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Understanding Secret Societies in Nigeria

By Oyemaja Law, a division of The Oyemaja Group

Can I tell you a secret?

Take a wild guess. What do you think it is? The crabby-crabby formula? The solution to end "ASUU strikes" in Nigeria? Some embarrassing fact about me or anyone else?

Can you keep a secret?

When someone trusts you with a secret, they usually expect that you keep it. This can be both a delight and a burden, depending on how juicy the secret is.

Walls & Ears

Now as a heartbeat is to a heart so is a secret to a secret society or cult. This means that nothing less than absolute loyalty is expected from members of secret societies.

Also, when it comes to ensuring that their secret is kept, expect everything. From an oath of secrecy to clandestine activities, unlawful possession of deadly weapons and other desperate measures employed (including violence) in the pursuit of shared goals.

This is why cultism poses a threat to peace, law and order and in some extreme cases, the very existence of a society.

Law & cultism

The law in Nigeria criminalizes membership of secret societies (cultism). The legal provisions defining and prohibiting cultism in Nigeria can be found in the Nigerian Constitution as well as the Criminal and Penal Code. Apart from these laws, a number of states in Nigeria have laws prohibiting cultism.

Unlawful Societies vs Lawful Societies

Section 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999(As Amended) provides that everyone has a right to freedom of association and as a result of this, everyone can choose to belong to any association that serves to protect his or her interests.

A well known exception, however, is membership of secret cults. There is no ambiguity when it comes to what types of societies are regarded as unlawful under the Nigerian Constitution as well as the Criminal and Penal Code

Section 318(1) of the CFRN 1999 as amended defines a Secret Society as including "any society, association, group or body of persons (whether registered or not)

(a) that uses secret signs, oaths, rites or symbols and which is formed to promote a cause, the purpose or part of the purpose of which is to foster the interest of its members and aid one another under any circumstances without due regard to merit, fair play or justice to the detriment of the legitimate interest of those who are not members."

Section 62 of the Criminal Code Act, Section 97A of the Penal Code Act also provide statutory definitions for a Secret Society.


Generally, under the Criminal Code Act, cultism is punishable by imprisonment for a period of 3 years and 7 years under the Penal Code.

Cultists have also been known to perpetrate a number of crimes like rape, assault and battery, stealing and murder. A good example is the One Million Boys; a notorious gang known for perpetrating robbery operations in Lagos State. These crimes are also punishable under the Nigerian Criminal and Penal codes.

Other laws against cultism include;

Rivers State Government Secret Cult and Similar Activities (Prohibition) Law, 2004,

Secret Cults/Societies and Similar Activities (Prohibition) Law, 2012 of Bayelsa State, and,

Unlawful Societies and Cultism (Prohibition) Law of Lagos State


Talk about a man who just will not stay out of trouble. From acts of violence, threat of violence, issuing death threats and most recently his "confession" (a reckless one if you ask me) where he identified himself as the founder of One Million Boys.

Public figures such as politicians and celebrities are regarded as potential role models to the younger generation, therefore expected to be law abiding and uphold societal norms.

Remember Will Smith's "Oscar slap"? Why do you think the board of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences issued a 10 year ban on Will Smith?

Like in other similar cases, (such as Harvey Weinstein and Roman Polansk's sexual scandal and eventual expulsion from the academy), the disciplinary action on Will Smith was taken to make a public statement on having no tolerance for violence or any other form of indiscipline when it comes to the conduct of public figures. A statement reiterated by the organizers of the "Headies award show" of Nigeria when Habeeb Okikiola aka "Portable" was disqualified from the 15th edition of the award show.

Then again, his disqualification might just be the least of his worries considering the possibility of conviction for membership of a secret society as his fame and the fact that he is like a poster child for street attitude in the music industry creates a perfect opportunity for the government to make a public statement regarding the fact that the Nigerian society has zero tolerance for cultism.

A conviction will also definitely affect his opportunities to explore his image rights as well as his chances of ever running for any political position in Nigeria as Section 66(1) (g), Section 107 (1) (g),Section 137 (1) (h) and

section 182 (1) (h) of the Nigerian Constitution disqualifies Nigerian citizens

who are confirmed as members of secret

cults from contesting election for political offices at all level.

Secrets, secret societies and horror movies

What makes horror movies so scary? I think it has to be the creepy characters.

Think of Pennywise from "It" who appeared harmless but secretly preyed on children or the vampires in "Vampire Diaries" that appeared regular but secretly fed on human blood.

I think secret societies do seem like these creepy characters sometimes. One thing they are not always necessarily secretive about is their existence. However, other details like initiation rituals, beliefs and practices remain shrouded in mystery. At the end of the day, secret societies are actually societies with secrets; really really dark secrets.


Oyemaja Law.



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