For two weeks, social life, schools, businesses, including markets, banks abruptly came to a halt in Benin, the Edo State capital. Residents became strangers in other lands as rival secret cult groups and armed robbers unleashed terror on the ancient City and adjoining towns. CAJETAN MMUTA takes a look at the ugly scenarios and reports
The City of Benin, the capital of Edo State mean many things to many people. It holds its fame to historic adventurers, tourists, rich investment in agricultural production due to its rich landmass and potential large scale natural resources such gas, oil, limestone and several others.
Most outstanding of all these is the rich culture and tradition that for decades, have held the kingdom together as a people drawn from same ancestry and origin. Added to these is the people’s foray and outstanding contributions in sports development during the hay days of regional government of the then old Bendel state under General Samuel Ogbemudia of blessed memory. This virtues and indices have combined to stand the state out.
However, with the turn of sociopolitical, economic and cultural developments, though lately, a lot of water seems to have passed under the tunnel. Some of the social and cultural values of the people have taken a downturn to desecrate and devalue that long standing spirit that placed the Heart Beat on the pedestal of envy and comfort because of its receptive nature to all.
From the dreaded days of Nigeria’s most notorious robbery kingpin, late Lawrence Anini till date, the mention of Benin City, to some people elicits fear and terror. To some, it elicits blood while to others, the word means uncertainty of robbery incidents.
Besides this misgivings, the ancient capital City has been and will always remain a home for all because of its serene, stable and peaceful atmosphere. This is made possible by the contributions of past and present governments, especially the government of immediate past Goveenor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, and the giant straides of the present administration under Governor Godwin Obaseki. Obaseki has taken the daunting task of evolving a new and greater Edo State through repositioning of the frontiers of socio-politicaleconomic and cultural spheres towards rewriting the history of the state. This is to ensure a better and lasting future as well as improving the general wellbeing of residents and people.
He has, therefore, put in place various initiatives to pull the state out of the woods and push it to meet global needs even among competing states in the oil rich South-South geo- political zone of the country.
Sadly, laudable and visible as these landmark achievements dot the nooks and crannies of the state, there have been mean and negating efforts to undermine the prevailing atmosphere of peace and stability in the state.
The recent EndSARS protest by aggrieved youths, which was hijacked by hoodlums negatively affected the fortunes of the state. The hoodlums did not only sack policemen on duty but also set ablaze and destroyed seven police stations, razed vehicles and vital records of incidents and carted away huge arms and ammunition in the process.
It is noteworthy that hardened criminals in detention and others awaiting trials were set free during the melee while some policemen also sustained serious gunshot injuries. Since then, the morale of some police officers has waned even as they now become targets of sudden attacks.
Worse still, the policemen are apparently scared to return to their duty posts for fear of the unknown, a development that leaves residents helpless of protecting themselves and their properties. At the moment, the authority of the state command and its policemen on the field are torn between returning back to their duty posts with only baton and torchlight to guard and defend defenseless communities and areas where they are posted and discharging their duties without the much needed protective arms which are now at shortfall.
While states look up to the Federal Government to fill the gaps of these missing arms and ammunition, the Federal Government, particularly the office of the Inspector General of Police, seems to be playing the Ostrich and waiting for sudden miracle to happen.
At present, the state is battling to unravel through the activities of the 20-man Panel of Inquiry on the EndSARS protest, the activities and outcome of the activities that led to the protests. In addition, four warehouses were looted of valuables belonging to government and private individuals in the state.
More so, about 2, 000 inmates of the Oko and Benin Medium Security of the Correctional Centres were set free by the protesters. Although, some of them had returned to the centres while a good number are yet to make it back to where they escaped from. Officers of the two centres are still licking their wounds as both hardened and condemned criminals were among those on the run.
Last week, the state witnessed an orgy of mindless killings followed by uncontrollable robberies and a resurgence of bloody rival secret cult activities. Investigations revealed that the clashes were among members of the Aye, Eiye, Vikings and Aburaga confraternities. It was learnt that over 37 persons were mowed down before they could a truce could be reached among their leaders. During the weeklong free-for-all killings, residents could neither sleep with their two eyes open nor have hitch free business environment as almost each household was visited with tears of sorrow, blood and mourning. Attackers unleashed terror on every perceived enemy on sight each passing day. This cruelty became worrisome as policemen were nowhere to be seen for rescue operations even as they were also targets of the cultists.
