The minister’s accusations are boringly familiar. They are empty, groundless, misguided and ill-informed allegations designed for a specific, myopic purpose and made, we believe, purely to titillate the public. The minister offers no explanation as to how he reached this profoundly “empirical” conclusion except for the quite vague and vapourous statements seeking to be ingested as facts. The honourable minister, perhaps by his observations, demonstrated an unsurprisingly poor understanding of cultism and its various components especially in the face of his inherently flawed generalisation. We will try, as we have done for years and with many others, to educate him.
The menace of violence in high institutions of learning and its effect on education have been much discussed. The notoriety of individuals and groups perpetrating anti-social activities with serious and sometimes fatal consequences to innocent Nigerians have become commonplace, particularly in our higher institutions. The consequence of the situation and perpetration of cultism is that it continues to deal fatal injuries to the education system. As a social ill of injurious effect, violence in society congregated under the mis-description of “cultism”, is surpassed only by one or two other social ills, to the dubious and unenviable title of the most devastating problem currently confronting social and educational development of young people in Nigeria. It is easy to see how, in the devastation, this problem, viewed as an age long one, can be used to tarnish the image of individuals and organisations whose existence and active involvement in the Nigerian social development long predated its advent. But let us return to process of analysing the gravity of the distortions by the honourable minister.
In July 2005, in the latest in the furtherance of our organisation’s commitment to the responsibility that it has manfully accepted – a campaign of education; of tutoring; of exposition and elucidation to assist the nation’s understanding, and capacity to tackle the problems or cultism - we congregated at the Nicon Hilton Hotel in Abuja on 12 July 2005. The occasion was an 8th annual lecture in commemoration of the birthday of Professor Wole Soyinka, one of the founding members of the organisation. That year’s event, themed “Cults, Society and Impunity” took a different form from those of previous years. It entailed a more expanded discussion and for the first time involved Professor Soyinka personally, using the format of a public discourse. He did so in characteristic authoritative form, illuminating a quite serious concern. He also did so, amongst other expectedly informative analysis, by screening a 15 minute film first shown to the world on 29 June 2005 by Channel 4 News in the United Kingdom, in which he chronicled some of the key factual issues pertaining to the culture of violence and cultism in Nigeria.
The programme, shown at 7pm, reached an audience in excess of 2 million people. At that July 2005 event, Professor Otubanjo, a delegate at the recently concluded National Conference, appeared to suggest that both Professor Soyinka and our organisation had a moral duty to lead the fight against the proliferation of cultism, given his and its role in the formation and propagation of the first campus fraternity in Nigeria, indeed Africa. That comment was adequately met by Professor Soyinka, just as he had done on scores of occasions in the past, in the analysis that such correlation cannot derive from logic. He questioned the logic of ascribing to the Prophet Mohammed, the excesses of Muslim fundamentalists purely for the reason that he founded Islam or the absurdity of such an allegation against Jesus Christ for the felonies of priests expelled from the church for aggravated sexual offences against choir boys.
There is another pertinent exposition, not directly referred to on that day, which we will never tire of repeating. In a lecture entitled “The Descent of the Barbarian and the End of the Collegial”, on the occasion of an event at which delivered the lecture in honour of the then retiring Mr Justice Kayode Esho of the Supreme Court he stated:-
“…but let it be clearly understood that this, to me, frankly monotonous intervention, is not offered in defence of an innovation that requires absolutely no defence – those who are born with holes in their heads will always remain porous to the inundation of facts….. Those who blame today’s advent of the barbarians on the first college fraternity –the Pyrates - that was founded in this nation, perhaps on the entire continent, merely advertise themselves as moral cripples who try to ward off bad news by fabricating distant alibis. It is far more honest to confess a failure of social will than to seek excuses in some distant origin, one that bears virtually no resemblance to the conduct of mimic upstarts. Such commentators may believe that they know their history, but it is a fragmented and superficial history, distorted by the psychosis that goes with surrender to evil forces. Even more critically and relevantly to the collective responsibility of finding a solution, they acknowledge a dangerous ignorance of the society they live in, or the ability to situate a malaise in its appropriate social context. They ignore the contextual workings of social decadence, such as how even time-honoured institutions - philanthropic, cultural, all the way to the modern NGOs - are being impersonated by corrupt versions in tune with the total collapse of society. Nothing lasts in this nation, nothing. Religious institutions – be they Moslem or Christian – are filled with charlatan offshoots, many of which are demonic variants, or else purely commercial ventures, marketing sanctimoniousness with the same sales patter as the vendor of designer clothes or cosmetics...”
