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Lagos Anti-Cultism Law: When parents pay for children’s sins

By Chijioke Iremeka
05 February 2022   |   3:04 am
Recently, cultism has become one of the most worrisome social vices plaguing the Nigerian society. It has become so menacing that primary school pupils are now being initiated into the malevolent group...

Parents Can’t Be Guilty Of Children’s Action –Experts
Arresting Parents Will Curb Cultism –Police

Cultism has become a menace plaguing the country, especially Lagos State. It is foreboding that primary school pupils now indulge in cult activities that are known to be endemic in universities and other higher schools of learning. In a move against this serious social ill that has brought great pain to the society, the Lagos State government promulgated an anti-cultism law to punish parents of convicted cultists, alongside their children, as a way of making the parents more responsible to their children’s upbringing. However, legal experts and civil society organisations argue that the law is not enforceable because it is inconsistent with some provisions of the 1999 Constitution. CHIJIOKE IREMEKA writes.

Recently, cultism has become one of the most worrisome social vices plaguing the Nigerian society. It has become so menacing that primary school pupils are now being initiated into the malevolent group, which has brought nothing but pain, anguish and most times loss of lives to the society and the affected individuals.
 
Cult activities in higher institutions across the country have also caused destruction of academic calendars, made the learning environment unsafe, impede development, and portrayed the society in bad light.

At different times, the government, especially Lagos State, had tried to clamp down on their activities by publicly creating awareness of the dangers posed by the groups in the society.

The government went as far as making public the punishment to be meted out to members of cult groups if apprehended, but they seem not to be deterred.
 
Sadly, cultism has gone beyond the boundaries of tertiary institutions. It has crept into almost all other sectors of the society. Being the nation’s economic nerve centre, Lagos has had cases of cult skirmishes.

In the war against cultism in Lagos, especially among the teenagers, a former Commissioner of Police, Imohimi Edgal, had blamed parents for the increasing rate of indulgence of young citizens in cult activities.

The former CP, who was then reacting to the growing cases of rivalry among cult groups in secondary and primary schools across the country, especially in Lagos, stressed the need for parents to monitor activities of their children both in school and at home, saying many of them were being lost to cultism and drug-related crimes.    
 
According to Edgal, police investigations revealed that youths join cults to gain supremacy over others, avoid intimidation by others, as well as to have edge over girls in their respective communities.
 
The police chief, who said six out of every 10 youths in the state were involved in cult activities, urged the parents to take absolute interest in the lives of their children, the company they keep and what they do at home, including checking their school bags and rooms on regular basis.

Sometime ago, while speaking to some parents at a meeting with some residents of Surulere, Lagos, he said: “Some of you are afraid of your children and it’s a shame on you. Some of us don’t sleep at home to monitor what our children do. How many times have you paid a surprise visit to your children’s schools and how many times have you checked what is in your children’s rooms and their bags to know what they bring into your house?”  
 
He recalled how police arrested some children between 1am and 2am during initiation into cult groups, wondering how children between ages 15 and 20 would leave their parents’ houses at such hours unnoticed.
 
“Shame on you if you are such a father! Go back home and take charge of your children. Cultism is currently a serious issue we must tackle in Lagos and everyone must be involved. I urge parents to warn their children to stay out of cultism and turn a new leaf…” he warned.
 
With the commissioner of police drumming this message in the ears of parents, it is not a surprise that the Lagos State House of Assembly last year passed the Unlawful Societies and Cultism (Prohibition) Bill 2020 into law and was signed by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to discourage young people from joining cult groups or participating in their activities.
 
Provisions of the anti-cultism law indicate that the level of involvement of a parent or guardian in his or her child’s cult activities is what will determine how culpable he or she is, not by merely being a biological parent or situational guardian.
 
The law became popular due to the intention to punish the parents of convicted cultists, though there is no specific punishment prescribed for the parents of the convicts. It has elicited mixed reactions from different quarters, even as the state is yet to punish a parent for his or her child’s involvement in cultism since the law was promulgated.
 
