“Daddy, I am sorry, I did not know that they are bad people. I will not go there again I promise you.” Those were the words of eight-year-old boy identified as Obinna who was recently arrested by the police over alleged cult-related activities.
He was amongst the children of Community Primary School, Egan, in Alimosho area of Lagos State who were allegedly initiated into Awawa confraternity group by a syndicate recently busted by the Lagos State police command. His father was immediately summoned by the police to come and identify his son.
According to police investigation, members of the syndicate that specialize in initiating primary and secondary school students into Awawa have, so far, succeeded in initiating 12 children, age, 8-16, of the school located in a densely populated area.
Their secret was unearthed recently when the school guidance and counseling teacher, out of curiosity demanded to know how one of her students, Rasheedat Salami, sustained a mark on her jaw. The encounter took place after school.
She let the cat out of the bag when she disclosed that it was an incision made on her on the day of initiation. She was said to have lured others in primary 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 into being initiated into the cult.
But surprisingly, at the gender unit of the state police command where the matter is being investigated, Salami, aged 12, changed her confession and insisted that she gave herself the mark with her finger nails but could not explain how the other children got similar marks at the same facial spot.
“I have a long finger nail and I used it to give myself this mark,” she claimed. “I was surprised that these children also have such mark.” One of the boys, Segun, aged 8, however contradicted her when he explained that it was one “Uncle” who put the mark on his jaw insisting that Rasheedat was present that day. He explained what happened: “I discovered that my classmate, Seyi, had the mark and I asked him where he got it and he said it was one Uncle that put it on him. He told me that I would have plenty money to buy food if I follow him to the Uncle’s place.
“After school, I and these two (pointing at two other boys of the same age) followed him to one house that is on our way home. The Uncle bought food for us and asked us to come back tomorrow after school. He promised to buy more food for us if we come the following day.
“The next day, Seyi took four of us to his house again. After eating, he told us that we are going to be his boys and he would take good care of us. He said that we would need (an identification) mark so that it would be easy to recognize us in public. He used a sharp object to give us that mark and applied one cream on it to reduce the bleeding.
“He assured us that no one would touch us if they see the mark on our face. He also assured that he would be buying food and giving us money. I used to see Rasheedat at Uncle’s house any day we visit and she was there the day they gave us the mark.”
The second boy who spoke with Saturday Sun was not too happy with Segun’s revelation and warned him to keep his mouth shut. “You will soon enter into trouble,” he said looking at him angrily. “Remember, they told us to stop talking whenever police arrest us. Stop talking so that Uncle can come and rescue us.” Turning to our reporter, he said: “Madam, I don’t know anything. In fact we don’t know anything” Obinna, his eight-year-old suspected accomplice whose father was seen at the police station kept saying, “I did not steal your money, it’s that Uncle that gave me all these gifts.”
Parents tell their own stories
Speaking with Saturday Sun, Obinna’s father confessed that he never knew that the mark on his son’s jaw was from a cult till he was invited by the police to come and bail his son. “I sent him to public school when I could no longer afford to send my children to private school,” he said. “I lost my job and the little money that my wife is making is not enough. I am currently a commercial motorcycle rider and there is no way that I can afford exorbitant school fees by private schools.
“I was shocked when I was riding past their school and the security man in the school told me that police arrested my son. It was when I got to the Gender unit at Ikeja that I observed that all the children have a mark on their jaw. It was here at the police station that my son told me everything. I never, at any point, assumed that the mark was given to him by cultists. He likes to play a lot and he is very rough. We assumed that any mark on his body was sustained while playing. He never told me or his mother anything about any cult. He did not even confide in his elder brother who is his best friend. I am happy that they were found out on time.”
A parent who sells fresh fish in the market close to the school pleaded with the police to organize raids and mop up most of the youths in the area. “I was here when police came to the school and packed those children,” she said. “I thank God that my children were not among them but that does not mean that they are safe. Almost every boy in government secondary schools in our area belongs to one cult group or the other.
