Dickson and the burden of cultism in Bayelsa

One of the social vices that have been plaguing Bayelsa State is the hydra-headed problem of cultism. The menace of inter and intra-cult activities in the state has been a terrible and frightening experience for residents, especially in Yenagoa, the state capital.

On several occasions in the past few years, rival cult groups had unnerved the nooks and crannies of the state with bloody clashes that claimed the lives of many youths.

Also, gang-related killings had threatened the peace and security of neighbourhoods in Yenagoa and its environs. Violent quarrels and disagreements bothering on mundane issues among cult groups had led to sporadic shootings in the day and at night.

Investigations have shown that some of the clashes were also occasioned by crave of some cult groups to control territories and ensure that no enemy gang trespasses. Yenagoa was convulsing under the criminal activities of cultists, comprising youths mostly.

Most of the cult groups, it was gathered, are the off-shoots of cult groups existing in higher institutions of learning in the state and other parts of the country. There are indications that many secondary schools in the state have since become breeding grounds for some cult groups who initiate and indoctrinate students.

It was also learnt that some of the cult groups have politicians as patrons and sponsors who mobilize them for violence before, during and after elections, depending on the purpose of their political mission or objective. Although the nuisance of cult activities pre-dated the administration of Governor Seriake Dickson, they have had a cumulative negative impact on the peace, security and development of Bayelsa. Indeed, cases of rival cult wars were regular features in Yenagoa and its environs before the present administration.

Curiously, there had not been any time the police was said to have dealt with the ugly situation by arresting, detaining and successfully prosecuting suspected cultists involved in killing, arson and other acts of violence and criminality perceived to be a breach of the peace.

But determined to stamp out cultism and its activities in the state, Dickson, on Saturday, June 15, 2013, held a meeting with renounced cultists from different parts of the state at the Banquet Hall, Government House, Yenagoa. The meeting, sources said, was the outcome of government’s wide consultations on the ways to nip the hazard in the bud.

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The June 15 dialogue was not the first deliberate effort by the administration to tackle cultism because Dickson had on March 15, 2012, signed into law the Bayelsa State Secret Cult, Kidnapping and Similar Offences Bill, 2012. As a trained lawyer and former federal lawmaker, Dickson believes in legislative backing on pertinent decisions and actions of his government. The anti-cultism law demonstrates, in many ways, the administration’s commitment to maintaining its policy of zero tolerance for violence and criminality.

He reasons that by signing the bill in to law, Bayelsans could sleep with their eyes closed and that willing investors would no longer be scared to invest in the state as was the case in the recent past. He also believes that government would by the law not be distracted by cult-related violence and its consequences on governance and development.

Dickson’s dialogue with the renounced cultists, it is believed, was in line with one of the policy thrusts of his restoration agenda to carry every section of the society along. Determined not to leave anything to chances, the state government made adequate arrangements for logistics. Renounced cultists were mobilized from the eight local government areas of the state. They were ferried from their various local government headquarters to the state capital for the meeting.

Reports showed that no fewer than 11,000 cultists in the state responded and renounced membership of their cult groups.

He commended the decision of the over 11,000 youths in the state to renounce cultism and other acts of criminality, remarking that the empowerment programme is part of his administration’s restoration agenda. Dickson also expressed his government’s readiness to collaborate with the youths in order to liberate them from a life of dependency.

He said the training would commence in September after a comprehensive verification and documentation of renounced cultists had been concluded. He said government was concerned about the future and development of youths of the state.

The governor emphasized that although government has the obligation to construct and build infrastructure, schools, hospitals, roads and invest in peace and security, equipping a vast majority of youths with relevant vocational skills that would enable them partake in the economy is very important.

Dickson gave insight into the nature of the empowerment programme, saying the beneficiaries will be trained in agriculture, traffic control and special surveillance system, among others. The governor disclosed that the sum of N1billion has already been set aside as soft loans for young entrepreneurs.

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He added that a youth summit would soon be held in the state to enable government identify their problems with a view to proffering a wider spectrum of solutions for meaning engagements. He urged those who have turned a new leaf not to return to violence and criminality.

Also speaking, the Commissioner for Youth Development, Akpoebide Alamieyeseigha urged the youths to avail themselves of the various vocational programmes being put in place by government.

Alamieyeseigha warned that with the re-integration programme of the repentant cultists, anyone caught fomenting trouble would be penalized in accordance with the anti-cultism law.

Commissioner of Police, Tonye Ebitibituwa, and the Special Adviser on Security to the Governor, Bernard Kenibai, a retired colonel, in their separate remarks, advised the youths not to renege on their promise to shun cultism and other criminal activities.

The highpoint of the meeting was the oath-taking ceremony for the repentant cultists administered by the state Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Francis Egele.

But analysts have picked holes in the governor’s move to grant amnesty to cultists in the state. Some analysts, who did not want their names in print, argued that there was everything political about the meeting of Dickson with the ‘so-called repentant cultists’.

They wondered why the governor would gather cultists for an empowerment programme while jobless graduates who protested unemployment in Yenagoa were arrested, detained and prosecuted on the alleged orders of the government.

“What is obvious is that the governor may be positioning himself for his second-term ambition. The meeting has a political undertone. How can he say that 11,000 cultists have repented in Bayelsa,” noted an analyst who reacted to the development.

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