Some legal experts argue that the law is inconsistent with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that state that the circumstances under which someone can be convicted for an offense is, committing or aiding an offence.
 
They said unless the parents of the convicted are guilty of either or both instances, it will be unlawful for anyone to punish them. The anti-cultism law repeals the Cultism (Prohibition) Law of 2007 (now Cap. C18, Laws of Lagos State of Nigeria, 2015) and provides for more stringent punitive measures, as well as makes its application all-encompassing and applicable to the general public, as against the restriction of the previous law to students of tertiary institutions.
 
According to Governor Sanwo-Olu, the law was necessitated by the colossal devastation of lives and public properties by the cultists as they fragrantly perpetrate terror against the masses and the state at a slight provocation.

He said the state had suffered negative effects of unlawful societies and cultism, stressing that the new law sought to make parents more responsible to their children’s upbringing to ensure they do not become burden to the society.

“The new law against cultism prescribes punitive measures for parents of young people convicted of cultism. Parents should be vigilant and monitor their children. We owe them a duty to ensure that their dreams and aspirations are realised through continuous training, guidance and mentoring,” he added.

Section I of the law reads: “From the commencement of this law, no student or member of any educational institution must belong to any group or society that is not registered with the students’ affairs department of a university or any educational institution in the state.”

The law also says “…An association of students or society on campus will not be registered whose object is illegal, destructive, unlawful or contrary to public policy and public safety.”
 
Declaring such an unregistered association or society illegal, the law states: “Subject to the provision of subsection (1) of this section, any association or society of students not duly registered with the institution is illegal and will be proscribed.”

In Section 3 that deals with imprisonment, the law states: “Any person who is a member of an unlawful society or cult, identifies as a member or solicits for members of an unlawful society or cult, attends a meeting of an unlawful society or cult whether as a member or an intending member of the unlawful society or cult commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of 21 years imprisonment.”
 
Item 16 of the Unlawful Societies and Cultism (Prohibition) Law is on punishment of parents or guardians of any child found guilty of cultism in ordinary court of the land. But which of the parents will be punished for the offence of their children – mother, father or both?

The item reads: “Any person, parent or guardian that is aware of a person’s or ward’s involvement in an unlawful society or cultism and who fails to report to the police, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of two (2) years imprisonment, or a fine of N500, 000. 00.”

Wondering why the parents would bear the brunt of their children’s offences, a lawyer, Lucy Okoye, is of the view that it is wrong to punish a person for an offence he or she didn’t commit.

“That is why you can see trained police officers engage in a gun duel with a criminal but the moment the criminal enters a crowd and mixed up with the people, the police will not shoot again in other not to gun down an innocent person,” she said.

Okoye argued that the only two conditions relevant for conviction of any person are if he or she committed an offence or aided the commission of an offence.

“A person can’t be punished because the child is found guilty of one offence or the other. That you have children and your children joined cult groups does not make you guilty under the established Nigerian law. Under what argument and context will a parent or guardian of a cultist be unmistakably guilty for the child’s action?”

She said the law should be properly promulgated for it to be valid in Nigeria. More so, the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 and Administration of Criminal Justice Laws of States in the country clearly state that a person cannot be arrested in lieu of a person suspected to have committed the offence.

Section 7 of the Criminal Code Act, describes principal offenders as: “When an offence is committed, each of the following persons is deemed to have taken part in committing the offence and to be guilty of the offence, and may be charged with actually committing it:
(a) every person who actually does the act or makes the omission which constitutes the offence; (b) every person who does or omits to do any act for the purpose of enabling or aiding another person to commit the offence; (c) every person who aids another person in committing the offence; (d) any person who counsels or procures any other person to commit the offence.”

