Before the Anti-Cultism Bill Becomes Law

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LSHA’s Anti-Cultism Law

Let me start by saying that I have not seen the full and final text of the Cultism (Prohibition) Law of Lagos State 2020 (CPL), but I have seen a version of it dated 17/4/20; and while some of its provisions may have been amended, its aims and objectives remain unchanged – to stamp out cultism in higher educational institutions. The CPL lays emphasis on the eradication of secret/unlawful/illegal societies, cultism and criminality in educational institutions. This menace has not only pervaded our society, but also tertiary, and even some secondary institutions. A couple of years ago or so, we featured a secondary school in Delta State, where the culture of cultism is already rampant. In that school, a girl was raped multiple times by cult members, in order to be initiated into the cult, while others were harassed and threatened when they attempted to quit the cult.

Though the Criminal Code Act (CCA) in Chapters 8 & 9, namely Sections 53-54 & 62-68 and Chapter 7, Section 40-43 Criminal Law of Lagos State (CLLS) provide for offences bordering on unlawful societies and cultism generally, prescribing various terms of imprisonment for different offences (up to life imprisonment for capital offences in the case of the CCA), the Lagos State House of Assembly (LSHA) has gone the extra mile in crafting its own law specially for educational institutions, particularly tertiary institutions, in a bid to come down more heavily on students, going as far as prescribing punishments like suspension and dismissal from school of any student who contravenes the CPL, and the transmission of the name of such erring student to other institutions, in order to forestall the student from gaining admission anywhere else. This is provision is commendable, as it is not unusual to find a student who has been rusticated from University in Ibadan, resurfacing in Maiduguri to continue his education, and spread more bile in his new school.

Undoubtedly, the present-day University/School Cults in Nigeria do not have much to do with any altruistic religious devotion, but rather fit the definition (and worse) of a "secret society" as envisaged by Section 318 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)(the Constitution), especially in terms of their list of members being unknown, their oaths of secrecy, secret meetings that are held in the dead of night in the bushes and other remote locations, and of course, their secret activities which are usually violent and criminal against their fellow students or the public at large, resulting in rape of females/female students, grievous bodily harm, murder and destruction of property.

Due to space constraints, I will not regurgitate the definition of a cult/unlawful society. See Section 62(2)(i)(b), (c), (e), (f) & (g) of the CCA and Section 40(2)(b), (c), (e), (f) & (g) of the CLLS for a more detailed definition of an unlawful society, which fits into the description of our present-day University Cults as provided by the CPL. Also see Gbenga Stephen v The State 2013 LPELR- 20178 (SC); Registered Trustees of Amorc v Awoniyi 1994 7 N.W.L.R. Part 355 Page 154 at 178 per Wali JSC.

Stories abound about how students, especially new comers are coerced, threatened and intimidated into joining cults. This is one of the aspects which the LSHA has focused its attention on, prohibiting such actions and making offenders liable to a term of imprisonment without an option of fine. This is certainly cheering news. Of course, there is also a prison sentence for anyone found guilty of engaging in cult activities.

While it is good to have the new law to reinforce Lagos State's zero tolerance for such criminal activities in educational institutions, let us hope that the punishments prescribed therein serve as a deterrent to Cultists. We are all aware that Nigeria is not short of laws, but the problem is that we still have some distance to go in the detection of crime, and the enforcement of these laws.

Parents’ Liability

What has however, stood out in the ongoing discussion of the CPL, is the issue of it purportedly holding Parents responsible for the crimes of their children. Could people be referring to the provision that mentions that those in a fiduciary relationship with a student as a trainer or character moulder, who knowingly or unlawfully protects cultism in any guise, shall be guilty of an offence punishable upon conviction with a term of imprisonment of five years? If this is the provision being referred to, then there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. A Parent who unlawfully protects cultism, aids and abets a criminal offence in one way or the other, and this is a punishable offence.

It is doubtful, as people have been speculating, that a Parent would simply be held liable, because their child is a cultist; and the authorities would translate that to mean that the Parents did not impart the right moral values into their child, and are therefore, somehow culpable for their offspring’s cult crimes. This would be ridiculous and untenable in law. The first thing that we were taught in Jurisprudence, is that though sometimes law and morals may intersect, not all immorality constitutes illegality or an offence. For example, the Bible abhors homosexuality, referring to the practice as "unnatural relations". Leviticus 20:13 declares that homosexuality is abominable, and both partners should be put to death. In Nigeria, the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2014 criminalises homosexuality, and in several instances, prescribes a 14 year prison term for breaching this law. This is an intersection between law and morals.

