2 July 2002

Nigeria: Campus Cults And Curtailment

THE news out of Nsukka disturbed a lot. The ugly and destructive head of campus cults reared up at the University of Nigeria on Friday June 14, 2002. It was a great shame because until this sad development, the activities of cults had subsided at the institution for upwards of two years. The Vice Chancellor of the institution, Professor Ginigeme Mbanefoh, had managed to convince scores of the cultists that they were walking a road connected only to destruction. They renounced cultism, and rejoined the fold of the living.

Now, like a gale force wind, the evil returned. Five lay dead, two of whom were killed outside the campus, one of the victims on campus stampeded to death. There were reports in most of the newspapers. But how had the mistake come about? Most of the reporters lived within an hour to Nsukka. How did five dead manage to become 18 dead? To be sure, one death is one death too many. But when parents read of 18 dead, which was a blatant lie, it sent adrenalin boiling. How can this terrible mistake have been made?

True, most journalists are friends. They cooperate in their work like colleagues in other walks of life. If a reporter was late in court, he contacted his colleagues and they hipped him up on the proceedings, so he can file his report. If, therefore, we were talking about people who got killed by terrorists, what excuse would there be for filing and replicating a casualty figure far in excess of the truth? The avoidable distress caused by the exaggerated casualty figures must mean that there is an urgent necessity for a review of journalistic practice.

After that, there is the question of the university authority's reaction. Professor Mbanefoh was away in Abuja for a meeting of the Committee of Vice Chancellors (CVC) when the attack occurred. Upon receiving the sad news, his Abuja engagement ended, as was to be expected. He returned to his base and conferred broadly. That was why Mrs. G. I. Adichie, the Registrar, announced on June 16, that the Nsukka and Enugu campuses had been temporarily closed down on behalf o the Senate and on the strength of the recommendation of the Committee of Deans and Directors of Institute/Centre. Once the evacuation was complete and incident free, it was announced that an administrative panel of inquiry had been set up to investigate the immediate and remote causes of the disturbances.

In my view, a major task for this panel is to determine the truth or falsity of the story that the invaders had come from outside of the town of Nsukka and outside of the university to create chaos. On a larger and more permanent basis, the brazen nature of the frequent attacks of these cultists only exposes the fact that the political authority has failed to combat this criminality. When the military left with their baggage of bad and impulsive, governance, a friend rejoiced in one respect. He said that campus cultism had blossomed under military totalitarianism. He was sure that with the inception of civil rule, properly trained secret agents would be introduced into university communities nationwide to smoke out and strangulate the hydra-headed monster of cultism.

Well, nothing of the sort has happened. Instead, there was the news that Abuja had warned that responsibility for campus cults lay with each university authority. I am not surprised. It recalls the warning given by General Sani Abacha to Governor Michael Otedola of Lagos, to halt the riots that attended the nullification of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Of course, the septuagenarian Otedola didn't create the mess and could not contain it, whereupon Abacha deployed his troops to mow down innocent and sorely wronged citizens. If there is the desire to check cult excess, it is roundly and squarely a responsibility of government, but not an absentee government.

If one, therefore, suggests ways to fight this veritable evil, it is not addressed to those who are permanently airborne. When Nigeria gets a government that befits it, such a government will look into all aspects of the cult ulcer and extirpate it. For, if truth must be told, the problem is serious. Why is it that lecturers write every day in the newspapers but hardly discuss campus cults? The answer is simple. Any lecturer bold enough to embark on such a mission could end up incinerated in his residential quarters.

From available evidence a lot of these cultists are well known by the students. But they dare not blow the whistle. If you reported to a lecturer, do you know whether he or she is a cultist? If you told your fellow student, do you know if he or she is the boss of all bosses? Check all the cases on cultism that ever went to court. How many were concluded? Who ever got convicted?

From all indications, most of these cultists are the children of the rich. If a man owned five houses and his ward got entangled in the cult evil, he sold a house or two and bailed them out while life continued. If they got expelled from one university, they switched to another during the same session, from where they raided their former institutions in their so-called cult wars. There was this story of a bishop's son who shot a colonel's son to death in a cult war. The bishop had the power of the pulpit and he had the power of the tithe. So he arranged and had his son sent to the United States to continue his studies. No one protested, the colonel being long dead.

In a nutshell, the cult problem continues to fester because it has not been combated. How many of the cultists sent to America or Britain to escape justice here have been invading campuses over there shooting people? If a judicial panel reviewed all cult cases that got to court over the past five years, an idea of how to move forward would be hit. If a central, computerized register is set up, making it mandatory to screen students swapping schools or going abroad, the heat will be on because once indicted or convicted it is goodbye to university education in this country or outside it.

But we cannot be addressing folks in Canada and Ireland. All we can do for now is to wait and pray - until people willing to give the nation a hand are about.

Chioma Ajunwa deserves a wildcard

Chioma Ajunwa reminds me of patriotism and courage in the face of adversity. She is the epitome of determination. She got this country its first Olympic gold, the rejected stone that turned out to be the head corner stone. In 1992, Chioma was disqualified from participating in the Barcelona Olympics. They claimed she had failed a drug test. No one spoke up for her, even though she hadn't been guilty as charged. I know the extent to which England went to clear Diane Modhal, their middle distant runner, equally found "guilty" by the drug testers.

Mistakes are often made in these things. Chioma competed in Portugal a week before the Lagos trials and was comprehensively tested there without testing positive for drug use. Her sample was taken in Lagos and flown to Europe, and our athletics officials accepted her unjust damnation with glee. They thought she was broken and forgotten. But one man called Segun Odegbami, the former footballer, picked her up and nurtured her back to greatness.

Chioma was at the recent Mobil meet in Lagos. Her foreign doctor confirmed her tissue injury. Doctors of the AAA corroborated the evidence. Chioma wants to participate in the Manchester Commonwealth Games. She believes her injury will heal well before the games begin on July 25. She has asked for a wildcard to attend the games and represent her country. Some experts I have spoken to say she deserves the chance, especially as no laws or rules would be broken. The Athletics Federation should include her in the Nigerian contingent, especially as they stand to lose nothing and she stands to bring further glory to the country. America is the leading athletics nation in the world. They often release convicted prisoners to represent the country and return to jail thereafter. In Chioma's case, she is guilty of nothing other than the desire to continue to represent her country. Please give her the chance.

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