Worrisome, rising cases of street cultism
Cultism in Nigeria has no doubt taken a new trend as it has relocated from tertiary institutions’ campuses where it hitherto holds sway to the streets in various communities across the country.
It is one word that has been entrenched in the psyche of people in this part of the world, especially because of the hazardous experiences people have had, either directly or indirectly as the cult groups unleash irreparable loss, anguish and pain on youths, families and the society at large.
Though, cult activities began from the nation’s first tertiary institution, precisely the then University College Ibadan (now University of Ibadan) in the 1950s with the formation of the Pyrates Confraternity, also known as the “Magnificent Seven” in 1952 by Wole Soyinka, alongside six others: Aig-Imoukhuede, Pius Oleghe, Ralph Opara, Nat Oyelola and Muyiwa Awe, wanted to separate themselves from stodgy establishment and its pretentious products in a new educational institution different from a culture of hypocritical and affluent middle class, different from alienated colonial aristocrats.
The 1990s witnessed a boom and a dangerous twist in the activities. Today, there is said to be over 50 cult groups in and outside the campuses. From that time to date, several groups like the Neo-Black Movement of Africa (NBM), also known as Black Axe, Aye or Axe men Confraternity, Air Lords aka Eiye Confraternity, Supreme Vikings Confraternity (SVC), Klansmen Konfraternity, Brotherhood of Blood (Black Beret or Two Two), Mafia, De Norsemen Club of Nigeria, Daughters of Jezebel, Black Brazier, White Angels, Viqueens, Damsels, among numerous others have been formed, and there is daily, increased membership perpetration of all sorts of heinous acts that include armed robbery, assassination, drug trafficking and abuse, arms dealings, and kidnapping.
As attempts are made to eradicate this hydra-headed scourge, there seems to be a geometric progression in membership and number of cult groups, as the trend seems to be a fad among youngsters in the country.Today, almost every street in the country, particularly in Lagos, now has one form of cult group or the other.
More worrisome is the rate at which pupils of primary school and secondary school age are getting involved in the clandestine acts. One wonders what propels these youngsters to engage in such macabre activities that characterise these organisations.
Membership of some of these nocturnal groups cut across gender and status. In the past, it was believed that membership of secret cult groups was the preserve of male children of the top echelon of society. However, this presumption has been rebutted, as status and sex are no longer major considerations for membership. Nevertheless, there are still groups that are gender restrictive.
New entrants are lured into these groups as a result of peer influence, fear, deficient morals and most importantly, lack of self-esteem, and they are promised of dominion, power and protection even from the law.
Recently, the video footage of a young boy identified as Shanawole, who was rescued from the streets by the Tony Rapu-led God Bless Nigeria/Freedom Foundation, during one of its rehabilitation outreaches, trended on the social media.
The 11-year-old, who is a member of the Eiye (Air lords) confraternity and heavy smoker of marijuana, revealed that if anyone dares him or his group, it was his job to kill or hack the person down, adding that if anyone tries to fight them, he and his boys would hit the person very hard. He also claimed to be a robber. He is currently being rehabilitated by the Foundation.
From Ijora Badia, a slum in Apapa-Iganmu to Oju Irin (Railway line) in Odi-Olowo; Ilaje in Bariga; Kadiri in Fadeyi, to Shipeolu in Shomolu, all in Lagos, residents live in fear as these cultists/gangs walk freely in the streets in broad daylight, brandishing dangerous weapons like knives, guns, machetes, axes and mortar pestles, as being used by the now dreaded Badoo cult, that is currently terrorising Ikorodu, a suburb in Lagos.
The group has lately been unleashing terror on residents of Ibeshe, Odoguyan, Ogijo, Agric, Igbogbo, Oke-Ota, Itamaga, and more recently Owode-Ajegunle all in Ikorodu; raping, injuring and even killing some of their victims. The group’s modus operandi has no regard for the old and the young as they’ve been alleged to have raped even octogenarians and minors on several occasions, especially at night.
Findings revealed that members of the ‘Badoo boys’ do not cover their faces as they go about their notorious operations in the night, naked with black oil poured all over their bodies’ to make them very slippery for anyone to hold down.
Before the sudden rise of the Badoo Cult, the Aye (Black Axe) and the Air Lords (Eiye) confraternities, seemed the dominant cults in Ikorodu, as both groups battle for supremacy in the town, and this has resulted in the loss of lives and property worth millions of naira.
