Cultism is a massive issue in Nigeria. What will it take for it to be addressed?

March 17, 2016


Cult members beheaded two undergraduates of Abia State University, Uturu, on Saturday the 12th of March 2016. Ebuka Nwaigbo and Samuel Ethelbert were both 300 level students of the university before their lives came to an untimely end.

According to reports and eye witness accounts, both boys were members of a known ‘Mafia cult’ which had a rivalry with another cult on campus, the ‘Burkinafaso’ for years. Last month, according to The Punch, a member of Burkinafaso was killed by the Mafia, and as such, other members of the cult decided to avenge the death of their colleague by killing Nwaigbo and Ethelbert, after which, their heads were mounted as goal posts.

The Abia State Police Command has commenced investigations into the murder and the State Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, condemned the act, stating that “cultism is an illegal practice which was outlawed in the country” and warned all groups of that nature to “stay clear of the schools in Abia as their activities now constitute a drawback to the gains humanity has made over the years in the march of civilization.” However, is it enough to just talk about it?

Although cultism is rumoured to have started in the 60’s, it allegedly became more deadly in the 80’s and finally came to a head in the 90’s (during the military regime). Vikings, Bucaneers, Black Axe, Eiye Confraternity, Krux Krux Klan, Trojan, Daughters of Jezebel are examples of cults are widely known in Nigeria. Not many who schooled in Obafemi Awolowo University will forget the June 10, 1999 massacre where the Secretary General of the Student Union Government, George Iwilade (Afrika), was hacked to death. The attack reportedly carried out by members of the Black Axe confraternity, however yielded a somewhat positive result. The Minister for Education at the time, Tunde Adeniran gave universities an ultimatum. He directed that, by September 1999, confraternities should be eradicated from all Nigerian Universities. During this period, hundreds of cult members allegedly renounced their membership. From that point on, there seemed to be a break in cult activities and the carnage that came with it. However, many still questioned whether the government should play a role in tackling the issue.

George Iwilade was murdered by members of the Black Axe Confraternity

Eghosa Imasuen, author of Fine Boys, (a novel set in Nigeria which explores cultism and the political atmosphere in the 90’s) in an interview, inferred that there is a relationship between poor leadership and the spread of cultism in the country. “I blame them [the military, for being the leadership of the time], for not understanding the problem, for not taking drastic actions. I blame the sort of society that called gangs cults and still does so, ascribing a nonsense metaphysics to the inane mutterings of idle teenagers. I blame the kind of society that eschews personal responsibility, instead punishing a group. There are many factors that lead to the tragedy of the university confraternities becoming violent gangs. The military regimes were the most tangential of them all,” Eghosa said.


The military regime is long gone, the democratic era is here, but the problems persist. It is not unusual to see signposts warning students against cultism mounted in strategic positions around university campuses. Also, dire penalties, including the possibility of expulsion, are issued in order to deter students from engaging in cult activities, but with the recent rise in cult ‘wars’ and killings, one would agree that there must be some sort of lure, bait or a reward that is greater than the intended punishments (if they are caught).

A sign post at the University of Ibadan that opposes cultism

The same way every university conducts an orientation exercise for ‘freshers,’ so do cultists. They snoop around in order to recruit new members. Parties, Greek gifts, unsolicited friendships/brotherhood and outright kidnappings are some of the ways cultists recruit new members. New members are promised protection, fame, power, riches and connections (favours) even beyond the university campus as they have an existing network of successful ex-members.

Perhaps, it is the revolting and horrendous initiation process they go through that makes them hardened enough to devalue human life. Nimi Briggs, the former Vice Chancellor of the University of Port Harcourt, described the horrid initiation ceremony for the would-be cultistsl, “these actions are carried out usually in the darkest hour of the night, and with an incredible element of surprise. The venues for these gory events are also as unconventional as the practices – in bushes, behind laboratories, and even in cemeteries! So consuming is the horror and fright that is imposed by the entire monstrous exercise that the eaglet cultist becomes condemned to an existence of servitude and utter secrecy, ensnared in a life of crime. With time, he too matures to initiate others and inflicts on them, the same savage and devastating trauma, thus propagating the vicious circle of satanic brutality and sworn concealment.”

What can the Nigerian government do to eradicate cultism?

On July 11, 2013, there was chaos in the Rivers State House of Assembly, while some of the lawmakers were engaged in a physical combat, one of them was shouting for “arrow mates” a term reportedly used by the Supreme Viking confraternity. That generated a lot of criticism from Nigerians who questioned how cultists found their way into power.

Maybe, like Imasuen said, it is a question of leadership. In 1999, when Tunde Adeniran, the former Minister of Education, launched an investigation and called on all university administrators to uproot confraternities on their campuses, the country witnessed relative calm. This suggests that possibly, if  the Nigerian government employs stricter measures to weed cultism out of its institutions, they will stay gone.

It is of utmost importance that the federal government take the battle against cultism more seriously, else the menace will never end and many more lives will be lost.

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