Cultism in Nigerian Universities and the Way Out

It is indeed appropriate that this conference by The Foundation For Ethnic Violence in Nigeria should incorporate issues on cultism in Nigerian universities because violence in all its forms and ramifications, either as a tool to enforce supremacy on campus among rival cult groups or to acquire unmerited favour from staff and students, constitutes the common thread that runs through the activities of cult groups in Nigerian universities. In making this short presentation, I shall draw from my experience of about seven years vice chancellorship (including the years I served in acting capacities) and my one year tenure as the chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities.

The paper will indicate how cult activates got established in Nigerian universities and describe the harm they have done to these institutions. It will then point out how the Universsity of Port Harcourt under my leadership as its vice chancellor, was able to put cult activities in check and then relate this success to the wider Nigerian community.

Secret Cults in Nigerian Universities

The Early Days

Most authorities that situate the phenomenon of cult within the context of a religious fervour also emphasize that it is the passion, devotion, absolute and unquestioning fanaticism to a course, idea or person that single out the cult movement. Such a movement, with its non-conformist and eccentric characteristics often harbours persons whose behaviour and beliefs fall well outside the mainstream of acceptable societal norms – such actions being selfish, altruistic, or in reaction to alienation by a repressive environment.

As long as such persons practice whatever calling that engages them peacefully, lawfully and with due deference to the rights of others, they should constitute no threat to anyone. And it is this position that clarifies the synergy between the calling of the university – a body that encourages dissent as an avenue for exploring fresh concepts and ideas and the activities of such abstract groups. Indeed it could be argued that such groups should seek and find protection and voice within the confines of the university.

When in the early 50s therefore, students of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria’s premier university, riding on the crest of a burgeoning nationalistic passion for independence from Britain, formed a body known as Pyrates Confraternity, no one saw anything wrong with it. Nor indeed could anyone have imagined that by that formation, a process that would eventually lead to the hydra-headed monster of cultism as is known in contemporary Nigerian universities, had begun.

But we must be quick to distinguish the Pyrates Confraternity as it operated then from the issue at hand – cult activities in present day Nigerian universities.

The main aim at the time the Pyrates Confraternity was formed, was to promote a culture and institutionalize a pattern of behaviour in defiance of what the colonial masters would accept as normal and thereby seek, on the one hand to announce to the colonialist, that the end was close on their operations in Nigeria and on the other, to advance those intrinsic virtues and values that would encourage cohesiveness in the up-and-coming country. Accordingly, the Pyrates were to abolish convention, revive the spirit of honour, courage and absolute loyalty – the qualities of an ideal knight, and work to terminate tribalism and elitism in the Nigerian nationhood. The group was to abhor violence and was not to kill and destroy and membership was open, as it then was, only to bright and politically conscious students. Furthermore, the group operated in the open and their existence as well as membership was well-known even as they took robust and well-canvassed positions on important national issues like the anti Anglo Defence Pact with Britain and the “Ali Must Go” students protest of 1978.

The later Years

The general belief is that It is from these core Pyrates Confranternity ideals that splinter groups arose, most probably due to doctrinal differences and the inability of intending members to meet the required rigorous standards of the original group, especially as universities rapidly proliferated in the country, from the 1960s and beyond. Accordingly, cult groups spread like wild fire across universities, and although the late Ikenna Nzimiro lists 42 identifiable groups in Nigerian tertiary institutions in his book “Dark Days in Our Universities: the issue of cultism and secret cults (A sociological evaluation)”, some are more prominent and active than others. These include the Vikings, Buccaneers, Black Axe, Black Cats, Trojan Horse, Eiye Confranternity, Krux Krux Klan KKK,Black Berret, Black Brassier and Daughters of Jezebel.

In contrast to the unobjectionable and largely innocuous ideals of the founding fathers of the original Pyrates Confraternity, with emphasis on openness and non-violence, these later cult groups operate in absolute secrecy, to which oaths are sworn as well as, on occasions, deadly violence. Consequentially, it is these atrocious actions of cult groups in university campuses, involving murder, hooliganism, barbarism, rape, stealing, blood-letting, by which cult groups have become identified, and which are totally bereft of any ennobling precepts, that make them unacceptable and mark them out for extirpation.

