Eradicating campus cultism…

Eradicating campus cultism…
September 14 14:44 2016

By Ike Onyechere 

Let us skip the conflicts and violence that led to promulgation of Decree No 47 of 1989 which made all cult activities in institutions illegal; which necessitated the hosting of the National Workshop on Eradication of Campus Cults by Exam Ethics Project in collaboration with Federal Ministry of Education and Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council at Hill Station Hotel from 16th to 18th December 1996; and the launching of  Official Students Anti-Cult Handbook by the Federal Ministry of  Education in 1998. Fast forward to 1999.

1999 was marked by two events: swearing in of General Olusegun Obasanjo as the 12th President of Nigeria on 29th May andthe explosion of cult violence and killings in educational institutions. May 1999 witnessed the kidnapping of the Vice Chancellor of Ogun State University; killing of four students of LASU; the shooting of Mr Stanley Ukeje ,HOD of Business Administration of Institute of Management and Technology Enugu;  killing of three students in Edo State University Ekpoma;  killing of Peter Okolo, Deputy Registrar of Delta State University; and killing of three students at Enugu State University of Technology –all in one month andall by Cultists.

The trigger event happened on Saturday, July 10, 1999, the day eight students of Obafemi  Awolowo University were executed in their sleep. The execution shocked stakeholders including Governments, Security Agencies, Civil Society Organizations, School Administrators, Student Bodies, Unions, Parents and the Media into collective action. Stakeholders rose in righteous indignation to say “never again.”

On 14th July 1999, the Federal Government suspended the VC of OAU and inaugurated the Justice Okoi Itam Judicial Commission of Enquiry to ascertain  causes and recommend solutions.On 20th July 1999, President Obasanjo read the riot act to Heads of Tertiary Institutions to the effect that they have 90 days to eradicate cultism in their various institutions or lose their jobs.

Responding to Government directives, Institutions and stakeholders joined forces to launch various initiatives including:Joint anti-cult renunciation rallies; deployment of  carrot and stick techniques that combined threat of expulsion for unrepentant cultists with offer of amnesty to repentant cultists; financial inducements for return of cult weapons and regalia;operation Flush of Ambrose Alli University;UNN Special Bureau for Counseling;  special anti-cult orientation and enlightenment lectures for fresh Students; NANS Joint  Campus Peace Committee initiative (JCPC); re-training of security officers; etc.

Some of these initiatives succeeded and manifested in waves of repentance and renunciations as thousands of student cultists renounced their membership of cults, publicly returning their weapons and regalia and begging for forgiveness. The eight year period between 1999 and 2007 is still regarded as the most peaceful period in educational institutions in terms cult violence. The number of students killed, injured, expelled or suspended on account of cultism declined drastically. Institutions  likeNnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka and Olabisi Onabanjo University are still implementing their successful renunciation programmes.

The defining features of success of 1999 interventions include: stakeholders collectively rose in righteous indignation;  Mr President’s riot act which galvanized stakeholders into action; a judicial commission of inquiry that provided legal cover; institutions designed and implemented  administrative, orientation, re-orientation, communication and renunciation initiatives that suited their peculiar circumstances; massive media coverage of the renunciations fueled more renunciations. It was joint action in the best tradition of collective responsibility and team work.

Campus Cultism is here again as the number one safety and security risk factor in tertiary institutions with the added danger of cultists launching bold and successful catch-them-young initiatives in primary and secondary schools. There have been reports of cult wars and chilling executions in many tertiary institutions including:Federal University of Agriculture Makurdi;  Benson Idahosa University Benin; Abia State University Uturu;  Auchi Polytechnic;  University of Benin; University of Lagos; University of Calabar; Ambrose Alli University Ekpoma; Kwara State Polytechnic;  Moshood Abiola Polytechnic Abeokuta, etc.Most of the executions are more gruesome than the 1999 OAU killings.

It is against this background that education institutions, leaders and CEOs deserve commendation for rising again in righteous indignation, for their efforts to join forces and re-enact the success story of 1999;  to build capacity and structures and develop new frameworks for multi-stakeholder legislative, policy, structural, institutional, administrative , renunciation, orientation, re-orientation and publicity initiatives to be implemented in the best tradition of collective responsibility and team work; to stop recruitment and arming of students as political thugs by politicians and political parties; to prevent spread of cultism to primary and secondary schools; and to mobilize critical stakeholders to jointly fund and implement Anti-Cult Initiatives.

The inaugural forum , focused on general lessons of past terrorism, insurgency, robbery, kidnapping, fire, medical and flood emergencies, was held at Chelsea Hotel Abuja from 12th to 14th May 2016 with the support and facilitation of Nigerian Army; Nigeria Police Force; Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps; National Emergency Management Agency; Federal Fire Service; and other Agencies.

It was attended by ninety (90) delegates from forty-nine (49) institutions and agencies including:  six (6) education ministries and agencies (Sokoto, Niger, Enugu, Rivers, Borno);  six (6) Polytechnics (Federal Poly Mubi, Federal Poly Nekede, Akanu Ibiam Poly, Lagos State Poly, Oke Ogun Poly and Uyo City Poly); six(6) Colleges of Education (Enugu State COE,  Nwafor Orizu COE,  COE Agbor, COE Billiri, COE Umunze and Federal COE Zaria); two (2) Colleges of Health Technology (from Cross River and Kwara States); fifteen (15) Universities ( Federal University Dutse, Federal University Gasau, Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Kwara State University of Science and Technology, Kebbi State University of Science and Technology,  Enugu State University of Technology, Sokoto State University, Benue State University, Northwest University Kano,  Babcock University, Godfrey Okoye University,  Sule Lamido University, Ignatius Ajuru University , Mcpherson University and Nigeria Defence Academy). Media houses and security agencies were also in attendance.

One of the reasons why the collective actions of 1999 were not sustained was the absence of coordinating structure to champion, drive and sustain the efforts. The Nigeria Safe School Association (NISSA), the membership organization of individuals and institutions committed to promoting safety and security of schools in Nigeria, was inaugurated at the May Forumto serve as coordinating structure with delegates as inaugural members.

The Second Safe School Summit, scheduled to hold in Abuja from 26thto 29th September 2016, will focus on strategic action plans for re-enacting the success story of 1999 Anti-cult initiatives with a view to ending the dangerous new wave and orgy of gruesome executions, assassinations and violence by warring campus cultists. More Education Leaders and CEOs of Ministries, Agencies, Institutions, Unions and Associations are expected to attend this second event.

Cultists have made campuses, student hostels and off-campus student villages high risk areas students and staffbeing  routinelyassassinated and executed in broad daylight; Cultists are brazenly challenging the authority of administrators of Institutions; they are launching bold and successful catch-them-young recruitment drives in primary and secondary schools. Any effort to put a stop to this clear and present danger deserves the support of every patriotic citizen from his or her station and perspective. Your support may save a life. And we know not whose life we may be saved as the next direct or collateral victim of cultism may be anybody. 

Ike Onyechere is the Founding Chairman of Exam Ethics Marshals International.