Almost every part of the country is plagued by this societal misnomer called cultism. Many communities in all the country’s geo-political zones have been ravaged by the activities of cultists. A lot of private and public properties have been destroyed. Several families have been devastated by the loss of one or two loved ones following clashes among rival cult gangs. Apart from the moral implications, the drawback to national development is dangerously intrusive. This explains why the campaign against cultism has received the total backing of major stakeholders and concerned citizens in Nigeria’s economic capital city, Lagos.
This has seen a lengthy jail term for perpetrators and their sponsors approved by the Lagos State Government. Perpetrators would include the main culprits, while their sponsors would include and not limited to those who facilitate their activities such as allowing their property be used as a meeting point for illicit cult groups. For the main culprits, the punitive measure comes in form of a 21-year jail term. Their sponsors are equally served a 15-year jail term.
Recall that the State House of Assembly last month passed the anti-cultism bill prescribing a jail term of fifteen years for those found guilty of aiding and abetting cultists. This is alongside residents who willfully allow their property to be used by cultists as “gyration” points.
The Governor of Lagos State, Sanwo-Olu, approved the jail term as he appended his signature on the bill for the Prohibition of Unlawful Societies and Cultism 2021 at Lagos House, Ikeja.
The new anti-cultism law repeals the previous Law of 2007 and made room for more stringent punitive measures. The application is inclusive and applicable to the general public. This is quite different from what was obtainable in the previous law that was restricted to students of tertiary institutions.
Sanwo-Olu declared that Lagos State, for so long, has borne the brunt of the activities of unlawful societies and cult gangs. He noted that the new law seeks to instill didactic discipline in parents, in the upbringing of their children and wards. This is to ensure that their creativity and productivity as youth are used for good purposes and for the betterment of society.
While some have praised the initiative as a step in the right direction, others have cited the ineffectiveness of previous anti-cultist campaigns. They argue that the rise of cultism in Nigeria is deep-rooted in our political system. A good number of Nigerian politicians are the sponsors of cult groups and unlawful societies.
Cultism in Nigeria cannot be separated from politics. As one human rights advocate noted recently, “The cults are part and parcel of our politics. They have become part of the system, and we are paying in blood for it.”
These gangs are incited by politicians to intimidate voters with violence. In the 2007 presidential elections for instance, at least 300 people were said to have been killed following the uncharitable role of cult gangs in the elections. The cult gangs obviously have the backing of various top politicians who use them to drive election campaigns. So when these cultists are apprehended, they are just one call away from their godfather who will promptly effect their release.
Ever since the return to democracy in 1999, cultists have formed the private militias of several Nigerian politicians. And they come in handy to intimidate political opponents and rig the election. It is even more dominant in Southern Nigerian politics where many thugs are now been elevated to top government positions. They dine and wine with government officials. Some of them are in fact revered in the public eye. Asides the fact that it is sad reminder of where we are as a country, it further reveals the atrophy of our value and leadership system.
In the same vein, the activities of cult groups sponsored by politicians are one of the reasons for election apathy in Nigeria. People are always afraid to go and vote for fear that it might turn violent which usually follow with mass destruction and loss of lives. Although it isn’t as deadly as before, the situation hasn’t significantly improved.
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In May 2020, 35 persons were declared wanted in relation to their role in cult killings in Calabar that claimed the lives of four persons including that of former Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Odukpani Local Government Area, and an aide to Governor Ben Ayade, Mr. Ekpenyong Akom. They were said to have been sponsored by politicians.
Now, the bad blood is returning to our schools where cultism is said to have emanated. Only recently, an unidentified student of Rufus Giwa Polytechnic, Owo in Ondo, was killed during the school’s student union election.
Moreover, these cult groups primarily consist of unemployed young men who are mobilized to attack their sponsors’ rivals, intimidate members of the public, rig elections and protect their patrons from similar attacks. The pervasive unemployment rate in the country is one of the many reasons why these cultists remain ready tools in the hands of politicians.
These cultists are often paid very little, and are dangerously armed for the sole purpose of carrying out violent abuses on behalf of their political sponsors. In order to get added incentives, they go beyond boundaries to inflict harm just to leave a lasting impression in the minds of their sadistic sponsors.
It is quite soothing that the new law prescribes fifteen-year jail term for sponsors of cult groups. But how many of these politicians sponsoring cult groups can the law actually apprehend? Isn’t this rather an ignominious caricature to see that those who are sponsors of cultists may be among the same people making the law? Not only is it a theater-of-the-absurd, it is also maniacally bewildering to say the very least.
It is expedient to sound the alarm that Nigerian cult gangs are protected by high-level government members. So what does the anti-cultism law intend to serve? The law itself is subject to fraud and backhand politics as innocent people can be roped into the crime.
Laws are crucial and the new law on anti-cultism is no different. But the campaign against cultism will yield little or no result if a good number of their sponsors and godfathers are still in the backyard of government. Besides, other issues such as unemployment should equally be tackled if young people must be kept from becoming willing tools in the hands of desperate politicians as the 2023 general election beckons.