By Jonathan Ugbal
Politics has been identified as the major sustainer of cultism which serves as the clearing house for insecurity in Cross River state says a preliminary report presented by the Niger Delta Dialogue in Calabar on Wednesday.
The report, funded by the European Union, was researched by Dr. Ndifon Obi of the Political Science Department in the University of Calabar and Ken Henshaw, the Executive Director of the Center for Social Studies and Development – We The People.
“Cultism is the clearing house of insecurity and cultism is been sustained by politics,” said Mr. Henshaw while presenting the report.
He continued: “Clearly, cultism has generally been sustained in the state largely because of political patronage. The relationship that exists between the youth, cultism and political leadership is, therefore one that is mutually reinforcing, such that youths serve as the raw materials for cultism, while leadership incentivizes and sustains an environment that makes cultism attractive.”
The report further stated that the relationship between cult gangs and other forms of insecurity in the state was such that: “cults are facilitators and enablers of these drivers of insecurity,” which he said goes beyond “participation in kidnapping and armed robbery.”
“Take the relationship between cult gangs and street children for instance; research findings reveal that cult gangs recruit street kids into junior units of their groups, thereby expediting the transformation of street children into full blown criminals.”
The report said even non gang members are often affected in “wars of rivalry” between different groups who also are a force for electioneering purposes utilized by politicians – a situation, whose impact goes beyond elections as well as handling of light weapons in many communal crisis rocking the state with gang members often serving as lead assault teams for their communities like in the case of Ikot Offiong in Odukpani local government and Oku Iboku in Itu local government area of Cross River and Akwa Ibom states respectively.
While introducing the framework for the preliminary report, Dr. Obi said the data for the study was generated “through a process of triangulation” and from “multiple sources.”
Aside the desk review, Obi averred that: “Key Informant Interviews (KII) and Focus Group Discussions (FGD) were conducted.” According to him, there were a total of 41 KIIs and 12 FGDs conducted “across the three senatorial districts of the state.”
Also, the KIIs and FGDs were “unevenly distributed across the senatorial district based on availability and time,” Obi said, adding that; “The respondents and participants were drawn from women, Chiefs, opinion leaders, Security advisers, security agents, former militants, youths, refugees, civil society activists, politicians, humanitarian workers, development consultants and academics” with an average of 50 minutes for the KIIs and 90 minutes from the FGD.
Furthermore, Obi disagreed with the position of the representative of the Police Commissoner in the state, ACP Cletus Nwadogbu that the state’s crime rate was very low. Mr. Nwadogbu had averred that the crime rate in Cross River was the lowest in the Niger Delta region, an statement which mirrored the position of the Governor, Ben Ayade that the crime rate was one percent.
But, Obi posited that: “A report by PIND, the partnership initiatives in the Niger Delta in its report showed that conflict fatalities at state level between January to December 2017 was higher in Cross River state than other states in the Niger Delta.” He maintained that the report, published in 2018 four local governments in the state were in the top 11 in terms of conflict fatalities which was twice as high as in other states.
Earlier, while presenting an overview of the study, Ambassador Nkoyo Toyo said that the Niger Delta Dialogue was a brainchild of discussion to promote discussions on insecurity and other issues bedeviling the region which led to the militants returning to the creeks in 2016 when they felt shortchanged.
She said the country had gone into recession and following the formation of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) which after engaging the militants, presented a 16 point agenda to President Muhammadu Buhari in November 2016.
Due to the delay in the implementation and the fact that, “in 2019, during the general election, the region suffered the most casualties with one state suffering more casualties than one region in the country,” there was need to brainstorm more to tackle the cause of such. This, she said, led the NDD to engage independent researchers who have produced the preliminary report which has identified so many root causes.
The head of PANDEF in the state, Senator Bassey Ewa Henshaw in his remarks said the report was “important,” especially in light of the recent shutdown of shops by traders in Calabar over the rising cases of kidnappings.
On his thoughts about the report, he wondered how other states will be if Cross River, described as peaceful, had so much crisis to handle.
For Colonel Peter Ogar (rtd), a one time military administrator of Kwara state and Chairman, Cross River state elders forum, the time given for the validation of the report was too short as the issues raised in it as well as contributions from attendees need to be exhaustively deliberated.
At the end of the presentation, a committee headed by a two term lawmaker, Itam Abang (PDP Boki 1) was constituted with a brief to develop a policy document to be presented to relevant stakeholders and the government to aid policy formulation in tackling security challenges.
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