Understanding Cultism and the Needs of Youths

Their pitiful condition is more frustrating and challenging to those whose parents are poor and for such individuals there appears no easy escape from the poverty trap than to join the evil fraternities on the campus or become social miscreants. Therefore, without understanding the social, economic and psychological dynamics that drive the youths to cultism and other antisocial behaviors and without attending to their needs the society may not find lasting solutions to the problem.

Social analysts have noted varied reasons for the upsurge of cultism in the society. However, the apparent erosion of educational standards, poverty and the society's neglect of the needs of the youths, moral laxity and gross in-discipline at home and schools appear the foundation for the formation and growth of cultism in Nigerian schools. It appears Nigeria is out of touch with the conditions necessary for modern life. Educational institutions in well-organized societies are the center for socioeconomic and political activities. But the schools in Nigeria that are supposed to be places for character reformation, acquisition of knowledge and skill and to prepare the youths "for future responsibilities and for success in life" (Dewey 1997) are today regrettably the center for cultism and other destructive behaviors. The schools are grossly mismanaged and starved of funds and learning and living conditions are horrible. They are thus strewn with cases of cheating in examinations and dishonesty, peer cruelty, prostitution and drugs peddling and consumption. And classes are conducted in dilapidated buildings that lack modern toilet facilities, proper ventilation and cooling system, overcrowded and without enough seats and the education they receive is often not engaging and rewarding. All these reflect the ills of the society that lead to poor quality graduates and moral laxity among the youths.

In higher institutions in Nigeria cult members are "members of student affinity groups" that sometimes kill students from "rival groups." Cults are dangerous and cult-related violence in schools is attracting national attention, as schools are often closed when rival cult groups kill students or teachers or destroy school properties. The youths are battling with litany of problems and some of those who are involved in cult-related crimes appear to have some social, economic and psychological (mental health) needs the authorities are ignoring. And failure to provide those needs means toying with the health and well being of the nation. If the society would not help the hapless youths it should not condemn their behavior.

The youths are not fully occupied and there are no youth jobs (even summer youth employment) to fetch them some income and there is nothing for the youths in the so-called government economic reform programs. An idle mind, as it is often said, is a devil's abode! And because they are neglected they do not feel belonging to the society and, therefore, would organize themselves into some criminal or cult-related groups and 419-scam activities to keep busy and make some income. A good number of the youths involved in antisocial behaviors are not born criminals, but for lack of the necessary family and social guidance they are tempted to embrace any association that gives them the needed protection, direction and sense of belonging. The deceptive political leaders who have looted the resources that should be channeled to youths and social development programs are not making efforts to understand the magnitude of the problems facing the youths.

Poverty appears one of the main factors that could push the youths into criminal behaviors. The Guardian of January 11, 2000 noted that the upsurge in crime in the nation is caused, among other things, by rising youth unemployment. Of more than 46 million (about 60% of the labor force) of the population that are unemployed the youths are said to make over 70% of this group. The society should be concerned about their quality of life and invest more on human capital and youth development. The authorities should understand that the battle over cultism is a futile undertaking and that the failed society should be blamed for its failure to perform its basic duties and should, therefore, not demonize the youths that are the victim. Dismissing cult members from school or locking them up in prison (as it appears the case), does not seem appropriate solution to the problem. The government should create some form of work-study program to enable qualified students earn a living while in school and make some funds available to qualified and needy students (in the form of loans or grants) to assist them through school. Many of the youths in schools from poor families have serious social and economic problems and they need all the assistance they could get. This could prevent the less fortunate ones from engaging in immoral and dubious means to raise funds for schooling. And the teachers should be motivated to take proper interest in their students, as a hungry teacher would not be expected to give proper attention to his or her students.

The society should reverse their sense of hopelessness and empower them to be creative and productive citizens, so that they would become less instrumental to their death. The nation should thus be restructured into a place where public institutions are performing their basic functions by providing the necessary social services to the needy, and where the police would respect the basic human rights of the citizens. In addition, efforts should intensified by the government to integrate the youths into the scheme of things with creative and "progressive education" and do away with all the social inequities and injustices that breed violent and criminal behaviors in the society.

