Thursday, July 24, 2008

Cultism and Nigerian Campuses: The Way Out

The question has often been asked by various groups and people: what is a secret cult? A cult can be said to emanate from great and excessive admiration or belief in a person or idea. This could be manifested in rituals, praise songs, chants and worship. It is an unquestionable practice that may be difficult to dislodge even with superior argument.

Secret cult could therefore be defined as a set of practices, belief system or idea whose essence is known only to the inner members and excessively admired and defended even to the point of laying down one’s life. 

It is this doggedness and strong conviction demonstrated by members that reinforce the importance of and awe for the group especially among non-members. Renown Secret cults in Nigeria include: The Reformed Ogboni Fraternity, Oboni Society (in Ikwerre land), Ekpo Society (in Cross River State), The Odumu Masquerade (in Okrika Land), The Akujane Society (in Igala land), The Ejalekwu Society (in Idoma land),The Eyo Society (in Lagos), to mention but a few.

These societies have their belief system and their main ingredients tightly protected. For instance, The Akujane masquerade is a powerful phenomenon that no person dares to see its head as any intruder is punished with disgrace and even death. But one ‘positive’ thing about the societies is that they do not harm unless provoked and they could serve as an instrument for cleansing the society of any cultural debris and becomes dominant in the midst of social disorder. 

Some even serve as socialization groups that initiate men and women into adulthood as in Poro and Mende societies in Sierra Leone and the Oviaosese in Ogori land.

What is known as secret cult in tertiary institutions started at University College, Ibadan in 1953. it was formed by Nigeria’s only Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, Aig-Imoukhuede, Pius Oleghe, Ralph Opara, Nat Oyelola and Prof. Muyiwa Awe. 

Their main objectives included:
(1) To abolish convention
(2) To revive the age chilvary
(3) To end tribalism and elitism

Although the philosophical foundation of this group could be appropriately located in the tales of Treasure Island and the renaissance period of the fifteenth century, their ideas were both patriotic and altruistic as it was not imagined as a secret cult, but simply known as the Pyrates Confraternity or the National Association of Seadogs. 

Their objectives which revolved around the maintenance of polite behaviour among people of different background and chivalry, portrayed the dreams of the Founders.

Why did the students decide to form such a group? Nigeria in the 1940s and 1950s was on the verge of gaining political independence. The nationalistic fervour in the country gave a warning signal to the colonialists that the sun was about to set on the British empire. Trade union consciousness and militancy soared under the leadership of Michael Imuodu. 

Political parties sprang up in the major centres of the country which raised political awareness and questioned the continued stay of the colonialists in the country. Nigerian students were not left out of this social change. They questioned the conscription of Kings’ college students into the colonial army to fight in the World war II and eventually created a conducive background for the emergence of the popular National council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (later Citizens) (NCNC). 

The idea of the students was to respond to the demands of the time, enhance cultural nationalism and fight the tribalisation of politics which was given a boost by the Richards constitution of 1946.

It is noteworthy that the group was not to harm, maim, kill and destroy as their cohesiveness and absolute allegiance to rules made it become an elite club, only for the cleanest, brightest and the politically conscious. 

They teleguided political events and held important positions within the student body like President, Chief Judge, P.R.O and Secretary. Their existence was well known by students and was not associated with weird, horrorful and spiteful character of latter-day confraternities. The Anti Anglo-defence pact with Britain riot and the “Ali must go” students protest of 1978 was ably handled by members of the Pyrates confraternity.

Over the years, due to doctrinal differences and inability of intending members to meet required standards of the Pyrates confraternity, protestant ones started emerging like the Buccaneers, Mafia and Vickings. The early nineties witnessed a boom as every university was plagued with cult explosion such as the Black Axe, Black Cats, Trojan Horse, Black Panthers, the Twelve Disciples, Mgba Mgba Brothers, Eiye, Maphites, Temple of Eden, The Jurists, Klu Klux Klan, The Executioners, Black Beret, Dreaded friend of friends, National Association of Adventurers, Black Scorpion, Eagle Club, Termites, Red Sea Horses, Knight Cadet, Sonmen, White Angels, Amazons, Daughters of Jezebel, and the Black Brassieres.

As earlier noted, the emergence of cult groups in our tertiary institutions was not a result of divine disobedience, but a precipitate of socio-economic conflicts. Conflicts that were energized by the capitalist character of our mode of production. There was, therefore, a need to find relevance within this changing order. Gradually, the cults constituted themselves into a protection group that fought and advanced the rights and privileges of their members including passing exams, acquiring babes, accommodation, e.t.c.

The possible effects of cultism on the learning process cannot be exhausted as both intra and inter-cult clashes negatively affect students in stupendous proportions. Cult clashes lead to an outburst of violence on the campus which leaves many students wounded, maimed or killed as the case may be. It sometimes lead to the incarceration, rustication or expulsion of both innocent and guilty students. 

