Cultism is one of Nigeria’s most nagging social problems. In work places, towns and cities or communities and even in somewhat sacred of places, there are large congregations of cultists. It has become a way of life for most teenagers who subscribe to various antagonistic cult groups. Worse still, is the often resort of cult members to brute and barbaric means of attacking and eliminating opponents or perceived enemies that make society groan under pains.
The general affliction of society with the menace of cultism has permeated institutions of learning at all levels. Although, society generally suffers from cultism, but institutions, especially university campuses are most burdened by this scourge. It is a pandemic in virtually all Nigerian universities, which is more organized and freely practiced in most instances unchallenged.
However, with no intention of spiting any region of the country, southern-based institutions of higher learning are most plagued by this destructive virus of cultism. Dozens of youngsters or teenagers freely indulge in these reprehensible acts and derive inexplicable joy in terrorizing both schoolmates and lecturers. To uproot or reduce the menace of cultism to the barest minimum in any university campus in the South is akin to the Biblical camel passing through the eye of a needle. But it is not impossible to achieve this feat.
Understandably, university authorities have had rough and tough times in attempts to tame the monster. And there are instances, in Southern varsities where Vice Chancellors dread confronting the monster of cultism; hence the repercussions could include reprisal attacks on their person.
Calabar, the “Paradise City,” and capital of Cross River state negate this appellation by its famed status of cultism. Sometimes, one is startled by the number of deaths occasioned by clashes between rival cult gangs in the ever bubbling city.
For instance, in June 2016, the peace of Calabar city was violently punctured as rival cult groups engaged themselves in bloody clashes for days, over ownership of motorcycle association license, resulting in deaths and injuries. Such incidents recur frequently and sometimes, residents are forced to close down businesses or pleasure seekers retire home prematurely to avoid being trapped in fury of the cross fire of the warring cultists.
Hence, University of Calabar (UNICAL) is located in the heart of Calabar city, the institution has struggled to contain the infiltration of cultism into the campus over the years. And operating in an environment that appears to have a large dose of such debauches, make the job of completely eliminating the menace of cultism and sustaining a cult-free campus an uphill task for the university management. But the sternness in dealing with suspected cult-related issues have most times brought respite to the university environment.
UNICAL’s Vice Chancellor (VC), Professor Zana Akpagu has been able to sustain a cult-free campus, since he assumed duties in December 2015. Apart from treating suspected cultism cases with expediency, Akpagu does not spare any student indicted of involvement or association with cultism, as the appropriate punishments as prescribed by university laws are applied to serve as deterrence to others.
He has authorized the expulsion of scores of cultists since he mounted the saddle as VC, a sign of his intolerance of such social deviants and outlaws. In addition, Akpagu has not only beefed up security on campus, but launched security surveillance on students to monitor their clandestine activities, through which suspected cultists are fished out and summarily disciplined.
But psychologists say, old habits die hard. So, days back, the tranquil atmosphere in UNICAL was shattered when suspected fleeing cultists mowed down a student at the varsity’s area commonly called “Love Garden.”
The unfortunate incident of the assassination of a UNICAL lecturer in the Department of Accounting, Dr. Emmanuel Igbeng sparked the fresh cult clashes which led to scores of deaths. But the university promptly responded to the situation and according to the university’s Public Relations Officer (PRO), Mr. Eyo Effiong, the school’s security team apprehended two of the fleeing cultists. This was confirmed by the State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Hafiz Inuwa, an indication that the arrested cultists, namely David Charles Job and Godwin Okpomo, will lead investigations into the arrest of the other escapee cultists or gang members.
Besides UNICAL security, matching cultists strength for strength, Professor Akpagu has also not failed to apply his humane disposition in tackling issues of campus insecurity, particularly in reference to cultism. He demonstrates to the led that he is not all combative based on his conviction that human beings can change for the better, if the appropriate platform is raised for them to appreciate the other meaningful side of life.
To this end, months back and in concert with a Non-governmental Organization, Campus Cult Eradication Foundation (CCEF ), he led the template for the renunciation of cultism by 40 students, some of whom were UNICAL students. The students who denounced cultism were initiates into cult groups like Pyrates confraternity, Vikings, Black Axe, Klans among others.
CCEF’s National Co-ordinator, Samuel Ejembi said at the event that “These 30 boys and 10 girls are ready to turn a new leaf…to renounce their membership of cultism.” It is a conduct of a father and administrator worthy of emulation because it is important to know that no human being should just be doomed or confined to the fate of destruction, but be offered the opportunity of repentance as espoused by all religious doctrines.
Therefore, Akpagu’s stick and carrot approach is spurred in his belief in the development of humanity, more than destruction. Students who are plotting a return of the reign of terror in UNICAL campus should have a rethink and would do themselves a lot of good by embracing the “carrot option” dangled before them by the VC. It is impossible to defeat Professor Akpagu and his team of management to re-introduce extreme and frightening terrorism on campus in the guise of cultism. Akpagu is genuinely described by admirers as a “home boy” and is abreast with the intricacies’ of the university and the community of its host, which incidentally is not just his home of birth, but also his home of development and workplace all through his adult life.
It is pertinent to state that no obstinate student, who clings unto cultism, shall escape his eagle eyes or overpower the varsity’s security vigilance and added to it, anyone found culpable would not be spared the rod. No stakeholder in the varsity should be in doubt that with Professor Akpagu on the throne as UNICAL’s VC, they are dealing with an old horse in the system.
And suffice it to say, it would be difficult, if not impossible for any criminal to dismantle his campus security apparatus put together to protect the institution. He came prepared and with a clear vision to deliver on his mandate, as prescribed by the “change” creed of President Muhammedu Buhari’s administration and no force is potent enough to shatter or frustrate this vision.
***Odoma is a public affairs commentator and contributed this piece from Calabar.