By Sunmola Olowookere
Motorists and pedestrians alike scrambled for their lives as sounds of gunshots rented the air. Motorists in fear left the confine of their cars as there was a logjam on the road and ran for their lives. Everyone ran helter-skelter in order not to become targets of flying bullets
The men of terror were at it again. Everyone took cover as members of rival cult flexing muscles shot sporadically into the air and at each other. Despite the scrambling for safety, casualties were recorded as men fell from gunshots and machete and dagger cuts.
Cult clashes in most major cities of Nigeria has become a recurrent evil To combat this, the nation in recent times has assumed a stiffer stance against cultism in our society as it developed an enabling justice system to punish offenders so that it would serve as a deterrent to others who may want to do the same.
This step became much imperative considering how the menace has escaped the campus environment and like a marauding beast is haunting the streets, destroying lives and properties.
When the likes of Professor Wole Soyinka and others inaugurated the ‘Pirate Confraternity’ in the then University of Ife, it was meant to safeguard the interest of the generality of the students against the tyrannical tendencies of the authorities of higher institutions then. Unfortunately, those who belong to such fraternity today have jettisoned that very purpose of fighting for the right of all.
The situation today has become so gangrenous that our higher institutions have become breeding grounds for murderers and other kinds of criminals who hide under the banner of one cult group or the other to perpetuate heinous crimes against fellow students who are either innocent or also belong to another cult group.
In virtually all the higher institutions and even some secondary schools in the country, we have at one time or the other recorded one cult related crisis or the other. Many promising lives have been wasted. Many have suffered psychological damages occasioned by the frequent cult clashes in our higher institutions.
In several cities of the country, even in Akure, the Ondo state capital, members of secret cult groups have unleashed mayhem on helpless members of the society especially innocent bystanders who got caught in the midst of cross fire between rival groups.
Recently in the Akure metropolis, some young men who might have had promising future were cut short in their primes in a clash between rival cult groups. These youths experienced a terrible experience as some of them were hacked to death.
In a newspaper report some weeks back, about 500 Lagos youths were reported to have renounced their membership with various secret cult groups. Those who had dangerous and offensive weapons in their possessions were also reported to have surrendered them to the police.
Following this, the Lagos state government had taken steps to rehabilitate and reintegrate them into the society.
The Lagos state commissioner of police following the exercise had commended the government’s effort while saying that it will go a long a long way towards reducing crime in the society.
The court has also launched war against cultism when a high court judge sitting in Akure, Justice W.R Olamide has sentenced two men; Elijah Moses and Tope Ajileye to seven years imprisonment each for being members of the prohibited ‘Aye’ cult group in Owo, Ondo state.
While delivering his judgment, the presiding judge had observed that the prevalence of secret cults in our society should be stamped out and anyone found to be engaged in such nefarious activity be severely dealt with according to the extant law.
The defendants were charged to court on a one count charge of being members of a secret cult. The duo had subsequently pleaded not guilty to the charges preferred against them when it was read to them.
According to Corporal Sulaimon Abdulazeez, it was his team that rearrested the first defendant in Owo who told them that he had been involved in a fight with members of Eye secret cult confraternity group and had later confessed while he was taken to the special anti-cultism squad in Akure that he was a member of Aye confraternity.
The cultist had denied any involvement with any cult group claiming that he was on his way to his church known as “Erujeje” in Owo when he was accosted by some thugs who took his phone and money and beat him up until he was rescued by policemen who arrived at the scene and arrested him while his assailants had fled.
While observing that the language and the intent of the section 1 (1) of the Anti-Cultism law of 2006 is unambiguous to the extent that it is a strict liability offence in which the court has no discretion thereafter sentenced the accused accordingly.
Similarly, the same court under the aforementioned presiding judge has also sentenced another person, Toyin Adewunmi to seven years imprisonment for also being a member of the prohibited ‘Eye’ cult group.
While pronouncing the judgment, the judge noted that it is disheartening to observe the rate at which our youths are being lured into secret cult in recent times and said that the purpose of the law under which the defendant is charged is to act as a deterrent to others.
Also, three students from Adeyemi College of Education, are currently facing rape charges related to cult initiation rites before a high court Judge sitting in Okeeda, Akure, the Ondo state capital.
These men were dragged before the high court judge, Justice O.O Akeredolu following reports of rape of some girls of their department in the same institution.
The prosecuting counsel, B. Adegoke had called to the witness stand one of the victims, who said that she was forcefully taken away by her assailants from the school premises on a motorcycle while one of them threatened her that if she raised any alarm, she would be killed.
She also testified that the guys that abducted her from the school were armed as one of them pointed a gun at her while threatening her. She told the court that the guys took her to an unknown destination, raped her and later took her back to her hostel.
She spoke of her fear as she had been earlier threatened and that she was also ashamed of exposing herself to public knowledge that she had been raped.
She said that she ran inside her hostel and called her mother to intimate her of the ordeal she passed through. The mother, reportedly came to the school the next day to pick her. She said further that they went to inform the special adviser because of their upcoming test as she was to be taking to the hospital that day.
The judge then asked the witness how she was able to identify her assailants when she went to report with the police, to which she replied that after seeing the faces of her assailant and hearing them call themselves by the name, she was able to identify them at their department’s office.
The prosecution also called another victim to the witness stand.
She told the court how she too was raped by the same group. She however admitted to have been a girlfriend to one of them, who is the 3rd accused person. She said that she met the accused on that fateful day on her way from school and had eventually followed him home.
She further testified that the second defendant, removed her clothes, while the third accused was the first to rape her and slapped her with four others coming in after him to also rape her. She said that though she cried, they were not moved by her tears
She disclosed that they brought out charms and told her that she had been initiated into their cult which she identified as “Eye”.
Like the first witness, she said that she too was threatened not to tell anyone the experience she had been through.
She said she went to a chemist to complain and the chemist gave her some drugs which she took. She confessed to have been living in fear since the incident occurred until she heard of the same kind of assault on some people . She also confessed to have seen one f them in the midst of the defendants on the day she was raped.
She told the court that she was eventually arrested by the school authorities for not reporting the incident that happened to her. The rape was said to have been part of initiation process into cult groups.
Speaking on the issue of cultism among Nigerian students in a recent newspaper publication, President of National Association of Nigeria Students, NANS, Comrade Taiwo Bamigbade EGALITARIAN, listed the following as reasons why, cultism in schools and society thrive.
According to him, students join cult group for so many reasons which include but not limited to: Peer group influence, poor parental upbringing; course curriculum in school which makes students less busy in school; oppression from lecturers and poor security system in and outside the campuses and poor institution management.
Bamigbade added that cults and cult related activities are spreading like wild fire across Nigerian campuses and urgent steps need to be taken to stop this ugly trend.
His words, “Curbing cultism on campuses requires a collective approach which ranges from parental efforts, higher institutions inputs and government. Parent should bring their children up in God-fearing ways. Also, management of institutions across Nigeria should enact strict punitive measures to discourage students from joining cult or other anti-social groups”.
Parents should enforce discipline on their children. They need to adopt good parenting styles, have time for their children, visit them at schools and monitor their children. Also, parents should live exemplary lives and desists from secret organizations. School authorities should have high discipline and ensure total eradication of all form of social vices.
Schools, religious houses, parents, students, government, non-governmental organization and the society as a whole should wage war against cultism through seminars, workshops, campaigns and talks. The dangers associated with it should be preached to the students and society at large.