It is often said when there is peace in a society its inhabitants would be relatively safe; as enduring peace often provides the right environment for development. However, the peaceful ambience with which the city of Ilorin, the Kwara State’s capital, is widely known for has long been undermined by the sheer barbarism of violent cult gangs terrorizing the hitherto tranquility of the city. Although it should be acknowledged, the menace of cultism is not restricted to Ilorin alone (or even Kwara State as a whole), but rather a national security problem which apparently became more pronounced following the unfortunate weakening of Students unionism beginning from mid 1990s. Be that as it may, violent gangs’ war or menacing cult groups’ clashes have become a serious security problem in Ilorin, Kwara State. As someone intoned recently, “neighbourhoods are in an uptick of daily violence and extremism” as rival cultists often engaged each other in brutal war of attritions.
Hitherto confined to tertiary institutions in the mid 1990s, violent cultism has long crept into the larger society since the new millennium birthed from year 2000 onward with cult members nowadays included non students area thugs and other petty criminals in the neigbourhoods. More lamentably, cultist groups even now paraded Secondary Schools students as well as miscreants (especially notorious thugs) as members since cultism begun shifting from higher institutions onto the streets. One can rightly posit that the numbers of cult members on the street are greater than those in the schools. Today, most of the area boys and motor park touts are easily identified as cult members. The expansion of membership of these violent cult groups to include other non students criminal elements has acerbated their nefarious activities evident in periodic brutalities allegedly inflicted by these hoodlums on their targets including innocent bystanders.
They usually walk the streets freely intimidating, threatening, extorting and always molesting the neighbourhoods with deadly weapons perhaps supplied by their patrons who are mostly politicians. Indeed, there is assumption that most of the hoodlum-cultists are connected with some of the powerful politicians who usually providing them necessary security cover or logistics supports amongst others. This is so because as there is hardly any notable politician in the country that does not get one or two thugs on payroll recruited purposefully to intimidate their political opponents. Put in another way, these political patrons played major role in the provision of logistic, intelligent, finance as well as protection necessary for effective operations. It would not be wrong to assert that there wont be anything like campus cult if the government and these influential people are determined to say no to cultism.
Thus, the recurring barbarism by these hoodlums fetters perhaps due to insufficient will on the part of key duty bearers within the state and gatekeepers in affected communities to address the menace. In any case, there is a feeling that the inability to curb the menace of cultism might not be unconnected to seemingly criminal subculture well entrenched within social structure in flash spot neigbourhoods. Whatever, some of the reasons responsible for growing audacity of violent cult gangs in our society include lack of political will to enforce the anti secret society law; tacit acceptance or condoning by families and or communities; social decadence and dislocation as a result of crippling poverty accentuated due to poor economy of the State. There is also lack of effective collaboration between the government and host communities.
The proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALWs) has also increased the audacity of cult gangs in terrorizing the society. They always walk on the streets in the metropolis armed with dangerous weapons mostly supplied by their patron politicians or procured through illegal means such as attack on police stations, robbery operation, and arm smuggling to perpetrate violence thereby disturbing the peace and tranquility of the State. Many people especially innocent youth have been killed either accidentally or intentionally. The fear of maiming, intimidation and killing has become more real in Ilorin metropolis. As such, both the young and the old could not walk the streets without fear of being attack. Some streets have become so dreaded that only the few could walk there free. Children and youth are afraid of being forced to join. In that context, the community is tensed and law enforcement agencies appear to have become helpless.
Evidently, violent gangs’ war by cult guys has now become a worrisome source of concern in the city with recurring barbarism that has now constituted a very serious danger to the security and well being of the city of Ilorin in particular and the State in general. As results of seemingly far reaching security implications of the violent gangs, the State Government enacted the “Secret Cult and Secret Societies in Educational Institution (Prohibition) Law” in 2004 to curb public disturbance that characterized their activities. The Bukola Saraki administration’s law explicitly prohibited existence of any secret society in the state.
With the promulgation of the anti secret cult law in the State, Saraki’s government worked assiduously with law enforcement agencies in the State such as SSS and Police to eradicate cultism in the State. However, this could not last long as many often alleged that same politicians surreptitiously patronize some of these notorious criminal elements in the prosecution of their electoral war. Put differently, the law did not achieve much impact as politicians find attractions in some of these hooligans in terrorizing their political opponents. As such, rather than seeing drastic reduction in their numbers, the reverse was the case as cultism increased in strength, demography and callousness.
It must however be acknowledged the positive roles the neighbourhoods forums are now dedicated to play in terms of community policing. If properly nurtured and empowered, the neighbourhoods security committees could play more catalytic roles in tackling the menace of the cultism. Today, the state government and community have stood up against these illegal activities. The current Secret Cult law of the Kwara State which provided 14 years imprisonment for anyone found guilty is a welcome ideal. It is expected that the existence of this law since June this year would serve as warning or threat to the cultist and other gang members but the reverse is the case.
The existence of the law has not serve as stringent punitive measure to curb the growing barbarism of cultism in Ilorin. Although, several laws have been made and policy formulated by the government in curbing gansterism in the state, all these cannot bring fruitful result without the government will to enforce it. There is need for action oriented measure not only paper documents.
The issue of favouratism should be eliminated, every community and religious leaders, politicians, prominent persons in the state be made to sign attestation form stating clearly that they will not lobby for the releasing or granting pardon to anyone or member of their family; son, daughter or any other person arrested in connection with cultism in the state. In that case, further lobby for release of any gang member should be made a criminal offense in the state. This would make the parents to monitor their wards. It will not only make the punishment serve as lesson to others but will make young ones to desist from criminal behaviour and reduce the chance of joining unlawful society.
Without doubt, the incessant cultist violence in the state also has negative socioeconomic implication as many business people are discouraged from investing in the state as they mostly look elsewhere for investment opportunities. Ensuring effective measure against cult and weapon proliferation, the community and religious leader should stand up and set up security committee that would oversee the unwholesome behaviours in the city. Government should not ignore the role of these community associations formed in every street by the youth.
They are very promising given their deep knowledge of their environment; they can scoop out the bad eggs easily as they know all their hide outs often used as base and communication strategy. There should be working relationship and cooperation between community association, local security committee, and security agencies, authority of the institution higher learning and ex-cult leaders and members. This will create avenue for intelligent sharing as well as fishing out unknown members. Experience has showed that neither of this group of people can single handedly eradicate the menace of cultism in the city.
Also, the judiciary should perform their duty well. The act of releasing the cult member unlawfully despite glaring evidence of membership should be prohibited. Lawyers should not aid and abet the release of cult members. The prosecutors should pursue their case to the last stage without fear or favour. It is only through this everyone can live in peace. No politics should be played with cult cases!
All said there is urgent need to rebuild our social structure which had for long been broken down. Without address societal value reorientations, there are little chances that we’ll be out of the hood soon. With the benefit of hindsight, this was one of the missing ingredients why the Bukola’s interventions did not last quite long, aside assumed romance by the politicians, the bottom-up approach supported by rebuilt social structure systems right from the family to community level is relevant in achieving the desired peaceful environment.
Research Assistant , Grassroots Development & Advocacy Centre,
Ilorin, Kwara State