“The only good thing is that Awawa boys do not carry weapon. They are mainly young boys and girls who are thieves. They are protected by bigger cultists. During this election period, they operate in the open and no one will arrest them. As I am in the market, I cannot be following my children everywhere. They get initiated mostly on the street by these lazy youths. They teach them to steal from us.
“Last week, we discovered that they have also initiated my neighbour’s daughter who is eleven-years-old. She could barely walk and when we checked her, it was discovered that she has bruises all over her private part. Initially, she claimed that she fell down on a stone with her buttocks. It was when we threatened to beat her up that she opened up and said that she was raped by some boys as part of her initiation. She could not identify them because she was blindfolded.
“These are the kind of stories we hear in this area; it is that bad and government should please come to our rescue. Igando was not this bad. All the people that (Governor Akinwunmi) Ambode drove away from Oshodi relocated to this area; they don’t have houses so they sleep in their buses.”
A teacher blames parents
When Saturday Sun visited the school, it was observed that movement of children in and out of the school compound was restricted during school period.
One of the teachers who was at the gate refuted claim that the children were initiated while in school. “Most of these children pick these habits from the street. It can never happen while they are in school. Check the children that were arrested, they all live in the same neighbourhood. If we are careless like people say, there is no way the guidance and counseling teacher would have noticed it despite the number of children she attends to on a daily basis.
“Parents should note that good education is not all about sending your children to school; they should also monitor them on a daily basis. We are doing our best as teachers and I can assure you that they got initiated while at home.”
Efforts to speak with the head teachers failed as they were said to be out on official engagement. At the Alimosho Local Government secretariat, this correspondent was advised to return after the election as the head of departments were busy with campaign activities. However, a lady at the education service unit said that the children had been returned to their various homes while they have assigned a special counselor to attend to them and help them follow the right path.
“We did not keep them when police handed them over to us. Their parents all came and took them home. The school has been instructed to follow up on counseling while a representative will be sent to check on them on a weekly basis. It is also the duty of their parents to monitor them regularly.”
Ex-cultist recounts initiation procedure
A former Awawa member who introduced himself as Steve told Saturday Sun during a chat that majority of its members are teenagers. “Awawa boys are so many and they are mainly very young boys. If you reside in Agege area, you will understand better. It is an open secret. Any area that is densely populated has it and I am sure that is how those little boys joined them. You discovered this because they give themselves a mark on the jaw. Go around all the community schools, they are everywhere.
“Awawa cult group like young people who they can send out to steal and if they are caught their parents will be blamed. It’s really unfortunate. I thank God that I am no longer part of them.
“I was a member while I was in secondary school, it was when my parents who realized what was happening moved me down from Ikorodu to Igando where I graduated. Unfortunately, the after-effect did not allow me to concentrate and study. This is why I am now an okada rider.”
On the procedure of initiation, Steve insisted that there is nothing fetish about it. “In Ikorodu, the only thing we did was to get kolanut, put it in a basket and everybody would swear not to reveal our activities even to their parents. We had a tattoo on our neck as a form of identity. Every area has its own mark; I guess the mark on the jaw is that of Igando. Then I was in junior secondary school, and we usually pay N200 every month. How you raise the money is not their business. We were encouraged to steal from our parents and during playtime at home, we would gather in the name of playing ball to learn the act of picking pockets.
“We also learn self-defence strategies which would be used to scare away bullies on the street. There is always street fight, if you do not belong to any group then, you will run into your house and hide your face in shame. If you dare to come out on the street, other boys will make jest of you. I assure you that we do not carry guns; this is so because we are expected to graduate and join a better cult group. There are many primary schoolchildren who are our members. As long as a child comes out to the playground after school, there is possibility that he will be initiated.”
On the outcome of their investigation, the state police command spokesman, Chike Oti, a Chief Superintendent of Police said that it was still ongoing. According to him, the two suspects that were initially arrested are positively assisting the police to pick up gang members who are currently on the run.
“The children have been handed over to Family Social Services (FSS) in Alimosho Local Government for counseling. At the end of investigation the suspects will be charged to court. Meanwhile, parents and guardians are advised to go the extra mile in monitoring the day-to-day activities of their children.”