Months after the country, in November 2020, retained its unenviable position as the third most impacted country in the world by terrorism, according to the 2020 Global Terrorism Index (GTI), Nigeria in April this year booked another infamous spot on the Chandler Good Government Index, which ranked the country as the third worst governed country in the world (with a score of 0.319 points, ahead of Zimbabwe and Venezuela).
In last week’s 2021 Global Peace Index (GPI), the country ranked 146 among 163 least peaceful independent nations/territories, moving only one step from 147, which it finished in 2020.
In Africa, the country is still ranked eighth among the least peaceful countries after South Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, Central African Republic, Sudan and Mali.
Already on tenterhooks with the asphyxiating grip of kidnappings, banditry, killings, armed robbery and sundry violent crimes, street/neighbourhood cultism, which has been silhouetting in the background has now attained a fiercer dimension subjecting city dwellers to a life of misery and uncertainty. It now adds to the litany of woes that Nigerians have to contend with.
In the recent past, the activities of gangsters, as well as fracas among neighbourhood cult groups in Lagos State have been regular, and each bout set residents of the state back by millions of naira, that is, where lives are not lost.
Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Enugu, Edo, Ebonyi, Ekiti, Rivers, Oyo, and Ogun states are some of the states that have lately witnessed bloody skirmishes, by these clandestine groups, with deaths recorded in some instances.
While the reputation of some tertiary institutions has been soiled by the menace of cultism, security experts, community leaders, psychologists, and economists say that the burgeoning activities of neighbourhood cultist in the society is as a result of the breakdown in family, and societal values.
They called on governments at all levels to swiftly move to address the numerous factors that create room for such disorders to thrive in the society, especially socio-economic challenges, the lax security system, high cost of living, unemployment, and inequality.
Last year, as part of efforts to exterminate the menace of cultism and groups promoting violent behaviours in Akwa Ibom State, Governor Udom Emmanuel signed into law, the Cultism and Other Violent Behaviour (Prohibition) Order, 2020. While endorsing the new law in an emergency Executive Council Meeting at the Exco Chambers, Government House Uyo, he also declared the proscription of 65 cult groups in the state.
IN Imo State, the upsurge in the activities of cultists and unknown gunmen has driven fears into residents, while security operatives have been stretched to their elastic limit.
Indeed, these activities are fast spreading even in the remotest of the 27 local councils of the state with Ohaji, in Ohaji/Egbema/ Oguta Local Council being the worse hit.
Because of the widespread nature of the menace, the state Police Commissioner, Abutu Yaro, last week raised, and deployed special forces to the hinterlands to tame the outlaws.
The command’s spokesperson, Bala Elkana, in a statement said that the commissioner charged them to deal ruthlessly with criminal elements disturbing the hinterlands, just as he admonished them to be stern with criminals, but polite with members of the public. They are to carry out their statutory duties in line with our extant laws and global best practices.
“The Special Forces are to provide watertight security to the various communities in the hinterlands, and round-the-clock protection to commuters plying major roads across the state.”
The police stressed that no part of Imo State will be neglected in the security plan of the command.
ACCORDING to the Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, the intensity of neighbourhood cultism across the country has exposed the nature, and impact of poor upbringing, weakened parental system, and social injustice with fast-eroding social values at all levels.
“The growing insecurity in the country has enabled and exacerbated the menace. Also, our unchecked and unregulated socialisation process, coupled with extreme poverty at family levels has paved the way for dreaded indoctrination and radicalisation of young Nigerians into cultism and their subsequent engagement in social vices.
“Apart from the increasing unemployment rate that has enhanced the nation’s level of susceptibility, worsen insecurity, enhanced kidnappings, armed robbery and ritual killings, we are not unaware that some unpatriotic and selfish politicians reportedly leverage unemployment and poverty as tools to mobilise youth for various unlawful activities, including elections riggings, political killings, and maiming that aggravate tensions and agitations at all levels,” he said.
The CISLAC boss added: “Lack of an appropriate community monitoring system, and adequate protection for whistle-blowers discourage vigilance and a sense of responsibility at community level to report, or take lawful action on suspected criminal cases, including neighbourhood cultism.
SHARING his perspective on how things have continually degenerated, the Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Taiwo Lakanu, corroborated Rafsanjani’s submission saying: “The behavioural pattern, though despicable is expected. In a situation where the society has broken down, youths are also expected to suffer the brunt.
“Have you heard of any programme designed for youths? What’s the strategic planning organised by various ministries of youths for them? How many of such plans have come to fruition? The worsening economy has rendered their parents jobless, some of these youths are providers for the parents. The provisions are done legally, or otherwise.”
FOR Ajibola Amzat, an editor and a public affairs commentator, the breakdown of the country’s education systems is partly responsible for the menace of neighbourhood cultism.
“Quality education is meant to make us a better version of ourselves. But the Nigerian society has failed to prioritise quality education. So, we need to review and invest in the education of our youths. This is a responsibility for the state and the citizens. By this, I mean governments, parents, community leaders, religious institutions, business communities, all stakeholders must make it a duty to build a strong and functional education system for the young ones.”
Amzat added: “In addition to building a strong and a functional education system, the state must implement economic strategies that will promote productivity. When youths have opportunities to engage in productive enterprises, they will have less time to dabble into anti- social activities.”
A development psychologist and child protection activist, Mrs. Patricia Abokede, reckons that since a society starts and ends with families, a breakdown in family values surely gives birth to immense societal ills, including cultism.
