We have heard a lot of talks around the activities of kid bandits and the menace of the Almajiris in the northern part of Nigeria but we seem to be paying little attention to the monster of child cultism that is fast growing in Nigeria’s primary and secondary schools. Yet, at the rate this malaise is going, especially in the southern part of the country, we don’t need a soothsayer to tell us that it’s a time bomb. If we love ourselves, this is the time to start doing something about this problem. Everybody should also be involved – parents, guardians, religious organisations, government, policy makers – everybody! Right now, before our own eyes, schools that are supposed to be havens of peace and tranquillity for children are turning into a nightmare, becoming launching pad for cultism. Violence is becoming a norm. Now is the time to pause, think and act. We should no longer allow this to fester.
If reports in public space are anything to go by, recruitment into child cultism among Nigerian pupils is growing at an alarming rate. Unfortunately, the society has remained passive amidst this ugly trend. We can’t afford to wait until this issue gets out of hand before scampering for solutions. The body language of managers of our educational sector on this matter is also not too encouraging. Perhaps they are too afraid to add this to the gamut of the challenges in the sector, hence their collective silence and decision not to put it on the front burner. But truth be told, Nigerian children are joining cults everyday; the earlier we tackle this problem, the better it would be for everyone.
This is a country with over 10million kids of school age still out of school although our education minister said the figure has now dropped to 6.9 million. How Nigeria was able to achieve this feat at a time when global statistics are projecting an increase in the figure due to disruptions to schooling occasioned by COVID-19, should be of interest to any researcher. In the meantime, Nigeria should not wait until innocent children begin to willingly abandon school for fear of either being attacked or recruited into cults; thus adding to the huge number of out of school children in the country. We shouldn’t allow a situation that will prevent parents from sending their children to school out of fear; or teachers totally abandoning the classroom to keep safe. We are already running out of time, hence the need for government to move fast before this bomb explodes.
Facts and figures have shown a progressive rise in cases of cultism among schoolchildren in Nigeria in the last seven years. Let me cite a few examples here. In 2013, 18 schoolchildren were arrested for being cult members in Abeokuta, Ogun State. Later that year, another set of 11 students were arrested. In 2014, the Ondo State Police Command arrested four secondary school pupils for cultism. Similarly, the police in Delta State arrested 28 primary and secondary pupils aged between 13 and 16 in 2016 for cultism. In May 2017, seven secondary school pupils from four public schools in Lagos were arrested and arraigned before an Ebute Meta magistrate court, Lagos. In September of the same year, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), Ikeja, arraigned 12 pupils of another public Junior Secondary School, in Lagos before an Ikeja chief magistrate court, for belonging to a cult. That same month, 17 pupils were arrested by the police and Lagos Neighbourhood Safety Corps (LNSC) for cult-related activities. The same year, the ministry of education in Bayelsa State expelled seven pupils found to be cult members from a community school in the state.
Fast forward to 2018, the evil has festered so much in Lagos that the police authorities were asking the state government to declare a state of emergency on cultism in its primary and secondary schools. By May 2019, 12 elementary and secondary school pupils of another public school in Lagos were caught being initiated into the AWAWA confraternity group. They were between eight and 16 years.
Not surprisingly, the reasons these kid cultists give for joining the groups are terrible indictment on our society. Many of them claim to be in cults to protect themselves and their families. In other words, children are telling government that it can’t be trusted to protect them! In a recent report by franktalknow, a kid cult member revealed that he joined the group when he was in primary three. Others that spoke with the online newspaper said they were in JSS 1 and JSS 2. While one of them has since regretted his action, others are not yet remorseful. One of them bluntly declared that school was a scam. He said: “I have no regrets whatsoever. If I tell you I regret my action, it’s a lie….As far as I’m concerned, school is a scam. We are feared even in our environment, is that not enough pride on our part?”
Apparently, some of these kid cultists think it’s a good thing to be able to do things that can make others fear them. Can we blame them? They have seen too much violence and bloodshed in the larger society. Growing up, I could count the number of dead bodies I saw. Such sights weren’t common. That is no longer the case. Gory pictures abound everywhere no thanks to the social media. It is either someone is beheaded or cut into pieces. Besides, our elections are often enmeshed in violence. We hold elections as if we are fighting war. Often, electoral results don’t reflect voting patterns. In fact, it’s like the more violent a candidate, the better the chances of victory.
These children have seen how people in power reward militancy, negotiate with terrorists and offer amnesty to bandits and all sorts of criminal elements. So, why won’t they want to do things that will make others fear them? They have seen their parents and the older generation applaud the very people that the society ought to abhor. Former robbers of our common heritage are honoured and feared because they have more than enough money to throw around. Some of them have seen how older people have become victims of a system they worked hard for with no commensurate benefits.
For all we care, some of these kids’ action might just be a rebellion or a way of venting their anger on a society that has failed to care for them. After all, Cultism and many other social vices are often related to economic distress arising from corruption-induced poverty. It is generally believed to be a symptom of something more insidious. Come to think of it. Is anyone immune from Nigeria’s current economic realities? People are under pressure. These pupils are also feeling the heat. The level of corruption, public stealing and violence in the land is sickening.
This is not an attempt to justify the action of these kid cultists, but a way of acknowledging that the society has failed them. How many states still operate public libraries and how many of such libraries have books on their shelves. Activities such as literary and debates, interschool competitions, sporting activities have been abandoned long before COVID-19 in many states. Yet these are some of the constructive activities that should keep an active mind busy. How many schools have libraries and how many of those libraries have books? I know it may be tough rescuing kids that are already deeply involved in cultism, but we can at least halt the recruitment of others into these evil groups. States and local governments should be more committed to putting in place things that can truly make learning an experience.
No doubt, parents and guardians play a crucial role in moulding their children and wards to becoming responsible members of the society. However, the burden of ensuring a peaceful and organised society rests on government. That is why government should begin to see cultism as a serious security matter. Government at different levels may wish to commission a study into this problem with the aim of coming up with workable solutions. One of these solutions might be employment of more guidance and counsellors in our primary and secondary schools to reset the thinking patterns of these kids. This may cost government more money in the short term but such investment is bound to yield bigger dividends of peace and greater security for everyone in the long run.
Olabisi Deji-Folutile is the Editor-in-Chief, Franktalknow.com and member, Nigerian Guild of Editors. Email: email@example.com.