A local community in Akwa Ibom State has given an ultimatum to members of a suspected local cult group to lay down their arms and denounce cultism or be ready to face the people’s wrath, as well as the law.
The people of Midim Atan, in Essien Udim Local Government Area of the state, assembled at their ‘Afe Idung’ (community hall) on Saturday to deliberate on the activities of the suspected cult group, Akwa Marine, and its impact on the general well-being of the community.
The unanimous verdict was that it was unacceptable for the rest of the community to continue to live as helpless victims in the hands of “a few bad persons among them.”
There was tight security at the meeting venue. More than a dozen armed security men were seen guarding the area.
The leader of the Akwa Marine, Emmanuel Ben, is in prison custody for cultism and murder. He was arrested in April by community youth and handed over to the police.
But that hasn’t stopped his followers from allegedly unleashing terror on the community.
“The essence of today’s meeting is (for the community) to ask the cultists to come out for peace and that they will be granted amnesty,” Abel Wilson, the Village Head of Midim Ikot Ubo, said on behalf of other village heads, family heads, community leaders, women and youth leaders in the community.
“They (the cultists) have only one week to denounce cultism,” he said, adding that “We are also requesting for the government’s intervention so that cultists won’t drive us out from the village.
“We don’t have anywhere to run to. We don’t want more people to be killed.”
The Divisional Police Officer, DPO, in the local government area, Alhassan Guga, and the officer in-charge of the State Security Service, SSS, George Isaac, were present at the meeting.
The meeting was also attended by indigenes of the community who fled to Uyo, the state capital, and outside the state because of the maiming and killings alleged to have been perpetrated in the community by the suspected cultists.
Victor Udom, one of the victims of the cult attack in the community who now lives in exile in Abuja, was also at the meeting.
He said he won’t keep quiet while criminals continue to destroy lives in the community.
“We must stop the killing now in our community,” said Mr. Udom, a former employee of Mobil Nigeria.
“I will do everything I can to defend the right of the people to life,” he said.
The residents , one after the other, recounted how their loved ones were attacked and killed, sometimes in broad daylight, in the past seven years by members of the Akwa Marine.
PREMIUM TIMES, in May, reported on the activities of the suspected cult group and how the community people who appeared to be helpless because of the alleged police inaction travelled to Abuja in April to seek intervention from the Inspector General of Police.
One aged woman, whose son, Udo Udom, was brutally killed, cut into pieces, and burnt by the suspected cultists in 2016, was among the community people on the Abuja trip.
In Abuja then, the woman, Nse John, narrated in tears to PREMIUM TIMES what happened.
“They came and took my child from the house at 7 p.m. When they left with my child, I was not feeling well, I put on my clothes and walked gently. Before I could get there, they had killed him and cut him into pieces.”
At the Saturday meeting in Midim Atan, Mrs. John, still grieving, begged the community and the police to fish out those who murdered her son and ensure that justice was done.
“I can’t sleep in my village anymore because they want to kill me. I don’t know why they killed my son, I don’t know why they want to kill me and my family,” she said.
Eseme Jeremiah, the Acting Village Head of Midim Atan, is another victim of the cult attack.
Notwithstanding his status in the community, Mr. Jeremiah was shot multiple times by his attackers on August 30.
He miraculously survived the attack.
Mr. Jeremiah pulled off his cloth at the community hall to show people the bullet wounds on his back.
Monday Ekanem, a retired employee of the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation, NDIC, wasn’t that lucky. He was shot dead in his country home by suspected cultists on August 11, few months after he relocated to the community.
Ironically, both Mr. Jeremiah and the murdered retired NDIC staff were members of a peace committee set up by the community to reconcile the suspected cultists with other members of the community.
The Akwa Marine members, said to be enjoying the backing of some powerful politicians and security officials in the state, are also alleged to be involved in armed robbery in Midim Atan and neighbouring communities.
The group is said to have once shut down the local market and prevented people from selling or buying for the day just to demonstrate how powerful they were.
The SSS chief in the local government area, Mr. Isaac, persuaded the community to “allow a two-week ultimatum to the suspected cultists, instead of one week.”
The SSS and the police assured the community that they would do their best to help restore peace and order in the area.
“After two weeks, if you don’t come out and renounce cultism, we will come after you,” the SSS chief said, obviously referring to the cultists.
The Midim community issued a communiqué at the end of the meeting, warning politicians to desist from arming and encouraging Akwa Marine to continue terrorising them.
“We have decided to take our destiny in our hands and protect ourselves,” the community said in the communiqué.