Africa, Headlines, Human Rights

CULTURE-NIGERIA: Ritual Killings Resurface on the Campus

Toye Olori

LAGOS, Sep 17 2003 (IPS) - Tough measures introduced in the 1990s to curb the activities of cults in the higher institutions of learning in Nigeria seem to be failing.

The measures, which included dismissal and life sentence, yielded fruits only in the early stages with the open renunciation of membership by cult students.

The members went underground after government declared a total war on their organisation, following the killing at the Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife in western Nigeria. They have now resurfaced and operate in most campuses especially in the south of the country.

Thousands of students renounced their membership and submitted their regalia to the university authorities in the 1990s.

By mid-2001, just two years after students began renouncing their membership, cult activities began to pick again, assuming a new and frightening dimension today.

In Sep. 2001, a student was killed by gun-trotting cult members at the Enugu State University of Science and Technology in eastern Nigeria. Two female students, believed to have been involved in cult killing at the University of Ilorin in central Nigeria in Aug. 2001, were arrested by the police just as bloody clashes between two rival-cult groups at the University of Benin in southern Nigeria saw several students injured. The university authorities warned cult groups to keep off the campus.

In Mar. 2002, a student at the Ambrose Alli University in Edo State, southern Nigeria, was beheaded by suspected cult members who took away his head. The headless body was later found in a bush near the university with machete cuts.

Between 1993 and 2003, at least 115 students in various institutions of learning lost their lives to violent cult-related activities. During the same period, 665 students were disciplined for their involvement in cult activities, out of which 536 were expelled and 129 given various periods of suspension, according to Ika Onyechere, executive chairperson of Examination Ethics Project.

At a recent workshop in Benin, capital of Edo State, Onyechere said it was disturbing that cultism enjoyed rapid expansion, infesting post-primary schools.

A worried president Olusegun Obasanjo also regretted that despite government’s efforts to eradicate cultism from the nation’s educational institutions, youths still got themselves involved in it.

”University authorities should take appropriate punitive measures to deal decisively with the cancer that is trying to destroy our youths,” Obasanjo said early this year.

Last year Obasanjo directed university authorities to build more hostels for students, believing that cult activities were growing because most students live off campus. There are 64 higher institutions of learning in Nigeria owned by the federal government, the 36 states and private individuals.

The spate of cultism, indiscriminate killings and violence in tertiary institutions took a different dimension at the Lagos State University as a ritual killing site was uncovered near the campus in August.

The corpse of 24-year-old Peters Adaba, a final-year undergraduate of English was discovered, with his eyes plucked and part of his flesh ripped open.

Student leaders, accompanied by security agents on the campus, took journalists to the location some three kilometres from the main campus. The body was found in an inhabited but undeveloped section of the university where several human parts, items such as cloths, shoes and handbags as well as broken bottles and other dangerous objects littered the site, an indication that the site was being used for ritual killings.

Villagers told horror stories of how, on many occasions, some students were brought to the site, harassed and beaten, while girls were raped and left there by the suspected cult students.

The discovery of the body did not deter the cult students from shooting dead a final-year student of economics at the Lagos State University late August. The slain student was suspected to belong to a rival cult group.

According to media reports, the slain student was lured out of a classroom, by his assailants who later shot him after an argument and a scuffle.

A suspected cult member, believed to have had a hand in the killing, has been arrested by the police. The suspected teenage killer, described by the police as an ex-student of the university, had in his possession at the time of the arrest, several telephone cards, some charms and a piece of paper containing incantations.

Lagos State Governor Bola Tinubu has warned that his government will treat members of cult groups in its tertiary institutions as criminals. ”We cannot allow our institutions to be turned into a battlefield where blood flows freely. We are determined henceforth to eliminate all cult students from our institutions. Any student caught will be charged for capital punishment,” he warned.

But Kayode Oloke, the lawyer defending two suspected cult students at Kwara State Polytechnic in central Nigeria, says students’ involvement in secret cult activities, does not amount to a violation of Nigeria’s constitution.

Oloke told the court last week: ”The act of belonging or being a member of a secret cult in Nigeria has not been proscribed under any Nigerian law”. According to him, charges relating to cults can only be tried by special miscellaneous offences tribunals, a body that does not exist presently in the country.

Parents are concerned that courts are unable to hand down tough sentences on suspects.

”None of the students caught was sentenced to death for killing a fellow student, all that the universities did then, was to rusticate or suspend cult members caught,” says Johnson Ojo, a resident of Lagos.

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