The menace of cultism which was once confined to Nigerian tertiary institution campuses has no doubt taken a new trend as it has suddenly held sway amongst primary, and secondary school students and on the streets in various communities across the country.
Disturbed by the hitherto dysfunctional basic education system that could not guarantee effective molding of a total child, the immediate past administration led by former governor Akpabio declared an emergency the challenges bedeviling the foundational school system in Akwa Ibom State.
During that period, many poor homes could not afford fees and other sundry charges, forcing parents to withdraw their children to engage in menial jobs such as house-help and street hawking, while trafficking of minors to far-flung places including Rivers, Anuja, and Lagos boom. Some of the female victims were forced to engage in prostitution.
According to Akpabio, “Some of them were even diverted from their initial destination in Lagos State where the trafficker told the parents to either Ekiti or Ondo States, where they were forced to work in cocoa plantation and marijuana farms”.
Others, he added, were trafficked to other countries like Cameroon and Gabon where their parents could not see them again.
“Before I became commissioner and later governor, I was always ashamed that most menial jobs like house boy, house girl, factory workers, and gatemen, were always the exclusive preserve for Okon, Akpan, Effiong, and Ekaette,” he said.
To address this imbalance, according to Akpabio, “I realized that education holds the key”.
He, therefore, launched a massive education intervention scheme targeted at the basic education system from the primary to the Junior Secondary School (JSS) level, as well as subventions to dissuade the students from the distractions of economic factors.
To stave-off abuses and sexual exploitation of the girl-children, Akpabio was quick to send the Executive Bill (Child Rights Act) to the State House of Assembly, for the law to be domesticated in Akwa Ibom.
Part of the components of the law was to curtail illicit trafficking of children out of Akwa Ibom and to check straying school children, who roam the streets during school hours, checks by our Correspondent revealed.
Parents, according to the law, were to bear the brunt of their children’s misdemeanors as the culprits were to be arrested, and taken to their homes, where their parents could be identified, arrested, and prosecuted in their children’s stead.
One can say that the free education policy enunciated by former governor Godswill Akpabio and sustained by the current administration of governor Udom Emmanuel has come under the vice-grip of insecurity fueled by activities of teen cultists in the state.
Emmanuel, at the point of receiving the power baton in 2015, vowed to sustain the legacy and significantly improved and sustained the legacy with more innovations in skills and entrepreneurial studies.
Reason for upsurge
Fortnight ago one SS2 student was stabbed to death by his senior in SS3 at Community Comprehensive Secondary School, Aka Offot in Uyo, over alleged refusal to join their cult group.
Also, a similar incident of an SS3 student stabbing his junior colleague from SS2 at West Itam Secondary School, it was learnt, has put the security agencies on their toes as “the two cases are still being prosecuted at the State Police Command Headquarters at Ikot Akpanabia”
Other schools affected by the menace of cultism in the state include Ewet Technical School, Uyo High School, Four Towns Secondary, and others.
But LEADERSHIP Weekend investigation revealed that influx of students, even from the neighbouring states, has over time led to over-enrolment and overstretching of the teaching and learning infrastructures.
“Because of the free education policy that is largely tuition-free, people are cashing in on such freedom to over-flood the public schools’ system, especially the secondary school.
“And some gullible principals collect gratifications in form of cash to admit students, especially those on transfers from other schools at will, without proper check on their backgrounds as to why they left their former schools.
“And the result could be seen in formations of outlaw groups with students becoming gangsters and holding the public schools’ system hostage,” a principal-general Monday Jonah noted.
The fear of the menace of cultism, which has crept into the public Primary and Secondary schools system, has compelled some non-state actors to react by expressing worry over the future of those they described as future leaders.
Future of children could be truncated by the menace – CSOs
A non-governmental organisation committed to good governance, social protection and environmental justice in Niger Delta has expressed fears concerning the future of the young ones.
Speaking in an interview with LEADERSHIP Weekend, the executive director of the Network Advancement Programme for Poverty and Disaster Risk Reduction (NAPPDFR) Alhaji Al Mustapha Emem Edoho lamented that the future of the children could be truncated by the menace.
He stressed the need for strong political will to address the scourge.
Edoho, who spoke amid the incessant killings and violence among students in the state capital, noted that “these ugly developments, have the potential of making nonsense of the free and compulsory education policy of the government at the basic schools’ system.”
He, however, advocated for a holistic action plan to tackle the problem, noting that “most of these petty crimes are fueled by drug abuse”.
The Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Supol Odiko Macdon noted that the police has zero tolerance for crimes and whoever is apprehended engaging in any form of crime will be made to face the full weight of the law no matter the age.
Reacting to the recent developments, he said nobody has the right to take the life of another.
