From Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa

“I thank God for saving me, but I want justice,” Deborah Emafidion, an undergraduate student of Niger Delta University (NDU), Bayelsa State, said in an interview as she sat on her bed at the medical facility where she was undergoing treatment.

Speaking with difficulty, she was obviously not the same girl that left her home on September 21, 2021, to meet her ex-boyfriend, Sunday Favour. Deborah has gone through the crucible after her rescue by a combined team of police and youths of Ogobiri community in Bayelsa State.

Favour, who had poured some substance on her, was allegedly on the verge of beheading her when the police and youths of Ogobiri swooped on him, saving Deborah from the jaws of death.  She has been in hospital since September, where several surgeries have been carried out on her.

She and her family want justice and also need help desperately to offset mounting hospital bills, which they have shouldered alone.

“I want the government to come and help me,” she said.

Mr. Monday Igbinedion, an uncle to Deborah, in an interview, said the family needed all the help it could get. He stressed that justice for Deborah would serve as deterrent for all those involved in ritual killing.

“We are grateful to God that she didn’t lose her life. We consider it one of the storms she would need to pass through in life. We want justice and, again, because of the frequency of such cases, we believe, if justice is properly served, it would serve as a deterrent to those involved in ritual killings,” Igbinedion noted.

Indeed the general consensus in Bayelsa is that the state has been overrun by ritualists who target girls for killing. A few days after New Year, three teenagers aged 15, namely, Emomotimi Magbisa, Perebi Aweke and Eke Prince, were arrested at the point of using a 13-year-old girl, Endeley Comfort, for rituals. They were said to have hypnotized their victim, chopped off one of her fingers and sprinkled her blood on a mirror as part of the ritual process, before they were arrested.

Comfort was lucky. But victims such as Glory Omo-Ohwo and Goodnews Stephen, who were gruesomely murdered at Akenfa with their panties and bras taken away by their assailants, are not alive to tell their story.

The activities of ritual killers in Bayelsa have attracted concerns and calls for urgent intervention to stem the tide. The district governor for Rotary International, District 9141, Andy Eyone Uwejeyan, while lamenting the situation recently in Yenagoa, said the club was going to step up awareness on the menace: “It is a worrisome development and it is spreading very fast. What our club has done is to stage campaigns to create awareness and to discourage these heinous practices by young men that are harvesting human parts for the purpose of making money.

“There is nothing we can do than to talk to them and discourage them from such acts. But we also need to focus on the fundamental problem. The fundamental problem is that the young men in these terrible practices are unemployed. They are the products of society. They believe that they can sacrifice the virtue of hard work for easy money.”

Also at the forefront of the struggle against ritual killings in Bayelsa is the Gender Response Initiative Team (GRIT), an initiative of the wife of Bayelsa Governor, Dr. Gloria Diri.

The chairman of GRIT, Dise Ogbise, who has picked up the gauntlet to battle all threats against the girl child and women in general, has been following the Deborah case from when the incident occurred up to the arraignment of the accused, Favour, before Justice Margaret Ayemieye.

Ogbise, a lawyer, explained that the incidence of ritual killing in Bayelsa was worrisome and required all hands on deck to tackle it.

According to her: “The issue of ritual killing is quite worrisome. There is every need for us to speak to our youths because the quest to get rich quick is what is eating up our boys. They don’t want to go to school. They don’t want to work hard to make money. And so there is a need for all of us to speak up, the religious leaders, traditional rulers and other stakeholders, against this act by our teenagers.”

She identified causes to include a decline in family values, as many of those caught for the crime lack parental care, which might push them into crime.

“Decline in family values is also another reason that has caused the increase in cases of ritual killings in our society. A lot of parents have become too busy. We need to do a reappraisal as parents on how far we have fared in the upbringing of our children.”

Ogbise disclosed that GRIT was working with the International Federation of Female Lawyers (FIDA) and other non-governmental organisations to create awareness and save Bayelsa people from ritualists.  The chairperson of FIDA, Deme Debra Pamosso, who shared similar thoughts as Ogbise, while pointing out that the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) law would be used to ensure justice is served, said FIDA would ward off any external influence that might want to derail investigations of suspected ritual killers.

“The situation is quite appalling. It is a very sad one. We noticed that some of the suspects’ families are very influential and are trying to stop the investigation. Thank God that we have the VAPP 2020 signed into law by Governor Douye Diri. This law would ensure that cases are prosecuted. We are worried that these cases are on the increase and it is disheartening that the suspects are underage,” Pamosso said.

The chairperson was also of the view that eroded family values played a role in the upsurge in cases of ritual killings in the state.

“Family values have fallen. If you go into these cases, you would find out that these suspects are products of broken homes. Some of the parents are also involved in these atrocities. So, the children are following in their footsteps. Once we get justice in one of these cases, it would serve as a deterrent,” she said.

To demonstrate its stand on the issue of ritual killings, GRIT, in collaboration with Committee for Democracy and Environmental Dividends (CODED), staged a solidarity walk to demand justice for Deborah and end ritual killings in the state. Participants in the walk included FIDA, Gloria Diri Foundation, Collins Cocodia Foundation and Do Foundation. They were armed with placards with inscriptions such as “Save our children from ritualists”, “no to ritual killings”, “join GRIT to stop senseless killings”, and “Bayelsa is peaceful not for harvesting human parts”.

Diri pointedly said the state would no longer condone ritual killings, as the law would take its course: “The land of Bayelsa rejects such dastardly acts and, by this peace walk, the stakeholders in the state reject such acts. I urge everyone to be their brother’s keeper.

“For those caught in the act, we will ensure that the law takes its course. We are also now against out-of-court settlement and we want the law to punish the perpetrators.”

The wife of the Amanayanbo of Twon Brass, chairperson of the Bayelsa State Traditional Rulers Wives’ Association, Queen Josephine Diete- Spiff, said the group joined the walk to protest against the attempted murder of Deborah.

“The dastardly attempted killing of this promising young lady underscores the danger facing girls and women in our present-day society and glaringly reveals the consistent threat to the right to life of girls and women as guaranteed by the Universal Human Rights Declaration and the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended. As queens and mothers of kingdoms in this our dear state, we stand collectively to say no to killings, disrespect for life, and abuse of women and girls” she said.

She pleaded with monarchs and the state government to set machinery in motion to end the activities of ritual killers.

“This solidarity walk is a clarion call from concerned Bayesians strongly supported by the royal queens with, I believe, our husbands (the traditional rulers of the state) to the government, to urgently do the needful to end the violent crimes against women and the rampant criminal trend of targeting women for money rituals.

“Our children should be called to face the reality of life that education and hard work are the only actual routes to lasting and peaceful riches. There should be enacted laws to promote easy tracking of ritualists, drug peddlers, harmful activities in hotels and other leisure centres, and proper monitoring of underage boys parading the state with questionable wealth.

“Parents and community members should join in this campaign for a safer Bayelsa State by meeting their obligations of setting the proper steps for their children. To direct their school-age children back to school, encourage hard work, equality, and gender respect in their homes, with a total stoppage of promoting wealth acquisition among the youths.”

As the battle against ritual killers is being fought in the public consciousness and the courtroom with the trial of Favour underway and that of the three teenagers set to commence soon, the hope is that justice is served for Deborah and Comfort.

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Source: news