Cultism, Crime, Rebellion… A Generation Gone Awry

Restless youths in gang war

Restless youths in gang war

YOU’RE special, they had always told him: his teachers, friends, in the church, his father and mother and whomever he came in contact with.

From his early age, good looks and intelligence had been among his many gifts. His smiles were welcoming and his eyes were perceptive and alert. He grew up articulate and quick witted in a way. He excelled in school and became the school’s JETS (Junior Engineers, Technicians and Scientists) Club captain.

Isaac Johnson’s admission to the University of Ibadan, however, changed everything. Today, he is just a loafer grappling with realities of life. He was expelled from the school in the third year because of cult related fracas. And now, the best place to see him is a drinking joint in Oja Busstop area of LSDPC Estate, Okeafa, Isolo.

Johnson runs a ‘campus’ in the joint, where he philosophises and equally pimp girls for the rich. Only recently, he added recruiting of children into his cult group to his resume.

“I’m not sure of the number of kids that have been blended, but I know they are many. We don’t want to lose our territory,” he told The Guardian. “If we had not started with these secondary school students, this ‘hood’ would have been taken over by our rivals. But now, we can breathe well. The young ones are not only loyal, but often help the recruitment exercise, as they bring their friends.”

Until when the yearly carnival of the estate was rested, it used to be a battleground for rival cult groups, with every edition adding to the hostilities between the groups. Johnson, however, declined to say where and when the recruitment and initiation takes place. “We recruit everytime,” he said.

In Cross River State, the young ones are taking to the streets and engaging in violent crimes. Some now constitute themselves into funny cult groups, attacking one another at will, as well as engaging in all forms of criminality.

The most painful development is the harm being committed by many, who cluster around major streets such as, IBB, Ekong Ita, Murtala Mohammed Highway by Flour Mills, Marian, Calabar road and others.

Called Scolombo Boys and Lakasara Girls, these youth have turned the streets of Calabar into something else. During the period of general elections, they were lords unto themselves, as they robbed and maimed at will.

One of these kids is Edet. Like many young boys all over the world, as well as girls, in recent years, he spent a considerable amount of his childhood playing football on the streets of Calabar. At other times, he played in the school fields, when not chased away by over-zealous school keepers.

He played before school, morning break, lunchtime, afternoon break and when he could, after the school day was over. He had a promising future, but one day, he ran away from home to become a street boy.

“For me, I don’t have anywhere to go to. For 10 years, I have been on the street fending for myself. I live a street life and I don’t know my father and mother,” he declared.

Taraba State is not immuned from this youthful exuberance. Rather than be in the four walls of the classrooms, receiving lectures, it is now a common feature to see young ones hanging out in various drinking joints, with wraps of prohibited substances and drinks finding smooth access to their bellies.

According to experts, the rate at which crimes are committed by youths these days is not only alarming, but calls for urgent action. No week passes without media reports of criminal activities involving them.

Due to lack of participatory opportunities, resource scarcity and financial constraints and leadership failures, negative actions have become their behavioural pattern such that, the ways they express themselves now are, through armed robbery, suicide bombing, arson, drug and human trafficking, rape, pipe line vandalisation, oil bunkering, terrorism, abduction, kidnapping, hostage-taking, Internet fraud, thuggery, hired assassination, scamming, cultism, touting, examination fraud and certificate racketeering, to mention a few. Youths want a piece of the action, because of their perceived marginalisation by elders. They want to rebel, because the society does not care for them.

The Guardian’s checks show that these social vices and criminal activities are as a result of joblessness, and many youths have become increasingly materialistic and pre-occupied with problem of survival.

Many culprits of these vices obviously are largely unmarried and are below 30 years of age. A visit to the Nigerian prisons will reveal that most inmates are young boys and girls, who would have been the future, of this country.

According to experts, this negative development is not only unfortunate, but has become one of the many security challenges facing the country now, considering that the youth remain one of the greatest assets that any society can have. Potentially, they are a great investment for the society’s sustainable development.

They are filled with energy and when this energy is positively channeled or guarded, they are highly productive, and hence, they are likely to contribute to the overall development of the society.

They constitute the largest number of people in the cell of Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agent (NDLEA) for various drug related offenses. An NDLEA officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “we always give them the necessary counseling, here, but one thing we have observed, is that, majority of their parents are not living up to expectation.”