Abokede who is the founder, Pabokede Intiative for Child Protection and Family Education, Bodija, Ibadan said: “The breakdown in societal values is due to the breakdown in family values. The rising cost of living, economic meltdown, porous security within the society have all joined forces to foist a reign of terror on the society .
“First, the society starts and ends with families. So, there is need for us to raise our family values because parents are the midwives of the society. We need to go back to the drawing board and rewrite our ‘whys.’ We need to ask ourselves, why start a family when you are not ready to invest in it? She asked.
The university teacher who lamented that many families were putting a lot of pressure on the young ones to source for means of survival, as well as “put more values on money than relationships,” stressed that “the government needs to build more bridges and also fortify our security system.”
She added: “The government should value life above power because the essence of power is to use it to govern the people, but when the power is over used, then life has no meaning. People should also seek good governance because when we have good governance, we would have better economy and a healthier society.
WITHOUT mincing words, a Professor of Economics at the University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Musibau Babatunde, said poor economic situation remains one of the motivating factors for neighbourhood cultism
Babatunde, who is the Chief Economic Adviser to Governor Seyi Makinde added that unemployment, inequality and joblessness give birth to anti-social tendencies, including cultism.
“Even though poor economic situation is one of the factors that encourages neighbourhood cultism, it actually goes beyond that. Other factors are unemployment, joblessness and inequality. Those who are in these situations try to look for alternative ways of making ends meet. What can make them equal is to join neighbourhood cults. Hence, poor economic situation is a motivating factor that drives young people into cultism. Poor social value is one of the indicators and the diminishing communal lifestyle. Each family now lives an enclosed lifestyle.”
FOR media executive, Dipo Kehinde: “The circumstances, which drive people towards all these vices include unemployment, inadequate educational system, high rate of dropouts from schools, lack of recreational facilities for youths, lack of role models, broken homes, inadequate healthcare system, social support, and bad parenting. You can put these challenges down to the progressive socio-economic and political dystrophy, atrophy, and catastrophe that we have witnessed over the years in this country.
“The hydra-headed problems of unemployment and retrenchment, rising cost of living, depreciating real income, high cost of transportation, inadequate housing, and much more are making the Nigerian society a very difficult place to live in. Today’s youths are losing their sense of direction, they are helplessly shifting from the positive, progressive path to the negative path,” he said.
“To decisively reverse the ugly trend, we need a high level of social engineering; we must recognise and promote democratic values, which constitute the bedrock of a sound society,” said Kehinde, the publisher of Chief Detective Magazine.
Dr. Ebunlomo Walker, of the Initiative for Integrated Community in Nigeria (IICWIN), Ibadan, said exposure to drugs and the Internet are some of the key factors that are fuelling the growth of cultism in the society.
Said Walker: “There are very many cult associations in our society, but the current mostly common among the youth in the community is neighbourhood cultism. This menace is powered by drugs and the Internet. A lot of youths have unrestricted access/ exposure to drugs, which has destroyed many lives. Those responsible for banditry and kidnapping are also from this tribe.”
On the way out, she said: “Parents need to prepare their children in Godly ways. The community has a critical role to play in ensuring that drug abuse is curbed. Religious houses have vital roles to play in the lives of the children. Various groups in churches and mosques need to preach to them to embrace good values and virtues.”
A sociologist, Dr. Linus Keke, is of the view that the rise in cultism in the society has to do with what he described as the “undesirable side of social media.”
He also said that there was need to strictly regulate movies that young people have access to, stressing that, “this is where they copy and practice the art of being daring.
He cautioned against the legalising of Marijuana/ Indian Hemp and allied substances that easily influence peoples’behaviors.
SPEAKING on efforts by the Police High Command to curb cultism in the country, Force spokesperson, CP Frank Mba, said cultism as a social vice has become pervasive in our society.
“It has since advanced to become one of the violent crimes in the country that poses a serious threat to public safety, and security. This is in addition to creating more space for other crimes to thrive.
“The Nigeria Police Force has, however, continued to evolve kinetic and non-kinetic approaches to curb the menace in our society. The kinetic approach includes intelligence-driven methods, which identify these violent groups to enable the police storm their hideouts, arrest their members, and recover weapons (if any), which they use in their various violent activities. Between January, 2019 and date, about 12, 396 suspects linked to violent cult activities have been arrested and prosecuted to serve as deterrent to others.
“Our deliberate actions in mopping up of small arms and light weapons from identified cult members and groups have helped in weakening these cult groups and making it easier for them to be arrested and prosecuted.
“Having identified the direct link between illicit drug consumption and violent crimes by cult groups, we are also working closely with the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to curtail the illicit possession, distribution and consumption of dangerous drugs by our youths.
“On the other hand, we have also identified that the majority of persons that involve in these vices fall within the youth demography. As a result, we have devised other youth-friendly, non-core law enforcement approaches in tackling the menace. What we do is constant engagement of the youth through our diverse crime prevention programmes.
“One of such is the Police Campaign Against Cultism and other Vices (POCACOV), an initiative of the Force aimed at saving Nigerian Youths from the claws of cultism and making our communities free from these vices. Under POCACOV, our trained personnel embark on such programs like the school visitation program, online/social media interactive engagements, town hall meetings, mentoring, sporting activities, amongst others.
“These activities are aimed at re-orienting the youths, rechanneling their creative energies to positive endeavours and getting them to appreciate the inherent dangers in cultism and other gang-related crimes.”