Cultism In Higher Institutions Of Learning In Nigeria - History, Causes, Effects And Solution

This article analysis the meaning,origin, predisposing factors, effects and solutions to the menace of Cultism in tertiary institutions in Nigeria.


Cultism is one of the major challenges confronting the nation’s education system. The atrocities committed on daily basis by the cult groups are obviously beyond imagination. The menace of cultism, indeed, has become a social problem that calls for urgent and collective social action. With the prevalence of secret cultism in Nigeria's tertiary institutions, one can predictably submit that except urgent measures are taken to curb the menace, the future of this country would be bleak for cultists are likely to end up as armed robbers, gamblers, rapists, assassins, kidnappers and gangsters. Of course, these anti-social vices which are associated with cultism attract various punishments or jail terms under the Nigerian criminal code and justice administration.


Cultism can be defined as a collection of people coming together on the principle of protecting their members and defending their interests both positively and negatively without exposing their power base to outsiders. Membership is usually restricted and is not publicly known. A campus cult comprises a group of people who gather to perform illegal activities and they usually operate under the cover of darkness. The delusion often given to lure students into a mesh of cultism is that as a member you are to gain respect and recognition. In reality, cultism exposes one to dangers and insecurity than offering protection. It is true the Nigerian constitution recognizes freedom of association and assembly but this does not include membership in secret cults/societies. The law expressly prohibits the membership of secret cults/societies.

For the avoidance of doubts, lawful associations, clubs, or societies are groups duly registered and recognized by the university/college Authorities. Such clubs, associations, or groups are regarded as lawful if members are known by the public, the executive is properly constituted with a list containing names of the executive submitted to the University/College Authorities, and the objectives and goals of the group must be in furtherance of the mission, vision and the objectives of the institution. Recent research has confirmed that the menace of these cults has extended far beyond the walls of the ivory towers/academic institutions to the larger society thereby posing security challenges to the nation. A lot of youths with promising futures had died in contemporary Nigeria as a result of cult classes. Cultism promotes violent culture and it is becoming more or less an organized crime in contemporary Nigeria. There is also a widely held belief that cult members are children of the elite or high-ranking personalities. They normally have sponsors in the government circle and among top politicians.


The formation of secret societies is not a recent development in the annals of Nigerian history. In world history, there were secret cults that had existed and operated in Egypt, Greece, Rome, and other parts of the world. Also, there was historical evidence that there were secret societies in Africa before even the advent of colonialism. What is common to all cult groups are the oath of secrecy, clandestine activities and desperate pursuit of goals, and unlawful possession of dangerous weapons. Coming to Nigeria, history traced the origin of cultism in tertiary institutions to 1952 at the then university college Ibadan when seven students acted as the pioneers. The story of how the pyrates confraternity was formed at the University College Ibadan now the university of Ibadan was confirmed and re-authenticated by Prof. Muyiwa Awe, one of the seven pioneers of pyrates confraternity in The Punch Newspaper of Monday, 17th May 2004(P16).

The pyrates confraternity which was pioneered and promoted by Wole Soyinka, Ralph Opara, Olumuyiwa Awe, Ikphere Aig-Imonkuede, Pius Olegbe, Nathaniel Oyelola, and Ifagbale Amater was known for an intellectual approach to issues rather than violence. The pyrates of Wole Soyinka’s days at The University of Ibadan were deeply involved in the nationalist struggle. Indeed, the aim of pyrates at the initial stage was to fight imperialism, foster justice, and preserve African customs and traditions. 

Shortly after independence, student confraternity became derailed from the original path of fighting against oppression, exploitation, and social injustice. Surprisingly, what started as an intellectual platform eventually become known and associated with violence, and members were deeply involved in drunkenness, excessive smoking, brutality, drug abuse, maiming, rape, and killing of innocent students. No responsible person will love to be associated with cultists because of the dangers inherent in cultism. The unpatriotic acts and social misconduct among the executives of the pyrates confraternity led Bolaji Crew, one of the leaders to move out of pyrates and formed the Buccaneers in 1972 as a rival student confraternity.

In the 1980s, the black beret was formed in the University of Nigeria, Vikings in the University of Port Harcourt, Mafia, black axe, Jezebel, seven stars, the blood of brotherhood, Burkinafaso, etc. A recent survey on cult activities in Higher Institutions has confirmed that about fifty (50) or more different groups of secret societies exist in tertiary institutions in Nigeria and each with a peculiar style, recruitment policy, objectives, and membership drive. 


Cult groups/secret societies devise various ways to recruit members into their fold. Often, students with poor study habits, low self-esteem, and probably those who are suffering from complexes either superiority or inferiority complex easily fall prey to cult groups for recruitment. Techniques used in recruiting members by the cultists include indoctrination, brainwashing, luring, inducement, threats, etc.


The activities of the cults/ secret societies are divided into six:

(i) Toasting:- The act of searching for potential members involves cajoling, luring, and toasting the new students’

(ii) Tutorial/Indoctrination:- The activity involves orientating, indoctrinating, and acculturating a would-be member of any cult group. The tutorial is usually done by a highly experienced member of a cult group. The activity allows for the inculcation of the recruits into the norms, values, and practices of the group.