The point must be made that the distribution and ferocity of action of secret cult groups in Nigerian universities is skewed. They constitute a greater menace in the universities in southern Nigeria and more specifically, in the institutions that are located in those parts of the south that served as theatres of the Nigerian civil war – essentially the whole of the former eastern Nigeria and the Mid West region of the country. This has led some to opine that the phenomenon of secret cult in Nigeria, especially in the later years, is a throw back from the social upheavals and dislocations that were associated with the nation’s civil war of the late 1960s, when violence as a means of survival, took centre-stage, and civilized, orderly behaviour was jettisoned. But in reality, no Univerisity is immune; it is only the extent and intensity of operations that may differ.

Their Operations

Recruitment Process

Recruitment of would-be cultists is often carried out at orientation time for fresh students as cult groups shop around and lure ignorant and unsuspecting new students with invitations to spurious parties, unsolicited friendships, Trojan gifts and occasionally, outright intimidation. Once “captured”, the would-be cultists are initiated in a most grotesque and revolting ceremony involving flogging, cutting up of body parts, eating of fire and the consumption of human blood. These actions are carried out usually in the darkest hour of the night, and with an incredible element of surprise. The venues for these gory events are also as unconventional as the practices – in bushes, behind laboratories, and even in cemeteries! So consuming is the horror and fright that is imposed by the entire monstrous exercise that the eaglet cultist becomes condemned to an existence of servitude and utter secrecy, ensnared in a life of crime. With time, he too matures to initiate others and inflicts on them, the same savage and devastating trauma, thus propagating the vicious circle of satanic brutality and sworn concealment

The Cult War

The targets of most cult activities are often persons in rival cult groups. The issues at stake are usually vying for supremacy in the campus, the disruption of university examinations or the desire to secure the love and affection of one of the opposite sex. Sometimes cultists attack those they perceive as being on their way and who prevent them from having a free reign on campus, such as paramilitary organizations and other law enforcement agents.

Other than intimidating and terrorizing their victims, the weapons used by cultists to effect their devilish act include acids, charms, machetes axes, daggers and guns. Robbery of all descriptions , extortion of money at gunpoint, stealing of mobile telephone sets, car theft, and organized gang-inspired armed robbery are the regular events that bring in the cash that is required to oil the machinery of cult operations.

The main desire of campus cult groups is the disruption of normal university activities. They do so through several avenues like causing a scare at lectures and examinations, and openly confronting one another with firearms in and around university campuses. In the pandemonium that ensures, people abandon whatever legitimate actions they are involved in at the material time and flee in different directions. This confusion then facilitates the exact scenario which the cultists require for their orgy of stealing and destruction. Occasionally cultists hijack legitimate protests by students and other groups and impose on them the arson and destruction that constitute their hallmark. Students Union Week is a particularly dangerous time as cultists are in the habit of disguising as Students Union personnel and invading cities, ransacking markets, shops and petrol stations.

But all this pales into relative insignificance when one considers the loss of lives that is occasioned by cult activities at the universities. Not only do the cult boys and girls themselves die from inter and intra cult clashes, but, sadly, the deaths also involve innocent persons who have nothing to do with cult activities. A few examples of this carnage in some Nigerian universities will place the matter in perspective:

  • On 15 March 2000, a student of the University of Port Harcourt was killed as a result of a clash among members of the Vikings Confraternity.
  • In April 1989, two persons, a visitor and a student were shot dead at the Auditorium of the University of Benin by cultists when a popular campus show called “Mr. Kave” was going on.
  • On November 15, 1989, a student was killed at the Anambra State Univerisity of Science and Technology following a clash between the Buccaneers and the Mgba Brothers.
  • On 11June 2004 two members of the student security organization Man O War, were murdered by cult boys in their hostels while preparing for their comprehensive examinations.