In the same lecture, Professor Soyinka further observes that:-
“...In the degeneration of campus culture, the public is reaping the rewards of its own degenerate existence: the corruption of values, the open violence, the dishonesty, the political perfidies, the violence of military coups, the progroms that led to the Civil War, the Civil War itself and its conduct, the marginalization of millions both as individuals and as entities. Campus violence echoes the epidemic of assassinations that has turned the nation psychotic with terror, the religious fundamentalist insanities that laid siege even to the nation’s capital, oversaw resurgent massacres of innocents on religious grounds, a continuance of the politically inspired anomie that has resulted in ecumenical cities like Jos and Kaduna reduced to sacrificial altars of religious sectarianism, innocent drivers incinerated in their vehicles for carrying out routine duties of delivery to the delirious cries of the greatness of God, simply because their consignment offended the sensibilities of zealots who unleashed the mindless from their normal state of social stupor.
Campus violence is a reflection of the state implicated killings at Odi, the military massacres at Zaki Biam. The chickens have come to roost, and the destruction of collegiate life, is an echo of your failures, you the larger society with all the resources and the responsibility of leadership. When you recruit college youths into your violent brigades of party thugs at election times, when you arm them with the latest in sophisticated weaponry, do you imagine that, when excitement is slack, they will not turn these weapons against one another?...”It is common knowledge that the proliferation of cultism manifested itself in the mid 80’s. Our organisation has been in existence since 1952. Violence in high institutions, now conveniently tucked away under the label of cultism did not start until the 1980’s, at the peak of military governance in Nigeria. The period 1952 to the 1980’s has produced some of our finest minds, out of these higher institutions. Some of those belong to this organisation. How, suddenly, our organisation has become the bane of education in Nigeria is something that the minister might wish to explain further. Here lies the perversion in his reasoning. Our organisation was in existence long before the problem emerged. How, may we ask, did we become responsible for the advent of this wretched malaise such that the minister finds it appropriate to coat us with the cloak of being the “root of all cultism in Nigeria”? What happened to the years before that? Ours is a great organisation. It is an organisation rich in history, at times tempestuous. It is an organisation made up of Nigerians of the widest possible breadth. Our organisation is non-politically affiliated; non-religiously influenced with its fundamentals of operational objectives steeped in the upholding of human dignity and the promotion of a humane and progressive society where no one is imprisoned by colour, race, sex, tribe or religious belief. These are the goals that are enshrined in the Pyratical Creed, a creed that remains the pursuit of a just and egalitarian society in which the strong protect the weak and all have equal access to the opportunity for realisation for each person’s potentials. The societal ills that gave root to the birth of our organisation remain real obstacles to the positive development of our nation today.
