In major cities like Lagos and Port Harcourt, it is young boys and teenagers, not adult men who are now joining and creating gangs and cults.
If the bloody emergence of the Baddo ritual group has taught us anything, it is that most of the people who make up these gangs are young men.
It is not a Nigerian thing in any way. The mix of youthful exuberance, masculine energy and that unbridled curiosity is a strong force that perfectly suits a mysterious life based on strength and tact.
It is why in Nigeria’s universities, campus cults are a male enterprise, first, and the violence they inspire hardly spreads beyond that demographic.
It is always 20-something year-olds killing other 20-something-year-old men.
Now, we might need to change what qualifies as a young male gang member. In major cities like Lagos and Port Harcourt, it is young boys and teenagers, not adult men who are now joining and creating gangs and cults.
In the beginning
The trend first started when campus cults began to create youth wings targeted at students in secondary schools.
In Port Harcourt and other areas of the South-South for instance, the Vikings created Young Vikings, an extension of the group that instilled its values and identity in boys as young as 13.
Further west, Lagos‘ inner-city streets and the lack of opportunity that defines them have proved a fertile ground for the creation of these groups.
Take One Million Boys, for instance. The group was created by 20 street-hardy young boys between 16 and 19 who sought to represent their communities.
In no time, the group grew in number and garnered a reputation for violence that was so strong, a movie was made chronicling their activities.
Like their older peers, these gangs have their hands in many soups. But it says a lot that the activities they are most notorious for involves some sort of financial reward; robbery, assassinations, oil bunkering.
Why would a young person join a gang?
As obvious and simplistic as it may sound, poverty is usually the primary reason.
It is no coincidence that most of these gangs have sprouted in places where the standard of living is demeaning, to put it mildly.
Most young persons in these areas grow up seeing the long-term effect of a lack of options.
And even though that should be enough to discourage them from pursuing similar paths, it is all too easy to plunge down the same route when it is all that surrounds you.
The idea of joining a gang or a cult is presented to them as a better option than languishing in the streets as a nobody, and from that point, it is a slippery slope down.
The idea of finding their place in the grand scheme of things is one that plagues every young person, regardless of their social status.
Most psychologists believe that it is between the ages of 10–15, that a person’s basic view of the world is formed.
Where young men do not have the guidance or support they need to create a wholesome worldview, they tend to look for it themselves.
This sense of identity is something that gangs and cults offer in large doses. It is why the hand-shake, the regalia, colour codes, and a distinct lingo are used with such pride, especially among these young gangs.
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The never-subtle signs of identity can be intimidating to non-members.
Imagine having a friend who was comfortable with just fist-bumping like a rapper from the 2000s and all of a sudden, he’s throwing these symbols up with his new batch of friends.
It gives a feeling of being left out; which is why peer pressure is a major reason why some of these teenagers are swearing loyalty to gangs they are not even certain they want to join.
In other instances, the pressure is not so subtle. In the communities and schools where these gangs are created, potential is easily spotted, either in form of physical strength or mental acuity.
By fire, by force
The process of recruiting usually starts with ‘toasting’, making enticing and calm-mannered offers to the young prospect. When this fails, peer pressure comes into the picture.
The final option is the most brutal. When gangs are immensely interested in a prospect, they can go as far as making physical threats, stalking the prospect or inflicting bodily harm to make it clear that a choice must be made.
Anyone would understand why it is difficult for young men in the teens to fight such constant threats. Thus, you have many of them joining gangs and cults that they are certain they do not want to join.
Despite many shabby efforts at ending the scourge, it is clear from this new iteration that gang culture in Nigeria is growing its tentacles.
In the communities where they have already established a presence, these gangs plague the very people their members grew up with.
A new generation is building on the very same structures and institutions that destroyed those before them.
It goes without saying that this problem needs to be nipped in the bud.
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