Wednesday, December 5, 2012

From fraternities to cults: A shift in Nigerian brotherhood

By: Kayla Hardimon 
Produced & edited by: Leisha Lininger  

In Nigeria, confraternities, a system of brotherhood modeled after American fraternities, have taken a turn for the worst.

In the United States, Greek letter organizations exist on college campuses. These organizations operate as fraternities and sororities. They are a system of brotherhood and sisterhood for college students with similar morals, ideals, and interests.

Many of these organizations have come under a high level of scrutiny in the past two decades for hazing practices and violence against prospective members. These practices and the shift in recruitment methods have not been confined to the United States.

In the early 1950s confraternities such as The National Association of Sea Dogs arose in Nigeria. The NAS or Pyrates Confraternity, the first confraternity in the country, began as a method of protecting the weak against the tribal wars arising during that time. Seven men joined together to create the confraternity. These men banded together on the Pyrates creed “against convention, against tribalism, for humanistic ideals, and for comradeship and chivalry.”

“When it started it was a positive thing for the university,” said Omolola Omoteso Famuyiwa, a media specialist and public relations consultant from Nigeria.

“Now it is just a terror on campus.”

In the last 60 years, confraternities in Nigeria have evolved into cults. These cults are no longer labeled as student organizations, and serve as a system of intimidation of university students within the country.

Emmanuel Nkansah, Editor-in-Chief of Sigma Emperor Magazine, was hesitant to speak openly about cultism in Nigeria, saying the situation is as serious as the gang violence and intimidation of the “crips and bloods,” in the United States and other related gangs but “confined within the four corners of a university.”

Now, rather than serving as a system of comradeship and chivalry protecting the weak from tribal wars in the country, confraternities are now known as secret societies and cults that provide a form of power for their members. From the 1990s to the early 2000s cultism and violence led to the deaths of hundreds of university students and community members.

Before the 1990s, cult and gang violence was not common within the country, said Sam Oleka, the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Interdisciplinary Studies at Kentucky State University, who attended university in Nigeria in the 1970s.

“At that time I don’t think across Africa there was any gang anything unless they were fighting for independence,” said Oleka. 

“Confraternities in Nigeria have over the years become a group of violent and dangerous people who come together to promote oppression and violence for selfish gains,” said Theodore Nyingifa, an editor for Pulse, an online magazine.

In the last decade, cult violence has not been as rampant as in the past. In the early 2000s, many cultists began renouncing their membership as universities banned these organizations from their campuses. “I don’t know if this has eliminated the practice,” said Omoteso, “I think it may have made it more secretive.”

Upon entering a university many schools require their students to sign a form stating that they will not join any cults.

Despite university attempts to crack down on cultist violence in the schools, it still serves as a fear for parents in the country. Obiora Nwajei, the proprietor of the Karis primary school in Nigeria, stated that he was not comfortable sending his daughter to university in Nigeria.

“When cultism crept into universities, people lost their freedom,” said Nwajei.  

Becoming a member of a cult is an intricate process as these societies are meant to be kept in secret. Some students are targeted by the organizations to join.

Cult members target students for different reasons, “If you have money they will want to target you, to get what you have,” said Jide Oshin, an Ohio University student studying engineering and biology. Other students are targeted because of their intelligence, their strength or even in some cases their weakness.

Once targeted it is very difficult to decline membership into the cult.

“They won’t just let you go,” said Omoteso “because now you know that they are a member." 

Other students seek out membership in a cult to serve as protection from other cults or individuals.

Tolu Adeusi, a consultant with TG March Nata Education, says that many students who went to public schools feel like they do not fit in at universities, many of these students seek membership in such organizations to feel part of the community.

Oshin has three cousins who recently joined cults while attending universities in Nigeria.
“I think they joined because they wanted to be the big boys on campus,” said Oshin. “If you are a member people fear you and respect you.”

Once chosen, an initiation process occurs where prospective members are asked to complete tasks including violence, blood rituals, and the learning of information about the specific cult.

“Someone I know had to go beat someone up,” said Oshin, “a few others had to get a snake’s head for some type of witchcraft.”

Some students continue cultist activities after graduating from university. “The job market is very stagnant,” said Awele Nwankwo, a student from Plateau State Polytechnic University in Nigeria who studied international relations in hopes of leaving the country to do his work.

Those who do not find jobs are often “called up by politicians as body guards” said Nwajei.

“They engage in meaningless gang wars, rob people, oppress fellow citizens, and in most cases get hired by wealthy politicians to carry out their dirty jobs,” said Nyingifa,

This system of brotherhood, and recently sisterhood, in Nigeria has changed the way students learn at universities. Though cultism still exists within the country, the media rarely acknowledges it.

“I am tempted to say we have become accustomed to it,” said Nwajei.       

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