The Emerging Trends of Politics, Cultism and Gangs in Nigeria
Since the introduction of democracy in Nigeria, Nigerians have experienced first-hand massive election rigging, hooliganism and violence. The introduction of democracy in Nigeria has also produced the highest wave of violence amongst Nigerian politicians at local, state and federal level. Few of these politicians have surrounded themselves with criminal gangs and for-hire law enforcement agents willing to carry out their commands. The Nigerian police and other law enforcement agencies have earned a bad reputation as agencies that are highly shady and managed by dishonest superiors who would use their positions to illegal aid the advancement of some of these politicians. These politicians have taken laws into their hands and they are responsible for the mindless orgies of killings, human rights abuses, armed robbery, execution, illegal detention, unlawful arrest, rape, extortions and terrorist activities. Furthermore, few Nigerian politicians and student fraternities popularly known as “Student Cults” have together been linked to the violence activities in Nigeria.
For decades, these student fraternity groups have flourished because influential Nigerian political figures particularly senators and state governors are using them as a political instrument to settle political scores. Since the introduction of democracy in Nigeria in 1999, the state governments and their officials have been more empowered with oil revenue and economic opportunities for self-enrichment. They use these student fraternity groups to selfishly defend their so-called “treasures” vigorously. These fraternity groups have managed to propagate the gospel of fear and helplessness among the general public through their unconventional and illegal methods. The activities of these fraternity groups consist of kidnapping foreign oil workers for ransom, sabotaging oil installations and attacking law enforcement agents especially in Niger Delta. Influential politicians use them as private armies and body guards. Many local communities, cities and states particularly in Rivers, Bayelsa, Edo, and Delta States have witnessed violent clashes between rival fraternity groups sponsored by various politicians. Notably, there are two student fraternity groups that are always in the media for such violence activities, the Junior Vikings Confraternity (JVC) or Deewell – a wing of the Supreme Vikings Confraternity (SVC) also known as The National Association of Adventurers of De Norsemen Club of Nigeria and the Debam - a wing of the Klansmen Konfraternity (KK) also known as The Eternal Fraternal Order of the Legion Konsotium.
The operation of some of these student fraternity groups are spread out into other African countries, Europe and the United States of America. Early October 2007, the Italian police in the northern Italian town of Brescia mounted a night raid to stop the Eiye Confraternity from launching a deadly attack on their rival group, the Neo-Black Movement (Black Axe). They discovered a trove of machetes and axes. They have been charged with several offences including smuggling of drugs, extortion, prostitution, passport falsification, and cloning of credit cards. Five other members of the Eiye and Neo-Black Movement (NBM), aged 25 and 35 were arrested in Bresica, Turin and the southern town of Aversa near Naples. A sixth man, who is already in prison for another offence has also been served a new arrest warrant. The Italian police reported that the Eiye Confraternity members all wore blue hats, clothing and blue shoes and they often spoke in codes and a new member would slice his veins and let out some blood into a bowl. Other members would mix the blood with water and everyone would drink from it. Similarly, a Black Axe member was stabbed in Italy early this year by four Eiye members because of territory control.
Further investigations revealed that few Nigerian politicians are desperately seeking membership into numerous student fraternity groups including the Brotherhood of Blood Burkina Faso, Maphites, Mgba Mgba Brothers, Eiye Confraternity, Neo-Black Movement, Klansmen Konfraternity, Vikings Confraternity and much more. However, it is notable to state that many student fraternities maintain ties to powerful politicians because of their associations with these fraternities dating back to their days on campus. It was recently revealed after discussing with some senior fraternity leaders that there are a lot of imposters claiming to belong to their organizations while offering their services to the politicians. These senior fraternity leaders requested to remain anonymous. These leaders claimed that some overzealous fraternity members are in the habit of ordering fellow fraternity members to do political favors for them. They went further to explain the steps that are being taken to check the illegal activities of their members ranging from expulsion, suspension, fines and a lot of policies have been changed including banning all new fraternity members from holding any fraternity position for five to ten years, restricting new intake age limit between eighteen and thirty-five and making it an offence to participate in politics while serving in the leadership of the fraternity as well as banning all political campaigns in all fraternity meetings.
