Nigeria: Mass-based student unionism could counterweight cultism

In Tearing Ourselves Apart on July 7, 2009 at 6:09 pm

by Kola Ibrahim and Ayo Ademiluyi,  Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Nigeria.

After the mass movement against cultism in the wake of the 10 July 1999 cult killing of five students of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, one would have thought that the menace is gone for good on our campuses, but the story is completely different today.

Over twenty persons including students were recently killed by cult groups in a suburb town of Benin, Edo State. This is aside from various criminal activities such as broad daylight robbery, intimidation of fellow students and the community, rape, etc which are going on in various campuses and affiliated communities.

At the University of Ibadan, the Polytechnic Ibadan, the University of Benin and Ambrose Alli University, students witness these horrible situations daily. Even in private universities, cultism is fast rearing its ugly head in a wild form that will be worse when they got to outside society, as these are children of the wealthy few in the society. One general trend in most of these institutions is the absence of a viable, radical, independent and issue-based students’ movement that will be at the head of students’ agitations.

Tragic-comically, it is the same tertiary institutions’ managements that proscribed (or bought over) active students’ unionism on the basis of causing ‘riots’ on campuses that are now spending millions on security votes or worse still paying cult groups not to cause clashes on campuses! However, even in Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, where there is history of radical student unionism, cultism is rearing its heads again. Just few weeks ago, cultists were heard threatening student leaders, while cases of rapes and robbery are being reported on campus. Also, internet fraudsters otherwise known as ‘yahoo-yahoo boys’ along with their ‘money-freaky’ girlfriends are becoming wilder on campus than ever.

With the bloodlust and merciless killings going on in the name of cultism, the need arises to look into the rise, background and possible overflow of cult violence in the coming period. Hiding under the guise of caring for their devotees, these campus cults have over the past two decades entrenched their diabolical tentacles across the different institutions of tertiary learning, while pre-varsity and secondary schools have become a viable breeding ground for these outlawed elements leaving in their trail the blood of their prey.

As it were, successive political administrations, while masquerading to be bent on halting this hydra-headed monster, have been found out to have been willing tools in the campus cultists’ maiming of genuine students’ rights activists, eliminating perceived political enemies and sustaining their hold on power.

Cultism has even become an alluring enterprise for many youths who are daily traumatised with the forlorn state of the economy, in which the barely-literate politicians of the ruling class heap millions into their private pockets while the average Nigerian graduate can hardly find a suitable job to eke out a living for himself. Cultism to the intellectually-blind youth is therefore an alternative as it is a fast and easy route to riches. They engage in ‘goldmine’ crimes, ranging from armed robbery, gunrunning, drug pushing and online fraud to prostitution, all of which have one form of attachment or the other to cultism.

Campus confraternities can be traced to the formation of Pyrates Confraternity at University of Ibadan (UI), then a university college under the tutelage of London University, Britain. The Pyrates Confraternity ascribed to itself the task of combating perceived colonial induced societal ills, especially with regards to cultural colonisation. This agitation against cultural colonisation is justified when one considers the fact that Nigerian students (of University College, Ibadan, and other quasi/pre-tertiary educational institutions) were forced to turn into adopted Europeans but only get second hand jobs even if they have the same qualification with a typical European.

However, the problem of the founders of Pyrates is the contradiction created by their approach. While they claim to be fighting colonisation, they adopted one of the features of western students’ lives – formation of fraternities on campuses for which many American campuses are notorious. Worse still, students were then seen as elite, as there were less than 400 undergraduates in the whole country then. Student activities were isolated from the struggle of the nation’s oppressed class workers (in Udi Coal mines, railway, etc), peasants and petty traders, who were then waging economic and political struggles against the European overlords, that later culminated in flag independence that put the Nigerian bourgeois class of different shades in power. The failure of these conscious section of privileged Nigerian students to link their agitation with that of the oppressed class isolated them from the general perspective of struggle for change. This was even expressed by their secret methods of organisation, which led to uncontrollable internal chasms and opportunism.

It was this that led to the breakaway of a group that formed Eiye Confraternity. Further breakup of the Pyrates and Eiye confraternities formed the Bucaneers with others like Klansmen Konfraternity (KK), Supreme Vikings Confraternity and Adventurers emerging under military rule. As against the noble ideals with which these confraternities claimed they started with, they have heightened tension within campuses from the 1980s to the 90s and the 2000s with fierce struggles for supremacy among the groups. Female cults like Daughter of Jezebel and Black Brassiere also emerged as responses to the all-pervasive chauvinism and male domination on campuses combined with coincidental interest of the girl friends of members of the male cult groups.

It is worth stating that one of the causes of the degeneration of these cult groups from the ideals of its founders is the mismanagement of the economy and the bankrupt political tendencies exemplified by the military rulers and their civilian collaborators.

