Whether university campus grown fraternities (UCGF) have done either good or evil to the societies in their countries of origin (e.g. the USA) is debatable. In the American-formation, without any idealisation, their “honour codes” are both formidable and strictly adhere. Honour” among brothers is a precious matter for American fraternities. Interestingly, their Nigerian imitators as ‘free-for-all fraternities’ are observably oblivious to the very meaning of honour and devoid of working honour codes. It 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 rigour to it. Even when a brother was in the wrong, outside the boundaries of the fraternity, his brothers stood by him. Seeing a 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 the 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). He is left to his fate; any trifling help or derisory advice will endure exaggerations as if it were lifesaving.
Why are the fraternities in the USA so different from those in Nigeria? Direct Comparison is not the intention here. Brotherhood, successfully practised, is rooted in “like-mindedness” shared beliefs, values, backgrounds and ideas. When recruiting new members, UCGF old hands never look for compatible mentalities of persons backed up by consonant experience in the soon-to-be-initiated. The exaggerated belief in the use, abuse and misuse of power by the leadership is seriously the facility relied upon to sufficiently mould the behaviour of every recruited member into the desired form. It is the chief failing of the founders and perhaps the root of dysfunction. Preponderate “unlike-mindedness” is what prevails in UCGFs.
UCGFs without strict honour codes are more of a gang than a collegiate association. The honour codes of UCGFs are at the best nominal; they are never enforced and are considered extraneous to the activities of the entity. There is the code “Thou shalt not sleep with the girlfriend, fiancé or wife of a Brother.” The punishment is verbally severe – beatings and expulsions. The actual practice is “Sleep with your Brother’s woman if you can is the accurate dictum. Those who report to the authorities that they have been cuckolded by a Brother end up regretting it, nothing is done to the culprit. Another code is “Thou shall not engage in dishonest dealings with a Brother(s).” Again, the punishments threaten to be severe. Yet, there are too many UCGF members who saw swindles that left them out of pocket to the tune of ten to hundreds of thousands of US dollars, individually or collectively. A few culprits do receive relatively given light punishments, and some are serial swindlers of their Brothers. It is of interest that members who swindle their Brothers are considered smart, daring and likeable by other members. Paralogisms like “if a man cannot keep his money, he does not deserve to have it” or “if the deal has worked would I have been given anything” suffice as a reason not to get involved. Yet, the swindled only trusted the other because of his naivete about honour codes and trust.
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 are no exemption. The UCGFs that exist in Nigeria, though they started well, has 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 were resulting from rivalries between different UCGFs litter southern Nigeria in sub-genocidal proportions. Such criminal dysfunction of the Nigerian UCGF is an outcome emergent from the leaderships’ 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 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 tyrannical regimes purposefully stifle free speech and free creative participation by members. The deep-rooted ‘groupthink’, ‘doublespeak’ and the ‘cult of personality’ to which members of UCGFs are skilfully indoctrinated [brainwashed] teaches them to fear the “sacred”. The most sacred thing in UCGF parlance is the “infallibility and deified status/powers of the founder”. “The unquestionable power of the holder of authority” and “the amorphous interpretation of the law” are also sacred. 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 correctly 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; it is supposed to be brothers celebrating brotherhood. False! It is an opportunity to plan revenge, gather incriminating information, cause cowardly harm [poisoning], selfishly exploit others, deliberately misinform or cunningly dupe another brother who is an agreed or unsuspecting enemy. Most brothers will go beyond themselves to bring another down for things as petty as an imaginary insult. Psychopaths and sociopaths always have an insatiable need to win, and it can be amusing when two nasty ones lock horns viciously 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 non-negotiable.
The atmosphere of mistrust among so-called brothers is very frightening, and the breakages of trust continually 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 leadership of UCGFs strictly prohibited the use of hard and soft drugs, especially marijuana [because of its easily identifiable aroma]. The way things are going today, drugs 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 disparate 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 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 foremost casualty of ethnic prejudice again is truth and justice. UCGFs are not only devoid of honour, but they are also devoid of “truth and justice” which most hate with relish.
The original UCGF concept seems too foreign and sophisticated for young Nigerian males to both comprehend and put practice without dysfunction. The same is true for the older ones. Well, there is an African way for perhaps, everything.