To tame cult-related violence in schools parents have pivotal role to play; they must inculcate good moral values in their children at home to avoid them exporting antisocial behaviors to the schools. In spite the fact that morality matter, the ineffective legal and moral sledgehammers being dangled around by the government and school authorities are not working. Certainly, the dress codes for adults some schools seem to be prescribing will not improve the morality of the youths. Nevertheless, moral education (good character education) no matter how limited, should be part of Nigeria's educational programs. As Theodore Roosevelt was reported to have said ‘to educate a person in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace in [a] society.' Meanwhile, the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, defined good character as the life of right conduct (right conduct in relation to other persons and in relation to oneself). Thus good character consists of knowing the good, desiring the good and doing the good (habits of the mind, habits of the heart and habits of action). Other attributes of a good character include respect for the rights of others, regard for the law of the land, voluntary participation in public life, and concern for the common good.

Nigeria's educational program appears incomplete because the secondary schools lack professional psychologists and counselors and police officers to attend to the needs of the youths. And the programs run at both the secondary post-secondary institutions do not seem engaging – they are more theories and less practical applications of what they learn. One cannot over emphasize the need for ‘values education' that incorporates the teaching of the values necessary for good citizenship. As this writer has noted elsewhere, the youths should be encouraged and motivated to pursue their vocational and academic interests (at the secondary and post-secondary levels) and thus the barriers and discrimination between polytechnic and university education should be removed because the barrier frustrates many of them. Sadly, in Nigeria a graduate from the polytechnic with an HND seems inferior to one with a university (B.Sc. or BA) degree and would be struggling for years to get a university degree. As an underdeveloped or developing nation, Nigeria needs more technical degrees. However, removing the barrier would give the youths the opportunity to move back and forth from vocational to technical and from college of technology to the university without hindrance. More importantly, the government (federal, state and local) should allocate more money to education and allow the schools free hand to partner with the private sector to generate private revenue, because no school can run a good educational program without adequate funding.

It appears that some of the youths involved in cult-related crimes either on or off the campus could have some mental health needs the authorities are ignoring. As part of the solutions, the schools should employ professional counselors (do the schools have counselors?), psychologists and trained and educated campus police (not sexual predators) that would attend to the social and psychological and security needs of the students. This group would conduct a comprehensive evaluation of their mental, medical and personal needs. These are some of the important social services schools in the developed world provide their students that the Nigerian society has been ignoring to the detriment of the youths and the society at large. The youths are the potential leaders of tomorrow and the society will pay a price if they are not given the needed guidance and support today.

As noted earlier, Nigeria's educational system is incomplete and that is among the reasons the component parts of the society are not viable and self-sustaining. Therefore, all the voices of reason are needed to transform the society into a complete and efficient system. As Bertrand Russell has noted in The Problems of Philosophy "the fundamental tenet upon which the [a] system is built up is that what is incomplete must be not self-subsistent, but must need the support of other things before it can exist." In conclusion, the failure of the government to understand the root causes of cultism in the society and to give constant attention to the needs of the youths means mortgaging the future of the nation. And a government that worth the name will not allow such a thing to happen!

Victor E. Dike,

CEO, Center for Social Justice and Human Development (CSJHD), in Sacramento, California, is the author of Democracy and Political Life in Nigeria (second edition, forthcoming 2005; the first edition was published in 2001 by ABU Press, Zaria, Nigeria.

Guest posted on 10-17-2005, 07:45:59 AM
Good Writeup. I hope something is done to restore the dignity and integrity of the Nigerian youths. The decay is cancerous; It is a pity that if all stakeholders - Parents, Government and the entire society does not take proper effective steps to curb this social menace called Cultism, the country may become unsafe to rear the younger generations.
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