By Ejiro Umukoro
It’s a wet day. But the rain had stopped falling. Students of Ugbolu Secondary School, Ugbolu in Oshimili north local government area of Delta state throng out of their classes on wet grasses and muddy grounds, many standing under the shade of tall almond trees chatting excitedly, relieved to be through with their mid-term test. Their faces, a mashup of mixed emotions show signs of weariness clouded by light-hearted gist.
No one wants to talk about the just concluded test; many of them did not even prepare for it. Somto (not his real name) said he had to wade through the flooded terrain across the Anam camps to write the test. It was his first attendance in class since school resumed five weeks before.
Oto said she had not read well for the exam but hopes to compensate for it in the remaining two terms. She does not look optimistic. Owelle, at first did not want to speak. He was shy. I later learnt the reason for this was that at 17 years, he was in JSS 1. When I inquired discreetly, I learnt he had been a house-boy to a relation for many years and was never allowed to attend school.
But his relation sent him packing for no reason and so he was sent back to his parents. Although his folks and friends within his community aren’t keen about schooling, a kind teacher had convinced his parents on the need for him to make up for lost time in his educational pursuit. Other than that, Owelle was quite pleased with his performance and was confident he would pass the tests.
Local Vigilantes dressed in face-cap, worn trainers, thick sweater with pump-action guns straddled on their shoulders stroll within the large school compound with ease and a familiarity that doesn’t evoke fear from the students or tension in the air.
They have become a familiar feature in the school since the 2017 final year exam when male students who were cultists took over the school, challenging the school authority and brandishing all sorts of weapons: cutlass, machete, guns, sticks and knives wreaked havoc and mayhem on school properties, assaulted students, inflicted a deep cutlass cut on the arm of a teacher and destroyed a teacher’s digital camera and other valuable items. The uproar spread to the community and the police were called in to put the situation under control.
Of the more than hundred cultists who instigated the attacks, more than half of them escaped and have since not returned to the school. However, about fifty of the cultists were arrested and taken to the Police Station where they were jailed for a week; Parents flocked into the station demanding for their erring anti-social children to be released.
An arrangement was agreed between the parents and police. The students were asked to sign an undertaking with their parents asked to pay fines ranging from N40,000 to N50,000 depending on their economic capacity or degree of desperation. Rather than allow their children be remanded or get help through rehabilitation centres, many parents often cover-up for their children’s crimes and violence, many preferring to justify or excuse their children’s anti-social behaviour as teenage excesses or exuberance rather than confront the bad behaviour for what is it. Many teachers too express similar dilemma especially in the case of a few students who gave in to peer pressure and who should be given a second chance.
It thus begs the question: is rehabilitation not a second chance that ought to run its course rather than truncate it midway? This also raises the question: should minors and teenagers not be given appropriate punishment when they threaten lives, maim, and destroy properties?
When many of the students were queried at the police station, one of the conversations that ensued with a student and their folks and police officers, which was overhead, gave away a shocking reality: the students did not truly feel remorse for what they had done. One of them said: “I did not mean to join them.” But when asked, “So why did you wield a machete and threaten to kill someone with it?” the student replied: “It was because others were doing it.” “Who gave you the machete?” “I bought it.”
This raises the ultimate question: Rise of Cultism in Secondary Schools in Nigeria – Who Are The Silent Perpetrators?
As at the time of this report, Ugbolu Secondary School currently enjoys relative calm and peace as none of the cultists resumed the 2018 school session with them. The school attributes their success to hiring vigilantes who live in the community and are very familiar with the terrain for their monitoring and pre-emptive tactics to ensure former cult members do not infiltrate the school.
Their presence has also put a drastic stop or nip in the bud for any emerging cult group. Prior to the vigilantes’ arrival, it was not uncommon for students to resume school only to be greeted with evidence of initiation rites that had taken place the night before within the school premises or inside broken-in classrooms. This is no longer the case. When asked if the school has experienced any case of female cultism within its school, the authority were quick to say “NO”, since they are very vigilant about any rise of anti-social behaviours.
Anti-social behaviour includes: a strong tendency to manipulate others, act irresponsibly, rely on physical substance-dependence such as drug abuse and/or alcoholism; sexual assault, disobedience, aggressive behaviour, rebelliousness, being too withdrawn or being violent in order to cause harm or alarm to others.