History of cultism in Nigeria
Nigerian confraternities were largely the precursor to many of the militant groups in the delta. While confraternities began in the country's universities, these gangs eventually spread to the streets and creeks of the energy-rich delta region.
Most reports claim that the first manifestation of a campus confraternity (or campus cult) was in 1952.
At that time, Wole Soyinka, Olumyiwa Awe, Raph Okpara, Aig-Imokhuede, Ben Egbuchie, Nathaniel Oyelola and Pius Oleghe (who were known as the "Magnificent Seven") formed the Pyrates Confraternity at the University of Ibadan. The purpose of the confraternity was to combat societal ills and conformist degradation, which were being exhibited not only by students, but by society at large. According to the Pyrates, the first graduates of the University of Ibadan were elitist, as they were highly privileged since they were the first graduating class of Nigeria's first university. Most of the university students adopted elitist behavior, imitating the dress of the colonialists and mimicking their culture. Wole Soyinka, who was code-named "Captain Blood," together with his colleagues felt that the pretenses should be stopped. A notable incident that further provoked the Pyrates occurred after many privileged students organized a demonstration against the construction of a rail-line that was to be built across a road leading to their campus. The students were afraid that improved transportation access to the university would reduce its exclusivity. The Pyrates decided to fight what they believed to be elitist nonsense. They succeeded not only in ridiculing the students' argument, but also accomplished the construction of the rail-line.
Membership in the Pyrates Confraternity was offered to intellectually promising men with no discrimination as to race, color or tribe. The majority of those who applied to join the Pyrates were not accepted. The activity of members was rigidly controlled and the group promoted non-violent dispute resolution. From 1953 to 1972, the Pyrates was the only confraternity on Nigerian campuses.
The Emergence of Pseudo-Confraternities
In the early 1970s, several confraternities emerged. In 1972, a member of the Pyrates Confraternity, Dr. Bolaji Carew (code-named "Late Ahoy Rica Ricardo"), and other members were accused of not following the teachings of the confraternity and were unexpectedly expelled. As a result of this incident and other problems, the Pyrates pulled out of Nigeria's universities. They then registered themselves in Nigeria under the name of the National Association of Seadogs (NAS). Carew later founded the Buccaneers Confraternity (also called the National Associations of Sea Lords). In the formation of the new confraternity, Carew took with him many elements of the Pyrates, including similar attire and symbols of the cult as well as its highly regimented and hierarchical structure. The origin of confraternity violence dates back to Carew's 1972 saga and the birth of the Buccaneers. After the Buccaneers, the Neo-Black Movement of Africa, also called Black Axe, was founded at the University of Benin in Edo state. After its creation, another confraternity, called the Supreme Eiye Confraternity, also known as the National Association of Air Lords, broke away from Black Axe. During this time, the splintered cult groups introduced a new dimension into confraternity tradition: before carrying out any activities, they would practice voodoo rituals.
Several notorious cult groups also came into being under the military rule of General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida. In 1983, the Eternal Fraternal Order of the Legion Consortium, also called the Klansmen Konfraternity (KK), was started by five students at the University of Calabar in Cross River state. In 1984, the Supreme Vikings Confraternity (SVC), also called the Adventurers or the De Norsemen Club of Nigeria, was founded by a former member of the Buccaneers.
Nigeria's Confraternities Spread to the Streets and Creeks
During the early 1990s, Nigeria experienced an explosion of confraternity activities in Nigerian schools, colleges, streets and creeks in the energy-rich delta region. The extreme hooliganism, violence and bloody struggle for supremacy among rival confraternities peaked around this time. The Family Confraternity, also known as the Campus Mafia or the Mafia, came into existence during this period. Today, they maintain a presence in numerous schools throughout Nigeria. Maintaining a low profile, they operate as an imitation of the Italian mafia. Shortly after their dramatic appearance, several students were expelled from Abia State University for cheating on exams and for cultism. This started a shift in the activities of the confraternity group from the university community to the streets and environs of the state.
Another notorious campus confraternity was formed at the Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT) named the Brotherhood of the Blood, or Two-Two (Black Beret). Countless other groups appeared, including the following: Second Son of Satan (SSS), Night Cadet, Sonmen, Mgba Mgba Brothers, Temple of Eden, Trojan Horse, Jurists, White Bishops, Gentlemen Clubs, Fame, Executioners, Dreaded Friend of Friends, Eagle Club, Black Scorpion, Red Sea Horse, Fraternity of Friends and Victor Charlie Boys — the last of which was formed by Professor Augustine Ahiazu during his tenure as vice-chancellor of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology.
During the same era, campus-based confraternities such as the SVC and the KK extended their influence by creating street and creek wings. For example, the KK established a street/creek arm called Deebam in order to fight for supremacy and territory through organized violence, banditry and criminality. In response, the SVC created Deewell; however, when Deewell was ineffective and could not match violence for violence with its rival Deebam, the Icelanders (German) was additionally formed. Well-known cult and militia leader Ateke Tom would later become the leader of the Icelanders (German). The Outlaws, another brutal street and creek confraternity, broke away from Icelanders (German). Other groups, such as the Big Five and the Mbacho, still exist in Rivers state.
There are even female confraternities in Nigeria. During the late 1990s, female confraternities such as the Black Brazier (also known as Black Bra), the Viqueens, Daughters of Jezebel, White Angels and the Damsel, among others, acted as spies for the male confraternities and operated as prostitution syndicates.
Confraternities and their Role in Delta Violence
When discussing confraternities in Nigeria, the gangs referred to exist either in universities, colleges and polytechnics or in the streets and creeks. Almost all of the violent confraternities originated, splintered or derived inspiration from the various university confraternities, as evidenced by similar initiation rites, slogans, symbols and gang-type behavior.
The outpouring of cult activities in the 1980s and 1990s heightened tensions within campuses and led to fierce struggles for supremacy among the groups. Those that were normally peaceful became engaged in acts of violence in order to survive. New members were lured into the confraternity by various spurious means and empty promises. Recruits were enticed by the prospect of having access to money and increased employment opportunities. Confraternities claimed that they could grant new members the powers to defend themselves and loved ones, improve their reputation and social standing and facilitate contact with influential people and those of the opposite sex. These promises were often never realized, but disengaging oneself from the confraternity group after being initiated was extremely difficult — when it did occur, defectors were often killed so that they could not reveal cult secrets.
When a new recruit joins a cult group, he is inculcated with respect for spiritual fortification and trained in common tactics of physical combat, such as hand-to-hand combat and the use of firearms. Violent cult groups acquire their weapons from several sources, including wealthy patrons and politicians and chiefs who hire them for specific purposes. Other sources include friendly governments at the state and local levels, captured weapons from rival groups, attacks on security forces and exchanging stolen oil for arms.
In order to sustain their activities, confraternities frequently swing their loyalty and actions in the direction of sources of money. Most of the confraternities have been blamed for taking hostage foreign oil workers and collecting ransom in the Niger Delta. Numerous militant groups such as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) employ confraternity members as combatants. For example, the head of the cult group The Outlaws, Soboma George, doubles as a MEND commander.