Whether university campus grown fraternities (UCGF) have done either good or evil to societies in their countries of origin (e.g. the USA) is debatable. American-style, without idealisation, their “honour codes” are both formidable and strictly adhered; “honour” among brothers matter inestimably. Interestingly, their Nigerian imitators as ‘free-for-all fraternities’ are observably oblivious to very meaning of honour and devoid of working honour codes. This may be the reason UCGFs in Nigeria are more like “street gangs” than collectives of educated men.
The secretive fraternities formed and perpetuated at mostly elite old universities in the USA were thoroughly based on premises of “honourable brotherhood”; all intentions and pretensions ‘to do good for the society’ were necessarily secondary. Honour necessitated by privileged brotherhood had a truly Stoic rigor to it. Even when a brother was in the wrong, outside the boundaries of the fraternity, his brothers would stand by him. Seeing brother “fall” was a challenge of full support no belonging brother could shirk. They took care of each other. That was in the USA though. With Nigerian UCGFs, the inverse was case; “fighting the ills of society” first and promoting brotherhood [without honour] was left till last. A brother in trouble is reminded by his brothers to remember “O-Y-O” (On Your Own) and is left to his fate; any trifling help or derisory advice will be exaggerated as if it were lifesaving.
Why are the fraternities in the USA so different from those in Nigeria? Comparison is not intended here. Brotherhood, successfully practiced, is rooted in “like-mindedness” shared beliefs, values, backgrounds and ideas. When recruiting new members, UCGF oldies charged with the task never look for compatible mentalities backed up by compatible experience in the soon-to-be-initiated. The exaggerated belief in the use, abuse and misuse of power by the leadership is seriously expected to sufficiently mould the behaviour of every recruited member into the desired form. This is the chief failing of the founders and perhaps the root of dysfunction. Preponderate “unlike-mindedness” is what prevails in UCGFs.
It has been the “African experience” that transplanting methods, approaches, policies, techniques and more from the West just because they look good and work very well ultimately meets with pernicious dysfunction and failure. UCGFs too. The UCGFs that exist in Nigeria, though they started well, today have been completely dysfunctional for most of their histories. UCGFs are dysfunctional to the point of succumbing to all manner of criminal activity inclusive of assassinations, violence, mail fraud, charities fraud, advance fee fraud, election fraud, insurance fraud, rape, extortion, human-trafficking, protection-rackets. Bloodbaths resulting from rivalries between different UCGFs litter southern Nigeria in sub-genocidal proportions. Such criminal dysfunction of the Nigerian UCGF is derived from the purposeful or inadvertent attraction and recruitment of psychopaths, sociopaths, adventurers and the naïve that have successfully gained entrance into higher education institutions and pass exams.
Organisational dysfunction is also evident. While the founders and most prominent members of the UCGFs preach and fight for democracy and its accompaniments in the public eye, they are actually ruthless and manipulative practitioners of autocracy within their given fraternities. These autocratic regimes necessitate the centralisation of power and resources contributed by members coupled with money from charities. These autocratic regimes purposefully stifle free speech and free creative participation by members. The deep-rooted ‘groupthink’, ‘double speak’ and the ‘cult of personality’ to which members of UCGFs are skilfully indoctrinated [brainwashed] teaches them to fear the “sacred”. The sacred in UCGF parlance is the “infallibility and deified status / powers of the founder”, “the unquestionable power of the holder of authority”, “the amorphous interpretation of the law”. The abuse and misuse of power is the behemoth of UCGF functionality. What should be sacred, enabling and honourable such as ‘truth and justice’ is routinely desecrated by the “powers that be” because it yields no immediate benefit for the founder or constituted authority.
What might seem to be properly functional in UCGFs is also actually dysfunctional; “navigating”. Navigating, the meeting up of brothers regularly to sing in chorus, dance to drumbeats and get drunk after fraternal meetings or at weekends seems to be a very happy affair; brothers celebrating brotherhood. False! It is an opportunity plan revenge, gather incriminating information, cause cowardly harm [poisoning], selfishly exploit, deliberately misinform or cunning dupe another brother who is an agreed or unsuspecting enemy. Most brothers will go beyond themselves to bring another down for things as trifling as an imaginary insult. Psychopaths and sociopaths always have an insatiable need to win and it can be amusing when two nasty ones lock viciously horns in public view. Some may use navigating to enhance their status by buying brothers lots of drinks on a given occasion. At large gatherings the hunt for prostitutes and loose women is nonnegotiable.
The atmosphere of mistrust among so-called brothers is very frightening and the breakages of trust constantly reinforce such an ambience to the point of disbelief. Social gatherings, navigating, are supposed to be their best semblance of functionality.
In the early days of older UCGFs, although the word “rum” was prominent in the older UCGFs’ vocabulary, drunkenness was strictly forbidden and severely punished. The use of hard and soft drugs especially marijuana [because of it easily identifiable aroma] was strictly forbidden by the leadership of UCGFs. The way things are going today, it might soon be legalised by constituted UCGF authorities because almost all members use it and the thought that it is a new trend is self-deception. Members using marijuana in earlier times as a ploy to avoid detection ingested it by adding it as an ingredient to dishes like yam porridge, vegetable yam, vegetable beans, vegetable soup and coconut candy.
Ethnic divisions and loyalties make the UCGF even more dysfunctional. The rule is “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” when an ethnic brother is in the wrong and this commonly done with the most indefensible of rationalisations; an otherwise intelligent man become an idiot just to defend his ethnic brother’s wrongdoing. Yet, this same brother will exaggeratingly “see all evil, hear all evil, speak all evil” when a brother from another ethnic group is in the wrong or barely suspected as such. The first and main casualty of ethnic prejudice again is truth and justice. UCGFs are not only devoid of honour, they are also devoid of “truth and justice” which is abhorred with relish.
The original UCGF concept seems too foreign and sophisticated for young Nigerian males to both comprehend and put practice without dysfunction.