Amake Dorothy takes a look at the rise of cultism in tertiary institutions and reports that frustration and social appeal are the main reasons that propel students to join cult groups.
The problems facing tertiary institutions in Nigeria are many, but cultism and sexual assault on female students by their lecturers are more common.
Here we are looking at cultism as the single most important problem in institutions of higher learning.
There is no long existing single institution of higher learning that has not experienced the menace of cultism at one time or another. As we have today, the menace and the aggressiveness of cult members and cult-related violence on the campuses of most tertiary institutions have resulted in untimely deaths of lecturers and students.
Origin of student cultism
The origin of cultism, according to reports, was traced to the Seadog Confraternity (a.k.a Pirates), founded by Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka and six others at the University of Ibadan in 1952.
The peaceful, and non-violent confraternity set up in the 1980s, metamorphosed into a secret cult whose activities have been characterised by violence and some bizarre activities.
The major causes of cultism in tertiary institutions were the influence of peer groups; parental background; societal decadence; erosion of education standards; militarisation of the polity; lack of recreational facilities; quest for power and protection, among others.
However, some of the effects of cultism include loss of lives and properties, disruption of academic activities on campuses, unsafe university environments, among others. It is therefore recommended that all the stakeholders in the university education system fuse efforts to combat the menace. It is also recommended that government should be more aggressive in her quest to eradicate cultism in the universities by furnishing schools with sporting and recreational facilities.
Why students engage in cultism
Despite the fact that all manners of evils, such as examination malpractice, rape, robbery, arson, maiming, murder, intimidation of fellow students and lecturers for good grades, fight over love of girls or boys (girlfriends or boyfriends), some student of tertiary institutions still find it fashionable to engage in it for different reasons.
An educationist, Ivor Ogidefa, in his article, “Cultism in educational institutions in Nigeria: causes, possible solutions and counseling implications” published in 2008, identified Eziali’s reasons why students join cults. According to Eziali (2000) in Ogidefa’s article, the search for responsibility, satisfaction and social identity are the reasons why students engage in cultism.
In the search for responsibility, some students join cult groups in order to perform certain services for the members. For example, some students may engage in cultism in order to fight for perceived injustice in their campuses against their members;
the satisfaction of one’s aspirations and needs prompts students to engage in cultism in order to satisfy their desires, aspirations and needs. For example, a student may belong to a secret cult to ensure the success of members in examinations; many students, especially the female students, join cult groups in order to protect themselves while some male students join to secure their girlfriends; in the search for social identity, there are also students who join cult group for popularity. They want to make name and to be regarded as powerful people. For these students, to belong to a cult group is a way of achieving prestige and greatness. They believe that they could influence decisions on campus and that they could as well dictate the pace during the Student Union Government (SUG) and student representatives elections.
Oshodomo in 1999, said some students join campus cults to gain respect and recognition and to acquire protection against sanctions from members of the community. He also added that students join cult groups for reasons based on past negative experiences at the family level. There are others who join cults because they want to create avenues to exhibit and diffuse frustrations from the family, schools and society. There are students who join cult group for reason of wealth (financial assistance), while others join cults to hide their weaknesses (inferiority complex).
Other reason why students engage in cultism might be influenced by parental and home background, because parents who are members of secret cults may not see anything wrong in their children’s involvement in cultism.
Effects of cultism on students
The havoc caused by violent cult activities in our universities and other tertiary institutions has become a source of worry and concern to many students, lecturers, parents, guardians and the government at large.
The cult activities on campuses range from oath-taking to blood sucking ceremonies, burglary and raping involving sons and daughters of lightly-placed members of the society, all done under the influence of drugs and substances like cocaine, marijuana, and so on.
Dangerous weapons such as guns, swords, spear, axes, knives, explosives, are reported to be freely used by secret cult members. There exist in the universities now a legion of these cult groups such as the Pirate Confraternity, Eiye Fraternity, Buccaneers, the Black Nationalist of Ife, the Black Cobra of Ife, Axe, Black Night, Black Berret, Green Berret, Vikings, and so on.
A university environment which should thrive by exchange of intellectual and moral ideas suddenly becomes a battlefield where violent cultism looms large.
The attendant effects of cultism on the learning process cannot be exhausted as both intra and inter-cult clashes negatively affect the students in a very high proportion. It sometimes leads to incarceration, expulsion of both innocent students and student cult members.
In some instances, students spend more than the required number of years for a degree or diploma.
The relative peace on campus is adversely affected whenever cultists unleashed terror on students and teachers. The aftermath is the suspension of academic activities, which usually affects the year of graduation of students.
Young undergraduates who are supposed to be future leaders have fallen victims of trigger-happy cultists. Because of the frequent disturbances and insecurity, some parents now prefer off-campus accommodation for their children and wards in tertiary institutions because of the fear of campus c rampage.
Some members of cult groups cause bodily harm that may result to physical injuries and or death especially during their initiation ceremonies. Closely related to this is the fact that some of them risk health problems because of harmful drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, among others, they take.
Cult group often subvert or undermine the genuine student unionism and destabilise university administrations, which do not condone their nefarious activities
How to curb the menace
Over the past two decades, various attempts have been made to deal with the problem of cultism. The various measures taken include the enactment of decree 47 of 1989, which pronounces a number of jail term for any cultist found guilty (Fasanmi 2006).
Also Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in 2000, issued a three-month ultimatum to all vice chancellors to eradicate cultism from their campuses. Some higher institutions also set up anti-cult groups consisting of the student body itself and some security agents to monitor and check the activities of cultists on campus.
Ekundayo and Osalusi say it is generally accepted that campus cultism is a social problem and as such needs the corporate action of all and sundry in the society to curb its menace.
Despite the various measures, it appears the proliferation of cult groups and their dastardly acts continue unabated. However, to curb this menace, the following are important.
Government and non-governmental agencies and the media should step up their campaigns against cultism and its destructive tendencies. The evil nature of cultism should be explained to young people in schools at all levels through public sensitisation, seminars, workshops, symposium, posters, handbills and public lectures. Parents should denounce their membership of secret cults and also prevent their children from joining bad group. Religious and moral instructions and education should be re-introduced in all spheres of lives and the decadent society should be spiritually reawakened by joint effort of parents, religious organisations and government.
Parents should be more vigilant concerning the activities of their children within and outside the home. Also, there must be improved facilities and improved living conditions on campuses so as to minimise perceived pressure on the social amenities.
The school authorities of higher institutions of learning must show their readiness and determination to eradicate cultism. They must brace up to the challenges of the phenomenon, which has become one of the most potent evils of recent time. It is very necessary for the committee of vice chancellors of the Nigerian universities to adopt a common and uniform approach to solving the problem of cultism. The issue of former cultists who sometimes return to universities as staff must be looked into. Students who do not belong to cults and some security agents can be organised into anti-cult vanguards or groups to watch or monitor and check the activities of cultists on campus and report cult members to the university authorities or to law enforcement agents.