This utter disregard for human life, across the campuses of many Nigerian Universities, among several others, is what has made cultism a heinous crime that is fit for extirpation and the Authorities of All universities have picked up the challenge.

Eradication of Cultism at the University of Port Harcourt.

At the University of Port Harcourt, the measures that were taken which have resulted in the eradication of cultism can be divided into two sections: general improvement in the University which also had a knock-on effect on the problem and specific actions which were aimed at stemming the crisis of cultism.

In the general measures, improvement in infrastructure especially those of electricity and water supply was of utmost importance. With improvement in electricity supply, it became possible to light up some of the dark corners which hitherto had served as “sailing sites” for the cult boys and this reduced their operational arena, at least within the campus. Taken along with the improvement in water supply, it meant that an important flashpoint for students’ discontent and unrest was virtually eliminated. There were therefore fewer demonstrations for cult boys to highjack. Furthermore, the Univerisity made the admission process more stringent and ensured that only qualified students who would take their studies seriously and thereby benefit from tertiary education, were offered admission.

In the specific measures, the university mounted billboards and advertised the evils of cultism, warning freshmen not to join any association the details of which they could not ascertain. Workshops and Seminars were also ran to discourage vulnerable students from enlisting with cult groups.

The opportunity offered by an Orientation Week during which fresh students were made to familiarize themselves with the university environment was seized upon. Addresses were made on the cult phenomenon and why students should not join any cult groups.

Renunciation exercises were held at which cult members were given the opportunity to publicly renounce their membership of cult bodies. At each of such gatherings, a number of persons renounced their membership of cult groups and as their numbers grew, it became necessary to organize them into a formal body of previous cultists which would be useful in dispelling the fear and apprehension among cult members that renunciation would bring terrible repercussions on renuncees.

The Christian and Moslem communities were encouraged to pray for God’s intervention in the life and activities of cultists. A number of them targeted known cult boys whom they wooed until such persons gave up their evil actions. A’ number of them became very active converts of such religious bodies thereafter.

Not infrequently raids were carried out in suspected hide-outs of cult members. These surprise attacks were organized in conjunction with security agents, especially the State Security Service and the Police. At such raids, cult boys and girls were apprehended and formally charged to court and those convicted, jailed. The charms and other weapons that were used by the cult boys were also publicly displayed and then destroyed.

The students were used as a very important partner in the crusade and fight against cultism in the University. They gave valuable security reports which enabled Management to intervene at critical periods that led to the abortion of a “hit” or a “sail” by cultists and the arrest of all those involved. Furthermore, the students themselves occasionally confronted the cult boys, securing the better part of the encounter.

The Students Union made passionate pleas to its members and also took the lead in the advocacy movements to prevent the proliferation of cult activities on campus. On its part, the Senate of the University devised various means by which it ensured that student cultists did not become members of the Student Union Executives. For instance, Senate set a minimum requirement of a Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) of 3.5 before a student could stand for an elective position at the Student Union. Since most cult members are lazy students who are unable to do well in class, they do not usually attain such high CGPAs and so are, more often than not, effectively screened out. This regulatory action by Senate was taken in conjunction with an immediate expulsion of all students who are confirmed to be cult members.

The Way Out

Cult activities in universities affect the staff and students and the learning environment that is provided by the institution in many adverse ways. The repeated violence associated with malady leaves many persons maimed, wounded or killed. In instances where rape, arson, burglary and stealing occur, people suffer losses and experience tremendous psychological trauma. When institutions are closed as a result of the disruption and disturbances caused by cult activities, formal learning is suspended for some period and so even innocent students suffer. There is therefore a need to find a permanent solution to the cult problem in Nigerian universities and in this respect, the experience of the Univerisity of Port Harcourt in eradicating cult activities within its borders, needs to be constantly borne in mind.

An overall improvement in the quality of education is crucial as a way out of the menace of cultism in Nigerian universities – improvement in the infrastructure of the learning environment as well as the quality of scholarship for which adequate financial provision has to be made. This will enable students who are admitted into universities to see such institutions as environments for the actualization of their dreams and not as theatres for warfares.