The Ede-ma Development Association (EDA), a Civil Society Organization (CSO) in Ugbokolo, Okpokwu local government area of Benue State, has called on the Benue State Police Command to release Mr John Agboji Audu, the leader of Edumoga Youth Movement (EYM), Ugbokolo chapter, who is being detained over allegations said to be unfounded.
Citizen TV gathered that Agboji was arrested in August 2023 following a petition to the police by one John Okwori accusing him of alleged criminal conspiracy, kidnapping, armed robbery, acts of terrorism, mischief by fire and attempt to commit culpable homicide. He was consequently remanded at the federal correctional center, Makurdi.
EDE-MA in a statement signed by its National President, Mr Okoh Michael Agbam, and National Secretary, Mr Matthew Oboyi, and a copy of which was made available to Citizen TV on Friday also backed the EYM in their fight against cultism in the zone but urged the group to eschew self help and carry out their land cleansing ritual against cultism in line with the culture and tradition of the Idoma nation.
EYM had recently embarked on a land cleansing ritual which involved oath-taking by youths living in Edumoga District to publicly denounce cultism as result of a bloodbath from cult killings among rival groups which allegedly escalated and consumed some innocent residents.
The cult killings had reportedly shutdown the polytechnic town of Ugbokolo, Ichakwu and Efoyo as well as Amejo council ward in the local government area for over two weeks as rival cult groups went on rampage in a slew of killings.
EDE-MA therefore called on Governor Hyacinth Alia to set up a probe panel to investigate the killing of the ten youths as well as the increasing cult cases in Edumoga district in order to proffer permanent solution to the menace which has claimed many lives and destroyed properties.
The CSO which faulted the alleged inaction by the police during the cult uprising which led to the killing of ten youths asked the Benue State Police Command to investigate the background of Mr John Okwori, an alleged cult leader in Benue South and the petitioner of John Agboji.
The full statement entitled: “EDE-MA BACKS EDUMOGA YOUTHS’ BATTLE TO ELIMINATE CULTISM,” reads:
“W had restrained ourselves from making any public comment on the recent unfortunate cult violence that had rocked and literally grounded Ugbokolo Town and surrounding communities of Amejo and Okonobo wards in Edumoga District of Okpokwu Local Government Area of Benue State.
“In this unwholesome cult rivalry, at least 10 youths were reported to have been brutally murdered while commercial activities in the axis were brought to a halt especially in Ugbokolo, Effoyo and Ichakwu, which remain the major economic hubs in Edumoga District.
“Our calm resolve not to immediately speak out was informed by the logic that doing so might be too pre-emptive without proper understanding of the underlying issues surrounding the violence, and of course, it could also be mistaken for outright bias.
“Secondly, we had also expected that the security agencies, especially the Nigerian Police Force, are fully on ground and therefore ought to have quickly responded to such open criminality to restore public order and confidence. This was however not the case in view of the litany of violence in which cult groups openly chase and hack perceived rivals to death in broad day light.
“We believe that the vacuum created by police inaction may have inspired protests that ultimately degenerated to mob actions by angry residents following the cult killings, which the Edumoga Youth Association (EYA) and Edumoga Youth Movement (EYM) eventually had to intercede and moderate to restore order.
“We wish to use this opportunity to commend the resolve of both EYA and EYM for their intervention that ended the daily cult killings. We equally commend them for the strategic initiative to end the malaise of cultism in Edumoga land by enjoining the youth, community and traditional leaders in Amejo, Okonobo and Ugbokolo wards to take oath not to belong to any cult group.
“While the initiative or strategy of oath-taking to renounce cultism may not be fool proof, it is however a traditional method with proven capacity to eliminate or appreciably reduce the menace of cultism and other forms of criminality from Edumoga. In this regard, we enjoin especially the traditional rulers in Edumoga District to give their support and ensure that the exercise is conducted with utmost decorum and civility in line with our culture and tradition.
“As a law-abiding and development-conscious organisation, Ede-ma Development Association (EDA) is worried that the police who are on ground in Ugbokolo and Okpokwu LGA, and who were helpless in the face of the rampant cult killings in Ugbokolo for over two weeks without making a single arrest suddenly leapt to action on the basis of a mere petition by no other person but an alleged cult leader, John Okwori, against Agboji John Audu and some EYA and EYM leaders.
“While we do not, and will never, support a resort to self-help, jungle justice or any form of criminality, we are surprised that the police responded to Mr Okwori’s petition in the manner they did when they failed to, on their own, undertake any preliminary investigation of the matter, including background checks on the character of the petitioner, the killing of about 10 youths within a space of two or three weeks and the series of protests in Ugbokolo township following the bloodbath.
“We therefore hereby call on the Benue State Police Command to immediately release Agboji John Audu whose arrest and remand, from information available to us, and as contained in the Police First Information Report (FIR), are on the basis of frivolous and unsubstantiated allegations of “criminal conspiracy, armed robbery, acts of terrorism, mischief by fire and attempt to commit culpable homicide.”
“We are appalled that the police seem to have ignored about 10 homicide incidents and prioritised a petition written on the basis of sheer allegations cooked in the chambers of the petitioner’s lawyer. We call on the Police Command to therefore retrace its steps and commence a thorough investigation of the killings to unravel the killers, as well as the cult groups and their members.
“No doubt, this is an organised criminality which demands careful and dedicated professional investigative approach and not a hurried arrest and prosecution inspired by a character who is himself a prime suspect.
“We also call on the Benue State Government under Governor Hyacinth Alia to set up a probe panel to investigate and proffer solutions to the increasing cases of cultism, which we gathered, is very much alive in virtually all communities across the state.
“Ede-ma as a progressive civil society organisation believes that cultism, and indeed all forms of criminality and violence, in any part of the state constitute danger to the security of lives and property, peace and prosperity everywhere”.