The Guardian gathered that cultism as a trend has continued to gain ground in the town as the various cult groups have embarked on a sustained recruitment of not only students of the higher institutions, but also land speculators (Omo-onile), commercial cyclists popularly called Okada riders, street urchins (area boys or touts) and even bus drivers as members. Anybody who shows interest is quickly initiated into the fold, as the various groups feel that the larger the membership, the stronger the group becomes.
In Ijora Badia, the rivalry between the Ali-Iwo boys with their main rival, the Moshalashi boys, also known as Oju-Ina boys, is very visible as there is a bridge and canal that divides the two groups. Other splinter groups in the community include the Akamaye boys, Orita Ogbana boys, Kudeti boys, Campus boys, Baale boys, and Church Street boys; all holding strong in their various domains.
The Guardian investigation revealed that the cause of the rivalry between the Ali-Iwo boys and Oju-Ina is what may be described as “security money” from motorists, whose vehicles break down within the borderline of their territories, and this has resulted in countless fights, leading to deaths and destruction of properties in the area.
In Edo State, particularly in Benin-City, the rate at which teenage youths are initiated (blend) into cult groups is alarming, and this has become a major cause of concern to the state government and the law enforcement agents, especially the Nigerian Police, which oftentimes close in and try to stop them during initiations at the odd hours of the night.
Investigations revealed that these teenagers are being initiated into two main cult groups- Eiye Confrarnity and Hallah of the Night. The Deputy Inspector-General of Police, South West Zone and ICT, Mr. Folusho Adebanjo, had, during his tenure as Commissioner of Police in the state, paraded 15 youths, between ages 13 and 15, suspected of be cultists, with different arms and ammunition. He had explained that eight of the suspects were members of the Hallah of the Night, and were arrested in Uromi, while seven members of the Eiye Confraternity were arrested at Ologbo.
“We are surprised that little boys are going into cultism and they did not deny it. Some of them said they just felt that belonging to a cult group would give them the confidence that they are now big boys. Majority of them are secondary school students, but some are out of school, especially those who are in Eiye, those ones who are members of the Hallah of the Night are secondary school students. We discovered that this issue of peer group where children mix with friends is very dangerous because that is how these people are initiated into cultism. It is unfortunate that it happens, parents have a role to play to protect their children,” he said.
Explaining how he joined Hallah of the Night, John Osagie, 13 said: “What happened was that some of my friends became so strong in school that people feared them. So they told me if I wanted to be strong, I should come and be their member. That is how they took me to the bush and I became a member.”
In Ekpoma, the host community of Ambrose Ali University (AAU), it is difficult to tell who is a cultist. The town has become a tapestry of cultism, as membership of a cult group is no longer a special privilege enjoyed by students of the university. Locals, including farmers, commercial cyclists, mechanics, electricians and other artisans/technicians are members of one cult group or another.
Twenty-six secondary school students in Cross River State were in 2002, expelled for involvement in cult-related activities. One Victor, a.k.a Papa, a secondary school student in Oron, was killed in January 2004, following a cult clash, while some secondary school cult members beat a secondary school typist to death in Eket. The same year, seven secondary school secret cult kingpins were arrested in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital.
Findings revealed that there has been massive initiation of primary school children into more than 150 cult groups identified by the anti-cultism law of Rivers State, and this has helped expose the menace at secondary school level.
In July 2015, Ebonyi State Police command foiled the initiation of 46 graduating students of a popular Mission Secondary School in Izzi Local Council of the state, who were said to be members of a cult group identified as Junior Vikings. The students had just concluded writing their NECO Senior School Certificate Examination.
Also, seven students of Nazareth High School in Imeko-Afon Local Council, and 11 from Lisabi Grammar School, Idi-Aba, Abeokuta, Ogun State were arrested in their schools in 2013 for cultism by officers of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC).
The Nazareth High School students were caught while they were initiating some other students into their cult group, while the students of Lisabi High School were apprehended for breaching the peace in the school, and after a thorough investigation, they were discovered to be members of a secret cult group.
The Nexus With Politics
Since the introduction of democracy in Nigeria, Nigerians have experienced election rigging, which has also produced the highest wave of hooliganism and violence amongst politicians at the local, state and federal levels.
The return of democratic rule in 1999 marked the watershed in the uprising of bloody cult clashes across the country. The dire urge of political dominance impelled political parties and politicians to engage the services of the cult gangs.