Since our inception, we have grown from strength to strength. Our organisation’s growth has taken us to virtually all the states of the federation and the federal capital, Abuja. We have permanent international presence with functional logistical infrastructure and branches in the United Kingdom, Holland, Japan, South Africa, Canada and 5 branches in the United States of America. We are – and this is easily verifiable – indisputably more global than most Nigerian organisations, including virtually all political parties existing within and outside dual-political Nigeria. Our global outreach made it possible to muster international support and opinion along with some other progressive organisations against the last military dictatorship which, for years, pauperised the entire citizenry. As an organisation of professionals that cut across various disciplines, some of whom have graced and will continue to grace the highest level of governance in this country, we have continued to pursue those ideals by proactive engagement in socio-political advocacy as well as charting the course of community causes in the pursuit of ideals in the various communities we find ourselves. All these, against the background of establishment hostility – from University administration to the worst periods under the military, even civilian Governments – of the kind that could have destroyed many lesser entities. Our resilience in the light of this establishment asphyxiation has ensured that we remain one of the most enduring legacies of the development of youth in Nigeria. This organisation and its principles have, over the 50 year period of its existence, directly and positively influenced no less than 30,000 Nigerians by the direct effect of membership and, indirectly, millions more. On the back of the facts that we have referred and information available in the public domain (www.nas-int.org), it is manifestly evident that the minister’s desire to seek to link this organisation with cultism is as hopelessly misplaced as his knowledge of either our organisation or indeed, cultism.
As a senior member of government, the minister’s utterances should be better informed and more responsibly delivered. As he has assumed the responsibility of diagnosing the inception of the problem of cultism, we dare him to repeat some of the comments we have made to our leaders, past and present. As an organisation, we believe that the effort made by the Nigerian Government to stem the bleeding from this potentially fatal injury has been tame and cosmetic. Regretfully, the appropriate authorities have, over the many years that this problem has persisted, failed and continue to fail in being able to develop measures to deal not only summarily but permanently with the problem. The responsible authorities have treated the circumstances with kid-gloves. The result is that it has grown out of all proportion, so much that its acceptance in society has not only become a way of life, but an acceptable one. Federal and State Governments appear to have “surrendered” to the menace.
It is time for the law enforcement authorities to impose punitive measures for these infractions. Isolated arrests; closure of universities and churning out one ill-prepared law after the other have all proved and will continue to prove tame and insufficient. The politicians amongst us have a huge burden on their consciences especially those whose obtuse, simple-minded and indiscriminate use of resources, often ill-gotten, have been applied to creating an acquiring and intellectual army comprising a new brand of thugs from higher institutions previously unavailable to them. As must be clear to all, it is pointless to involve the detached and benign beginning of an organisation whose virtues its members remain public and wholesomely and proud with a malignant cancer that is threatening to destroy the educational structure in the country.
The minister’s observations are unfortunate, unbecoming, and deplorable. As an organisation, we have done nothing to him to attract this kind of savage defamation. We do not hold brief Professor Wole Soyinka. No, he is more than able to deal with any personal issues raised about him, but the allegations of the minister make our response inevitable. CB (as we call him) has been the moving force behind the National Association of Seadogs
(Pyrates Confraternity) for the last 52 years. We do know that he is not the creation of the media. His immense and towering public stature is not the product of any media hype. His is the product of several decades of hard work, consistency, intellectualism and commitment to the advancement of humanity. If the media has, as we have done, recognised this unusual, unique talent, it is a matter for all to see. It should not be a misfortune that such an individual with global reach and reputation happens to be born a Nigerian. We are unaware of any other country in the world where a man of his stature makes observations on public issues that do not attract the kind of notice or attention that he does. As he considers appropriate, he will address the minister’s direct or indirect references to him.
We have stoically assumed several huge responsibilities in Project Nigeria. With the limited resources that we have, we would wish to be permitted the time and space to continue with these activities without the unwelcome and unprovoked assault on our integrity of the nature that the minister has mounted. Our organisation did nothing to warrant the attack that the minister made and on reflection, we feel that he will see that he handled the situation both poorly and irresponsibly, a matter that our lawyers are now examining for its effect and consequences.
In the interim, we have significantly more to do with the growth of our beloved nation. To enable us continue, we say to the minister and others of his ilk – LEAVE US ALONE!!!
ANDREW OBINNA ONYEARU
National Association of Seadogs (NAS)
30 January 2006