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Last week, I came across a cruel, disturbing story that illustrated a festering crisis in Nigerian education. The story had to do with a young woman’s horrific experience after she made a terrible decision to dabble with a cult in one of Nigeria’s private universities.

I heard the story from a US-based relative who helps pay the student’s school fees. She had received a telephone call from Nigeria after the terrified student finally came forward to confide her woeful experience. The student in question, whom I shall name Miss I, had acquiesced to a friend’s suggestion to join a cult group on campus. Miss I’s friend had painted a seductive picture of glory and power, even academic success, as some of the benefits of membership. But the details that were left out of the picture – the gore, the physical lacerations, and the mental anguish – turned out to be the heart and soul of the experience.

Miss I found out, to her horror, that initiation involved cuts and burns on her body as well as being compelled to engage in blood rites. But even these proved innocuous compared to what came next. She and other female members became veritable sex slaves to the cult’s dominantly male leaders. It was their duty – the female members’, that is – to be available to sate the male members’ depraved sex fantasies, including sessions of gang rapes.

In addition, Miss I had to surrender her money to the cult. The leaders obtained the PIN to her account, granting them unfettered access to her cash. If she needed to use her money for her own purposes, she was obligated to appeal to the men who had hijacked her account. In other words, her ability to use her own money was now at the discretion of her tormentors.

Needless to say, Miss I quickly realized that she had made a frightening choice. She would have made a hasty retreat, but she found out that was not a choice at all. The cult leadership drove it brutally home that turncoats risked horrendous consequences, including blood-curdling scarifications, rapes – and even physical annihilation.

For months, Miss had lived her hell. She was too terrified to contemplate severing ties with the cult and too scared to tell her benefactors – the family that paid her school fees – about her abominable experience. But last week, she could no longer abide her excruciating life. She came forward and confessed to those who pay her fees. Her plea was simple: she could not afford to return to her university. Life there had become simply untenable. If she couldn’t transfer to another university, she was content to forego her education entirely.

What made Miss I’s ordeal particularly resonant for me is that I’ve known the young woman since she was a child. Her mother has served as a longtime cook for a relative’s family. That’s why the family decided to take up the financial burden of paying the young woman’s education.

Miss I’s experience drove home for me a certain moral crisis in Nigerian education. Higher institutions in Nigeria, private as well as public, are plagued by cults that are nothing short of criminal enterprises. The worst of these cults are in the business of violence, sexual predation, and running extortionist schemes. They have redefined the primary mission of institutions of higher learning from education to immersion in the technologies of crime. They are criminals adorned with the mask of scholars. They have turned the academy into a turf for rehearsing for their careers in high crimes.

The menace of cult-driven crimes compounds the cultural degradation of Nigerian universities, polytechnics and colleges of education. Already, these institutions – private as well as public – are poorly funded, their libraries denuded of books, their labs bereft of equipment, their lecturers starved of research funds, as well as administrators who are minions of the powers-that-be. There are other problems, including rogue lecturers who exchange grades for sex or cash, thereby ensuring that their institutions churn out graduates who flaunt – in the words of a friend of mine – sexually transmitted degrees.

Of course, the deplorable activities of cults mirror the malaise of the broader society. As a concept, Nigeria is mostly an experience steeped in violence. In many ways, the institutions of the state – the police, customs, State Security Service, the military, and judiciary – treat Nigerians less as citizens than serfs. Law-abiding Nigerians often bear the harshest brunt of the violent, violence-spewing Nigerian state.

The Nigerian environment, then, is a perfect fertilizer for cult groups that fester in academic settings. These cults employ the same tactics and methods of a savaging state. In turn, these cults become breeding grounds for the kind of contemptible fools that are catapulted into positions of (mis)leadership in Nigeria. They assume these positions properly “trained” in the arts of hijacking public resources, raping their victims, and raising themselves to the status of godheads.

It all boils down to a bleak prognosis. At graduation, students are declared “worthy in character and in learning” to be conferred with diplomas in their different fields. But the cults in Nigeria’s academy compel us to wonder about the content of the character of our graduates and the quality of their learning. One shudders to behold students who are versed in the art of raping fellow students, enslaving others, and sowing terror in the hearts of their fellows.

And I fear that there’s little anybody can do to rein in these cults until – unless – there’s a broader, systemic reformation of the society. For these cults are, in the final reckoning, a symptom of a deformed, diseased society.

Written By Okey Ndibe
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