He said: “Early exposure of the children to drugs and other dangerous substances has negative multiplier effects among pupils in an enclosed cluster like the school system.
“The government has a duty not only to provide free and compulsory education for the Students but should be able to provide an effective monitoring process to ensure its functionality.
“The Ministry of Education led by the Commissioner, Mrs. Idongesit Etiebet, should set up an educational Task Force to monitor, especially the notorious schools, partner with the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) to rid the schools and surrounding environments of drug peddlers and illicit drinks’ sellers.
“Anti Drugs Club and other academic associations should be made compulsory for all students and pupils to belong in order to engage them properly.”
Stakeholders identify root causes of menace, seek solution
Disturbed by the problem, governor Udom Emmanuel has placed a ban on no fewer than 64 identified cult groups operating in the state. He also directed the Inter-Ministerial Agency to erect perimeter fences to secure most of the metropolitan schools affected by the cult’s menace.
Besides, Emmanuel warned parents to monitor their children and wards through effective guidance and counseling to shun the evil of cultism.
To effectively address the menace, the State Secondary Education Board (SSEB) summoned education stakeholders drawn from the three Senatorial Districts of Uyo, Ikot Ekpene, and Eket, along with the students across Secondary Schools in the State for a three-day meeting on security infractions threatening the basic system tagged: ‘Insecurity in Public Secondary Schools’.
Permanent secretary Ministry of Education Mr. Asuquo Selong Edem and other stakeholders, who deliberated on the problem, were drawn from the State chapters of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT); Parents Teachers Association (PTA); National Parents Teachers Association of Nigeria (NAPTAN), State Secondary Education Board (SSEB), Government officials, educational administrators, and Traditional Rulers.
The conferees, who addressed the forum, mostly heaped the blame on parents and faulted their inability to instill good moral upbringing at home before sending their children and wards to imbibe complimentary learning in an enclosed educational environment.
The Commissioner for Education, Mrs. Idongesit Etiebet noted that governor Emmanuel had massively intervened to address challenges of infrastructure in the sector including perimeter fencing to ward off miscreants and cultists in the habit of degrading the free education policy.
But regretted that “it is appalling that all forms of intra-schools riots, rape, and other vices have combined to bug down the development of the system”.
“No system can survive with insecurity”, she stressed and called for all hands to be on the deck to tackle the menace.
He recalled a specific case of rape of a JS 3 student, chaos by students that led to the closure of some schools, and urged parents to be “security managers” including formations of functional PTAs to be able to confront the menace headlong.
In the same vein, Secretary to the State Government, Dr Emmanuel Ekeuwem, who declared the meeting open, pointed out that “high level of insecurity prevails in our public School system”, and urged parents and other stakeholders to be in the vanguard of addressing the scourge”.
The Chairman of NUT, Comrade Edet Emenyi, also blamed some parents for always looking the other way, while their children and wards thrive in irresponsible life of vices, especially toeing the line of cultism because of peer pressure.
Besides, he accused some of the teachers of belonging to occult groups and other secret confraternities, thereby becoming hamstrung to instill good moral values in the children.
“The parents have abandoned their responsibility in bringing up the chicken in a moral way. Children, who are not properly trained will become vagabonds at home and in society,” he warned.
Calling on the government to sanitize the system, Emenyi pointed out that “most of the teachers are cultists too. I would like the government to arrest the situation.”
“Government has been doing well in terms of security in the school by providing perimeter fencing and other educational facilities. Education is capital intensive, therefore, parents and the PTAs should rise to complement,” she stressed.
The NDLEA State Commander Mrs. Obot Bassey lamented that early exposure of students to drugs pushes the students into cultism.
She urged parents and guardians, community leaders, school management, churches, and other stakeholders to effectively monitor and tutor the young ones on the evil of drug abuse, which she noted, always give rise to their involvement in crimes including rape and cultism.
The Paramount Ruler of Uyo, Edidem Sylvanus Okon, noted that the trends of cultism among students have assumed a new and dangerous dimension, especially in some notorious schools in the metropolis, including the Ewet Technical College and Uyo High School, where cults’ rivalries have often led to fierce and bloody confrontations.
He identified poor parental care as the major driving force stoking restiveness among the young ones in basic schools.
The Paramount Ruler charged teachers to “always bring the non-conformists to the Traditional Rulers Council (TRC) for proper disciplinary action”.
A communique at the end of the last leg of the conference that captured the recommendations on how to address the security challenges confronting the Akwa Ibom public Schools system, stressed the for all stakeholders, government, parents, schools’ management, and teachers to be in the vanguard of maintaining sustaining the free education policy to safeguard the future of the leaders of tomorrow.