Ajoke Ogundairo* was in Junior Secondary School Three (JSS3) when she witnessed her first cult clash. The fight occurred between two groups from different public schools in Lagos, Southwest Nigeria.
The groups are identified as Hustle For The Future (code named-HFF) in Oshodi Comprehensive Senior High School and Honour The God (code named-HTF) in Oshodi Senior High School; both within the same area.
“The HFF in our school and HTF had a disagreement over a girl who is a student at my school. HTF boys began to throw bottles into our school, forcing everyone to run. The school authorities intervened and asked everyone to go home.”
“Accidentally, the bottles hit a girl who was later hospitalised and died in the process of treatment,” Ogundairo told HumAngle.
After that encounter in 2019, Ogundairo tried to stay away from such groups who have a habit of sitting in the back of classrooms to cause disturbance.
However, Ogundairo’s school is not the only secondary school in Lagos where students form groups to exploit fellow students.
Kunle Alao (not real name), a student of Egan Grammar School-Igando, had his experience when he had just begun Senior Secondary One (SS1).
“We used to sit in the same classes. Most times they are usually at the back, disturbing the classes, school premises or causing a major chaos.”
“Most of them have clicks around the school environment. They call themselves the House of Mercy. After school hours they walk together or are gathered somewhere.”
Identification and initiation
For House of Mercy, Alao said they fly a yellow bandana tied to their head or arms in the school’s mixed blue shade uniform.
“Some use yellow while others use the black bandana. They have this method of handshake they use to greet themselves,” Alao told Humangle.
He added that the initiation is done mostly by selection. “If they see you are beginning to show some certain qualities that they like, they would cajole you to join them,” Alao added.
Alao, who is now in SS3, noted that most of the cultist activities and demonstrations have been submerged by the school’s management who immediately arrest those found culpable. But, “they still, sometimes, hang around the school environment.”
In Oshodi Comprehensive High School, the major cult groups are Son of Success (SoS) and Hustle For the Future (HFF). Ogundairo told HumAngle that the SoS members, estimated to be up to 25, wear red berets and a bandana tied around their hands against the blue beret, white shirt and sky blue uniform of the school.
The HFF on the other hand, estimated to be 27, always wears a yellow beret with the same school bags and sandals.
Cultists in disguise?
When this reporter contacted another student from Ikeja Senior Grammar School, she said that although their operations were very minimal due to several interventions, some students still form themselves into groups to harass fellow students.
“During closing hours, they change their socks to another colour and gather at a street called Orona street–almost along the school vicinity. Sometimes when they have issues with other students, maybe from other schools, that’s their meeting point for arguments and sometimes fights,” she said.
She added that these clashes, which happen often, had not claimed any lives but resulted in injuries and bruises.
Also, “they don’t come to school early. Most times they jump the fence or do not attend classes every time. Sometimes, you find them loitering around the school premises while classes are on. They are about twelve in number with major ones from the senior classes. To grow their numbers, they appeal to other students who portray similar characteristics to join them.”
“The management are well aware of their actions and they are trying all their best to curb it,” she said.
Cultism in Lagos
In Lagos State, cultists have been a threat and caused residents to live in fear. Likewise, pupils, especially in public schools–with flexible laws and monitoring–also form themselves into groups to terrorise the school, fellow pupils, and vandalise properties.
In 2017, the state police command arrested 11 suspected teenagers who belonged to the ‘Gang star’ cult group. The secondary school suspects who were between the ages of 17 and 18 claimed to have been in existence since 2013.
In Feb. 2019, the police arrested two syndicates of the Awawa confraternity for initiating 12 children of Egan Primary and Secondary school. The children were between the ages of eight and 16.
The command operatives also arrested four teenagers in April 2021, two from Odewale Community High School Ijoko Ogun State, one from Tunik International School and a tailoring apprentice at Alakuko, Lagos.
“The Police operatives had got wind of the planned reprisal attacks on their rivals in the school and raced to the scene immediately the suspects arrived to cause pandemonium and attack their targets.”
“Items like cutlasses, weed suspected to be Indian hemp and assorted charms were recovered from them,” the command said.
In March, the state government signed into Law, the Prohibition of Unlawful Societies and Cultism of 2021 bill, which stipulates a 21-year jail term for convicted cultists in the state.
HumAngle also reported how the state’s house of assembly amended the Unlawful Societies and Cultism (Prohibition) Bill 2020 and proposed punishment for parents of convicted cultists.
When HumAngle contacted the state’s police public relations officer, Adekunle Ajisebutu, he said “our stance is clear. We condemn any act of cultism anywhere in the state and we will do everything legally possible to curtail it, arrest suspects, and charge them to court as we have always done. Strategies are in place and this is why the Command has been able to reduce the rate drastically.”
Addressing the issues
Hamzat Lawal, an education development advocate, while speaking with HumAngle pointed out several reasons that motivate students to join or form cult groups.
“Top among the list of why we know students are joining secret cults in Nigeria is for popularity and wealth; which is used as bait to capture the minds of children who believe they need such status to survive in a school system or in the society. And for a teenager to believe that popularity and wealth is what guarantees his/her success in a school or in a society then we must all ask ourselves: What values are we teaching or passing down to the next generation?”
He added that while overcrowding of public classrooms is a major problem which the government must look into, parents also play a crucial role in sensitisation.
Kayode Ojo, Executive Director of MKO Educational Movement, stressed that solving the challenges across public schools demands a total revamping of the educational sector and value reorientation from the government.
“Our leaders need to realise that any error committed with our young ones today will be a colossal disaster for the society in the near future. Thus, the need to invest more in raising a more conscientious set of teachers; budgeting more on teachers’ remuneration and placing more societal values on teachers (mind molders); developing a more engaging curriculum that will be compliant for this evolving generation,” he said.
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