Wrong Strategy: Fighting cultism with church crusades won’t work

Abuja, Nigeria - If you think fighting weird-eyed campus cultists with mere holy water and religious preachings will work, then you had better listen to Prof. Uba Nwuba.

For long, the rector of the Federal Polytechnic, Oko, Anambra State, saw the seizure of the institution by implacable killer cults is a spiritual problem that required a spiritual solution.

So, whenever the bad boys and girls were caught, he would suspend them and organise what was known in the institution as a Cult Denunciation Crusade. "We would bring a priest to talk to them and they would make an open confession and denounce their membership of the cults. We would counsel them for six months and those that repent we would take back and watch how they behaved," he said.

But it was all an exercise in futility. "We became angry because most of the students who renounced their membership became involved again. So now, once we catch you, we expel you," Nwuba told Daily Sun.

Oko used to be regarded as haven of cultists. But Nwuba said that era had gone for good. And he does not ascribe the feat to any religious miracle. "We have gadgets on the ground, and any time any cultist comes, we catch him," he said.

The gadget in question is the anti-cult squad raised by the institution to checkmate the activities of the hoodlums. The squad, Nwuba explained, is made up of military men among the students who are on in-service training at Oko. The rector said the institution recruits the good ones among them and equips them with the necessary gadgets to enable them to "hunt down" the cultists.

According to him, students supply intelligence information to members of the squad because they have confidence in them since they are their fellow students. To build this confidence, he said, the institution started with a campaign to make the students know that cultism is really against them.

"They are the people killed. They are the people who are delayed if there is strike, and they don’t graduate at the right time. In fact, everything is against them. And in that case you find students helping to fight cults.

The rector ruled out the possibility of the squad acting on wrong information, to victimize innocent students, reasoning that its members are experienced people with the necessary professional training. "My anti-cult boys can know who is a cultist and who is not. The cults have signs and they know the signs.

They are trained, and they know the signs for all the cults; they have known how the cultists behave, how they shake hands, everything about them. They will tell you who is a cultist by the way he greets," said he.

Although the cultists kill and maim their fellow students, Nwuba said his squad has no power to kill or even to shoot. Nevertheless, they are armed, since in Nwuba’s words, "you can’t catch an armed man without arm."

The rector would not be swayed by Prof. Wole Soyinka’s logic that his Seadogs is the progenitor of modern day cults on the campuses. "Please, cults are cults, whether you belong to Seadogs or sea whatever, cults are. Anyone.…The federal government has said all cults are banned. There is no legal cult, they are all bad ones. In fact, cults started from this Seadogs, and the more they grow, the more formidable they are. Horrible people."

Nwuba is in support of polytechnics awarding their own degrees, and he thinks some of them are qualified to run degree programmes but for inadequate funding.

Dismissing the argument that it would amount to duplicating the universities, he said what was required was to take the polytechnics to a higher level, so that those who have scored upper credit and above in higher diploma can go ahead and get a masters degree in their discipline in the polytechnics.

Such degrees, he said should have high practical contents "so that we can produce people with practical knowledge at higher level in purely professional fields." To achieve this he said, it is important that lecturers become practically oriented to be able to bridge the gap between the academia and industry.

Nwuba also fingered the same funding problem for the distortion in the admission ratio between science/engineering courses and the humanities: "So many students want to read management, so you get them to fund your engineering programmes. If we don’t take students in management, we won’t have sufficient money to run our engineering programmes. But if government gives us sufficient money to run engineering, what is my business with management?" Nwuba said.

Although the Executive Secretary of the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), Dr. Nuhu Yakubu, had said that last year was the best for the polytechnics in terms of funding in the last 15 years, Nwuba said the level of funding was still not enough to give technical education its rightful place in the country.

Last year, the polytechnic sector received a capital budget of N1.9 billion almost all of which was accessed. But Nwuba said the N75 million given to Federal Polytechnic, Oko last year was too little for an institution that has virtually no infrastructure.

"If not for internally generated fund, we can do nothing," he said.