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Cultism In Higher Institutions of Learning In Nigeria - History, Causes, Effects and Solution

December 30, 2013




Cultism is one of the major challenges confronting the nation’s education system. The atrocities committed on daily basis by the cult groups is obviously beyond imagination. The menace of cultism, indeed, has become a social problem that calls for urgent and collective social action.

With the prevalence of secret cultism in Nigeria tertiary institutions, one can predictably submit that except urgent measures are taken to curb the menace, the future of this country would be bleak for cultists are likely to end up as armed robbers, gamblers, rapists, assassins, kidnappers and gangsters. Of course, these anti-social vices which are associated with cultism attract various punishments or jail terms under the Nigeria criminal code and justice administration.


Cultism can be defined as collection of people coming together on the principle of protecting their members and defending their interests both positively and negatively without exposing their power base to outsiders. Membership is usually restricted and is not publicly known.

A campus cult comprises of a group of people who gather for the purpose of performing illegal activities and they usually operate under the cover of darkness. The delusion often given to lure students into mesh of cultism is that as a member you are to gain respect and recognition. In reality, cultism exposes one to dangers and insecurity than to offer protection.

It is true the Nigerian constitution recognises freedom of association and assembly but this does not include membership of secret cults/societies. The law expressly prohibits membership of secret cults/societies.

For the avoidance of doubts, lawful associations, clubs or societies are groups duly registered and recognised by the university/college Authorities. Such clubs, associations or groups are regarded as lawful, if members are known by public, executive properly constituted with a list containing names of the executive submitted to the University/College Authorities, the objectives and goals of the group must be in furtherance of the mission, vision and the objectives of the institution.

Recent researches have confirmed that the menace of these cults has extended far beyond the walls of the ivory towers/academic institutions to the larger society thereby posing security challenges to the nation. A lot of youths with promising future had died in contemporary Nigeria as a result of cult classes.

Cultism promotes violent culture and it is becoming more or less an organised crime in the contemporary Nigeria.

There is also a widely held belief that cult members are children of the elite or high ranking personalities. They normally have sponsors in government circle and among top politicians.


The formation of secret societies is not a recent development in the annals of Nigeria history. In the world history, there were secret cults that had existed and operated in Egypt, Greece and Rome and other parts of the world. Also, there was historical evidence that there were secret societies in Africa before even the advent of colonialism. What is common to all cult groups are oath of secrecy, clandestine activities and desperate pursuit of goals and unlawful possession of dangerous weapons.

Coming to Nigeria, history traced the origin of cultism in tertiary institution to 1952 at the then university college Ibadan when seven students acted as the pioneers. The story of how pyrate confraternity was formed at the University College Ibadan now university of Ibadan was confirmed and re-authenticated   by Prof. Muyiwa Awe, one of the seven pioneers of pyrate confraternity in The Punch Newspaper of Monday , 17th May, 2004(P16).

As a matter of fact, pyrate confraternity which was pioneered and promoted by Wole Soyinka, Ralph Opara, Olumuyiwa Awe, Ikphere Aig-Imonkuede, Pius Olegbe, Nathaniel Oyelola and Ifagbale Amater was known for intellectual approach to issues rather than violence. The pyrates of Wole Soyinka’s days at The University of Ibadan were deeply involved in nationalist struggle. Indeed, the aim of pyrate at the initial stage was to fight imperialism, foster justice and to preserve Africa customs and traditions.

Shortly after independence, student confraternity become derailed from the original path of fighting against oppression, exploitation and social injustice.

Surprisingly, what started as intellectual platform eventually become known and associated with violence and members were deeply involved in drunkenness, excessive smoking, brutality, drug abuse, maiming, rape and killing of innocent students. No responsible person will love to be associated with cultists because of the dangers inherent in cultism.

The unpatriotic acts and social misconduct among the executive of pyrate confraternity led Bolaji Crew, one of the leaders to move out of pyrates and formed the Buccaneers in 1972 as a rival student confraternity.

In the 1980s, black beret was formed in the University of Nigeria, Vikings in the University of Port Harcourt, Mafia, black axe, Jezebel, seven stars, blood of brotherhood, Burkinafaso etc. A recent survey on cult activities in Higher Institutions has confirmed that about fifty (50) or more different groups of secret societies exist in tertiary institutions in Nigeria and each with peculiar  style, recruitment policy, objectives and membership drive.


Cult groups/secret societies device various ways to recruit members to their fold. Often, students with poor study habit, low self esteem and probably those who are suffering from complexes either superiority or inferiority complex easily fall prey of cult groups for recruitment.

The technique used by cult groups in recruiting members include

Toasting, Deception, Psychological manipulation, Brainwashing,                      Luring, Inducement, Threats, Weakness exploitation etc.


          The activities of cults/ secret societies are divided into six:

(i)      Toasting:- The act of searching for potential members and this          involves cajoling, luring and toasting of the new students’

(ii)     Tutorial/Indoctrination:- The activity involves orientating, indoctrinating and acculturating a would-be member of any cult          group. The tutorial is usually done by highly    experienced member of a cult group. The activity allows for inculcation of the new          recruits into the norms, values and practices of the group.

(iii)    Drilling/Physical cum combatant  training for members: Each cult   group do organise a kind of training similar to that of either police or military for members to make them fit and capable of being able    to withstand torture and stress. This is usually done inside bush or hidden locations for security reasons.

