Midim Atan, a local community in Akwa Ibom state, is still besieged by terror and criminality, three months after it gave an ultimatum to members of a suspected local cult group to lay down their arms, residents say.
The traditional council of the community in Essien Udim Local Government Area of the state, in a report to the state police commissioner said crime persists despite the two-week grace period given to members of the suspected cult group.
More than two people have so far been killed and many more injured in repeated attacks by Akwa Marine, the suspected cult group, locals and security officials say.
Dozens of residents have also fled the community due to the attacks.
The police have made limited success against the group despite an investigation by a team set up by the former Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, to probe its activities.
The Akwa Marine members are said to be enjoying the backing of some powerful politicians and security officials in the state. They were 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.
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 hacked to death 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.
The community on September 9 resorted to give the group a two weeks ultimatum to denounce cultism after almost all other options seemed to have been exhausted.
According to the post-ultimatum report signed by the five village chiefs that make up the community, a reasonable number of identified members of the dreaded cult group who are not complicit in any of the unresolved cases of murder, assassination and other heinous crimes denounced membership of the group and were pardoned and integrated back into the community.
However, this did not stop the unrepentant members of the gang fingered in murder cases from continous reign of attacks in the community. It even got worse.
The report cited several cases of continued brutalisation and assassination attempts by key members of the gang at the expiration of the two weeks grace.
The leader of the Akwa Marine, Emmanuel Ben, is on trial for cultism and murder.
He was arrested in April by community youth and handed over to the police. Mr. Ben was however released on bail in November, a move the community decried and attributed to the recent of attacks.
Recently, the attacks have been more random, with gang members reportedly going after non-members suspected of supporting efforts to clamp down on the group.
On Friday, Ubong Udoh, a principal witness in the murder charges against Mr. Ben, recounted his encounter with the gang on December 2 to this newspaper thus:
“As I was just coming out from my compound, I was all of a sudden surrounded by the gang members with all sorts of weapons. They said they have been looking for me and that I am the one testifying against Mr. Ben there leader. Before I can say jack, kicks, boots and all kinds of weapons rained on me. One of them hit my mouth with an axe and two of my teeth fell off.
“I reported the incident to the police post in Ikot Apkanabia with my cloth soaked in blood and two of my teeth that fell off as evidence.”
Security Officials speak
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 both in attendance when the community gathered in September 9 to give the two weeks grace period to the gang.
PREMIUM TIMES spoke with both officials on Saturday.
Mr. Guda, the DPO confirmed the recent attacks but said he has since been removed from the area and therefore not authorised to speak on the matter.
Mr. Isaac, the SSS official on the other hand blamed the community for not filing a formal report to his office at the expiration of the ultimatum.
“Normally there are procedures to follow, though I initiated that meeting but we only went there to witness it. If a community gives an ultimatum with security operatives as witnesses, it’s necessary for them to officially report back to the security operatives after the ultimatum elapses on people that renounced and people that are still committing crime in the society.
“But up till now, nobody has come to our office with an official report. Under the communique issued that day, it was written that those who refuse to renounce will be made to face the law, how do you plan on doing that if not through us?
“We can’t just go and start arresting people based on hearsay. The community should come and complain formally in the office. Up till now they’ve not done that.
“We have been hearing of attacks in that community. Last night we heard that someone was attacked in the community but nobody came to point those responsible. It’s only on testimony that we can move in and arrest somebody. That’s how we work.
“My office cannot come all the way from Uyo and start making arrests without a tip off”, Mr. Isaac said.
An acknowledged petition to the SSS in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state capital on December 4 seen by this paper however countered Mr. Isaac’s claims that the SSS was not informed at the expiration of the ultimatum.
“We request for your urgent intervention and investigation on terrorist activities being carried out by Akwa marine who have been terrorising the area since 2015. Recall that a team from your office on September 9 were present to witness the solemn community meeting where the cult members are persuaded to denounce their membership”, the petition signed by the community heads read in part.