigeria. Among them are a search for belonging, a longing for fame and fortune (that they figure will come from associating with wealthy and influential individuals who belong to the cults they fancy and from loyalty fees that members periodically pay,) and a desire to explore the intriguing unknown. But the most common reason given by many who become members of confraternities today is that they don’t want to be oppressed (especially by their peers) and so they see being a cultist as one sure way to fight being bullied.
“Oppression is not allowed,” said John (not real name) in a Benin City neighbourhood, while explaining the circumstances that led to his becoming a member of a confraternity. Narrating further what he meant by that somewhat puzzling statement, the youth who is in his early 20s, noted: “I never wanted to be associated with cultism. I was deeply pissed off, and I still am, when I consider the life of cultism generally. I got involved unavoidably after some incidents I was involved in,” he recalled, adding: “I had some friends who I was quite close to. But they later joined a cult group, and they became feared by many. I thought since they were my friends they wouldn't do anything to hurt me. But I was surprised when one day in a public place, following a little misunderstanding, they assaulted me. I was severally slapped in the face and kicked. They later ordered me to a house where one of them stays and humiliated me the following day by flogging me with a cane. I couldn’t bear it, I felt less than a man and I figured I had to do something to stop such from happening again. So I later went to a friend in a rival group and he asked me to join them to seek protection and possible revenge.”
In a Nigeria where many high profile killings (including that of the former minister of justice, Bola Ige) have not been unravelled, and culprits brought to book, many young men have little hope that the police can come to their rescue when they are subjected to attack from cultists. Many also do not have the money and time to pursue a case or the right education to know their rights with a view to defending them when the need arises.
“I’m not proud to say it, but it was a case of if you can’t beat them, join them. Though I joined a rival cult, I have got a great deal of respect from my former bullies. I have my dignity back, and I don’t fear any one would come and oppress me anymore,” John averred. John’s story echoes that of many youths in Benin City, and elsewhere with a macho man tendencies, which guarantees that there would continue to be bullying in different areas of youth life. Against the foregoing backdrop, it isn’t hard to predict that unless the society provides an alternative or effective means of punishment, morally depraved youths would continue to flock to confraternities. And the consequences are periodic wars and unnecessary blood-letting.
•Photo shows Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State Governor.
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