A number of these politicians surround themselves with the cult gangs, using them as private armies and bodyguards, and supplement them with the law enforcement agents, who are willing to carry out their commands.Together with these politicians, these students’ fraternities have been linked to violent activities in the country. For decades, these cult groups have flourished following the support and patronage of influential political figures, who are using them as instrument to settle political scores.
Many local communities, cities and states have witnessed violent clashes between rival fraternity gangs sponsored by politicians. Notable for such violent activities are the Junior Vikings Confraternity (JVC) also know as Deewell- a wing of the Supreme Vikings Confraternity (SVC) also known as The National Association of Adventurers of De Norsemen Club of Nigeria, and the Debam- a wing of the Klux Klansmen Confraternity (KK) also known as The Eternal Fraternal Order of the Legion Consortium.
The Guardian learned that many student fraternities maintain ties with powerful politicians because of their association with the fraternities, which dates back to their days on campus. It was also gathered that after discussing with some senior fraternity leaders, they revealed that there are a lot of impostors claiming to belong to their organisations while offering their services to the politicians.
Some fraternity members are in the habit of ordering fellow members to do political favours for them. However, steps are being taken to check the illegal activities of these members ranging from expulsion, suspension, fines and a lot of policies have been changed including banning all new fraternity members from holding any fraternity position for five to 10 years, restricting new intake age limit between 18 and 35, and making it an offence to participate in politics while serving in the leadership of the fraternity as well as banning all political campaigns in all fraternity meetings.
According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, politicians usually recruit members of fraternity groups during the elections to target their political opponents, sponsors or to attack and intimidate ordinary voters during polls.In the report, some fraternity members claimed they merely provided security for electoral campaigns, while others said that they were paid only to attend rallies in support of their patron candidates, adding that they are armed and prepared to fight at such events that they randomly attend.
‘It Is A Failure Of Family Values, Institutions’
Dr Oluwatoyin Fredrick Idowu, a Psychologist and lecturer in the Department of Industrial Relations and Personnel Management, Lagos State University, Ojo, told The Guardian that cultism is a societal issue, adding that cult activities may have taken a very deep root in the nation’s tertiary institutions initially, it was imported from the society into the school.
He said: “Because there is larger number of people in the tertiary institutions, it becomes so pronounced so to speak.”According to him, now that pupils in primary and students in secondary schools are engaging in it, it can be attributed to the abstract nature of urban life, individualism, poverty and unemployment.
He noted that today, many graduates cannot find job and they easily interact with the young ones, which makes it a veritable ground for recruiting them into cults.
“Because these youths do not see any future for them, they want to find a ground or anything they can do to give them some kind of succour.
“It is like an addiction. Something you want to rely on. For instance, if there is no future so to speak, let us now do this as a past time. Many youths go into cult activities without even knowing the complexities and consequences. To them, it is just fraternising and having people to move with, but before they know the deadly things that are involved, they find it so difficult to move out.
“For the boys, it is a way to feel that they are boy enough and can bully others, and nobody can bully you because you have a group or pockets of people you fraternise with and they can defend you,” he said.
The university don blamed the parents, saying that family values and the social net have been eroded.“There is high level of individualism, people tend to think of themselves alone and not take into consideration others. In the days of baby boomers, it is not only your parents that are your parents; parenting at the time belongs to everyone around you.
“Anybody can pick you on the road, beat you for a wrong done without getting to your parents, but these days parents don’t care and, therefore, when somebody in your neighbourhood sees your wards going astray, they feel unconcerned, leaving such individuals until they go into these nefarious activities including cultism.”
He noted that many parents do not have time for their children, they are careless about their development, what they do and the kind of friends and people they move with, adding that they don’t look for initial signs, because when these things start happening most parents don’t look inward to see them. Instead, they pamper and pet their children even when what they are doing is wrong.
He continued: “The children behave so to speak at home, they put on long gown, robes, good trousers, dress modestly, but when they are out, they put on bum shorts, torn jeans and are almost nude. The religious institutions are also to take part of the blame, because these days, all that is being preached is prosperity. They don’t want people to suffer and people are going out to look for that fortune. Many are engaging in gansterism, drug peddling, robbery, kidnapping among others heinous crimes, because they feel they are protected.”
According to Idowu, every institution has a hand in the menace. He also blamed the political elites and the law enforcement agencies, saying they cannot be totally absolved.
