Saturday 16 December 2023

Cultism in higher institutions: The Unilesa example....... BY ABIMBOLA TOOKI

The unabated incidence and unrelenting activities of secret cults in the Nigerian educational institutions have wrought incalculable havoc on the lives and psyche of Nigerians. It is undeniably one of the social vices setting the hand of the developmental clock of Nigeria backward. The unabated atrocities of secret cults in the Nigerian educational system and even in the wider Nigerian society continue to take tolls on the lives of many young Nigerians. Many university undergraduates, politicians, academics, the high and the mighty in the society have been hacked down in their prime by cult groups.

More disheartening is the revelation that   these   anti-social elements are fast penetrating the nation’s secondary and even primary schools!   Findings have shown that cultism and other forms of violence are however prevalent in Nigerian universities and have increased tremendously in recent decades, reoccurring almost on daily basis.

From Rivers State to Osun, Delta to Ogun and other states like Benue, Lagos, Anambra, Ekiti and Edo, Nigerian universities and other institutions of higher learning have in recent times witnessed unprecedented insecurity, persistent violence and educational backdrop, leading to loss of many lives and properties worth millions of naira across the country.

Gangs of teenagers have unleashed terror on their rivals, as well as their teachers, leading to the arrest and prosecution of some of them. This year alone, no fewer than 100 victims were reported to have died while about 300 were arrested across the country due to the nefarious activities of these groups.

In Osun State, violent clash between rival cult groups have become a common phenomenon around cities like Osogbo, Ilesa, Ikire, Iwo and its environs. Unfortunately, the political ruling class engages the services of cultists, as political thugs, body guards and hired assassins to execute their plans towards winning elections. According to some revelations, some cult groups were used by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for election purposes before and during the last general election.

There are a number of other factors that contribute to cultism in tertiary institutions in Nigeria, including the need for protection, the need to exert authority or supremacy, a lack of direction or guidance, drug abuse, need for revenge among peer groups, poor school conditions, restrictions on unionization, parental influence, and others. Other factors are linked to parents, students, institutions, and society that contributed to the prevalence of cult activities. They include the breakdown of the family institution, peer pressure, school administrators, the population explosion of students, a culture of violence, and government encouragement of cultism, among others. In general, the social climate in higher institutions offers a stimulating setting for the growth of secret cults.

In most cases, the murderers escape arrest because they are serving the powers that be. They do not face the wrath of the law because the event is linked to a political godfather, who is a sacred cow in the society. The dismal failure of the government security apparatus to arrest and prosecute any suspects in the numerous incidences of murder in Osun and other states showed that some powerful sources had a hand in the crimes and made speaking out very unattractive and risky. More often than not, it is in a clash between two cult groups, the one trying to demonstrate its stronger devilish powers over the other. The cultists strike in one Nigerian educational institution today and a reprisal occurs the next day in another institution, claiming lives in both cases.

It is in the  light   of   this that Professor   Taiwo   Asaolu,   Vice Chancellor   of   the   University   of   Ilesa,   came   out   boldly   and daringly against any anti-social groupings on the campus during the maiden edition of the university’s matriculation ceremony held recently at its multi-purpose hall.

According to him,  opportunities   are   given   associations   and groups that register with the Directorate of Student Affairs to operate   in   the   university.   Religious   and   social   groups   are accepted   as   veritable   units   for   the   character   moulding   of   the university’s students. “Unauthorized   groups   will   not   be   allowed   to   function   in   the University and any attempt to force itself to operate will be severely sanctioned,’   he   told   the   students, the parents and the entire university community.   ‘‘The   University   does   not permit the activities of any anti-social groups operating on the campus. In particular, membership of cult groups is prohibited and offenders will be summarily expelled.”

He warned the students in clear terms ‘‘If you are already one, you are advised to renounce and voluntarily present yourself to the university   for  counseling,   rehabilitation   and   reintegration into the society. You are urged not to succumb to any threat to join any anti-social group.” In case there   is   pressures from any unregistered group, Asaolu said concerned students are advised to report at appropriate units of the University.

The   vice   chancellors of  all universities   in   the   country   must emulate this gesture and come out boldly to collectively condemn cultism in its entirety. They must also be seen to be leading by example.

Osun State Government is also urged to enact a Law for the Prohibition   of   Abduction,   Hostage   Taking,   Kidnapping,   Secret Cults   and   Similar   Activities   in   the   state   and   for   purposes connected   therewith.   The   law   should   be   intended   to   stem   the tide   of   cultism   and   related   vices   in   the   state   by   prescribing maximum jail term for offenders.

Eradicating cultism and other forms of violence on our campuses also required the stamping out of the agents, agencies, and social contexts that produce and reproduces it. The dynamics of these broad   societal   and   internal   campus-based   forces   that   produce cultism and other forms of violence must be clearly understood.

The role of some highly placed members of our society such as patrons,   sponsors,   politicians,   lecturers   and   highly   placed persons in the government as well as military and paramilitary personnel   located   within   and   outside   our   campuses   must   be under close watch. A recent occurrence where some cult groups were invited by an highly placed king in Osun State to settle fights among warring factions and at the end of the day, the leaders of the groups   were   given   brand   new   cars   to   appease   them   must be discouraged henceforth.

We should be bold enough to take on broader social forces like students’ material   conditions,   interference   in   students’ union affairs, the repressive and extortionate practices of academic and other   university   staff,   insecurity   within   and   outside   campuses, worsening conditions of teaching and in some clear instances, ritualistic techniques in the demobilization of radical activism in university campuses. Such measures are necessary for the vice-chancellors and heads of other higher educational institutions to take in eradicating cultism on our campuses in the country.

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