Eye witness

September 3, 1999

For the first time since 1985 the Nigerian federal government has ordered the security services to investigate the rival secret cults active on the campuses of almost all the country's 34 universities.

Cults have been implicated in numerous deaths, most recently of five student leaders at the University of Obafemi Awolowo in July. After the deaths, federal minister of education Tunde Adeniran suspended Obafemi Awolowo vice-chancellor Sola Omole and told other vice-chancellors they had three months to deal with cultism.

Wole Soyinka, Africa's first Nobel laureate of literature and a former head of dramatic arts at Obafemi Awolowo, feels the response is inadequate. He called for the closure of all the campuses for one to two years and suggests a congregation of university workers, lecturers and students' representatives should be convened to "go to the roots of the problems".

"The level of decay in our education has reached such a pitiable level that some institutions abroad have started rejecting the degrees awarded by reputable universities like the ones at Ibadan and Ile-Ife. The ills and problems plaguing us today are those of decay - structural decay, intellectual as well as physical decay in our university system.

"The violence unleashed by student cultists is just another sign of a general moral and intellectual malaise plaguing this system. It is no surprise that secret cults now thrive on our campuses because the members know they can get any degree they want by cornering university lecturers."

Professor Soyinka blamed some military and police officers who supplied weapons to their children and claims some vice-chancellors had recruited cult members as bodyguards during the campus unrest that typified the military regimes. "They used them against radical members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities. One vice-chancellor employed cultists to vandalise properties of academic staff seen as radicals."

Authorities at campuses have set up committees to stamp out cultism before the October deadline set by the education minister.

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