The Upper Sakponba, Three House Junction, Ugbekun and Murtala Mohammed (MM) Way reputed as den of the major actors, Texile Mill road, Siluko, Upper Mission Extension, Aduwawa, Agbor Park, Ikpoba Hill, Ekenwan road, Uselu, Isihor, Ugbowo, New Benin, Ibivbwe and Ogbe quarters, as well as Ogida Barrack areas of the capital became theatre of war as buildings were deserted and residents scampered for safety. Social and economic activities were brought to lowest ebb as night life, markets, banks and businesses, including bar and restaurants remained closed for weeks as patronizers or customers stayed away for weeks to avoid falling victims.
Last week alone, over 450 shops, seven markets, schools and Banks were shut as the rage of the cultists escalated and robbers had free days and unchallenged too. It was an Almagedon. Sad as the situation, an Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) in charge of Area Command for Benin Metropolis, Mr. Agabi A. Godini, an Inspector and a Corporal nearly lost their lives in the melee at Upper Sakponba area. Mr. Agabi and his team had gone to the troubled area for rescue mission when heavily armed men shot at him and he narrowly escaped to safety but with bullet wounds which landed him and others at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital in the state.
The dead bodies of some of the victims of the renewed cult war had littered major roads and streets of Benin City, an ugly situation that threw most families into sudden mourning. For instance, at Abaligbe Street junction, along the Benin- New Lagos road, Omoruyi Street in Isihor community, lifeless bodies of victims dotted the areas as suspected gunmen killed one Kelly Ewemade while another was shot dead at Evidence Street in Ugbowo University town. Also, at Oni street junction, Off Abaligbe Street and elsewhere at Oghuru junction in Iguosa along Benin-Lagos expressway, two other bodies were uncovered after the hoodlums struck in the areas. Along Siluko road, a young boy in his teens was gruesomely shot while another was hacked to death at Uselu area.
A distraught father, whose son was shot dead during the attacks, Mr Etinosa Osifo, fought back tears as he said: “I was in the house yesterday (Friday) when two boys came and called out my son; before I knew what was happening, they had killed him. That was how I saw it. I don’t know whom to meet for help over my pains and predicament now. He is gone.” But saddened by what he saw as extreme carelessness, total disregard for law and order and the recent protests over EndSARS controversies, the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Johnson Kokumo, said on Monday that the command would no longer fold its hands and watch hoodlums kill policemen on active duty like chicken.
He also appealed to operatives of the command to go back to their various duty posts and ensure effective policing of the citizenry without bitterness after attacks on some personnel and police divisions during the #EndSARS protest in the state. Kokumo, who stated this during the inauguration of 70 vigilante groups in Ikpoba- Okha Local Government Area of the state said: “It’s our responsibility to sanitize the state and the Inspector General of Police has gone ahead with confidence building of the police after the #EndSARS. We will keep talking to our men not to police with bitterness.
But never again will it happen for someone carrying jack-knife to kill a policeman carrying AK-47.” According to him: “The police will no longer fold their hands and die like chicken. I want everyone to take the message home to neighbours and their children.” He said: “Police should use their arms professionally if our lives are in danger or defending others whose lives are facing possible death and we will have justification to use our arms.”
Kokumo, who disclosed that the police have made sizeable arrest in connection with “all manner of crimes”, said the operatives will be on 24-hour joint patrol with sister security agencies in the local government. However, heads of the various cult groups, under the aegis of Rainbow Coalition, had between Monday and Tuesday held an extensive meeting in Benin with stakeholders where they resolved to sheathe swords to allow peace to prevail.
The meeting, though belated had brought a null in the past few days and normal life returned in parts of the state capital. The key actors and stakeholders of the cult groups met in a hotel located in Government Reservation Area (GRA) where they were also said to have agreed to pay compensation to those who lost properties that led to the violent killings. A source said: “The meeting started on Monday and it was concluded yesterday morning. All the heads of the various groups met because the killing has become embarrassing to all. But they all concluded the meeting yesterday morning and have agreed to stop the killings and that all heads should call their boys to order and anybody found in the fight and killing again, all the groups will jointly deal with that person.”
He added that, “they also agreed to compensate that person that had a clash that escalated into the bloody clashes. If you notice, there have not been any killings in the past 24 hours and now that this meeting has been held, the killings will stop.” Meanwhile reported cases of robbery has continued unabated even with frequent snatching of cars as residents of Lucky Way, Upper Mission Extension and adjoining areas in Benin bemoan their fate.
The situation no doubt calls for concerted efforts by both the state government and various security agencies towards restoring sanity and order in the state. This is so because a stich in time saves nine.