The officer noted, “some of these youths have been arrested by our men several times, and each time they come out of this place, they still go back to the same trade. Also, I think the government is not helping to address drug related issues.”
The officer identified lack of youth empowerment as the major reason for the acceleration of crime in the society, stating, “if the youths are gainfully employed, the present menace would have reduced.”
Raymond Enoch, a rights’ activist based in Jalingo, however, believes “that youths have no reason to be involved in acts that would jeopardise their future.”
Enoch, who is a member of the Civil Society Organisation (CSO), identified the inability of government to give voice to the Child Rights Act, as contributing to the growing rate of vicious crimes among youths.
A community leader in Jalingo, Alhaji Abba Usman, corroborates Enoch’s statement that the non implementation of the Child Rights Act has encouraged the high rate of drop out among children of school age.
Usman said, “such out of school children end up being lured into crime by their peers who are already in the habit of consuming hard drugs and alcohol.”
The community leader further said, “in order to prevent their female children from becoming wayward or just idling away at home, a lot of parents have encouraged their children to go into early marriage.”

For Rev. Paul Fadayini, district overseer of Foursquare Gospel Church, Ifako-Ijaiye, Lagos, and chairman, International Conference for Ministers and Leaders (ICML 2013) of the church, “the streets are sprawling with frustrated and unemployed graduates. Some of them joined cult groups, while in higher institutions, others were pressured to join after leaving school.”

The clergy said, “young people of today are torn apart by many negative influences, ranging from Internet to movie, political and religious activism. “One is even shocked to hear that young boys and girls have turned themselves to suicide bombers in a bid to propagate an extreme religious belief.”

In the past, youths were heroes of nationalism. As students, they were the militant wings of the anti-colonial struggle. And as founders of the Nigeria Youth Movement, the Zikist Movement and the West African Students’ Union (WASU), they popularised the anti-imperialist consciousness theorised by the elder nationalists. Some were thrown out of school, others detained and jailed by the colonialists, who regarded them as dangerous elements; but they persisted.

Less than 31 years ago, Nigerian students brought the whole country to a halt during the 1984 anti-education commercialisation nationwide lecture boycott and mass protest.

Then, National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) was one of the biggest and most feared organisations by the military and civilian ruling classes in Nigeria following behind the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). NANS was once considered the best opposition to the chicanery of barbarity perpetrated by the ruling oligarchy. And as the radical opposition to the military, it had a cutting edge support of the entire studentry. These days, reverse seem to be the case.

Looking at the situation, Lanre Olusola, a psychologist and head, Olusola Lanre Coaching Academy (OLCA) is of the view that the grave consequence of marriage breakdown is the restiveness rearing its ugly head everywhere.
“There is a global breakdown of law and order that are expressed in different ways. So, it’s not only happening in Nigeria. No country is exempted from this epidemic. We daily see what is happening with gang activities, random shooting of innocent people and terrorism of ISIS, Boko Haram, Al-Qaida and other ancillary cells in Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, USA and France,” he said. “Everything begins from the break down in marriages, families and homes. Today, we are creating dysfunctional homes that ultimately lead to dysfunctional children. These children go out to create a world that is unstable and unsafe to live in.”

While sharing a shocking statistics, he said the divorce rate in the world is going up daily. “One out of every two first marriages ends up in divorce, while 20 per cent of first marriages end within five years. Approximately 32 per cent of first marriages end within 10 years and 40 per cent of first marriages end within 15 years,” the life coach revealed. “Second marriages have a much lower rate of success than first marriages. Approximately, 10 per cent end within one year and 31 per cent within five years.”

Ms. Omowunmi Afolabi, a counselor and Lead Volunteer, Transforming Education and Championing Health (TEACH), a community project aimed at young people, said, “children can’t grow in isolation, that’s why the idea of family was instituted. The home is the first contact the child has with the world, however, in the bid to make a living, a lot of parents have forgotten the primary assignment of nurturing their children with the right values needed to make them responsible citizens.”

According to Afolabi, “young people don’t even know how to make decisions and how to say no to vices, because no one has taught them, intentionally, and this is what has gone wrong. The primary responsibility of raising children is that of the parents. Unfortunately, we have left these beautiful minds to the mercies of the Internet and stars on television.”

For the counselor, “children these days have to deal with questions like divorce, LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender), HIV/AIDS pandemic, guns and knives, school dropout and domestic violence. We must protect these children by making a decision to raise them beautifully.”

