23 July 2000

Nigeria: Ige, Cults and Misconceptions


Lagos — For many years now, the civilised consciousness of humanity has been battling to stop capital punishment.

It is, therefore, disturbing to read from the newspapers the new Attorney- General of the federation, Chief Bola Ige (SAN) saying that "any student caught engaging in cult activities would be hanged for murder or be sentenced to terms of imprisonment in a court of law." Some newspapers further reported that he "advised victims of attempted rape to cut-off the private parts of their attacks"

Before the Attoney-General's outlandish recommendation, Dr. jerry Ugokwe, a member of the House of Representatives had tabled before the august House a bill seeking to proscribe so-called secret societies and cults. The bill recommended a minimum of five years imprisonment for any person found to be a 'cult' member.

Ugokwe, just as Uncle Ige is doing, did not define what he meant by 'cult' in the gazette that published the details of his bill.

Although we are now in a democracy, there is very little to positively indicate that we have progressed beyond where a General was frustrated to lament that ours is a "country where anything is possible." Before we start "hanging" or imprisoning our children in the tertiary institutions under the pretext that they are engaged in "cult-related activities," I think it is paramount that we properly define what we meant by "cult."

In the absence of any statutory definition, we will completely rely on the dictionary meaning of the word. In the Oxford Advanced Learner's dictionary, cult is defined as: (1) A system of religious worship, especially one that is expressed in rituals.(2) Great admiration, love or concern for somebody or something. (3) A popular fashion or craze.

We can infer from the above clarifications that (a): all the established religions that have a ritualistic system of worship are, ipso facto, 'cults.' The word ritual here means "the forms of conducting a devotional service especially as established by tradition or by sacerdotal prescription..." Simply put, Christianity, Islam, Traditional African religions, Hinduism, etc. are all 'cults' and their adherents 'cultist.'(b): to the extent that Chief Ige, an admirable and consummate exponent of the Awoist philosophy, cultivates "a great admiration for the person of Awolowo", he belongs to the Awo cultus and therefore a cultist. As we have the Awo cult in the South-west, there are other culti as the Ahmadu Bello cultus in the core North, the Zik cultus in the South- east, etc.

In nearly all our tertiary institutions, there are the microscopic variants of these culti. As a tradition, they are designed to inculcate in the young consciousness of their ethnic and tribal votaries the fundamental ideals of the ideological figure around whom the cultus is built. What we must note is that any time these our sons and daughters assemble to discuss ways and means of propagating the tenets of their

Respective groups, they are, technically speaking, "engaging in cult-related activities."

Pursuing the same line of logic, all teachers and students in the university communities who participate in any "ritualistic system of worship" such as is obtained in all Christian denominations and Mohammedanism are also involved in cult activities. It would be very interesting to see how the Attorney-General's advocation and the penalties suggested by my friend, Ugokwe, would apply to these organisers of campus " cult activities." If it claimed, as some are wont to do, that the above cases are not typical of cult activities, then what are they?

It does not appear that anybody knows when how we actually got to identify the delinquents who perpetrate all manners of felonious acts in our institutions as 'cultists.' And having been acquainted with the dictionary meaning of cult, one is hard put to understand the vital currents that intellectually and morally justify our appellating the groups whose misguided members habituate themselves to reproachable criminality as "campus cults."

It is generally alleged that the present student-gangsters that terrorise our universities metamorphosed from the Pyrate Confraternity, founded by the Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka in 1952 in the University College, Ibadan. But the confraternal organisation, according to Dr. I.O.A. Adelola in his thesis: Secret Cult in Nigerian Institutions, was established chiefly to "resist colonial domination, engender reforms, stimulate political awareness, encourage students harmony and evolve university culture." If this be true, whatever were the advertised primordial impetus that galvanised and propelled the founders of the Pyrate Confraternity 'club,' as Wole Soyinka calls it, are apparently non- existent in its supposed mutants.

There is an internationally accepted minimum age one attain before admission into the tertiary institutions. There is also a statutory age in this country a citizen attains at which he or she is legally held responsible for any offence he or she commits whether in the campus or in the larger society. If any person commits any unlawful act such as aforementioned and he is up to 18 years, there are enough laws under which he can and must be tried and punished. If the felon is not up to 18 years, there are juvenile courts where he ought to be referred to.

Chief Bola Ige, Dr. Jerry Ugokwe and others who share their peculiar persuasion on this matter must be seriously reminded that, as already said, we have adequate laws to address the issues thrown up by the activities of the miscreants in the campuses. The problem has always been the lack of courage to apply the laws to the letter. The Attorney-General and all the relevant authorities must, therefore, find the moral and political will to invoke and use the appropriate laws as they relate to the campus felons. It is until we are sufficiently convinced that the present laws are inadequate to check these criminals that we may be reluctantly persuaded to try the barbaric option of "cutting the penis of attempted rapists" and hanging student gangsters who are caught destroying school property.

Okokon Henry contributed this article from Port Harcourt.

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