The Human Rights Watch reported that they interviewed more than 20 current and former members of fraternity groups that were recruited by Nigerian politicians either during the 2003 elections or in the 2007 polls in Oyo, Anambra, and Rivers States. They spoke about being paid to target the political opponents of their sponsors or to attack and intimidate ordinary voters. One former fraternity member disclosed that they had ties to the Oyo State political godfather Lamidi Adedibu and indicated that they had been paid to carry out violence on opponents. In some cases, other fraternity members claimed that they merely provided security for electoral campaigns and others said that they had been paid only to attend rallies in support of their patron candidates. However, they admitted that they routinely attended such events armed and prepared to fight. It was also report by Midweek Telegraph Newspaper that during the last elections in April 2007, the Rivers State Government had allegedly given large sums of money ranging from 10 to 50 million naira to Mr. Soboma George, the leader of the Outlaws, a splinter group of the Icelander and Vikings Confraternity, to mobilize other armed groups to ensure the victory of their party in the state.
Human Rights Watch further reported that Andy Uba (former PDP Anambra Governorship Candidate) tried to take over the Anambra State PDP and installed Tony Nwoye, a former student union leader, as state chairman of the party. The Human Rights Watch interviewed numerous sources including police officials, a spokesman for Governor Peter Obi, opposition politicians and cult members identified Nwoye as a prominent member of the Neo-Black Movement (Black Axe). Human Rights Watch interviewed several student cult members who described how they were paid to rig the primaries in Uba’s favor by stuffing ballot boxes and chasing off legitimate voters. According to police, cult members, and other sources, after the PDP Anambra primaries, Nwoye began channeling funds into the hands of members of the Black Axe to the exclusion of other cult groups in the state. Several cult groups including the Vikings saw this as deeply unfair and reacted violently. Some also complained that they were not paid in full for working on behalf of Andy Uba’s campaign during the primaries. Two members of the Vikings Confraternity who had been involved in planning the February 2007 wave of violence compared Andy Uba’s gubernatorial campaign to an “oil well” whose revenues they should be entitled to share. The Vikings members were under the impression that Nwoye had recently distributed N10 million ($77,000) to Black Axe members to the exclusion of all other cult groups. Faced with this unacceptable situation, one of them said, “Either we attack them, to get Andy’s attention, or we go to another party.” One of them explained:
“In our tertiary institutions we have a lot of secret cult families. The politicians use the secret cults. The problem [now] is other families are fighting the Black Axe so that we can come in and get work. Tony [Nwoye] is hijacking everything for the Black Axe because he is Black Axe. Other families are asking questions—why is the money meant for use in Anambra being hijacked for use only by this other group? That money is what they want to eat alone without sharing with other groups.”
On the other hand, further investigations revealed that during the 2007 National Convention of various student fraternities in Nigeria, some of their national leaders lost their positions or were replaced because of their political affiliations. Also, new provisions were added to their constitutions and bylaws to safeguard individuals from hi-jacking their fraternities for political gains. However, the million dollar question is; Why are these politicians seeking membership into these fraternities now? It is very suspicious because most of these politicians had spent four to seven years at the various tertiary institutions. Although, it is unknown why they did not join when they were still students. Majority of these politicians have graduated from their institution of higher learning for almost five to twenty years and they are now willing to pay as much as hundreds of thousands of naira to be initiated. Some of them have failed the fraternity interview processes and they have been refused membership by these fraternities but some politicians have resulted to bribing their ways through illegal initiation ceremonies. It is however notable to mention that the Pyrates Confraternity (PC) have since pulled out of the campuses and they had long outlawed any form of initiation of students since July 1984. This action had been taken by the Supreme Pyrates Council (SPC) to ensure that their mission is not jeopardized, primarily due to the emergence of several clone organizations coupled with their behavior unbecoming, extreme hooliganism and other forms of anti-social tendencies.
