By Job Osazuwa
Perturbed by the increasing number of cultists spreading across every part of Lagos State, government has declared war on anyone involved directly or indirectly in cult-related activities.
There have been growing concerns over how cult groups have been on the rampage. And when they strike, they leave sorrow, tears and blood in their trail. Long before now, many had thought that the activities of cult groups were only restricted to most Nigerian tertiary institutions. But their increased presence and deeds in some Lagos communities are fast assuming frightening new levels.
In curtailing the unhealthy trend, Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has signed a Bill for the Prohibition of Unlawful Societies and Cultism , 2021, into law, approving 21 years jail term for convicted cultists.
The House of Assembly had passed the anti-cultism bill, which also stipulates 15-year jail term for anyone found guilty of abetting cultists and residents who wilfully allow their properties to be used as meeting points by cultists.
Sanwo-Olu assented to the bill during the swearing-in of members of the state’s Public Procurement Agency Governing Board and two permanent secretaries, at the Banquet Hall, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos.
The anti-cultism law repeals the Cultism (Prohibition) Law of 2007 (now Cap. C18, Laws of Lagos State of Nigeria, 2015) and provides for more stringent punitive measures, as well as makes its application all-encompassing and applicable to the public, as against the restriction of the previous law to students of tertiary institutions.
The governor said the state had suffered the negative effects of unlawful societies and cultism. He expressed the belief that the new law would make parents and guardians more responsible and show more interest in the upbringing of their children and wards, to ensure that they do not become a burden to the society.
In Lagos, there are different cult groups, each bearing distinct names. According to Daily Sun’s investigation, the popular cults included Buccaneer, Alora, Black Axe, Eiye, Aiye, the Brotherhood, Kings of the Street, Black Boys, Harmless Progressives, Black Angels, Yellow Bra, Happiness and Owonikoko, among others.
Everywhere you turn, incidents of bloody clashes and merciless killings during cult battles reverberate in the air. Cult activities in Lagos are predominant in Agege, Mushin, Ikorodu, Bariga, Ojuelegba, Lagos Island, Ketu, Orile Iganmu, Meiran, Ikotun, Oshodi, Yaba. The Lagos-Ogun old tollgate and Ipaja areas also have their own share of the menace. In these places, members of the groups openly display their identities without fear.
For instance, in some communities in the Ikorodu area of Lagos, the fear of cultists is the beginning of wisdom. At all times in some of the communities between Maya and Imota in the expansive Ikorodu town, apprehension pervades the air like a thick haze at the peak of harmattan. Many people have been mowed down in the area by bullets of suspected cultists.
The news of how, in 2016, no fewer than 100 youths unleashed mayhem on residents of Okepopo/Odunfa, Lagos Island, left many residents bewildered. The assailants, believed to be cult members, were allegedly involved in a battle over who should collect levies from traders, motorists and hawkers in the area. By the time the dust settled, three lives were wasted, with considerable damage to property.
Also, sometime in 2016, Debo Uturu, a 25-year-old computer engineer-turned tricycle operator, was brutally killed during a cult war on Lawani Street, Mushin. Shortly before the incident, another resident of Lawani Street, Sodiq Shittu, whose wife was then said to be six months pregnant, was killed by the same group of cultists. His assailants allegedly crushed his skull with a sledge hammer before wheeling his remains to the street.
At the moment, it is worrisome that cult groups are everywhere, with more people, mainly youths, joining. The cult members’ thirst for blood leaves many wondering what has become of their moral upbringing.
Although they are dubbed members of secret cults, these young men and women now operate in broad daylight, leaving Lagos residents shaking in dread. Each time their rivalry breaks out, violent clashes follow, blood flows, and human parts are strewn all over.
Cult members are said to hold and share beliefs that are significantly different from those of established religions. They practise traditions that are contrary to those regarded as normal and acceptable.
Reacting to the new law, an author, Ozioma Justin Nwaemere, stated that cultism was one of the driving forces of all forms of social vices and societal disorder: “The activities of these cult groups often result in the destruction of property and death of innocent people. So, I believe that anyone who harms or kills another person should be jailed for 21 years. This will definitely help to curb or put an end to this evil called cultism.
“Nobody is above the law. Those who use these cultists as thugs and as means of perpetrating evil should be jailed as well, if found guilty.”
On his part, one of the students’ union leaders at Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu Alike Ikwo (AEFUNAI), Ebonyi State, Kosiso Anokwuru, commended the governor for taking the bull by the horns, saying it was a step in the right direction. He said the law would help in curbing cult activities in the state.
“Apparently, cultism has dealt a heavy blow to this nation, as many Nigerians have one or two harrowing experiences to share about their encounters with cultists.
“In higher institutions, for instance, students are afraid to go about their daily activities because cultists are always looking for whom to prey on. In fact, they go as far as intimidating, bullying, assaulting and battering innocent and hapless ones. Regrettably, there are even cases where innocent students have been killed on campus by cultists because of rivalry or clash between various cult groups.
“The 21 years jail term for cultists signed by Lagos governor is a nice move. It is high time cultists were told that they will face the music when they are found wanting,” Anokwuru said.
Lending his voice to the discourse, a tutor in a private school in Lagos, Mr. Bernard Oluwaseun, said cultism was a menace to every society, and must be discouraged by all and sundry.
But, he argued that, while eradicating it, the system should not make prospective repentant convicts to become victims of circumstances.
“My fear is that the makers of law are the lawbreakers, especially in Nigeria.
“The governor should employ other corrective measures like community service, orientation programmes and rehabilitation, instead of wasting 21 years out of how many years they have to live.
“I am not supporting cultism, but with a campaign that 21 years is too much of a punishment for cultism,” Oluwaseun said.
Also reacting, a legal practitioner, Hafis Olalekan Olaniyan, said: “It is a welcome development and it is long overdue.
“However, I hope the politicians, most of whom are cultists themselves and who still use the younger cultist to perpetrate evil during election, would be handed a stiffer punishment when found having any connection with (cultists).”
A Lagos-based public affair analyst, Mike Chukwuma, stated that parents could do better in bringing up their children to respect the laws of the land and have regard for their fellow citizens.
His words: “Everything starts from the home. More than 80 per cent of the people who belong to one cult group or the other were actually not given the right moral upbringing. Some children just grow up without any parental care. Why would sucha person not be hijacked by those evil groups we are complaining about?”
He regretted that some parents always leave home while their children are asleep and return while they are also back in bed at night: “The family can help a great deal to correct the situation in Lagos and any other part of Nigeria. It is unfortunate that some parents refuse to accept the fact that their children are involved in those illicit acts. By so doing, they are encouraging them to continue in them, instead of reprimanding their children.”