By Agba Jalingo
For the purpose of this article, I will for the first time in my writing, refer to GANGS as CULTS.
In the attached video, Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, took us back to the alcove where himself and his colleagues started what will become the first campus cult in Nigeria and Africa, the Pyrates Confraternity later registered as the National Association of Seadogs, NAS.
According to Soyinka, it was a sort of rebellious gesture against the stuffy colonial atmosphere in the University of Ibadan campus.
It had nothing to do with the wanton criminality and bloodshed that today characterizes what is referred to as cultism both on campuses and in our communities in Nigeria and in Cross River state in particular.
The whole idea behind coming together in the alcove was to form a resistance movement that will fight against injustice and intimidation. To resist the anti-people policies of the authorities and make life better and not to raise guns, swords and axes in the murderous enterprise of the people.
Although society now is quite different from that of the 1960s and 1970s, many of the factors that endeared young people to such rebellious groups still confront young adults as well as senior citizens, particularly in Cross River State.
But rather than take the honorable path of resistance like the “cultists” of the 60s, youths are now compensating for their unfulfilled needs like unemployment, love, sense of belonging, the lack of which hinders the development of self-esteem, social competence, and mastery of life tasks, with murder, brigandage and blood, all in the name of cultism.
Embarrassingly, Cross River state, due to deliberate lack of action has become a practical epicenter of the internecine deviance encapsulated in modern day cultism which is rather an offshoot of street gangs than anything else.
The deliberate mushrooming of these cult groups by the roguish political class in our State for their nefarious political gains, has also not only obliterated the concept of resistance confraternity, it has made mockery of the whole idea by proliferating street gangs across the state, comprised mostly of illiterate crime mongers who all refer to themselves as cultists.
The politicians enjoy it and the present administration has patronised these gangs to the fullest and given them all sorts of incentives from appointments, to revenue points to other perks of office.
But methinks, now is the time to direct attention towards an effort to analyze this youth cultic phenomenon and what social and personal factors are enhancing it, with a view to developing appropriate interventions.
Let me begin with my recent 34 days personal experience at the police anti cultism detention facility in Calabar and 5 months in Afokang prison. Majority of detainees at the anti-cultism unit and inmates of Afokang prison are standing trial for cult related offences and they are mostly young male adults.
From interaction, the biggest bait for their involvement with these cult groups is peer relevance, a sense of power over others and political participation.
But generally speaking, every of these cult groups, from conversations with their cadres, have several common characteristics: (a) using psychological coercion to recruit, indoctrinate and retain its member; (b) forming an elitist totalitarian society; (c) founder/leader is self-appointed, dogmatic, messianic, not accountable and usually has charisma; (d) believing “the end justifies the means” in order to solicit funds recruit people and (e) wealth does not benefit society.
Registered mostly as “non profit making” groups, some of the cults theoretically appear like groups interested in making the society a better place via political, spiritual or other means.
But they essentially prey upon their members’ fears through a systematic process of “brainwashing” and “programming.” They recruit aggressively and establish new values and standards requiring total dependence on, and devotion to, the cult itself.
To remain within the strict mental and social confines of a cult for even a short time can have disastrous effects like:
(a) loss of choice and free will;
(b) diminished intellectual ability, vocabulary and sense of humor;
(c) reduced use of irony, abstractions and metaphors;
(d) reduced capacity to form flexible and intimate relationships;
(e) poor judgment;
(f) physical deterioration;
(g) hallucinations, panic, dissociation, guilt, identity diffusion and paranoia; and
(h) neurotic, psychotic or suicidal tendencies.
But even in the glaring knowledge of these dangers, the social climate in our State continues to nourish the rejection of cultural and moral standards leaving adults and especially adolescents with the dilemma of finding values with which to fill this vacuum.
Youth being a highly peer-centered time in which self-esteem strongly relates to peer acceptance and a sense of belonging, youths establish strong peer-group identity partly through the processes of exclusion. If a youth is not acceptable to healthier and normal peer groups, or not easily fit into the larger peer culture, cults offer opportunities to be part of an intimate “in” group that fulfills many of the needs for belonging. It is this lack of experience in decision-making, the desire for peer acceptance and a sense of belonging and simple naiveté that continue to make young people vulnerable to recruitment.
But many studies have showed that, although cults have high conversion rates, they also have high rates of disaffiliation.
It is very noteworthy and commendable to acknowledge that the Cross River state government under the supervision of the state Security Adviser, South, Ani Esin has taken the war to some of these cultists in Calabar the state capital and environs.
Many have been declared wanted while several have been arrested and the media has also reported a marginal drop in gang violence since the onslaught began. But this effort will result to nothing if top government officials do not stop patronizing and covering up those who are sponsoring the ones on the run.
The sponsors and financiers of those on the run are chauffeur driven in government.
Governor Ayade needs to call out his appointees to publicly denounce cultism in chambers. I watched a video of councilors in Obudu LGA swearing an oath denouncing cultism. I thought that was a good first step that should be replicated at the state level like Governor Imoke did.
Again, most of those who commit these gang related crimes and go through the justice system and come back, rarely find a place to re-integrate and falling back to old contacts and habits has remained the recurring pattern. A deliberate rehabilitation program should be developed to mitigate this relapse.
It has also become imperative for government to keep an open register of these cult leaders and understand their recruitment modus with a view to holding their leaders in particular, accountable for their actions and helping to transform the cults to responsible social entities.
Government needs to take the task of jobs creation very very serious. Something has to occupy the time of young persons, if not, expect trouble. Law enforcement alone cannot help when young people don’t have anything to do to earn.
And in attempts to cut the appeal for younger adolescents who are also recruited in droves, schools in our State should consider the resuscitation of youth organizations like Boys Scouts, Girls Guard, Man ‘O’ War etc. This can be particularly helpful. These groups have healthy social symbols and practices that mimic cult-like postures that can fill the vacuum.
Sensitive teachers and parents should also be watchful for warning signs in their wards which could include, confusion, alienation, sudden changes in personality or behavior.
The cooperation and support of religious institutions, civic organizations, and government agencies should also be enlisted if this process is to yield any results.
Then lastly of course, these suggestions can only be given a chance if we had a serious and listening government currently in our State. But peradventure, someone somewhere still feels any grave concern for the cataclysm that the cultic trend among youths in our state portends, let this epistle be a contribution to the a-la-carte.
Good morning and have a great Sunday.
Citizen Agba Jalingo.