Notwithstanding, illegal initiation of politicians are fast becoming problematic for these fraternities especially when they are carried out by imposters, impersonators and fraudsters. The former NAS Capone of the Pyrates Confraternity (PC), Tim Amola Akpareva issued a publication on Punch Newspaper on March 8, 2001, warning the general public that it had come to the knowledge of the leadership of National Association of Seadogs (NAS) and their body of trustees that “some crime-inclined individuals and or groups of persons, who have remained still at large, have been perpetrating acts of impersonation against the association by extorting some innocent members of the Nigerian public of money with the deception that they are being inducted into the National Association of Seadogs”. In an effort to address the issue of politics and cultism, Professor Wole Soyinka (A Nobel Laureate and one of the founding fathers of the Pyrates Confraternity also known as the “Original 7”) produced a 15 minutes documentary film first shown to the world on 29 June 2005 by Channel 4 News in the United Kingdom, in which he chronicled some of the key factual issues pertaining to the culture of violence and cultism in Nigeria. As part of the documentary, Professor Soyinka interviewed one of the self-acclaimed founder of the Neo-Black Movement (NBM) and he openly claimed that his organization routinely engage in beating up any of their members that participated in political hooliganism. He went ahead to state for a fact that their organization also engaged in killing criminals without any legal trials and sometimes, they do hand the criminals over to the police. Professor Soyinka asked the NBM self-acclaimed founder if his organization had any political connections to which he quickly denied but Professor Soyinka observed that the NBM founder’s residence located in the ancient city of Benin was heavily surrounded and protected by the Nigerian Police Force and members of the NBM or otherwise known as Axe-Men.
At this juncture, to answer the million dollar question posed earlier, we need to explore the meaning and benefits of a true fraternity. A fraternity by definition is an association of persons united in a common purpose. There are a number of benefits for individuals to belong to a fraternity and they range from:
Obviously, these Nigerian politicians are not joining because of the noble and lofty fraternal goals but for selfish gains. They have come to understand that few misguided fraternity members are willing to lay their lives for the sake of “brotherly love” and loyalty to a fellow frat brother or sister. And most unfortunately, few of these misguided fraternity members have knowingly engaged in illegal and violent activities due to poverty, hunger and high unemployment rate in Nigeria.
The Federal Government of Nigeria and the Federal Ministry of Education have failed to address the issue of student cultism and violence for decades rather they have actually fattened the deep pockets of some campus administrators under the umbrella of “Anti-Cult Campaigns and Renunciations”. During the Anti-Cult Week symposium organized by the University of Lagos (UNILAG) on November 3, 1999, the former NAS Capone Ben Oguntuase proposed the establishment of the National Inter-Confraternity Council of Nigeria (NIFC) that would be charged with the responsibilities of identifying all fraternities in Nigerian tertiary institutions and establishing guidelines for the existence and operation of these fraternities on campuses while developing an appropriate framework for minimizing and dealing with inter-fraternity conflicts as well as formulate programs that will enhance inter-fraternity harmony through collaborative activities aimed at providing service to the communities and competitive activities in sports and academics and develop a framework to monitor and report the composite academic performance of each fraternity and recommend appropriate rewards for academic excellence and develop programs to disarm all fraternities. Unfortunately, the conveners of the National Inter-Confraternity Council of Nigeria met a strong resistance from the Nigerian authorities.
To date, the Nigerian authorities have also failed to come to the realization that not all organizations like the Pyrates Confraternity (PC) can easily evolve out of their campus fraternity existence to an international organization that continuously looks for ways and means to be strategically relevant to the society. Members of the PC have imbibed an obsession for service to the community while consciously taking steps to build on and sustain those ideals of the founding fathers. Their organizational goals remain the pursuit of a just and egalitarian society in which the strong protects the weak and all have equal access to opportunity for the realization of each person’s potential. In the absence of an organized entity like the PC, it is therefore imperative to establish an inter-fraternal council, so that all fraternity groups will be un-masked and cult members will become known to the school authorities and all law offenders can be easily identified and apprehended. This will ensure and discourage student criminals from joining the fraternities in the first place.
This ideology is not a new one but had already being experimented and succeed in the reformation of the Kegite Club (formerly the Kegite Confraternity or the Palmwine Drinkards Club) and today, all Kegite Club associations are mandated to register with their respective school authorities every new year and their activities are regulated and controlled by their respective school authority including the disclosure of membership names, course of study, leadership information and periodical organizational activities. Conclusively, majority of Nigerian politicians would not support any true initiative to eradicate student cult violence because their children are schooling aboard and they need readily available supply of youths to rape, steal, fight, kill and die for them. Surely, it is high time for the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Federal Ministry of Education to take proactive steps to permanently put an end to this absolute insanity and absurdity called student cult violence in Nigeria.
Roy Chikwem is a member of Amnesty International, American Civil Liberties Union and Junior Chambers International. He wrote from New Castle, Delaware, USA