The other day, the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Imohimi Edgal, delivered a frightening salvo when he said that six out of every 10 youths in Lagos State were cultists. Speak at a town hall meeting, he said the increase in cultism in the state had reached such an alarming stage that a state of emergency should be declared on it.
His words: “I asked one of my officers to do an in-depth research on the reasons for the increase in cultism among the young ones. At the end, it was revealed that six out of every 10 children are into cultism. This is not good for the growth of our country. They join to avoid intimidation by their peers.
They also join so that they can have an edge over girls in communities.”
Edgal blamed parents for the ugly development: “It is a shame that we, the parents, have failed woefully. Majority of us are even afraid to talk to our children. We fear to tell them the truth. Some of you keep quiet when you see your children doing the wrong thing so that people will not hear you talking to them. Some of you are outrightly afraid of your children and it is a shame. Some of us don’t sleep at home to monitor what our children are doing. How many times have you paid a surprise visit to your children’s school and how many times have you checked what is in your children’s rooms and their bags to know what they bring into your home? We arrested some children between 1am and 2am during initiation into cult groups. These children were between the ages of 15 and 20. Tell me how a child of 15 will leave the parent’s house at such an unholy hour without their parent’s knowledge. Go back home and take charge of your children, as we are losing them to drugs, crime and cultism.”
Cultism among children barely out of diapers is not restricted to Lagos State. Recently, the Bayelsa State government announced the expulsion of four students of the Central Epie Secondary School, Opolo-Epie, for engaging in cult-related activities within the school premises. The students were alleged
to have attacked and injured an SSS3 student, as well as endangering the life of other students and disrupting smooth academic activities.
The four suspected teenage cultists, who were armed with an assault rifle, had stormed the school after scaling the fence, where they threatened to kill an SSS3 student but they were unable to carry out the act as a detachment of policemen from the area command was deployed to the school.
The scourge in the state is such that the commissioner for information and strategy, Daniel Iworiso-Markson, is begging churches to help. The commissioner for education, Jonathan Obuebite, warned that no school in the state should re-admit the students without clearance from the state government.
Indeed, cultism has become entrenched in the Bayelsa State capital, Yenagoa, and environs. Now and again, streets are littered with the corpses of suspected cult members. So, people now live in fear. Two youths were shot dead in the night of May 29, in the Sandfill area, while two other corpses were found at Good news Junction and Punch Road the following day. Two dead bodies of suspected cultists were also discovered in Ebele, while one dead body was found on Biogbolo road.
It was gathered that one of the victims, popularly known as T. Juice, from Ogbia Local Government Area, and who was a known member of the Greenlander group, was trailed to a restaurant and shot dead at close range while he was eating. His assailants were said to have shot him in the head to ensure that he did not survive. However, his partner on the list to be eliminated escaped by the whiskers as he vamoosed before the shooting started. In all, eight persons were wasted in the area within two days.
In Rivers State, blood is flowing. On Tuesday, May 28, suspected cultists reportedly killed three persons, including a pastor, when they raided Ibaa community in Emohua Local Government Area. The gunmen, who were alleged to be members of the Iceland cult, stormed the community in the morning to seek revenge, as it was also alleged that a rival cult group, Deygbam, recently sacked Iceland group from the community.
Investigations revealed that the three victims were innocent residents, who might have been gunned down because the killers wanted to cause a scare in the area.
“Iceland boys invaded our community today and killed three innocent persons. The boys came at about 7am this morning and started shooting sporadically. They killed Friday Nsirim, a commercial motorcycle operator. They also killed a hunter at Omuobizu area of Ibaa. They later killed a pastor of a church called Teke. They said the pastor prepared charms for the Deygbam boys. We are calling on the security operatives and the governor of the state to intervene in the killings in our community,” a source volunteered.
Ilorin, the capital of Kwara State, has also been under siege for sometime, after cult members unleashed terror on the city. No fewer than eight persons were killed in a three-day onslaught between two rival cult groups in Ilorin recently.
The story is the same in other parts of Nigeria. From the east to west, north and south, it has been a sad tale of numerous lives lost to violent cult activities marshalled by young people. It has got to a point where cult groups now force people to join them, and those who refuse to do their bidding always pay dearly for their temerity.
A few weeks ago, Lori Eyituoyo Peter, staff of Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company, narrated how he was shot for refusing to join a cult group. Peter expressed gratitude to God that he survived gunshots fired at him by a cult leader for refusing to join his group. He said: “On July 24, 2017, I was going to work very early in the morning when I was accosted by four men who claimed they knew me. I looked at them but I could not make up whether I had met them before or not. I greeted them but became scared when they surrounded me. I wanted to run but the man I suspected to be their leader warned that I should not try any funny move. I asked what they needed from me, as I thought they were robbers.
“The one I suspected to be their leader said I should follow them to a dark corner. I obeyed, fervently praying for an opportunity to escape, but it never came. At the corner, he warned that I should listen attentively to him. He then introduced himself as the leader of Aiye confraternity and others as his members. He said the group had a period of grace to recruit more members and that he had been monitoring my movements and decided to recruit me as I would be useful to their society.
“I was miffed by his statements and I told him that I am a child of God and that I would not join a cult group. He got angry and started shouting, asking me questions that I could not answer. As he was shouting, I thought people would come to my rescue but nobody did. He asked me if I meant that they were children of the Devil. I kept quiet and he asked if he was not worthy to ask me questions. He became angrier when I asked him to allow me to go. At that point, he said ‘get what you want’ and he shot me in the leg. I fell down and he told me that it was just the beginning and, for refusing to join them, they had declared me an enemy of their group. They left me in a pool of my own blood. It was when they had gone that people came to my rescue.”
