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Cultism and drug crisis in Nigerian States

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By Mercy Kelani

Cultists license and organize criminal activities such as drug trafficking.

One of the major enablers that worsen the illicit drug crisis in Nigeria is cultism. Cultism is known as a widespread activity where a clandestine group of people use illegal activities, crime, and violence to achieve their objectives. This group of people engage in a monopoly of violence to secure territories. Based on a study by the National Institute for Security Studies (NISS) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the cultists license and organized criminal activities such as drug trafficking to rivals or to their members.

Statistically, about 30 percent of cults activities is drug peddling, which is one of their major illicit activities. These activities are used to earn income to boost and promote their associations. Some of the biggest mediums of generating revenue are sabotaging pipelines and other valuable equipment, attacking political rivalries, oil bunkering, revenge attacks, and extorting businesses controlled by their territory. 892 types of new substances were recognized between 2009 to 2018 by the UNODC. This indicates that there has been a massive rise, compared to the previously reported case of 570.

The substances are psychoactive or narcotic drugs.

A consultant psychiatrist and associate professor in Addiction, Social, and Rehabilitation Psychiatry, at the University of Jos, Kingsley Okonoda, said that in the local drug market, most of these new psychoactive substances are found, and they are considered as threats to public health. He affirmed that the substances are psychoactive or narcotic drugs. He added that due to the cost of conventional substances, people buy more psychoactive drugs, and this has gravely influenced and affected public health.

He highlighted the psychoactive substances to include synthetic opioids, aphytharmine, synthetic cathinones and cannabinoids. Okonoda explained that traditional drugs, such as novel psychedelics, aphytharmine and cannabis, are mimicked by the new psychoactive substances. Some of the consequences of the substances are anxiety, paranoia, and hallucinations. He further stated, during his speech at a forum on the need for community-based rehabilitation interventions, that some of the substances are sold under deceptive labels like legal heroin or research chemicals.

Nigerian constitution prohibits membership of unlawful secret societies.

According to research, these substances are used for their perceived functional and pleasurable effects. Hence, They are hard to control and identify. Based on NPF data, Bayelsa State had the highest occurrences of cultism incidents in 2019. This is because the south-south geopolitical zone has been known to be a predominant harbourer of cults. Also, states like Lagos, Edo, and Rivers are identified as cultism-prevalent states due to the high levels of targeted killings perpetrated by the cults. The Constitution of Nigeria prohibits any membership of unlawful secret societies to contest or be elected as the president of the republic, a member of the legislature, or even as a state governor.

Additionally, he stated that a cult is any body of persons, group, society or association, whether legal or not legal where symbols, rites, oaths and secret signs are used to drive a cause without considering justice, fair play or merit. However, a ban has been placed on cults in many states through legislation. Considering the definition of cultism by many states as some adopted the definition from the Nigerian constitution while others gave their definition using ban similar groups and an annex of prohibited groups. Nevertheless, the persuading motif used by the cults to get new members is monetary gains, which is always used as a medium of motivation. Some of the cults members, as respondents, stated that the monetary part does not involve direct payment, because they are not paid, although they had the opportunity to engage in unlawful or illicit activities to earn some income.

Preventive measures need to be taken by the government.

Using a respondent’s statement, it was stated that taking control of a territory made the people in that territory to pay their dues. He added that making demands from clubs and bars is part of their activities, however, they rob and attack any area that fails to pay their demands. Another respondent said that income is also generated from political sponsorship and armed robbery to gather funds for the association. Also, robbing shops and looting phones are other means to raise funds for the group. A US-based Nigerian community psychologist, Lauretta Ekanem, stated that preventive measures need to be taken by the government to address access to these substances.


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