On the recent accusation against some police officers as being members of various cult groups by residents of Akure in Ondo State, that when members of a particular cult group are arrested, officers who are members of such group aid and facilitate their release, the university don said: “When you are in it you are already in it. You belong to a cultic group, you grow up and the same group protected you, and perhaps you rose to where you are with the aid of the group, and because you have benefitted from it, it behoves on you to protect others who are members of the group.
On the effect of the menace, Idowu said: “First, we must recognise the fact that there is high level of unemployment in Nigeria today. Someone has been to tertiary institution but there is no job to do. Most times he or she is the one interacting with these youths. He introduces and exposes them into the activities of cult groups, and what this means is that the society is in trouble if we do not do much to curb it now.
“To start with, we must first provide employment to teeming graduates who are unemployed. Whichever way it can be done, we have to do it. Like I said earlier, most of these youths that go into cult activities don’t even know what they go into and the consequences that follow.
‘Security Agencies’ Conspiracy Responsible For Street Cultism’
From Oluwaseun Akingboye, Akure
AKURE, the Ondo State capital, popularly known as “Oyemekun” used to be very peaceful until recently when residents started witnessing fiery attacks, brutalisation and gruesome murder by secret cult societies, whose activities are not only limited to the city, but across the 18 council areas of the state.
Some few weeks ago and within a space of five days, many youths were assaulted and 10 people murdered in alleged power tussle between the Aiye and Eiye confraternity cult groups.Also in the recent past, the state police command had paraded teenagers and secondary school students, who had been initiated into cult groups with some funny names like eku (rat), “egede.” “ogede” and “abatiyan.”
The tension raised by these cult groups became so tense and the stakeholders in the community took proactive measures to nip the menace in the bud. This is because most security operatives were inactive and the Anti-cultism Squad had been disbanded and reduced to a mere toothless bulldog. Some alleged that some security personnel are members of the cult groups.
The Bishop, Diocese of Akure Church of Nigeria Anglican Communion, Rt. Revd Simeon Borokini, has recently raised an alarm over the continuous migration of youths from the rural to urban areas, warning that it would continue to unleash reign of terror upon the nation if not checked.
This, he identified as the major cause of the recent activities of the notorious group, Badoo, in Ikorodu axis of Lagos State and other nefarious crimes such as street cultism committed by some youths.The clergy warned that if the movement is not curtailed by government at all levels, it will result to increased unemployment and insecurity.
He added that the unabated migration of jobless youths from rural to urban cities was a fertile ground to breed criminals, urging government to address it.Borokini, who declared this during the 2nd Session of the Twelve Synod, held at St. James Anglican Church, Itaogbolu, Akure North LGA of Ondo State, themed: “Do Not Compromise Your Faith,” noted that lasting security and stability require a broad approach, emphasising that “we cannot take peace for granted, it requires difficult decisions, hard work and compromise.”
He posited further that if jobs were provided for youths, they might not like to engage in devilish acts. He, therefore, advised the Federal Government to step up measures to revive the economy.
A youth leader in the state, Mr. Ore Matthew, attributes the proliferation of cultism among youths, especially teenagers to lack of confidence in one’s abilities, inferiority complex and wrong mentorship from the older generation.
“It is very shameful that it is now the latest style in vogue among the youths of the present generation. Much alarming is this social vice that every Dick and Harry, mechanic, tailor, okada man, drivers, conductors, prostitutes and the never-do-wells in the society are profile members of these cult groups.”This, Matthew noted, goaded them to be social deviants and constitute nuisance to the society at large. He stressed that parents and guardians have a lot of work to do so as to instill moral values in their children and wards.
Collaborating the allegation against security agents for aiding and abetting cultism, the Asiwaju of Akure Kingdom, Prof. Olu Agbi, who addressed a press conference and spoke on behalf of Akure community, accused some security personnel of compromise.
“Apart from the killings by the secret cult members, there were reports of kidnapping, attacks and killing of farmers by herdsmen among other heinous crimes. Some crimes including armed robbery and ritual killings have not gone unnoticed by the community."
The former Ambassador to Greece, Agbi, expressed dismay at the approach of the security agencies, saying they seemed to be helpless in dealing with this menace.He alleged that some personnel of the law enforcement agencies were members of the secret cults.
“Security sources told us that Eiye security men in the force would release their members if brought to the police station, while Aiye law enforcement agents would do the same to their members.”He called on the Inspector General of Police to purge the police of the secret cult members so that the war against cultism and other crimes could be meaningful.