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Confraternities in Nigeria

In Nigeria, a confraternity is a group that is nominally university-based, though 'street and creek' confraternities began in the 1990s. The first confraternity, the Pyrates Confraternity was created as a social organization for promising students. However, as new confraternities were formed, they became increasingly violent through the 1970s and 1980s. By the 1990s, many confraternities largely operated as criminal gangs, called "campus cults" in Nigeria. Besides normal criminal activity, confraternities have been linked to political violence, as well as the conflict in the Niger Delta.

History

Origin

In 1952, future-Nobel Prize winning author Wole Soyinka and a group of six friends formed the Pyrates Confraternity at the elite University College, Ibadan, then part of the University of London. According to the Pyrates, the "Magnificent Seven", as they called themselves, observed that the university was populated with wealthy students associated with the colonial powers and a few poorer students striving in manner and dress to be accepted by the more advantaged students, while social life was dictated by tribal affiliation. Soyinka would later note that the Pyrates wanted to differentiate themselves from "stodgy establishment and its pretentious products in a new educational institution different from a culture of hypocritical and affluent middleclass, different from alienated colonial aristocrats". The organization adopted the motto "Against all conventions", the skull and crossbones as their logo, while members adopted confraternity names such as "Cap'n Blood" and "Long John Silver". When fellow students protested a proposal to build a railroad across the road leading to the university, fearing that easier transportation would make the university less exclusive, the Pyrates successfully ridiculed the argument as elitist. Roughly analogous to the fraternities and sororities of North America, the Pyrates Confraternity proved popular among students, even after the original members moved on. Membership was open to any promising male student, regardless of tribe or race, but selection was stringent and most applicants were denied. For almost 20 years, the Pyrates were the only confraternity on Nigerian campuses.

Schism

In the late 1960s, campuses were roiled by the civil war wracking the country. Details are contested, but it appears that in 1972 Bolaji Carew and several others were expelled from the Pyrates for failing to meet expected standards. In reaction to this and other events, the Pyrates registered themselves under the name National Association of Seadogs (NAS) and, at least one source states, pulled the confraternity out of the universities. Carew went on to found the Buccaneers Confraternity (also called the National Associations of Sea Lords), largely copying the Seadogs' structure, symbols and ceremonies. A major impetus for the creation of new confraternities was the fact that members of the new groups simply did not meet the high academic and intellectual standards set by the Seadogs, and thus considered the original organization to be elitist. However, Soyinka would later point to individuals who became accustomed to exerting power in the rigidly hierarchical confraternity, and were unwilling to give it up, as to blame for the initial schism. As new groups formed, inter-group tensions led to fighting, though these were initially limited to fistfights.

In the 1980s confraternities spread throughout the over 300 institutions of higher education in the country. The Neo-Black Movement of Africa (also called Black Axe) emerged from the University of Benin in Edo State, while the Supreme Eiye Confraternity (also known as the National Association of Air Lords) broke off from Black Axe. In 1983 students at the University of Calabar in Cross River State founded the Eternal Fraternal Order of the Legion Consortium (the Klansmen Konfraternity), while a former member of the Buccaneers Confraternity started the Supreme Vikings Confraternity (the Adventurers or, alternately, the De Norsemen Club of Nigeria) the following year. This time period saw a drastic change in the role of the confraternities. The coup of Ibrahim Babangida in 1983 caused a large degree of political tension. Military leaders, beginning in the 1980s, began to see the confraternities as a check on the student unions and university staff, who were the only organized groups opposing military rule. The confraternities were thus provided payment and weapons to use against student activists, though the weapons were often used in deadly inter-confraternity rivalries. Sociologist Emeka Akudi noted that some university vice-chancellors protected confraternities which were known to be violent and used them to attack students deemed troublesome. During this period the confraternities introduced a new tradition of carrying out traditional religious practices, including Vodun, before any other activity. Perhaps in reaction to the changes, in 1984 Wole Soyinka declared that the Seadogs should not operate on any university campuses.

Expansion from the universities

In the early 1990s, as the end of the Second Republic drew near, confraternity activities expanded dramatically in the Niger Delta as confraternities engaged in a bloody struggle for supremacy. The Family Confraternity (the Campus Mafia or the Mafia), which modeled itself after the Italian Mafia emerged. Shortly after their arrival, several students were expelled from Abia State University for cheating and "cultism", a reference to the voodoo-practicing confraternities, which marked the beginning of a shift of confraternity activities from the university to off campus.