On the other hand, while the Bible denounces a man marrying a mother and a daughter or two sisters as an abomination, to the best of my knowledge, this is not an offence in the statute books of Nigeria – in this case, what constitutes immorality, does not qualify as a criminal offence.

Similarly, failing to impart the right moral values into your child (so much so that they become cult members and engage in heinous activities), is not, and cannot be a crime. Therefore, any attempt to make Parents vicariously liable for the crimes of their children which they play absolutely no part in, in my humble opinion, is repugnant and cannot pass the test of being a good law – see Section 4 of the Constitution.

About 20 years ago, we only discovered that a young man we knew was one of the leaders of a Cult in his tertiary institution, when he and his group members were arrested by the Police and his Parents were informed. It came as a shock to everyone who heard, because at home, the young man’s behaviour was exemplary. He was one of the most gentle, polite, respectful and well- mannered young men you could ever come across. My point? No one, not even his Parents, had any inkling that their son was a revered cult leader in school. How then, could they be held liable for whatever crime their son had committed on campus? Beats me. Even if they had drummed it into their son not to join any cult in the University and yet, he chose or was constrained to do so, how would they know? They were not in school with him.

Vicarious Liability

Any attempt by the LSHA to extend the principle of Vicarious Liability into the cultism scenario, I submit, will not hold water in law. They are two completely different concepts.

Simply put, Vicarious Liability is making one person liable for the tort of another. It is defined as “a concept used to impose strict liability on a person who does not have primary liability", for example, an employer being held liable for the negligent acts of his employee occasioned during the course of his employment. See FBN Plc v Onukwugha 2005 16 N.W. L.R. Part 950 Page 120 at 155-156; T.O.Kuti & Anor v Oludademu Jibowu & Anor 1972 6 S.C. Page 147 at 167-168 per Fatayi Williams JSC.

But, in the case of a crime, for another to be held liable in a crime involving another, they must be accomplices, co-conspirators or accessories. They play a part in the crime, in some way or the other, even if it is an accessory after the fact, like helping a murderer to dispose of the body of the victim, or just knowing about the crime and not reporting it to the Police. A Parent, who is not awarwe that his child is a cult member (especially since membership is mostly secret, only fully known to fellow cult members), and has no knowledge of the children’s activities on campus, let alone criminal activities, plays absolutely no role in the crime – how then does the Prosecutor discharge the burden of proof beyond reasonable doubt required to secure a conviction in criminal matters? See the case of Sterling Bank v Falola 2015 5 N.IN. L.R. Part 1453 Page 405 at 429 that: Burden of proof is the duty to offer evidence in proof of a party’s assertions or counter-assertions- per Amina Adamu Augie JCA (as she then was). In this situation, l wonder what offence the Parents would be charged for, let alone proving the essential elements of the offence! Would they be charged for their child’s offence, or for simply being the Parents of a cult member? In that case, Parents of all criminals, should also be charged! For example, those whose children are armed robbers, should be charged for not teaching their children the fifth and seventh Commandments of the Bible, “Thou shalt not kill” and “Thou shalt not steal”!

It is patently clear that, in a charge against the Parents, if it was a civil action the statement of claim would disclose no reasonable cause of action against the Parents; and in a criminal charge, either a No-Case Submission (an acquittal without presenting a defence, based on the fact that the Prosecution has failed to prove a prima facie case against the Parents) made by the defence would certainly be upheld by the court, or the court of its own volition, without any application from the defence, would record a finding of not guilty without calling on the Parents to enter a defence to an offence, which has absolutely no elements/ingredients. See Section 302 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 and Ajiboye v The State 1995 8 N.W. L.R. Part 414 Page 408 at 414- 415.

Conclusion

Nevertheless, it is good that the LSHA is playing its own part in trying to exterminate this evil that has plagued our institutions for several decades. The issue of punishment of Parents for their children’s crimes in the CPL however, remains unclear; but it would be expedient for the LSHA and Mr Governor to consider the foregoing analysis, if indeed, the speculation of people that punishment of Parents would be on the ground of their failure or neglect in their duty to impart the right moral values to their children. We are no longer in ancient times, where law and morals were one. Today, the schools of thought range from John Austin’s extreme that law and morals aredistinct and independent, to that of Oriental Cadi that they are one, and those in-between who believe that they sometimes intersect. Law are rules enacted by the State, while morals are actually rules/a way of living accepted by the people generally (ethics). We look forward to seeing the CPL at the earliest opportunity, when we can confirm the actual Parental provision.