Bisola Alli and Mmesomachi Ezebenard
Cultism has become a deadly scourge in Nigeria, where activities of cultists and gangsters have led to several deaths and loss of property. Daily, various cult groups prey on innocent youths from poor and affluent families within the country, turning them into blood-sucking vampires.
Right now, cultism seems to have permeated virtually all the tertiary institutions in the country. And, lately, it has made incursions into primary and secondary schools.
In a bid to ensure that it does not eat further into the moral and educational fabric of the country, a one-day seminar tagged ‘The Nigerian Youth and Cultism Today’ was held at the Police Officer’s Mess, GRA, Ikeja, Lagos.
It was organised by journalist and one-time winner of the Wole Soyinka Investigative Reports Award, Juliana Ebere Francis. It was a maiden outing under the Youth Lens Movement of Africa, a fallout of the 2018 Female Reporters Leadership Programme, under the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism.
In attendance were students from the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Abia State University, Yaba College of Education, University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), Lagos State University (LASU), Ojo, Fly High Secondary School, Ketu, Mile 12 and Covet the Redeemer Secondary School, Akesan, Lasu/Isheri. Also present were representatives from security agencies, NGOs, activists and journalists.
The seminar was supported by the Lagos State Police Command, United Bank for Africa (UBA) and Nigerian Bottling Company.
The Sango-Ota Area Commander, an Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), Mr Monday Agbonika, lamented that cultism and cultists continue to thrive in higher institutions because policemen are never allowed to enter the campuses. He said cultists use different tricks to initiate young people and that they have ways of identifying themselves, especially through their dressing, hairstyles and sign languages.
“One of the reasons cultism continue to thrive in campuses is because policemen are not allowed to enter university campuses for operation, except they are called. We commend the convener of the seminar, Mrs. Juliana Francis for this great initiative. This is the only way to catch them young and check cultism. Parents should do their best to checkmate their children. In Lagos Island, it is difficult to separate cultists from area boys. There is a connection between crime and people living where crime are being perpetrated,” Agbonika said.
Enumerating how youths could be initiated, the ACP said peer pressure, hunger to avenge perceived wrongs, emotional instability, family background and political thuggery are factors that contribute.
Agbonika lamented that cultism could affect a youth’s academic performance, causes him or her to drop out of school, become an armed robber, and turn to prostitution, among others. He urged parents to play important roles in the lives of their children and prevent them from joining bad gangs.
Recalling how cultism started before becoming a security challenge to the country, Agbonika said different cultist groups, among them Black Axe, Vikings, Pink lady and others were formed between 1975 and 1984. He insisted that there is nothing to gain from cultism aside pain and regrets.
A former prison chaplain, who is also an activist, Pastor Darlington Ajitemisan advised the youths to do everything possible to stay away from prison. He maintained that cultism and all its trappings of providing power and protection to members will always end in regrets.
His words: “Crime doesn’t pay. I was into crime when I was very young and sold drugs on the streets of Lagos. I cannot talk about prison without talking about what took me to prison. I was trained as a professional killer. I was a small boy in prison and I was doing all these things because of how I grew up.”
Further recounting his stormy growing up years and how he ended up in prison before giving his life to Jesus Christ, the cleric revealed that he grew up in a home where domestic violence was the order of the day. He said he was psychologically affected and became a notorious criminal before finally ending up in prison.
Ajitemisan said based on experience, Nigerian prisons are not correctional facilities as those convicted for various crimes usually come out worse than they were before being confined.
“Ninety per cent of violent crimes committed in the society are hatched and planned from the prison. As a youth, stay away from cultism, bad lifestyles and evil friends. There are all kinds of things going on in the prison and these are reasons youths should avoid it. There is homosexuality and lesbianism. If you think you can go to prison and come out to be a better person, you are lying. The prison will change your thinking, no matter your religion. I have served in four different prisons in the world. I have also been to Kirikiri Prison. I have been to different police stations. Whoever enters a prison will come out as a hardened criminal and engage in other crimes unimaginable.”
The Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), a Deputy Superintendent of Police, Bala Elkana, stated that cultism was a serious issue in the Nigerian society. He stated that many young Nigerians are involved in it, thus making it a serious issue of concern.
Eliana said he usually feel pained any time he sees youths in the prison wasting their lives over nothing. He reiterated that there is no gain in crime and urged the youth to be worthy ambassadors of their homes and schools. He maintained that parents have major roles to play in their children upbringing and ensuring that they turn out right.
His words: “Parents should live exemplary lives for their kids to emulate. Whatever the kids wish to become in life can only be by themselves. The most painful thing to me as PPRO is to parade young persons who are supposed to be leaders of tomorrow as cultists or criminal. It is not about taking cultists to court; it is addressing the root causes of cultism and what is attracting young people into it.”
Mrs Evelyn Usman, who was also among the panellists, expressed worry over increasing influx of minors into cultism. She also expressed dismay that most parents didn’t know what their children were up to and urged them to pay attention to their wards.
Usman also advised the participants to always make good, informed decisions for themselves, know who they are, what they want and be caution in terms of choosing friends.
The convener of the programme, Juliana Francis, said the number of young people in cultism gave birth to the idea of the programme. She maintained that no reason is acceptable for any young person to join cultism or crime.
“The idea behind the programme is for the young ones that had been taught about the danger of cultism to forward same message to their friends and relatives. They have no reason to join any crime, even when there is no food at home and they don’t have parents. Youths should know that there are consequences for the choices they make. Any negative action they are involved in will affect their family members and future. They should know there is no competition in life.”