Afolabi said parents have failed to understand that the responsibility of raising children is theirs, not the schoolteacher, the media or anyone, who is currently doing that on their behalf. “We have to intentionally raise our children, spend time with them. Money is good, but it would not solve drug addiction or other vices young people pick up when they are not properly guided. Someone may say, I know a child whose parent did all they could and the child still went on a tangent. Well that’s probably an exception to the rule. If you raise a child in the way that he or she should go, he will not depart from it. Let’s, at least, do our part and stop making excuses.”

She is of the opinion that with the advent of technology, especially, smartphones, children are locked up behind the walls of the Internet. “Parents just buy them gadgets in the bid to keep them busy. These children have become anti-social and withdrawn, hence, they don’t even have the slightest idea that there are organisations such as, the Boys Scout Movement, Girls’ Guide, Boys and Girls’ Brigade and Red Cross Society that they can be a part of. The world is changing faster than we think. Hence, parenting in the 21st century is becoming increasingly more difficult, reason we must re-invent ourselves, learn, unlearn and re-learn how to raise children in a world gone so wrong.”

She noted, “try and carry out a social experiment and ask young children who their role models are, very rarely would they be people with invention. The list will range from pop stars to entertainers, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting an entertainer to be your model, but you don’t want to model your life with someone whose ‘life’ is all about fame and glamour. Beyond the stage, some of them have issues with drugs, rape, ‘baby mama’ and domestic violence.”

Titi Omodolapo Oduseso, and educationist and chief executive of RoyalBridge International Company Ltd, said, “technology has changed the orientation of youth and hardly will you find youth learning a trade or be apprenticed in skills such as, tailoring, carpentry work or mechanic any longer, as it used to be in those days. Everyone wants some kind of job that will fetch him or her instant money. Crime has blossomed due to dysfunction in the society.”

According to a University of Benin-trained sociologist, Charles Inyang, “in a society where no provision is made for them, they seek alternative avenues to express themselves. That’s why there is a proliferation of youth association like students’ unions, ethnic cliques and cleavages as well as clannish orientation among students, which appear to have legitimised reactions among them, whether on campus or outside.”

Inyang noted, “while groups like Eiye, Black Axe, Buccaneer, Vikings and others reign in campus, outside, ethnic militia such as, the Odua People’s Congress (OPC) in the west, Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and Bakassi Boys in the East, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and Tiv Youth Organisation (TYO) in the North, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) and the Egbesu Boys of Africa in the South-South are dominant.”

The immediate past First Lady of Cross River State, Mrs. Obioma Imoke, using her organisations, Mothers Against Child Abandonment (MACA) and Partnership Opportunities for Women Empowerment Realisation (POWER) made effort to take delinquents off the streets. Despite this, a lot of work is still needed to wean Calabar of urchins.

Commenting on the situation, the immediate past commissioner for Social Welfare and Community Development in Cross Rivers, Mrs. Inyang Enderly, disclosed, “unless there is a decisive implementation and enforcement of the Child Rights Act, the country will continue to have problems of youths involvement in criminal activities. You can imagine the outcome when Scolombo children run into the streets, where they have strong bond with older children?”

Imoke noted that the poor implementation of child’s right/protection law/policies is also a reason for the growth. “There are adults, who use or take advantage of, and exploit street children for their own selfish gains. This group of people will stop at nothing to ensure that there are always children on the streets for them to use for their businesses. Some of these children are used as sex workers, while others use them in selling psychotropic substances, as well as in picking/stealing aluminum, iron, copper, brass, plastic and other materials, which they take to factories within and outside Nigeria for recycling. Some others use the children for robbery, hawking, house-help and scavenging and off-loading wood at timber markets. Some of the children are often introduced to taking psychotropic substances so that they can engage in these activities without fear or remorse.”

She said, “the perpetrators of these acts use children who are already living on the streets to recruit other children — Children who are sent to hawk, those who go out to play, school children who loiter or roam during school hours, those who gamble or keep bad company.”

Olusola called on parents to go back to the basics to reverse this epidemic. In his words, “parents must stay committed to building strong and harmonious marriages and families. They must prepare their children for their path in life and not allow them to become victims of life without parenting.”

In all of this, schools must revert to teaching moral and values rather than what they are focusing on today, which is mostly making money. Education has lost its essence and many of the schools are institutions of destruction rather than that of building the right character.

While noting that there is need for a reorientation of youths, Oduseso called on counsellors to organise workshops and seminars in institutions of higher learning that would expose students to the ills of youth restiveness.

She said, “moral education should be included in the curricular of post secondary education irrespective of discipline or course of study. This will humanise students at this level of training and help to reduce cultism and armed robberies, as well as other campus and societal vices.”

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