By Chief Emmanuel Esifa
Cultism, like every other thing that is ugly, heinous and venomous, had its origin from Babylon, in present day Persia. So did the dreaded art of witchcraft (which some call witchcraftcy). The Persians Cult of Assassins led by the “Old Man of the mountains”, was a conventional, organized and accepted means of eliminating unpopular rulers and tyrants in 11th Century Persia and this later spread into other parts of Asia Minor and Europe and placed the word “assassin” in the lexicon.
When the inimitable playwright, poet, dramatist, actor and Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka established the Pirates Confraternity in the University College, Ibadan, now University of Ibadan, not even the authorities of the university, let alone the colonial authorities, frowned seriously at it. It carried out its rather Masonic activities without infringing upon the rights and privileges of student non-members nor staff.
Even today, the confraternity still survives among academic and some classes of the University, who had been members. Some people view this innocent novelty as the precursor of cultism in higher institutions.
After the Nigerian Civil War and particularly, when all forms of devilish and warring practices crept into the university system, students ganged up to confront university authorities and university heads were at risk. Some lecturers are said to have enlisted in this gangs for self-protection. It started rather innocently, mildly at first, and did not involve violence meted out to others or among members themselves. They met openly with some celebration at times, visited members and exhibited some fraternity. With time, the activities of these cult groups assumed heinous proportions and their baneful effects spread like wildfire, even beyond to the wider society, until it found its way into other institutions such as polytechnics and colleges of education.
Today, cult groups are said to be present in secondary schools; there is no gainsaying that even in our traditional societies, there had been cults that discharged different functions that benefitted society.
Such groups as Ekpo, Ekpe, Obon, Attat, Ekong, Ekpiri Akata, Iban Isong, Utu-Ekpe etc. which excluded non-initiates could be classified as cult related bodies. The difference in their Modus Operandi and intent was that they meted out punioshment to miscreants, the lawless and all manner of undesirable elements, which were condemned by the decent society. These had beneficial effects and were aimed at sanitizing the traditional policy. Even the Rosicrucian Order, the Freemasons, the Odd Fellows of Ghana, Reformed Ogboni Confraternity, Divine Brothers etc. were doing their best to clean the “dirty” in our society through their dragnets and foster brotherhood and fellowship among initiates and members.
Today, what do we see? Not a day passes without news of cult killings, clashes and fighting. The cultists quite frequently turn their weapons of destruction against innocent members of the public and against themselves. Inter-cult clashes have always left a trail of blood and no one is free from this escalating menace when it blows!
It sounds too good to be true, but it is, that even in churches where factions have developed, there have been reports of the faction engaging cult groups to deal with their opponents; same with communal clashes. Such stories, as one could never dream, could be heard from the church in time of crises have been found to be true and the police stations have them if you inquire.
By far, the public at which fingers are pointed most, as promoting cultism and abetting cultists, is the political public. Politicians have been fingered most as surrounding themselves with these undesirable elements. Using them as gangs and as stalwarts in political contests. Even those who, in their spare and comfortable moments, condemn cultists and cultism find them handy in times of need or when the call is to win at all cost with mindless acts of dare-devilry, and the indications are that there seems to be no end of this malaise, because it is found in most unexpected places.
If politicians, who are supposed to lead the public aright find use for cultists and their capons; if churches, which should preach against them from their pulpits also need boys, and traditional rulers are not left out similarly in making use of cultists; if university authorities outwardly condemn cultism, but clandestinely make use of cult boys and girls, when need beckons, who shall serve us from this menace that is fast growing into a plague and an epidemic?
There is no doubt whatsoever that parents of cult boys cannot deny knowledge that their children and wards are into this baneful business, no matter how they pretend, a little action or reaction in time of stress would give them away. Some parents, even secretly take pleasure that they have a son or sons who are into cultism. They believe that the evil man has some usefulness in time of evil. As it is said of some societies, maybe because of temporary and false “power”. Like the saying and counterfeit belief that a family must have a witch or wizard who pleads their cause when charged before witches covens. So it is with other cults. These sound erroneous.
All told, all hope is not lost. Not every church is in crisis and so the many that are not, must continue in prayer that God turn away this affliction of cultism from the society. The traditional rulers may need to invoke tradition injunctions against other unwholesome acts that could tarnish the image of a community, including cult related games. If answer to the menace of cultism can be found traditionally, and Christianity does not forbid this kind of action. After all desperate disease needs drastic remedies.
The schools and institutions of higher learning have a duty too. Even if school principals, rectors of polytechnics, provosts of colleges of education, are said to be held captive by this menace, but they must not stop trying. Cultism should be addressed with the same dexterity that the menace of the Man Leopard (Ekpe Ikpa Ukot) society of the 40’s and 50’s was confronted.
Above all, all hands must be on deck to sanitize our youths. Cult groups could be turned into fraternal organization or prayer groups if total war against cultism must be worn!
Chief Esifa is the Chairman Emeritus of League of Veteran Journalist in Aks, 2011-2017.