Against the backdrop of the University as a microcosm of a utopian society, the menace of secret cults in our institutions of higher learning leaves myriads of perplexing questions: When did secret cult originate and how did it integrate itself into our institutions of higher learning? What, in spite of its obvious dangers, inform students patronage of secret cults? What factors in the campus world, inherent or extraneous, have so far stalled concerted attends at eradication of this hydra-headed scourge? Can cult kingpins be proselytized into the patriotic society and if not, how does the campus community contain the excesses of these malcontents? These and more issues are what this article will attempt to tackle.
Secret Cult dates back to the ancient world, to the Greco-Egyptian society of omens and superstitions. However, its origin in Nigerian Universities highlights the paradox of existence. Where the then average student was cultivating unbecoming manners, then Mr. Wole Soyinka, Mr. Muyiwa Awe and others formed the Pyrates Confraternity, with the noble objective of exposing the absurdity of the colonial mentality in the post Independent studentry. The Confraternity being exclusive, students not allowed to identify formed their own confraternities. These new formations did not share the gracious intents of Mr. Soyinka and clique. Over time schism broke their ranks, with breakaway formations pitched against one another for supremacy. The result was a rash of societies, misplaced values, unhealthy rivalry and an antisocial culture of fire eating and bloodletting sustained by the cause-effect principle. Hundreds of innocent students are slaughtered yearly in our campuses.
They are simply awe striking. They evoke images of intransigence, blood and death. Name them: The Bucaneers, the Supreme Vikings Confraternity, the Black Axe, Klu Klu Klan, the Executioners, Black Berets, Daughters of Jezebel, the Eiye Confraternity among many others.
Cult fanaticism is a creation of the system. We belong, in the words of Prof. Wole Soyinka, to the wasted generation. We belong to the era of juvenile extremism and effervescence. We belong to the era where the abuse of cannabis, hitherto the preserve of our outcasts and only spoken of in whispers, has been elevated to a social cause celebre. Our values are not only confused and intrinsically defective but also counterproductive.
Harvesting from the chaos of cultism are the politicians and other elite class whose pool of bodyguards, assassin squads and rabble-rousers are conscripted from the miscreants. The elite class is heavily culpable for the menace of cultism in the universities. This retrograde trend has spilled into near and distant communities with unprecedented tolls posing more danger to our communal existence than HIV/AIDS and hunger combined. The wave of militia in the Niger Delta is the direct result of Campus cults. Various deadly factions have mushroomed in our various communities with every trapping of their alter egos in the campuses. The same gory rituals and mind-bending initiation rites are their hallmark. They are even more deadly, feeding from the denatured clique of village psychopaths, half and raving lunatics, stark illiterates with bestial, earthy, and barbarous impulses.
Despite the obvious dangers of secret cult, it would continue to entice our fancies. The allure of power and dominion; desire for protection against real and imagined enemies, are usually canvassed by cult scouts who go about enlisting like-minds. There are instances whereby unwilling students have been browbeaten into identifying with these bloodletting cliques. Students engage in cultism to dare, to shore up their ego, to intimidate even their lecturers and to court the best of girls in the campus. Some girl hostels are ‘fenced’ off by a given gang and intruders paid dearly.
Parental initiations exist, of course, whereby heads of confraternities recruit their wards and charges. These conscripts go about with spirited dear-devilry, shored up to mind-boggling orgies of destruction by a sense of invincibility, by their impregnable patron-fastness. That feeling of invincibility was real. Fingered in the sponsorship of cultism and cult attacks are big wigs of the society before whom the law and law enforcement agents shrank into oblivion. I cannot forget in a hurry, the feeling of demystification one morning, in the late 90’s while on a visit to the University of Nigeria, Enugu campus. The Police had been flagged in to rapid gunfire between some undisclosed cult factions. For the Police of then, the immediate response was unprecedented. However, for some undisclosed reasons, their presence could not deter perpetration. The law enforcement agents could not produce any tangible report about students caught in action with live, sophisticated weaponry.
That observation underlined the invincibility of the hoodlums. In Unilag of then, students picked up with firearms and even, as was the case in Jaja Hall, a hand grenade, only stayed away the night at Panti and returned the following day, breathing more threats, and posing greater danger to communal existence.
Until the then Omotola regime took the eradication of cultism in Unilag seriously, spurred on by the irrepressible Omoyele, then Unilag Students Union president, Unilag lived under the firm grabs of cult-terrorism. Students woke up to gory tales of slaughtering of their fellow students, of blood bath. You were witnesses to chaos, to murder in broad day. Waves of gunfire shattered the air like glassware; and you have this sense of being in a war-front, and funny enough, you were a student, expected to be cultured against a rustic society.
Cultism is abuse of the freedom of association. Majority of those who enlist are either forced to or were not abreast of the hard facts about cultism at the outset. New university entrants are lured in by rosy promises of dominion on campus, protection from enemies and sundry others. But then, the tolls begin sooner than later. There are frequent reports of students who had lost their lives in the stiff initiation rites. Then the survivors, far from protection, become targets of rival cults; are hounded by the police, the campus, the student union authorities and the civilized world.
The constraints to cult eradication are legion. Cult membership is usually the preserve of the children of the top echelon of the society. They thus operate with reckless impunity, fully conscious of their immunity in a lopsided society as ours. The pool of members are teenagers with low self-esteem, whose academic orientation is suspect; die-hard criminals and crime-minded without any compunction over anti-social vices.
Cult kingpins can be proselytized into the patriotic society. We must first understand that Cult patronage is in shades. There are the hardened and the peripheral. The later quickly shed their obnoxious affiliation once they fling the doors of the Ivory Towers behind them, barely enduring the frightening reign of chaos. The former are career cultists who would graduate to mind-boggling dare-devilry. Whichever one, they can all be re-orientated into orderly, civilized conduct.
· A well-funded rehabilitation centre is the answer. Graduates of these centres can be offered careers in the armed forces and the police, where they can use their know-how to combat crimes and protect the society.
· All Secret Cults should be registered in the corporate affairs commission in Abuja, with their leaders and patrons, who should be legal entities, known. They should also be registered with school authorities.
· Freedom of arms in the campuses, nay in Nigeria, should be legalized by an act of the National Assembly. These cultists are able to intimidate you because they are armed and you are not. And whether we believe it or not, there are more illegal arms out there than we imagine.
· Demilitarization of our collective psyche and enthronement of an egalitarian society.
· With the New look Police under the dynamic leadership of Sir Mike Okiro; we are rest assured that high-level collusions are untenable. We should therefore give the Police maximum support, moral and material, to help secure the society.
Finally, as Sowore Stephen Omoyele, former Unilag Union President, and Civil Rights activist, put it
“When cult members find themselves in colleges in the US or Europe, they don’t go around killing innocent people. They don’t even kill squirrels on their campuses. They do so in Nigeria because the system lets them.” A complete overhaul of that disastrous system is imperative.