 (iv)   Initiation:- The activity usually comes up at least once in a year        especially at the beginning of the academic      session.

  1. Strike:- This is the most deadly of all the activities of the cults. Cult groups usually plan properly to strike at anyone perceived as enemy and it involves the use of dangerous weapons such as guns, axe, cutlasses, matchet, bottles, knives etc. Whenever the cults want to strike, they first monitor the movement of their victims very well and usually three or more are deployed to hit (attack) the person.


i.   Colour Symbolism:- Each cult group is known for unique colour. Members always wear clothes or cap to reflect the colour symbol and this is one of the signs to identity the members. For example, Eiye confraternity is associated with blue beret/clothe; Black axe (Aye) is associated with black beret/ regalia; Bucaneers is known for yellow colour; pyrate confraternity is associated with red beret/regalia etc.

  1. Coded Language:- Each cult group has special coded language called argot. It is only members that can decode the message whenever argot is spoken by the cultists. However, one can easily identify a cultist when he/she speaks. Also, cultists are known for expressing thoughts and ideas using slangs and other peculiar mode of communication.

It has been reported in early studies that when a new recruit is initiated by cultists, they may say he has been balm or fly depending on the cult group.

iii.     Special Mode of Greeting:- Each of the secret cults has   special mode of greeting. For example, Eiye confraternity    exchange handshake by claw each other likewise other cult   groups. There is an expected response mandatory to be expressed in return of the greeting.

iv.     Body Decoration:- Cultists often do tattoo or other forms of body decoration and a times piercing of nose in cases of female members to give them unique outlook.

v.       Cultists a times may appear to be excessively quiet and in some       instances prefer to isolate themselves from other students.

vi.      Dangerous Life Style:- They smoke and drink heavily and some        times engage in drug/ substance abuse.

  1. They always move in a group of two or more for fear of being attacked by the rival cult groups.

viii.    Cultists also bear nicknames or usually being called by their alias     instead of the real names for security reasons.

ix.      Cultists normally put on black power bangles made of    robber        to show class/levels among colleagues on campus.


i.        Wrong orientation

ii.       Frustration and academic failure

iii.      Poor family background

iv.      Influence of peer groups

v.       School climate

vi.      Student union politics

vii.     Economic depression

viii.    Quest for social relevance and love for domination

ix       Freedom from home

x.       Egocentrism/Complexity

xi.      Desire to revenge or avenge wrong doing

  1. Poor study habit
xiii.    Low Self esteem


i.        Disruption of academic calendar/ and it causes instability in    the school programmes.

ii.       Poor learning outcomes

iii.      Threats to lives and property on campuses

iv.      Maiming and killing of innocent students

v.       Negative effects on the image of the     institutions.

vi.      Incessant closure of institutions

vii.     General Insecurity on campuses

viii.    Arms proliferation/ arms struggle among students

ix.      Predisposing factor to armed robbery, kidnapping, hired          assassinations etc



To really address the problem of cultism, there should be adoption of holistic approach to combat the menace of secret cultism in Institutions of higher learning as enumerated below:

 With proper guidance and counselling, the cult members should feel free to come out to renounce membership of secret cult without fear of molestation from members of the    Group.


2.      Students should not be denied freedom of association and right to unionise. Effective and functional students’ unionism is an antidote against cultism in institutions of higher learning.

3.      The authority should investigate   properly and make effort to          verify claims by any Association before registering them to         operate on campus. The procedure for registration should          include submission of list of executive with passport           photographs, list of members with department and probably

with matriculation number, date and venue of meeting and

there should be at least two staff advisers.

4.      Any member of staff (either academic or Non-teaching )found to engage or aid any cult group should be given appropriate  sanction depending on the level of involvement and may even be handed over to police for necessary prosecution.


 5.     Parents are to monitor their wards and ensure they are given right orientation and parents are to discourage them against moving with friends with questionable characters.

6.      Authorities should support anti-cult initiatives and awareness programmes. However, Authorities should         avoid acting on fake or falsified security reports.

7.      The sales of alcoholic drinks, cigarettes and other hard drugs should be discouraged on campuses.

8.      Student Associations are to be encouraged to organise   seminars / lectures on evils of cultism.

9.      Moral teachings and religious instruction should be emphasized as parts of curriculum programmes of instruction, activity and guidance in all tertiary institutions.

10.    Any student found guilty of involving in secret cult activities   should be expelled and probably be prosecuted in the law court.

11.    The authorities should ensure that any unregistered clubs/societies are not allowed to operate or utilise any of the college facilities.

12.    Government should provide recreational facilities in our          institutions so that youths could channel their energies towards sports and recreation instead of    cultism which is a bane of the           nation’s educational development

13.    There is the need to develop the spiritual state of mind of        Nigeria students by encouraging spiritual activities and moral      teachings among the student associations.

14.    Students should be encouraged to form vigilante groups with proper monitoring by the Management and enabling environment should as well be created for information gathering on cult activities in higher institutions.

  1. Students’ union activities should aim at the promotion   of peace, tranquillity and social justice rather than hooliganism, violence and disruption of the school programmes/activities.
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Onike Rahaman holds masters degree.He is a professional administrator,writer,editorial consultant,linguistic activist,public commentator and a policy analyst.He is also into human rights advocacy and herbal research.