Why they do it
A professor of counseling at the University of Lagos, Akoka, and former commissioner of education in Edo State, Prof. Ngozi Osarenren, blamed it on parents. He said children were just emulating their fathers: “In a situation where most men are engaged in cult activities because they want power and wealth, what do you expect from their children who watch them? The most painful aspect is that some parents engage in this illicit activity in their home. So, the children are only replicating what they see their parents doing.”
She stressed that, until parents begin to show good behavioural examples to their children, cultism and cult-related activities in Nigerian society and schools would not abate.
What could be the attraction for children in primary and secondary school? A social psychologist at the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, Mr. Monday Ojo, said a lot of factors are responsible. He identified lack of parental care as the first factor. He attributed this to the growing poverty level in the land.
He said: “Some parents cannot afford to train their children in a proper way. The poverty level is getting out of hand and as a result many parents can no longer take proper care of their children. This poverty situation is equally worsened by high unemployment rate in the country. So, when the children are not properly catered for by their parents, they tend to seek solace elsewhere.”
Listing the second factor as peer group pressure, he said: “For instance, when a child associates with another child who is a cult member, the tendency is that he will be influenced into the group. Some use it to have a sense of belonging, thinking that they have ‘arrived’ once they belong to such groups.”
He equally noted that the quest for power is a contributory factor: “Members of any cult group like to intimidate others and they see these cults as a means of acquiring such powers to intimidate. Another factor is the influence of social media. The children would want to practise what they watch on television or what they see in other social media outlets. You can see the high rate of rape going on now in our society; it is a result of cultism. Abuse of drugs is another factor. If a student is on drugs, you can imagine what happens; there will be increase in violence and that is what we face today in our society.”
Ojo stressed that the first step to take in curtailing the trend is to go back to the past when the extended family system was the norm.
“In the past, we appreciated extended families but today that is no longer in existence; what we have today is nuclear family, where every family unit keeps to itself. There is nothing like extended families anymore. We need to have these communal ties once again so that we can always give assistance to one another. We need to go back to those good old days when extended families were in vogue, such that whatever happened to one person attracted the attention and sympathy of the others. That is the first step to this menace.
“Again, those who commit crime are not punished; they are let off the hook. There is no penalty for committing crime and that encourages others to do the same thing. So, government needs to strengthen the security outfits as well as the judiciary to deliver justice appropriately.”
On the security implications of the development, a security expert and retired assistant inspector-general of police, Donald Iroham, said it shows that there is a total system breakdown.
“If Nigeria is a system, then what we have is called system collapse or near-system collapse,” he said.
He described cult membership as a gathering of people of like minds with the sole aim of dictating to and lording over others who are not members: “They want to command an air of superiority over non-members because even though the resources are surplus, they are scarce in distribution; so people want to garner advantage by joining all kinds of cults. They deceive them by telling them all kinds of stories. There are highly placed people in society who are members of cults and new members would be told that once they join, things will be easier for them. So, they want to lord it over their colleagues and their contemporaries. So, the circle goes on.
“Parents are not with them in school when they misbehave but good upbringing equally helps because the Bible says that when you teach a child the way of the Lord, when he grows up, he will not depart from it. So, good parenting is very important because if you train a child very well from home, if he sees what is evil out there, he will think twice. And if by error of omission or commission, he decides to join them, sometimes his conscience will prick him and he would want to backpedal and go back to face reality.
“It affects everybody in society. They kill their fellow students and create fear in schools. They terrorise lecturers and ask for question papers before exam and so when you groom such students, they come out half-baked. Remember the story of a serving corps member who could not speak English; such are the kind of graduates you will expect. So, it is affecting the education standard in Nigeria and that is why most countries don’t accept Nigerian graduates.”
A sociologist and lecturer at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ), Lagos, Isaac Otumala, described it as a serious problem that calls for concern. He said the present Internet age was a major contributory factor.
“Actually, we are in a jet age, where children learn things rapidly. You should also not forget that as they are learning good things, they are at the same time learning bad things. The good things as well as the bad things go hand in hand; the good boy and the bad boy are in the same class. While the good boy is learning how to take charge of his environment, the bad boy is learning how to take charge of the underworld. The campaign has left the university and pupils in primary and secondary schools are now being initiated because they are easy to deceive.
“There are different forms through which these children are initiated; they could use sweets, chewing gum or any of the things that the children like to get them initiated.
“Don’t forget the influence of peer group. When one is initiated, he influences the next person and the cycle goes on and on; that is why it is spreading. When it is discovered in one school that a particular student is into cult, either the principal or the proprietor may expel the student. And when that happens, the student goes to another school with the cult skills he had acquired. If he is discovered in his new school and is again expelled, he goes to another school and that is how he keeps on spreading it,” he said.
On what the society should do in this circumstance, he stated that: “First of all, society has to continuously sanitise and educate the children. Let them know the consequences of receiving unsolicited gifts from other people. Let them know when they are being invited to a place that is not approved by the school authority. They should be educated to know who their friends are. They should sanitise the children to be able to avoid associating with anybody whose character is not good.
“Security experts, criminologists, psychologists or sociologists should be deployed to schools to educate the children on how to be security-conscious and how to avoid being initiated because if they are left for parents alone, it won’t augur well and you know that the society is the final bus stop, where the consequences of such bad behaviours are felt.”