In mid 2008, Mr. Sylvester Echem, a lawyer who lived in the Okokomaiko area of Lagos, was having drinks with friends in a neighborhood pub after hours, when four mean looking cultists with pistols strapped to their waists, appeared from nowhere and asked him to jump off his chair and start walking.
Once outside in the dark, the gang leader cocked his pistol and pointed same at Mr. Echem’s head.
"I recall saying my last prayers that night", Echem tells Pulse, misty eyed.
“As a lawyer, I was working on a case that involved the cultists from the Lagos State University (LASU). That night, they came to ask me to back off the case or they will be left with no other option but to end my life. It was a warning appearance from them”, Echem says.
A week after the cultists warned him against continuing with the case, Mr. Echem fled Lagos for his home State of Cross River by scaling a fence. He was disguised as a woman as he fled Nigeria's commercial capital.
He has been in no hurry to return.
“I’d retire in this village of Ofodua on my farm”, he says, eyes welling up with tears. Ten years later, Echem is still psychologically traumatized from his encounter with the cultists on the night.
The cult neighborhoods of Lagos
Cultism in Lagos, like elsewhere in Nigeria, often spills from the university campuses to the suburban neighborhoods and vice versa. However, in recent times, street urchins (otherwise called Area Boys) have blurred the lines between university cultists and the dare-devil gangs of the neighborhood. Cultism in Lagos has been hijacked by the 'agberos' or motor park louts.
While they are cultists in every Lagos neighborhood these days, you are likely to find more cultists in Ijanikin, Iyano-Sashi, Ajegunle, Somolu, Bariga, Fadeyi, Ikorodu, Mushin, Isale Eko, Ijesha-Tedo, Ojuelegba and surrounding clusters on the Lagos mainland.
Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Imohimi Edgal, disclosed during a function in June of 2018 that six out of 10 youths in the city are cultists.
“I asked one of my officers to do in-depth research or investigation on the reasons for increase in cultism among the young ones and it was revealed that six out of 10 children are into cultism”, Edgal said.
"This is not good for the growth of our country. What are their reasons? Investigation revealed that they join for supremacy over others. They join to avoid intimidation by their peers. They join so that they have an edge over girls in their communities."
Cult initiation ceremonies happen everywhere, every day
If you look close enough in the wee hours or on your drive home from work very late into the night, you are likely to see young men headed for a cult initiation ritual. Except that no one knows who they are until they arrive their covens.
Edgal says his men have been rounding up cultists at initiation ceremonies in Lagos, every other day.
“We arrested some children between 1am and 2am during initiation into cult groups. These children were between the ages of 15 and 20!” Edgal exclaimed.
Eiye and Aiye confraternities often clash in Somolu, Small Jaypron is boss
The Somolu and Fadeyi areas have been home to some of the most intense gang rivalries in Lagos in recent times.
“It’s been crazy living here”, says Mr. Abimbola (not real name) who has lived in Somolu his entire adult life. “Sometimes, as you are returning home from work, you run into a cult or gang war and have to run back. There are months in this place where we sleep with both eyes open. You can hear gunshots sounding off on the streets every other day. It’s sheer madness”.
Two rival gangs, Eiye and Aiye confraternities have been terrorizing most of Somolu since forever.
Self-confessed leader of the Eiye Confraternity, Ibrahim Balogun, aka Small Jaypron has been taking the war to the Aiye confraternity led by Solo, since 2010.
In 2016, the police finally arrested then 29-year-old Small Jaypron who later confessed to killing at least five rival gang members in the neighbourhood.
“Jaypron was like the Al-Capone around here. Everyone dreaded him”, says Abimbola. “He probably killed more than 30 rival gang members and innocent persons while his reign lasted. And 30 is a conservative estimate here”.
How Small Jaypron killed for fun
Paraded in handcuffs at the Ikeja Police Command headquarters in August of 2016, Jaypron shared the story of how he took the lives of rival gang lords and why he became a bloodthirsty cultist.
“I am an Eiye cult leader. I joined the cult in 2009. The reason for my joining was to avenge the death of a close friend, Sunday Folorunsho, aka Small Biscuits", he said.
“It was the Aiye cult members who killed him. So, the Eiye faction approached me and said I should join them and they would help me fish out the people who killed my friend. I had a lot of boys working for me. I have killed three persons among whom were Femi Wiper and Lekan Akon.
“I cut them with knives. I shot some other victims. They were killed in the Somolu and Bariga areas. It was in the evening that Femi Wiper was killed. We were going out for a carnival during the Easter period on Alade Street in the Somolu area when a fight broke out. He was the one who first pointed a gun at me and my boys hacked him to death.”
Before his 2016 parade, the police had declared Jaypron a wanted man for a slew of murders and criminal activities.
“He is a known criminal in the Somolu area”, then Lagos Police Commissioner, Fatai Owoseni, said of Jaypron at the time. “He has multiple cases of murder and armed robbery which he has confessed to. Through him, we will look for other members of the gang who turned Pedro and Somolu areas into theatres of war.”
The death of Small Jaypron
At about 5pm on Wednesday, October 17, 2018, residents of Somolu who were returning home after the day’s hustle, heard the familiar sounds of gunshots tearing through the humid evening air.
“I was making my way home from work when gunshots rented the air”, narrates Mr. Abimbola “All the guys involved are political thugs and they all clashed at a political meeting at Larex bus stop, close to Palmgrove”, he adds.
As gunshots rang and rival cult members bayed for blood on the streets, residents scampered for safety, shops were shuttered and the ensuing panic would lead to snarling traffic and bedlam all across Lagos.
Before long, Small Jaypron of Eiye and Solo of Aiye had been shot dead by rival gang members and were lying lifelessly in pools of their own blood.
“Gang wars happen all the time in Isale Eko, Lagos Island”, says Idowu Makanjuola, who resides in that neighborhood. “There is always heavy security presence at night, but the cultists still find a way to beat it. The advice is to always retire early if you reside around here”, he adds.
Is poor parenting to blame for Lagos cultism?
Commissioner of Police Edgal, blames poor parenting for the proliferation of cult groups in Lagos.
“Some of the children we arrested for cultism were between the ages of 15 and 20. Tell me how a child of 15 will leave the parent's house at unholy hours without their parents' knowledge.
"Shame on you, if you are such a father. Go back home and take charge of your children as we are losing them to drugs, crime and cultism.
"I want to appeal to parents to understand that our children are the future hope of our country; if we allow them to miss it, we will have no hope and no future leaders to take over from us. What legacy are we leaving behind for our children?", Edgal asked rhetorically.
The Lagos State Police Command has paraded over 500 suspected cultists in 2018 alone, according to various news reports.
Suspected cultists Nasiru Bashiru, Kenneth Dike and Power Michael, of the Black Axe confraternity (also known as Aiye) were rounded up by the police after they hacked a middle-aged man, identified as Walter, to death at the entrance of a popular hotel at Iyano-Sashi on July 21, 2018.
The suspects confessed to killing 11 persons and injuring scores in the Ajegunle, Magbon and Ijanikin areas of Lagos.
The group also said they had killed Walter because as a member of the Vikings cult, Walter had killed several Black Axe members in the past.