Regarding the penalties and punishments, The Guardian learnt that the extent of a parent’s involvement in the commission of the offence would determine his or her category in the crime. It was also learnt that the sole objective of the punishment is to deter persons from getting involved in such a crime. Hence, imprisonment without the option of a fine will discourage a number of the youths from indulging in cult activities.

Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer of a civil society organisation, Adopt A Goal Initiative, Ariyo-Dare Atoye, said such provision in the law would not address the menace of cultism in the state or the country.

He argued that blaming parents for spread of cultism is to exonerate the society and the government who created the situation, because bad leadership gives rise to the menace.

“To me, this is a voyage of misplaced punishment which cannot stand. It’s null and void to the extent that it runs inconsistent with the law of Nigeria. The proponents of the law are embarking on a futile exercise.

“If we should blame it on the parents, will the government accept its failure? If we cannot ensure the justiciability of the socio-economic rights contained in Chapter 2 of the 1999 Constitution, then we can’t start this talk. It’s a misplaced priority. No parent should be unjustly punished. There are many parents who do not know where their children are in the search for daily bread for survival.

“The solution is for the government to make the economy viable and ensure good welfare package for the workers, especially the teachers whose attention has been divided. The teachers that are supposed to take care of the children are not focused because they are looking for means of livelihood.

“Blame the politicians who recruit these people as tugs. The Nollywood people too who promote all manner of cultism and thugs.”
Another lawyer, Emeka Ndukwe said non-justiciability of the Chapter 2 of the constitution has made the government lazy, ineffective and irresponsive to the realisation of the second-generation rights – the civil and political rights.

He noted that non-justiciability of these rights is an attempt by the ruling class to blindfold the unsuspecting citizens. To him, since the rights are mere obligatory on the part of government, they are taken with levity.

The Guardian learnt that if these rights had been justiciable, they would have made the government more upright and alive to its duties. It is believed that Section 2 has not been justiciable because the Provision of Section 6 (6)(c) of the constitution clashes with the provision of Section 13 that obligates all organs of government (including the judiciary) to conform to, observe and apply the provisions of the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy that are expected to enhance realisation of social and economic rights.

In Archbishop Anthony Okogie versus AG Lagos State, the court held: “While Section 13 of the Constitution makes it a duty and responsibility of the judiciary, among other organs of government, to conform to and apply the provisions of Chapter 11, section 6 (6)(c) of the same constitution makes it clear that no court has jurisdiction to pronounce any decision as to whether any organ of government has acted or is acting in conformity with the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy. It is clear, therefore, that section 13 has not made Chapter 2 of the constitution, that contain socio-economic rights, justiciable.”

Following this, legal experts argue that the law is not enforceable as it is inconsistent with the law of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Part of the confusion is that which of the parents will be punished and while would parents who may not know the whereabouts of their adult children be punished for offence they didn’t commit?

They also acknowledged the fact that some dubious parents aid and protect their cultist children. They advise the children and keep guns for them.

According to the experts, these are the type of parents that will be liable when their children are arrested and convicted according to the provision of item 9 of the anti-cultism law.

“A person or body of persons who contravenes, aids or abets any other person or is an accessory before or after the fact of the contravention of any provision of this law, and in particular section three above, is guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for five years without an option of fine,” the Lagos law says.

Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, argued in earlier interview with The Guardian that if and when proper investigations are made and it is proven that the parents of cult members support their children, they should be held liable.

“On the other hand, I do not think it would be right to hold parents liable strictly when their children join cults, because most of these students join the cult groups as adults and they are no longer minors. Thus, they should be accountable for their actions and decisions,” he said.

We Have A Duty To Give Moral Training To Our Children – Police
On the enforcement of the law since it was promulgated, the Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Adekunle Ajisebutu, said: “I can confirm that we have arrested some suspected cultists alongside their parents. I’m aware of three parents that were arrested in Imota, Lagos some months ago, and we hope to arrest hotel owners in whose premises some suspected cultists hold their meetings.