The Brotherhood of the Blood (also known as Two-Two (Black Beret)), another notorious confraternity, was founded at Enugu State University of Science and Technology. Another cult, the Victor Charlie Boys, was established by Augustine Ahiazu when he was vice-chancellor of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology. The cults established in the early 1990s are legion; they include: 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.

The Klansmen Konfraternity expanded their influence by creating a "street and creek" wing, Deebam, to fight for and control territory outside of the universities through violence and crime. In response, the Supreme Vikings Confraternity (SVC) established their own street and creek group, Deewell. When Dewell was unable to match Deebam, the SVC created a second confraternity wing, the Icelanders (German), which would eventually be led by militia leader Ateke Tom. The Outlaws, another well-known street and creek confraternity, began as a splinter group of the Icelanders (German).

In the late 1990s, all-female confraternities began to be formed. These include the Black Brazier (Bra Bra), the Viqueens, Daughters of Jezebel, and the Damsel. Female confraternities have supplied spies for allied male confraternities as well as acted as prostitution syndicates.

Obafemi Awolowo University murders

On July 10 1999, one of the most notable single attacks occurred at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) in Ife. OAU had been considered one of the safest universities in the country, largely due to student-organized resistance to the confraternities. After one cult member was shot and killed during an attempted kidnapping in 1991, the confraternities appeared to stay away from the university. In February 1999, student leaders organized a campus-wide search, which found eight secret cult members who were stockpiling machine guns and other weapons in their dorm room. This enraged the Black Axe confraternity, who organized a murder squad that hacked the student union secretary-general to death in his bed and targeted other student leaders.

In a student assembly called the following day, the president of the Student's Union, who had escaped the killers by leaping from his window, demanded the resignation of Vice-Chancellor Wole Omole, who was seen as obstructing efforts to fight confraternities, such as by refusing to expel the eight cultists who had been found stockpiling weapons. A bounty of 10,000 naira (US$100) was offered for his capture and one vigilante group reportedly abducted Omole's wife as ransom for his surrender. Students also manned checkpoints and carried out searches for cult members still on campus, arresting suspects. In one case, students worried about police leniency stormed a police station to re-seize a suspect they had previously turned over.

Nigerian Education Minister Tunde Adeniran later dismissed Omole and ordered university administrators to eradicate confraternities from their campuses by September 1999. In response, hundreds of cult members publicly renounced their confraternity and cult-associated violence temporarily subsided.

Current situation

During the first weeks of the school year, confraternity alumni and members swarm campuses recruiting new members. Initiation ceremonies normally involve severe beatings, in order to test their endurance, as well as ingestion of a liquid mixed with blood. Male initiates may sometimes be required to pass an additional hurdle before becoming full members, including raping a popular female student or a female member of the university staff. Among the all-female Jezebels or Amazons, prospective members may be required to under six rounds of rough sexual intercourse or fight with against a group of women or against a much stronger man. Cults also charge annual membership fees of between 10,000 (US$80) and 30,000 naira.

Normal criminal activity for cults include intimidating professors into giving high grades, including by burning their cars or briefly abducting their children. Since the 1980s, confraternities have murdered people who are thought to have 'stolen' a member's girlfriend, or "sugar daddy" in the case of female groups. Female groups began operating as prostitution rings relatively early. The majority of confraternities, as of 2005, were engaged in a variety of money-making criminal activities, ranging from armed robbery to kidnapping. Cult members may also get money from political figures, who wish to intimidate their opponents. The exact death toll of confraternity activities is unclear. One estimate in 2002 was that 250 people had been killed in campus cult-related murders in the previous decade., while the Exam Ethics Project lobby group estimated that 115 students and teachers had been killed between 1993 and 2003.

In the Niger River delta, confraternities are deeply enmeshed in the conflict in the oil-rich delta. Most of the campus cults have been accused of kidnapping foreign oil workers for ransom, while many of the militant groups, such as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), employ confraternity members as combatants; Soboma George, head of street and creek confraternity The Outlaws, is also an MEND commander.

Campus cults also offer opportunities to members after graduation. As confraternities have extensive connections with political and military figures, they offer excellent alumni networking opportunities. The Supreme Vikings Confraternity, for example, boasts that twelve members of the Rivers State House of Assembly are cult members.

References

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