Udom Emmanuel and challenge of cultism in Akwa Ibom


Gov Udom Emmanuel plans to diminish the influence of cultists in our politics, and to achieve this he has pledged to shut them out of the the Local Government elections scheduled for next month and the 2023 governorship race. ‘No member of any cult group will succeed’, he said in his media chat last month. It will be a titanic war as the cultists will not give up easily. Already, the pushback has begun. Some say the governor is blocking them to pave the way for his preferred candidates. They are pushing the narratives that it is these same people that helped him in his elections of 2015 and 2019, so why has he suddenly turned against them now. I have also read the argument that the governor is unfair by punishing some politicians whom he has branded cultists, whereas some of his relatives who are notorious members of cult groups occupying senior government position are left untouched. It is pertinent to advise that if the governor is sincere about this fight and wants to win it with the support of our people, he must be above board and impartial.

I support the governor’s commitment to eradicating this vice from our polity, and I suggest that he should expand the campaign beyond a narrow political agenda, and make it a broad-based bipartisan Akwa Ibom anti-cult war. Cultism has multifaceted corrosive and destructive influence in our state. We must all join hands with the governor to stamp it out, even though it is well know that he had benefitted from it in the course of his short political career. I think that it is better to ignore this inconvenient truth for the overall benefit of the future of our society. Trust me; I would not be endorsing the governor publicly on this issue if it had no implications for the succeeding generations of our land.

Cultism breeds crime, enmity and violence in the society. The governor himself had said that over 95% of criminal and drug activities in the state are cult related. The police authorities have echoed this point. The reason is simple. To fund their membership of the various cult groups and the expensive lifestyle it entails, our young ones resort to crime. Cultists instill fear, anxiety and social instability in the population. It leads to high rate of school dropouts, poor academic performance, dismal work attitudes and ethics in the workplace. Statistics indicate that over 80% of members of these groups had either failed to complete high school education or were rusticated from colleges for poor academic performance, drug use, violence or antisocial behavior. No nation progresses with such a critical mass of its citizens operating as deviants and dregs of the society. The social cost of this vice is enormous.

In the political sphere, cultists have wrecked untold damage on us through electoral violence, election rigging and corruption. Political thugs that are routinely hired by politicians (who themselves are also cultists) to snatch ballot boxes, murder political opponents and engage in multiple voting and ballot stuffing are members of the various cult groups in the state. They are ready to do anything for their bosses who stand for elections or bosses who are henchmen to contestants.

Cultists discourage decent, honest and competent professionals from participating in politics and improving the quality of our governance. This breeds and sustains a culture of ineptitude and incompetence in the polity. All over the world, nations grow by opening up their political space and governments to the creative ideas and energies of outsiders. But by bringing violence, murders and other forms of criminal activities into our politics, cultists deliberately scare away competence, integrity and honesty from our government and political activities. The notion that only ‘professional politicians’ should be the governor or senator is a derivative of the politics of exclusion which drives cultism. Leaders of cult groups constantly threaten non-members, especially those with admirable pedigree, against participating in politics.

Economically, cultism is a major disincentive to investments. Why do you think Aliko Dangote chose to site his multibillion dollar petrochemical plant in Lagos and not in Port Harcourt, Uyo, Warri or Yenogoa? The major reason the oil industry fled the Niger Delta region is because of the heightened incidents of kidnapping, sabotage of oil facilities and other crimes associated with cult groups in the 1990s and early 2000. In Akwa Ibom State, the dearth of entrepreneurial successes among the youths may not be unconnected with their preference for hedonism which cultism promotes. Self-gratification, high-living and pleasure-seeking do not conduce to the strict demands of wealth creation. Those shaggy-looking young boys who drink in bars at odd hours are likely to be members of these groups. How can they compete with their mates in Aba, Nnewi, Onitsha and Idumota who are apprenticing in various trades? This is one of the reasons we have so much poverty and unemployment in the state.

Cult groups operate like the mafias of Sicily or the drug cartels of Mexico. They have bosses who fight to control territories, attract members and resources. Inter group clashes as we recently had in Ika, Ukanafun and Etim Ekpo LGAs lead to deaths and destruction.

Cult bosses demand unflinching loyalty from members and expect reverence from non members. They want to control the civil service, legislature and judiciary. The bosses want to be the governor so as to continue to build bigger empires for themselves, members and families. If this happens, God forbid, the whole structure of government will serve the cult members primarily. Non-members will then be forced to belong or lose out in career advancement, business or employment opportunities or be made to pay ‘protection fees’ to the cultists just to be left alone. Our children will never stand a chance in life unless they belong; and if they belong to the wrong group, they may get cut down in their prime.

I grew up in a modest family, but worked my way up in school and built a career (or two careers actually) for myself. I am so grateful to my parents who sacrificed so much for me and my siblings to ensure that we make the best of the opportunities in life. I will therefore not want my children to pursue their life through the benevolence of a cult boss. That is why I stand with Udom Emmanuel in the fight against cultism. He should seek the support of other key stakeholders in the state and widen the scope of the battle if he is to succeed.

ETIM, a veteran journalist and retired banker, wrote from Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.

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