By Kingsley George Jnr.
The murder of innocent worshippers on the first day of the year in Omoku community brought a symbolic grief to many Nigerians. This was not only because of the mood of the season and importance of such a day but also because of the fact that most people who lost their lives were defenceless citizens among whom were many women and children.
Besides the symbolism of the timing, it was not anything new. Omoku and neighbouring communities have become killing fields. For more than two and half years now these sort of mindless killings, kidnapping and arson have been going on. At the last count, residents suggest that more than two thousand persons might have lost their lives while another six thousand have been displaced. Properties worth millions of naira were either destroyed or looted. Most of the murders were committed in a most dastardly and horrific manner. Some of the victims were reportedly beheaded first and then burnt. It has been one of most mindless, inexplicable and unjustifiable bloodletting in recent times.
These may be part of the reasons, why the news of the death of one of the kingpins of terror, Prince Igwedibia a.k.a Don Waney created instant celebration and even frenzy across Rivers State and whole country. For a few hours after the news of his demise filtered into the social media space, many people were still doubtful and apprehensive.
Sometime last November, there was a strong rumour that Mr. Igwedibia had been killed by security agents, when his shrine was successfully raided. However, it turned out that he had escaped through the nearby stream back to his hideout. He probably returned on the New Year eve on what could be said to be a revenge mission and to assert his invincibility – which probably became his waterloo. Many people even insisted that they must see his corpse before they could believe the story.
Beyond the frenzy, I wish to commend the security agencies who worked together to bring the reign of this self-acclaimed don of terror to a cowardly end. However, I am prepared to argue that it will be childish and even foolhardy to think that his death will automatically end the crisis. No. History is replete with examples of where the death of a gang leader resulted in reprisals or formation of more lethal factions of the same gang. We must therefore be cautious as we take a cursory look at political and economic undercurrents of the crises and engage in some deliberate soul searching. Without prejudice to any investigations going on, it will not be out of place to ask whether any person, group or organisation have directly benefitted from the crisis.
I am sure that many people have forgotten that these communities are one of the biggest oil-bearing communities in Rivers state. At least two multinational oil companies – Totalfinaelf and Agip still operate there. Why have their operations been going on amidst these reports of protracted insecurity? Is it possible that they were neutral bystanders to this level of conflict among their host communities? Should we excuse them as good neighbours or should we associate the abundance of the ‘devil’s excrement’ as part of the initial reasons why the communities became factionalized? I will be curious to know how these companies managed to pull this off.
In addition, many observers will also be interested to know whether the level of infrastructural development in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni local government area will justify their contribution to our national treasury or confirm that they have produced two former Managing Directors of the Niger Delta Development Commission!
To be candid, it will be almost impossible to convince any objective observer that the names of these multinationals are not and should not feature somewhere in the conflict matrix. When host communities are embroiled in crisis and insecurity, it gives oil companies reasons to shift the blame about their corporate social responsibility commitments.
Furthermore, there is a background of the proliferations of youth organisations, which is a familiar story of oil-bearing communities in the Niger Delta especially as they scramble for the ‘largesse’ of compensation and community relations benefits from these oil companies. The case of Omoku and indeed other communities in the local government are not different. You will hear names like Federated Egi Youth Association, Erema Youth Association, Akabuka Youth Movement, Ogbogu Youth Front, Okposi Youth Association and many others. Every tiny community had at least two, at times more youth associations in a quest to organise themselves into a platform to get a share.
A conspiratorial silence of the traditional institutions in these communities unsettles me. Could it be because of helplessness or complicity? The attraction of an average youth in Rivers State to cultism has reached a worrisome dimension – indeed for a long time now. You will hear names like Icelanders, Greenlanders, Elegemface, Degbam, Deewell, Bush Boys, Blood Hunters, Sea Vipers and those based in several higher institutions across the state. Some reliably informed me that gangs were supressed somewhat during the Chibuike Amaechi administration, the period between 2007 and 2014. Is it true that most cultists went underground because of the discomfort the policies of that administration gave them? Many of the known cults reportedly relocated outside the state to places like Warri and Lagos State with only occasional nocturnal visits. How and when did they come back? Who are the forces behind them and who are their sponsors? Who provides the resources for the kind of arms they stockpile and brandish?
In the case of Omoku, the period before the elections witnessed the initial peak of the killings. Part of this was said to be as a result of the reported mergers among cult groups and attendant supremacy war. Many people pointed at the Icelanders and the Greenlanders – groups whose leaders are known to the public. As the war raged, rival groups were fingered in several cases of kidnapping and ransom collection apparently to raise money to buy weapons to continue the fight. They had to embark on mass recruitment and later conscription to enlarge their fold, stretching up to Ahoada in Ekpeyeland. Many unemployed youth in the nearly communities came into Omoku to ‘eyes up’ by joining these groups and supplying bits and pieces of intelligence on high profile individuals suspected to have any kidnap value. The industry flourished and many of their victims who could not pay up were killed in the process. This was supplemented with massive looting of water installations, transformers, tractors and other equipment. One day, all the computers in model primary school in Obukegi, built under Amaechi era, were looted.
Naturally, the inter-cult supremacy war attracted politicians who saw them as ready tools in the forthcoming elections. It was after the political parties annexed these cult groups that they got the audacity to come into the open. Those who were said to belong to other political parties became targets of these murderers. After the elections, the groups became more sophisticated and unleashed mayhem on calculated partisan targets. The unique sound of their motorcycles became a death sentence that visited many families. For instance on the 5th of March 2016, it was reported that masked gunmen shot and beheaded one Frank Obi the Chairman of the All Progressives Congress(APC) in Omoku and later murdered his wife and 18 year old son. Most of their victims were reported to be members of the APC as if to say that the gunmen had the support of other political parties in the state.
As if to confirm this, the River State government hurriedly put together an amnesty program that now gave a clear picture of those behind the killings. The men behind the masks came to the market square and danced and Prince Igwedibia was one of the major beneficiaries. There is also another gang leader from Egi community known as Aro Service, Ezeigwe, or ghetto who they say had to have gone underground. After the amnesty, the killings intensified forcing many observers to conclude that the exercise was arranged to embolden the criminals rather than restrain them. That is how we got here.
That may be why many people perceived the 200 million naira bounty announced by Governor Wike as a diversionary tactic. The same man had recently elevated Mr. Ateke Tom – a known criminal to a king! The gunmen, who rained bullets at worshippers on the New Year day, may not be unknown after all! It is true that one or two of them was killed; but it is likely that many of them may still be around. Stockpiles of arms that they have been using will not disappear just because one person has been killed. For me the death of Don Waney should trigger a comprehensive investigation into the Omoku crisis with a view to bring anyone indicted to justice. Their funding sources must be uncovered and blocked. Their sponsors must be apprehended and prosecuted regardless of which political party they belong to. That is the only way that the thousands of souls who were cut short by these criminals will rest in peace. That is the only time that all the orphans and widows who lost their breadwinners can achieve closure and move on with their lives. The blooding don may have gone but it is not yet uhuru.
…….. to be continued.
– Kingsley George wrote from Warri and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org