There is no gainsaying the fact that when any of the aforementioned happens, the learning process, the psyche of students and the peace of the campus is adversely affected. In cases of closure, hospitalization, suspension or incarceration, the resultant effect is that learning is suspended for some period of time, possibly a year or more.

Some cult clashes are so catastrophic that loss of infrastructure and other resources will be colossal and eventually the funds that would have been expended on the provision of other facilities and infrastructure on the campus will be used in replacing the damaged ones. The concomitant result of the waste of capital is reduction of the quality and quantity of education as there will not be enough money to purchase the necessary learning equipment nor to cater for the education of many.

The solid existence of cult groups within the university community has completely made life unsafe and meaningless for both staff and students as female students who refuse the amorous advances of cult members are disdainfully manhandled. Lecturers who insist on merit for passing exams are openly attacked and disgracefully beaten up or sometimes killed, thus paving way for the free reign of fear, violence and a palpable feeling of insecurity. 

This ruinously comatose situation is a veritable recipe for academic immorality, national impotence and ruin as it is an inescapable truism that no nation can rise or develop beyond the capacities of her tertiary institutions and if her future leaders, the youths, who according to Benjamin Disreali, are the trustees of posterity, are trained in such a milieu, nothing then awaits such a nation but A FUTURE THAT IS BUILT AND STRIVES ON VIOLENCE.

The problems of secret cults on our campuses are many and complex, but workable solutions are few. Institutional framework for social justice, equitable distribution of national wealth and democratic order of our society have collapsed. 

It is time to analyse and challenge our assumptions and offer new and carefully conceived blueprints for rebuilding our campuses in particular and the Nigerian society in general. 

It must be stated at this point that the recent cult denunciation exercise organized by Vice Chancellors of the nations universities was not only an exercise in futility but a grandiose exercise in public deception as these VCs were under pressure from the Government to keep their jobs and they found wily-nily collaborators in their students who came out, denouncing cults they never belonged to. 

The existence of these cults can never be exterminated by such an exercise that reeks of heavy financial inducement, psychological manipulation and draconian laws as cultism subsists and escalates on our campuses not because of the absence of penal legislations that spell out sanctions but a manifestation of the disfunctionality of the society. 

The socio-economic and political contradictions that inhere in the Nigerian society cannot but generate recourse to cultism. Cultism is not only present in our tertiary institutions but in all levels of our educational system and a lasting solution to the problem, therefore, lies outside the purview of draconian laws and naked power show.

To make cultism unattractive and an unnecessary option, there must be improved facilities and living conditions on campuses so as to minimize perceived strain in the social system which underlines cultism on our campuses. Our institutions must be overhauled inorder to be capable of providing for all who live within them and be able to correct the injustices against any student or group of students by peaceful and lawful means. 

We cannot ensure domestic tranquility unless we establish justice in a truly democratic society. Nigerian students should therefore, as a matter of urgency, be engaged in the irreversible business of total recrimination with the shallow ingredients of corruption, neo-colonial enslavement, jaundiced and retrogressive economic policies, ethnic manipulation, and electoral malpractices that pervade and predominate our country’s landscape as well as the unwarranted destabilization and intimidation of the nation’s academia by the pseudo-bourgeois and hegemonic class of ‘Politricians’.

Academic freedom, autonomy and proper democratization of education will ensure a full participation of students and other marginalized segments of the academic community in the process of policy formulation and decision making. 

It is my sincere opinion that Nigerian students should agitate ceaselessly for independent student unionism as well as ensure that credible leaders are elected to champion a new orientation for students on all Nigerian campuses. At interpersonal levels, students should encourage cultists through seminars, symposia, workshops, fora and group discussion to drop their counter-productive exhibitions and channel their energies to progressive activism. 

In this way, students can redirect their energies towards capacity building that will ultimately usher in a virile society. Students should also encourage mass participation in sporting and other extra-curricular activities as a way of keeping body and soul busy at all time.

Where the aforesaid methods fail to restore and rehabilitate these gangsters, students should spot, expose and ensure instant punishment for them. The suspension or dismissal of apprehended cultists from the school without them to answer for their nefarious conducts under the law exposes the criminal law and its dissuasive content to ridicule and contempt. The instant punishment becomes imperative when viewed against the biblical injunction of Ecclesiastes 8:11 which states that “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore, the heart of the sons of men is become fully set in them to do evil”.

Realising the havoc which cultism has wrecked on both members and non-members of the academic community, all hands must be on deck to check their activities. It is therefore imperative on the part of the society and the university communities alike to de-emphasize thuggery, brigandage, and celebration of violence and shift attention to positive societal values which will enhance positive growth. 

The authorities should focus attention on the real cultists and not exploit societal sentiments against cultism to send student Activists out of the campus by stigmatizing them with cultism.

Atâyi Babs
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