Whenever young Nigerians get admission into tertiary institutions and are leaving their homes to commence classes, their parents and/or guardians often drum the following into their ears: “don’t join any cult” or “do not be involved in cultism.” Indeed, this has been the mantra at numerous homes for young Nigerian students for decades.
It is also reported, almost daily, in the news that some persons have been arrested for “allegedly being involved in cultism”. These stories fill up the crime section of newspapers and are broadcast during news bulletins and specialised feature programmes focusing on crime on radio and television stations.
Therefore, from the above-mentioned scenarios, cultism seems to be a negative phenomenon. But what is cultism, what causes it, and why is it prevalent in Nigerian universities? These are some of the things that will be examined in this piece.
What is cultism?
To understand what cultism is, there is the need to understand what a cult is. According to Merriam Webster Dictionary, a cult is a social group defined by its unusual religious, spiritual, or philosophical beliefs and rituals. Dictionary.com describes it as a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, or idea.
Therefore, as defined by the Free Dictionary, cultism is a religion or religious sect generally considered extremist or false, with its followers often living unconventionally under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader. It entails an obsessive, especially fadish, devotion to or veneration for a person, principle, cause, or thing.
One important feature of cultism is that its initiation and activities of its members are done secretly. The roll call of cults’ membership is also not in the public domain as its members always gather and operate under cover of darkness. The majority of the activities conducted by cult groups are illegal activities not approved by the extant laws of a country or other regulatory mechanisms.
Cultism is a practice that occurs in different places such as streets, villages, towns, and markets. However, it is most prevalent in schools across Nigeria.
History of cultism in Nigeria
The origin of cultism in Nigeria can be tracked down to 1952, when a group of seven friends formed the Seadogs Confraternity (Pyrates Confraternity) at the University College, Ibadan. These friends are Professor Wole Soyinka (who would later win the Nobel prize in Literature in 1986), Pius Oleghe, Ikpehare Aig-Imoukhuede, Olumuyiwa Awe, Ralph Opara, Nathaniel Oyelola, and Sylvanus Egbuche. This group of people was referred to as the “original seven.”
Interestingly, the reason for the formation of the Pyrates Confraternity is at variance with what cult groups stand for today. The students established the Pyrates in response to the prevailing predisposition of the notion of class privilege, elitism, and indifference to the social realities of Nigeria, especially by the students of the middle class and wealthy families that attended the ivory tower at the time. The group was formed to fight colonialism, oppression, exploitation, and social injustice in simple terms. It was a non-violent group that encouraged intellectual discussion.
Membership of the Pyrates was opened to every male student regardless of tribe or race. To rid the group of any tribal tendencies, the original seven developed the habit of allotting confraternity names – such as Capon, Blood and Long John Silver – to their members.
The Pyrates held sway for about two decades as it became popular and was established in virtually all tertiary institutions that were existent in the 1970s. However, a deviation occurred in 1972 when a group of persons in the group led by Bolaji Carew were banished for acts of misconduct. Carew and his co-travellers subsequently formed a rival group named The Buccaneers of Seadogs. This led the Pyrates to officially register under the name – the National Association of Seadogs (NAS).
This rivalry or division led to the proliferation of what is known today as secret campus cult groups across Nigerian universities. The Supreme Eiye confraternity (National Association of Air Lords), originally a cultural/friendship group, was formed in 1969 in the now-renamed University of Ibadan. It began in 1963 as “Eiye Group” with people such as Goke Adeniji, Dele Nwapkele, Bayo Adenubi, Bode Fadase, Tunde Aluko, Kayode Oke, Bode Sowunmi, and Jide Osuntokun (now a professor) among others.
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Other cult groups that emerged during the 80s and the 90s include The Neo-Black movement of Africa, a.k.a. Black Axe, which surfaced from the University of Benin; The Brotherhood of the Blood (Black Beret) was set up at the Enugu State University, the Supreme Vikings Confraternity (the Adventures of the De Norsemen Club of Nigeria) was instituted at the University of Port Harcourt in 1984 by a former member of Buccaneer’s confraternity and the Family Confraternity (the Mafia, styled after the Italian mafia group).
Also established were the War Lords (Brotherhood of the Don), the Eternal Fraternal Order of the Legion Consortium (the Klansmens Confraternity), the Victor Charlie Boys, Second Son of Satan (SSS), Night Cadet, Sonmen, Mgba Mgba Brothers, Temple of Eden, Trojan Horse, Jurists, White Bishops, Gentlemen Clubs, Fame, Executioners, Dreaded Friend of Friends, Eagle Club, Black Scorpion, Red Sea Horse and Fraternity of Friends.
All the cult groups that sprung up in the late 1970s began to fight for supremacy, thereby deviating from the original purpose of cult groups -tackling injustice and oppression through intellectual discourse and humanitarian works. Members of the various cult groups were associated with excessive drinking, smoking, brutality, killing, and rape.
They were used as proxies by the military governments against students union governments (SUG) and University staff, who were at the forefront of opposing military rule, and allegedly utilised and protected by vice-chancellors who wanted to shield their administration from students and staff deemed rebellious.
It is also instructive to state that all-female confraternities emerged in the 1990s. The female cult groups were The Daughters of Medusa, the Black Brazier (Black Bra), the Viqueens, White Angels, Dirty Virgins, Daughters of Jezebel, The Damsel, Daughters of Eve, Black Queens, the Sharons, the Amazons, and others. These female cults conducted espionage operations and ran prostitution rings for allied male confraternities.
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Causes of cultism today
Cultism is caused by a multiplicity of factors. They are:
- Urge to be relevant, gain respect, and be feared
- Lack of proper home training/broken homes
- Influence of peers/peer groups
- Frustration from personal matters and/or oppression in the school environment
- Harsh economic situation
- Low self-esteem
- Revenge purposes
- Protection against perceived enemies.
Names of cults in Nigerian tertiary institutions
As earlier mentioned, the proliferation in the 1970s has led to numerous cult groups across the federal and state polytechnics and universities across Nigeria. Although the activities of these cult groups have subsided due to efforts by the government, educational institutions, and law enforcement agencies to weed them out, they still exist and operate clandestinely.
Below are the names of some of the cult groups operating in Nigerian tertiary institutions:
Symbol/dress code: Human skull on two crossed bones | yellow, black, and red apparel.
The Buccaneers Association of Nigeria
Symbol/dress code: Yellow and white shirts, berets.
Symbol/dress code: Axe on black skull | Blue colour.
Symbol/dress code: Axes crossed behind a boat | black and red colour.
Symbol/dress code: Axe insignia | Yellow, long-sleeved white shirt, black beret.
Symbol/dress code: Purple colour.
Symbol/dress code: Black beret, black top.
Black Bra Confraternity (Female cult group)
Symbol/dress code: Black clothes, black underwear.
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Other cult groups:
- Daughters of Jezebels
- The Brotherhood of Blood
- Legion Consortium/Dedy Na Debt
- Black Cat
- Green Beret
Universities with high cultism rate in Nigeria
- Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma
- University of Benin, Benin City
- University of Port Harcourt, Port Harcourt
- Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt
- Delta State University, Abraka
- Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso.
- University of Calabar, Calabar
- Enugu State University of Science and Technology
- Federal University of Technology, Akure
- Imo State University, Owerri.
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