By Olumuyiwa A. Kehinde
To numerous Nigerians and other Africans, cultism is not unknown or unheard of, so it is not news any longer but the spate of this social ill is exacerbating and worrisome. For remembrance purposes, Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka was known as one of the pioneers of cult-like society in Nigerian tertiary institutions during his studentship at University College of Ibadan in 1952 when Soyinka and his six friends (known as the Magnificent Seven) established the Pirates Confraternity Elite of the University College Ibadan -an institution overseen by the University of London then. Other names such as National Association of Seadogs, or Pyrates has been attributed to this group. While the intention these founders of Pirate Confraternity was to frown at elitism mindedness of middle-class Nigerians during the British colonial era, things have degenerated to real and recurring criminal activities.
While Soyinka and his friends might never killed or maimed anyone during the time they were having social fun of their cult group, many have been killed, maimed and brutalised by different cult gangs in Nigeria, and it will be difficult to absorb any state in the country of being without two or more cult groups. In one of the interviews on cultism in Nigerian tertiary institutions, Prof Soyinka admitted that cultism has degenerated in Nigeria, and he also wondered how quickly cult groups in tertiary institutions have turned to evil, and vile association using mafia style in which raping, robbery, murdering, kidnapping are parts of their recurring activities.
Truly, Nigeria has some ancient cult groups like Ogboni, Awopa, but their modus-operandi has not had known deadly effects on rival cult gangs, and innocent people like those in contemporary Nigeria such as Black Beret Fraternity, the Amazon, Deewell, Klansmen Konfraternity Elegemface, the Bush Boys, Greenlanders, the Supreme Viking Confraternity, Deebam Cult, Green Berets Fraternity, Black Brazier, Vultures, Nite Rovers, Osiri, Ostrich Fraternity, Predators, Seadogs, the Outlaws, Blood Suckers, the Third Eye Confraternity, Traja Horses Fraternity, Aye, KKK Boys, Sea Vipers, Eiye, Temple of Eden Fraternity, Icelander Confraternity, and many others. While Soyinka’s confraternity and other traditional confraternities might not fancied engaging in active recruitment of members and initiation rituals like dancing, drinking, severe whipping, and singing at the dead of the night; contemporary confraternities in Nigeria are now actively recruiting new members and operating within and outside campuses as many non-student individuals have also joined them purposely for terrorising, robbing, maiming, and killing their rival gang members, as well as many innocent people. Various brutal killings have been reported across numerous Nigerian tertiary institution campuses just as countless number of killings of innocent people at their residential areas have been attributed to different cult gangs in Nigeria. According to a report monitored in a BBC news story, in the year 2000, 14 people were fatally at University of Nigeria, Nsukka. In 2019, 13 students were slaughtered at Kogi State University, Anyigba; while in 2006, 5 students were also hacked to death at Rivers State University, Port Harcourt. In 2016, 2 students were beheaded and their bodies were used as goalposts at Abia State University; and in the year 2002, 2 students were murdered at University of Jos while sleeping. In 1997, 1 student was also killed at Institute of Technology, Enugu. By estimate, not fewer than 230 students have been killed between 1999 and 2019 in Nigeria. While the causalities figures cannot be truly ascertained, the number of people killed or maimed by cult members in Nigeria are increasing and the law enforcement agencies (especially the police) are getting overwhelmed.
Notably, the new trend surrounding cultism in Nigeria can be explained in two folds. The first is the seemingly hijack of confraternity or cultism by many “big boys and girls” of the streets-who now terrorising and killing in commando style than previously known. These cult groups although bear a resemblance with those earlier mentioned but these ones are heavily used by unscrupulous politicians and individuals, and they can track their target to anywhere in Nigeria and beyond even if it requires doing so for several years. Between year 2018 and 2020, different groups of cult members have been terrorising Lagos, Ibadan, Port-Harcourt, Benin, Calabar, Abeokuta, Osogbo, and many other towns, intensified their onslaughts and killed many people (including the rival gang members, and innocent people) with dangerous weapons including guns, machetes, and pestles. These killings were not related to school campus at all, thus showing that the new trend of cultism in Nigeria is permeating the nooks and crannies of the country. Similarly, another robbery-cum-cult gang known as One Million Boys wreaked havoc on innocent people in the year 2020 especially during the lockdown that followed COVID-19 pandemic.
The second trend of cultism is the active involvement of many teenagers (including the primary and secondary school pupils) in the act of cultism. Recently in Abeokuta, Lagos, Osogbo, and many towns in Nigeria, these youngsters began to manifest real cult group activities, which are mainly threat to other’s people lives and threat to peace in the society. Sadly, these youngsters have no knowledge that the emergence of many cult groups like Panama, Black Eye, and Pyrate Confraternity were due to dynamic social, political, and economic situations of the country, and the likes of Soyinka will never support cult groups and gangsters that are wielding their terrific power to brutalise and unleashing terror on innocent Nigerians. The third trend is that in Nigeria today, the law enforcement agencies especially the police have no enough intelligence gathering system, arms and tactics to stop the menace of cults’ brutality and their killing spree. In particular, many police points and stations in the country have been attacked with dangerous weapons like AK-47, petrol bombs, dynamites and the likes and many police officers have been brutally murdered. Some people have also attributed recent several killings of police officers in the South East between February to May 2021 in Abia state, Imo state, Delta state, and Rivers state to different cult groups.
Meanwhile, it is imperative to understand the new dynamics of cultism in Nigeria. First, cultism is vastly expanding geographically and in terms of membership especially in the South West and South East of Nigeria where teenagers (male or female) are rapidly becoming active members. This alone has expanded the number of people who might have been killed (or to be killed), and possibly keep aggravating the pains and panic of people in this region and beyond. Second, cult gangs are intensifying and rapidly having new recruits who are mainly energetic youth, and are battle-ready to operate anytime, anywhere in a commando manner. This has also made many to be living in fear and keep vigilance at home, at office and in other public and private places as the country’s security forces are seemingly overwhelmed and the policing system cannot guarantee safety of lives and property largely. Many have asked may be the new dynamics of cultism in Nigeria can be tamed and curtailed. Yes, it can be, but not by mere empty promises, wrong approaches and inactions that have been witnessed for long period in the country, but by concrete actions from governments, corporate bodies, academic, religious and social(cultural) institutions, as well as from you and me.
Olumuyiwa A. Kehinde can be reached at email@example.com