Cults, or confraternities, as they were originally known, was first established by Nigerian Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka and six of his friends to counter the classism and elitism of colonial and wealthy university students of the University of Ibadan in 1953.
Since then, due to a multitude of corrupting factors such as factions, military regimes that used cults to fight against student union bodies and university staff who opposed them, and politicians who used them to intimidate opponents and disrupt elections, they have devolved into violent gangs who often engage in violent clashes for supremacy. Many Nigerian lives have been affected by the spate of cultism in Nigeria. I spoke to seven men who had been affected, directly or indirectly, by cultism.
Cultists try to lure you with promises that university cultists hold major positions in the cult and go on to be leaders. They promise connections and benefits from being a cult member. In reality, it’s not worth it. You can’t be yourself and constantly have to keep looking over your shoulder. Some cultists go on to be political office holders but they are in the minority. Most people get killed and maimed, with their hopes dashed. I’ve seen loved ones and parents get sacrificed on the altar of cultism.
While I was in the university, two of my cousins were cultists. One of them was a strike chief, someone who decided who was going to be killed, in the Buccaneers Confraternity. During a gang war, called “banter”, my cousins had to flee to nearby villages to hide out. I was with the strike chief in the lodge where he was hiding out with his girlfriend, playing video games. He always protected me from being initiated into any of the cults that courted me because he thought it won’t do me any good, and I knew too many things and that might make me a prime target.
One night when he went out to buy food, a rival cult member saw him and alerted others. Around 4:30 am, they broke into the house, and macheted and shot him to death and left his body on the road. Two other students were killed. In retaliation for my cousin’s death, my other cousin masterminded a hit on the rival gang and killed 5 cultists a week later. It was bloody.
I was born in Mushin and I’ve lived in Shomolu, Bariga, so while I might not be able to say much about campus cultism, I know too much about street cultism. People argue about which is worse but I can assure you that street cultism is the more brutal version. Dozens of guys I played with when I was a child now belong to various fraternities.
With street cultism, different areas are controlled by various cults. If two cults are at war, boys and young men from those areas can’t just walk into the enemy area. I didn’t know this when I decided to see off two friends who had visited me back to their own neighbourhood. At some point, they told me to go back home since it would be dark when I was returning. Just after I left, they were ambushed by cultists who had seen us. They were beaten near-death and were asked about my whereabouts because the cultists had sighted me earlier. They were about to be killed when my friend recognised one of them as his childhood friend.
Only God knows what would have happened if I, who was from a neighbourhood they were at war with, was with them that night.
I was this close to being killed during an attack. I was walking with a couple of friends in school when we heard gunshots at close range. We all ran for our lives. When things settled down, I realised my friend was one of the people who had been shot, along with the supposed target who now lay dead and another girl who was injured. My friend was rushed to the hospital but he didn’t make it.
When scores have to be settled and cults start fighting and people flee, it’s called Temple Run in street slang because you better not stop running. There are many cults in Calabar. However, they’re so discreet, you wouldn’t even know if someone close to you was a cultist.
In my case, it was my older brother. He was a fire-brand Christian, or so we thought. No one would have believed he was a cultist. Violence erupted in nearby Akwa-Ibom State one night in 2009, and he told my parents he had to visit our uncle who lived there. We didn’t hear from him for many days until we were told that he, along with several members of his cult were summarily executed by policemen from the Ikot Akpan Abia station because they were caught with guns and machetes.
My mother had to go through the humiliating ordeal of going to Akwa Ibom to beg for his corpse. We never got his body back and that made the experience so much more crushing for my parents. I don’t know if they ever recovered.
There’s no positive in cultism. It’s just dues upon dues that are mostly exacted on newer members, which they are always struggling to pay.
I was a student at Kogi State University from 2012-2017. I was a big part of the Aluta movement and my core friends held different positions in the student union government, including the president. They routinely socialised with cultists. At first, it was fun hanging out with Aye and Confra boys, driving in convoys and doing dorime before dorime became dorime.
Then came the scariest night of my life. I vividly remember Portugal played against France that night because I was watching them play with a couple of guys. I was sick and recuperating in the SUG president’s room when a group of cultists stormed the room. They were looking for the president because he hadn’t paid “dues”, but he escaped. They shot one guy in the leg and they were about to kill me with a cutlass when one of them recognized me and told the rest of them that I wasn’t a cultist. I really thought I was going to die.
In my first year at the University of Port Harcourt, I and a couple of friends went to a party to chill out as our exams were rounding up. We were walking back from the party when we were accosted by three men. One of them introduced himself and his cult and asked us to hand over our phones. We were laughing, because we taught it was a prank due to how calm and laid-back he was when he pulled out a gun. He told us he didn’t want to shout and asked for our phones again.
I gave mine up immediately but one of my friends was begging desperately to keep his phone. Another cultist approached us threateningly and he surrendered the phone. One of them gave me his number on a piece of paper and asked me to call him if I wanted my phone back. I threw it away because I knew it was one of their strategies to bully boys into joining their cult.
Many years after graduating from the University of Benin, I still have PTSD from my time there. One time, I was at my friend’s house playing games when we heard gunshots. As it wasn’t out of place to hear them, we didn’t think much of it. We later heard that it was a friend of ours who had been shot in the head. The fact that he survived is one of the reasons I still believe in a higher power.
I once watched someone get executed, mafia-style, in front of my hostel. A compound I lived in had someone butchered in it. They even threatened me once because of a girl I was dating.