The infiltration of cults into lower educational sub-sector, experts say, is assuming a worry some dimension.
They noted that cults in secondary schools and even primary schools were gradually becoming the norm rather than the exception.
They said in situations where children under the age of 15 formed groups, recruited other pupils in order to carry out acts of unimaginable violence, all stakeholders must raise the alarm and bring the matter under control.
From March 2018 till date, there had been some cases of cult-related death of pupils in secondary schools published in the media. There had also been published rival cult clashes in secondary schools in Lagos, Delta and Edo states, as well as Abuja, that left scores of pupils injured.
Cult and cult-related activities used to be prevalent in tertiary institutions. However, they have slipped into primary and secondary schools so much so that a former Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Edgal Imohimi, while receiving 139 persons who denounced their involvement in cultism in the Badagry area of the state earlier this year, called on Governor Akinwunmi Ambode to declare a state of emergency on cultism.
He also urged the House of Assembly to give a stiff punishment for cultists because “the practice of initiating our children in primary schools is worrisome.”
In a chat with our correspondent, some experts said cults got into schools after some pupils were forcibly recruited outside the school system, adding that such pupils brought in more pupils to cults from the schools.
The experts also agreed that something urgent must be done to rid primary and secondary schools of cults and other violent gangs.
The Lagos State Intervention Lead of the Nigeria Policing Programme, Mr Tosin Osasona, said, “The problem is that cults used to be a proclivity of the universities, and because of the intellectual capacity of people in the cults, they were able to maintain structure and order. However, when it went to the streets; when artisans started joining, it was no longer as structured as in the universities.
“That was when it started getting into secondary schools and now primary schools. From engagement with teachers, we understand that primary school pupils have been identified to be part of cults through incision marks, some have tattoos, some are armourers and couriers. Because they are young, they are hardly suspected. They even go as far as using drugs.”
Osasona, who noted that there was difference between cults and violent gangs, added, “Sometimes, however, what people call cults are actually violent gangs. In Lagos, there are three classes of cultism; the traditional religious side of cultism or cultural gangs, like Badoo which is a cult for ritual purposes; there are also gang-cults, these are in the class of gangs in South America – the Awawa Boys, the One Million Boys, they cannot really be called cults because they have no defined ideology, structure or system of control.
They are not as structured as the Vikings or Eiye confrtenities that have clear hierarchy and order. Some cults are just street gangs that are joined by a common goal of violence or theft.”
To keep schools safe from cultism, he recommended equipping schools to address violence.
“Security goes beyond the man at the gate. There should be a security protocol in our schools; if they hear a gunshot where to run to, don’t bring a knife or any sharp object to school and don’t threaten your peers in school. If a conflict that ends up on the street starts from the school, a conflict on the street will eventually get back to the school.
“Random schoolbag search, room and wardrobe searches should be conducted by teachers and parents from time to time. Parents and teachers should also be on the lookout for subtle changes in the behaviour of children. It is important to know the friends of your children,” Osasona said.
According to a staff member of Government Secondary School, Nyanya, Abuja, Mrs Aishatu Kande, pupils join cults because of peer pressure, as well as the urge to seek protection and revenge.
The career guidance and counsellor who spoke with blueprint.ng said, “They join cult mostly to terrorise innocent people or to be able to deal with whoever offended them. They fight with cutlasses and metal objects, inflicting injuries on one another. Some join cults because they wanted protection in the school or the environment they find themselves in; they just needed what they call ‘back up’.”
A reformed cultist, Iyke Chukwuma, now the founder of Better Me Reform Initiative, suggested that exposing the ills of cultism, carrying out campaigns against cultism to reduce the ability of cults to recruit, as well as rehabilitating pupils who were cultists, were some of the ways to rid schools of cultism.
He said studies and experience had proven that cultism was sustained by numbers, hence the need to recruit.
“Regardless of what the ideologies of various cults are, their orientation forbids peaceful coexistence; this explains why a mere ‘look’ can trigger a problem that will degenerate into a full-blown cult war. For a cultist, peace is often misconstrued to be cowardice.
“Ordinarily, a cultist is bound by various oaths to the group. Because of these oaths, a cult can easily turn into an association of criminals. Criminality brings its proceeds, cultists even enjoy patronage from politicians.
“The leadership of cults are designed in such a way that it is a life-threatening risk to demand accountability for various levies and dues paid by members, as well as proceeds from various illicit deals. Money is a strong factor, women are another factor,” Chukwuma said.
Following a research by his organisation, Chukwuma confirmed that 90 per cent of the cultists who responded to his research questions said they were completely oblivious of the ideologies and orientations of the various groups they signed up with.
He said, “According to them, they were blindfolded and led into an association they knew absolution nothing about. In the course of time, that decision became a regrettable one. They affirmed that with their knowledge of cultism which they got through experience, they will not dare to sign up if they were presented with the opportunity again. We assert by this finding that awareness and education are key.
“The recruitment drive of cults are designed to target the naïve, ignorant and highly impressionable persons who would not know what they are signing up for beyond what they are told. By the time they eventually find out, they are already neck deep in the system.”
Chukwuma recommended that awareness campaigns were necessary to break the supply chain of cult groups.
“The proposed recruits would have been armed with credible information about cultism that the recruitment drives would be ineffective and the numbers drastically reduced. With reduced numbers, violence will reduce. With a repeat of this cycle, the menace will die a gradual natural death.
“There has to be vigorous intervention and campaigns with parents. This is aimed at making them aware of the red flags indicating that a child has begun making contact with cultists. The signs are there but until you know them, you will not recognise them if you see them.”