“To some extents, I think arresting those parents will curb cultism. This is because before now, some parents had abdicated their responsibilities, but with the new trend, if it’s true that parents are aware of the involvement of their wards in cultism, then the long arm of the law will catch up with them.

“They will also be arrested and arraigned alongside their children. So, this will make some parents carry out some checks on their children. This is going to serve as a deterrent not only to the children who are into cultism, but also to their parents and guardians as well. Cultism has reduced since the law was introduced and we are hopeful that it will further reduce.

“My advice to parents and guardians is that they should keep their eyes on their children, give them good moral upbringing. I also advise agents of socialisation, care groups, church leaders, guardians and the rest of us who are involved in the upbringing of children.

“We all have a duty to ensure that we give adequate moral training to these children.”

Cultism
Historically, confraternity in school environment in the country is traced to 1952, when eight students, led by Prof. Wole Soyinka, formed the Pyrate Confraternity at the University of Ibadan, Oyo State. Other founding members were Aig Imoukhuede, Nathaniel Oyelola, Olumuyiwa Awe, Ifeghale Amata, Ralph Opara and Pius Obeghe.

The confraternity had as a mandate to address some social ills and conformist degradation both by students and the society at large. It never had any record of destructive or violence tendencies, as membership were restricted only to those with enviable academic performances. 
 
Its ideals were humanistic and did not pose any threat or danger to students. Unfortunately, as time went by, it was characterised by break-ups with the introduction of ritualistic tendencies and violence manifesting in the form of attacks on rival groups to test each confraternity’s might. 
 
The new order witnessed display of dangerous weapons and use of chemicals during attacks, leading to loss of lives and wanton destruction of properties.
 
Cases of gang–rape of innocent female students who turned down cultists’ love advances have been reported in most high institutions. In the process, some of these students were infected with HIV.
 
This second phase of cultism has also witnessed brazen disregard for constituted authority by members who openly challenge management of tertiary institutions, with threat to launch an attack on anyone who attempts to sanction them.
 
Letters were written to some lecturers who dared to checkmate activities of these cultists, with stern warning to desist or have their lives snuffed out.

Worse still, cultism is now intertwined with drug abuse. Those who resisted them have bitter stories to tell. The reality with such groups today confirms the belief that many of the early secret cults in the world were originally founded as benevolent associations for laudable purposes, but along the line, they derailed.
 
In China, for instance, there is a claim that secret associations have always played vital roles in the life of the Chinese, particularly in the areas of politics, religion, commerce, trade unions and the criminal underworld.

 
In Nigeria also, it was claimed that the Ogboni secret society, associated with the making of laws and administration, existed among the Yoruba extraction in the past.

It also existed among top civil servants in the defunct Midwestern Region. Members became power brokers in the appointments and promotions of top civil servants.

Unfortunately, the one-time laudable secret cult is now ravaging young people in Nigeria, especially the secondary and primary schools’ students. This is a dangerous dichotomy from the old order and should be urgently addressed.  

The Guardian learnt that cultists now use the association as a tool for perpetrating violence, killings, robbery, vendetta, hooliganism, force, unjust denial of other students their rights, examination malpractice, fraud and violation of rules and regulations of schools among other bad acts that are against acceptable societal norms and values.

One of the embarrassing problems facing tertiary institutions in Nigeria today is the aggressiveness of cult members. Never before has destruction of lives and property on campuses been so great. There is hardly any academic session without reported cases of cultists causing violence in most Nigerian institutions. There is hardly any institution of higher learning in the country that has not experienced the menace of cultism.
 
An unofficial report claims that over 5, 000 students and lecturers have died on Nigerian campuses as a result of cult-related violent clashes since 2003.The recent destructive cult activities on campuses are mind-boggling, irritating and distasteful.
 Lives of promising young men and women have been cut short by the bloody hands of members of murderous gangs on campuses.
Ojuelegba, Bariga, Ojo, Ojota, Old-Ojo, Alasia and Mushin are among places in Lagos where cultism has assumed menacing dimension.