(iii) Drilling/Physical cum combatant training for members: Each cult group does organize a kind of training similar to that of either police or military for members to make them fit and capable of being able to withstand torture and stress. This is usually done inside a bush or hidden locations for security reasons.

 (iv) Initiation:- The activity usually comes up at least once a year, especially at the beginning of the academic session.  

(vi) Strike:- This is the most deadly of all the activities of the cults. Cult groups usually plan properly to strike at anyone perceived as an enemy and it involves the use of dangerous weapons such as guns, axes, cutlasses, matchets, bottles, knives, etc. Whenever the cults want to strike, they first monitor the movement of their victims very well, and usually, three or more are deployed to hit (attack) the person. 


i. Colour Symbolism:- Each cult group is known for its unique color. Members always wear clothes or caps to reflect the color symbol and this is one of the signs to identify the members. For example, Eiye confraternity is associated with blue beret/clothes; Black axe (Aye) is associated with black beret/ regalia; Bucaneers is known for yellow color; pyrates confraternity is associated with red beret/regalia, etc. 

ii. Coded Language:- Each cult group has a special coded language called argot. It is only members that can decode the message whenever argot is spoken by the cultists. However, one can easily identify a cultist when he/she speaks. Also, cultists are known for expressing thoughts and ideas using slang and another peculiar mode of communication. It has been reported in early studies that when a new recruit is initiated by cultists, they may say he has been balm or fly depending on the cult group.

iii. Special Mode of Greeting:- Each of the secret cults has a special mode of greeting. For example, the Eiye confraternity exchange handshake by clawing each other likewise other cult groups. There is an expected response mandatory to be expressed in return for the greeting. 

iv. Body Decoration:- Cultists often do a tattoo or other forms of body decoration and times pierce the nose in cases of female members to give them a unique outlook. 

v. Cultists at times may appear to be excessively quiet and in some instances prefer to isolate themselves from other students. 

vi. Dangerous Life Style:- They smoke and drink heavily and sometimes engage in drug/ substance abuse. 

vii. They always move in a group of two or more for fear of being attacked by the rival cult groups.  

viii. Cultists also bear nicknames or are usually being called by their alias instead of their real names for security reasons. 

ix. Cultists normally put on black power bangles made of the robber to show class/levels among colleagues on campus. 


i. Wrong orientation 

ii. Frustration and academic failure

iii. Poor family background

iv. Influence of peer groups

v. School climate 

vi. Student union politics

vii. Economic depression

viii. Quest for social relevance and love for domination 

ix Freedom from home

x. Egocentrism/Complexity  

xi. Desire to revenge or avenge wrongdoing

xii. Poor study habit 

xiii. Low Self-esteem  


i. Disruption of the academic calendar/ and causes instability in the school programs.

ii. Poor learning outcomes 

iii. Threats to lives and property on campuses 

iv. Maiming and killing of innocent students 

v. Negative effects on the image of the institutions.

vi. Incessant closure of institutions

vii. General Insecurity on campuses

viii. Arms proliferation/ arms struggle among students

ix. Predisposing factor to armed robbery, kidnapping, hired assassinations, etc  


To really address the problem of cultism, there should be an adoption of a holistic approach to combat the menace of secret cultism in Institutions of higher learning as enumerated below:

1. With proper guidance and counseling, the cult members should feel free to come out to renounce membership of the secret cult without fear of molestation from members of the Group.

2. Students should not be denied freedom of association and the right to unionize. Effective and functional students’ unionism is an antidote against cultism in institutions of higher learning. 

3. The authority should investigate properly and make efforts to verify claims by any Association before registering them to operate on campus. The procedure for registration should include submission of lists of an executive with passport photographs, lists of members with departments, and probably with matriculation numbers, dates, and venues of meetings and there should be at least two staff advisers. 

4. Any member of staff (either academic or Non-teaching )found to engage or aid any cult group should be given appropriate sanctions depending on the level of involvement and may even be handed over to the police for necessary prosecution.

5. Parents are to monitor their wards and ensure they are given the right orientation and parents are to discourage them from moving with friends with questionable characters.

6. Authorities should support anti-cult initiatives and awareness programs. However, Authorities should avoid acting on fake or falsified security reports. 

7. The sales of alcoholic drinks, cigarettes, and other hard drugs should be discouraged on campuses. 

8. Student Associations are to be encouraged to organize seminars/lectures on the evils of cultism.

9. Moral teachings and religious instructions should be emphasized as parts of curriculum programs of instruction, activity, and guidance in all tertiary institutions. 

10. Any student found guilty of involving in secret cult activities should be expelled and probably be prosecuted in the law court.

11. The authorities should ensure that any unregistered clubs/societies are not allowed to operate or utilize any of the college facilities.

12. Government should provide recreational facilities in our institutions so that youths could channel their energies towards sports and recreation instead of cultism which is a bane of the nation’s educational development 

13. There is a need to develop the spiritual state of mind of Nigerian students by encouraging spiritual activities and moral teachings among the student associations.

14. Students should be encouraged to form vigilante groups with proper monitoring by the Management and enabling environment should as well be created for information gathering on cult activities in higher institutions.

15. Students’ union activities should aim at the promotion of peace, tranquillity, and social justice rather than hooliganism, violence, and disruption of the school programs/activities.

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