Daily, the newspaper headlines are sprawled with the news of cultists clash in universities and very recently, secondary school systems. Concerns have been raised by well-meaning Nigerians as to the safety in schools.
Some persons have opined that the Constitution which is the ground norm in Nigeria provides that citizens have the right to freedom of association. Suffice to state here that for every general rule, there are exceptions.
Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides amongst other things that: Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular, he may form or belong to any political party, trade union, or any other association for the protection of his interests.
From the foregoing, it will be seen that the right to freedom of association, being one of the rights mentioned in the said provision, can be derogated from. However, some can only be derogated from on grounds contained in the Constitution.
It is indisputable that the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution are binding on governments, authorities, and persons. Section 1 (1) of the 1999 Constitution provides: The Constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
To further express the superiority of the Constitution, Section 1(3) adds: If any other law is inconsistent with the provision of this Constitution, this Constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall to the extent of the inconsistency be void.
Section 64 of the Criminal Code Act provides that:
Any person who
- A member of an unlawful society; or
- Knowingly allows a meeting of an unlawful society, or of members of an unlawful society, to be held in any house, building, or place belonging to, or occupied by, him or over which he has control is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for three years.
The Penal Code Act which covers entire northern Nigeria considers what an unlawful society is in Sections 97A and 97B:
Section 97A defines an unlawful society thus:
“A society is an unlawful society is declared by an order of the President to be a society dangerous to the good government of the Federation of any part thereof.
Section 97B provides that:
“Whoever manages or is a member of an unlawful society shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years or with a fine or both.”
Thus, while the Criminal Code Act penalizes cultism with 3 years, the Penal Code Act slaps a seven-year jail term on cultism.
However, it is important to remember that when cultism spawns other crimes like it is always won’t to, the law would punish those crimes with the requisite punishment.
For example, when a cultism related activity results in culpable homicide, the culprits will be punished with death as prescribed by Section 319 of the Criminal Code Act.
When cultism results in rape, the law would punish it with life imprisonment under Section 358 of the Criminal Code Act.
When cultism results in stealing, the law would punish it with three years imprisonment under Section 390 of the Criminal Code Act.
When cultism results in stealing with violence which would then be robbery or armed robbery as the circumstances will dictate, the law would either impose a sentence of death for armed robbery and a prison sentence of not less than 14 years for robbery.
Schools have also included strict penalties for the act of cultism in universities but the case seems to worsen. The punishments include suspension and outright expulsion in some extreme cases. There is an urgent need to promote a peaceful and safe environment. More awareness needs to be created on the effect of engaging in violent acts. Not only does this affect their physical and mental health, but it also adversely affects society. Innocent people’s lives get lost during the clash of these ones who see themselves to be powerful and above the law. This is why the law is swift to clamp down on these perpetrators and also hopefully discourage others from becoming agents of violence.