As the economy grew worse, no thanks to the plunderers in power (and their foreign collaborators), coupled with attacks on fundamental human rights with impunity by the powers-that-be – which saw attacks on platforms of resistance against economic and political plundering (ASUU, NANS, labour movements, NBA, etc) – many youth and students used the vehicle of isolation, secrecy and egotism provided by confraternities to participate in the ‘might-is-right’ macabre dance of the ruling class.

This was ably funded by children of the rich and powerful in the society who wanted to create identity for themselves, the same way their parents create theirs through the use of armed security agents, bull-dogs and private securities. In fact, many big businesses use cult ‘guys’ to maintain and protect their obscene wealth, and settle scores with their business and political opponents. Therefore, it can be summarised that campus cultism in Nigeria is deeply rooted in our dysfunctional society where obscene inequality, degrading poverty, mismanagement, corruption and political bankruptcy, etc hold sway.

Cult groups across campuses in Nigeria have been affirmed to be deeply connected with militant groups in the Niger Delta, who use the genuine agitation of the people for selfish pecuniary interest.

At best, the activities of cult groups can only be classified as individual terrorism, as certain members of the society claiming to be seeking for solutions to societal ills exclude themselves from society instead of mobilising it to fight for social change, and continue to vent their anger on rival cult groups.

What is more is that these cult groups are averse to genuine mass-based students’ unionism that will adopt collectivism in tackling the security challenge of these campuses. This fact is strengthened with the brutal execution of Yemi Iwilade and other four students on 10 July 1999 by cult members in the wee hours of that day. Afrika, as Iwilade was commonly known, had been at the forefront of anti-cultism struggle and agitation against mismanagement of the then university authorities, whose top officials were fingered in the cult attacks. It took this act of martyrdom for the monster of cultism to be sacked from the terrain of that campus then.

To paint the sepulchre of cultism white by claiming that fraternal orders in Western societies are organisations with positive inclinations is celebrating neo-fascism. The rise of the hawkish ex-US President George Bush has been traced to such cult groups. It cannot be generalised that only presidents that had cultic youthful lives are hawkish or imperialist, although most American presidents are – including the present one. But it should be stated that using confraternities to gain privileges, even if not a violent manner as in Nigeria, is a sign of a sick nation no matter the tag of industrialised or developed given to such nation.

To forward the argument that confraternities should be legalised is giving license to vampires in human skins. Notably, the Nigerian bourgeoisie depends largely on the neo-fascist elements to vent their rage on their political opponents and dislodge genuine students’ and workers’ activists.

In fact, several government officials including governors from southern Nigeria have been fingered in criminal connivance with and use of cultic elements from campuses to sustain their economic and political interests. Also, many university managements have been reported to be using cultists to attack active union leaders, or even sponsor cultists to take over student unions. What can be deduced from this is that the Nigerian society has not changed from its terrible past of the military jackboot absolutism and political bankruptcy. This is not unexpected in a society where despite over US$280 billion that had accrued to the nation’s purse since the emergence of civilian rule in 1999, nothing tangible has come the way of the poor. Unemployment rises by leaps daily, while the already rich few, many of whom participated actively or passively in the dethroned military rule, are becoming fatter in both physical size and bank accounts. With governments’ (federal, state and local) commitment to neo-liberal policies of privatisation, commercialisation, deregulation, retrenchment, etc, which are necessary ingredients for pervasive poverty and misery of the majority, the trend of cultism is easily predictable forward.

What is needed to tame the monster of cultism across the campuses is to build a genuine mass based student movement that will be a counterweight to cultism. In this regard, the ban and proscription of student unions on many campuses is a deliberate attempt by the authorities of the tertiary institutions to give a free hand to cult groups which are controlled by them to strafe off genuine student activists. This is why campaign against attack on democratic student unionism must be championed by students across campuses.

However, the building of mass based student movement as against the current degenerate NANS, which will call for the lift of ban on proscribed unions, reinstatement of victimised activists and the democratisation of decision-making organs on campuses will thwart such neo-fascist attempts.

It will provide a platform for students to resist cult elements and fight collectively for better welfare conditions and society where secure jobs will be provided, education massively funded and democratically managed at all levels, among others.

Thus, a genuine student movement will have to join forces with the working class organisations to agitate for the formation of a genuine, mass based working people’s party that will throw overboard the present neo-colonial, neo-liberal, anti-poor capitalist system and its operators, which is in a neck-deep connivance through policies and action with cultism. Such a working class party, while it will fight for immediate social, economic and political demands, will also have to struggle to form a government committed to the public and common ownership of the nation’s resources under the democratic control of the working and poor people themselves, unlike the present rotten system where the economy is monopolised, which engenders racketeering and lays the material basis for cultism to germinate. This is the challenge before the current generation of conscious youth and students.


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