Cultism as political weapon in Rivers State (1999-2015)

Cultism as political weapon in Rivers State (1999-2015)

“Children were captured in the presence of their helpless parents and taken away to be initiated into cultism and anyone who refused was killed and th

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“Children were captured in the presence of their helpless parents and taken away to be initiated into cultism and anyone who refused was killed and the police was helpless because calls would come from high places ordering the police to release them (the cultists) when arrested… Cultists set up their cells in all nooks and crannies and operated freely”. (The Hard Truth Newspaper, March 3-9, 2005).

The birth of cultism in Rivers State

When in 1952, Wole Soyinka and six others formed the Pyrate Confraternity at the University College, Ibadan, the ‘Magnificent Seven’ as they are called, never had the premonition that thirty odd years down the road, their noble idea would be bastardized by charlatans who have nothing in common with the ideal for which the seadogs was formed – which was promoting relationships and bonds between and among various students for social and economic advocacy and activism.

Rivers State Cultists accept amnesty

In the 1980s, confraternities spread all over the institutions of higher education in Nigeria and the country’s military leaders used members of confraternities as a check on student unions and University staff unions, even vice-chancellors used them to attack perceived troublesome students. The confraternities were provided money and weapons by their sponsors to use against government opponents. It was in the 1980s that the confraternities introduced voodoo (cultism) practices into their activities.

The criminal activities of campus cult groups include, intimidating of lecturers into giving unmerited grades, burning of lecturers’ cars and abducting their children. Campus cults also offer opportunities to members after graduation as confraternities have extensive connections with political and government figures.

In the early 1990s, confraternity activities spread widely in the Niger Delta region, especially Rivers State and there was a shift of activities from higher institutions to off campus. Cultists migrated from the campuses to residential neighbourhood and streets, and were well established in and outside the campuses even in secondary and primary schools.

In the late 1990s, all-female confraternities began to be formed across the country. These include the Black Brazier, the Viqueen, Daughters of Jezebel and Damsel.

Cult Group

In Rivers State, the Klansmen Konfranternity in order to expand its influence into the streets and creeks created the “Deebam” and in response, the Supreme Vikings Confraternity created a rival “Deewell”. The Vikings also created a second ‘street and creek’ wing called the “Icelanders”. Another group “The Outlaws” began as a splinter group of the Icelanders. The “Deebam” and “Deewell” are also spelt “Deygbam” and “Deywell”.

Ever since the emergence of these cult gangs, the residents of Port Harcourt, particularly in the Diobu and old Port Harcourt township areas, have lived under the threat of some of these vicious cult groups: the Icelanders and the Greenlanders, and of course, their affiliates, the Deygbam and Deywell”.

There are several other cult groups that have no links with campus cult groups that spring up in local government areas of Rivers State. These cult groups have been recruiting members from secondary and primary schools.

According to Mujahid Dokubo Asari, himself an ex-militant “Children were captured in the presence of their helpless parents and taken away to be initiated into cultism and anyone who refused was killed and the police was helpless because calls would come from high places ordering the police to release them (the cultists) when arrested… Cultists set up their cells in all nooks and crannies and operated freely”. (The Hard Truth Newspaper, March 3-9, 2005).

Cult Group

In Rivers State, cult groups overlap with street gangs, criminals, syndicates, youth associations and other militias. They have been linked with extortion, kidnapping, oil bunkering, gunrunning, piracy, drug trafficking, intimidation, protection rackets, armed robberies and political assassinations. Apart from the more notorious Deebam, Deywell, Greenlanders and Icelanders, there are other active and vicious cult groups like Aromaid, K5 and Black Axe, Doctor’s Squad, Italians, Blood Hunters, Junior Vikings, Bermudas. Cult groups have proliferated in Rivers State with reach into communities in Ikwerre, Ogoni, Orashi Region, the Kalabari and Okrika.

Cultism as political weapon in Rivers State (1999-2015)

Cult violence has been a regular feature in the politics of Rivers State for almost two decades and became intense since armed thugs entered the political arena in 2003. According to an organization, called ‘the Fund for Peace Partnership in the Niger Delta’ “cult violence escalates during election cycle. This is typically because most cult groups depend on the patronage of politicians, who either employ them as private security or use them to intimidate, attack or kill opponents.

The organization further observed that due to the political underpinning of cult violence, “many of the hotbeds of violence are located in the centres of political activities such as the state capital of Port Harcourt and at local government headquarters”.

Violence started not long after the 1999 elections

The January 9, 1999 Rivers State Assembly and Governorship election though reported by the Carter Center and The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs as comparatively peaceful, there were reports of vote snatching, ballot stuffing and intimidation of voters across the LGAs. Asari-Toru, Akuku-Toru and Gokana were reported as flashpoints. Although the violence was devoid of bloodshed, the procurement by politicians of thugs made up of street urchins and cultists were part of the 1998/99 electioneering process.

But barely two years into the Dr. Peter Odili administration, bloody violence crept into the Rivers State body politic. A Port Harcourt based newspaper “The Argus” (now rested) in a report captioned “Troubled Times for Odili” alerted Rivers people that the State was fast drifting into violent political crisis.

Former Gov. Odili

According to the Argus Newspaper: “At no time was there more violence in the State than last year (2001). There was slaughtering of people in places like Bakana, Ogbakiri, Abua-Odual, Okrika, Ogu-Bolo, Bille and Ke.

“There was a spate of assassinations and near assassination of prominent people in the state including a member of the State House of Assembly, Mr. Monday Ndor. It has been observed that most of the violence in the communities involve one form of struggle or the other for hegemony between agents of the governor’s “Restoration Team” and those perceived to be opponents of the governor”.

The Argus continued: “The carnage wrought on Okrika by warring groups loyal to the SSG or those loyal to the APP led Chairman of the Council made sure that Okrika was smouldering for a longer part of the year.

“The (Rivers State) government has been accused of fueling the crisis in Okrika and using the instrument of government to oppress those opposed to the government of Sir Odili and the antics of the SSG, Abiye Sekibo”.

The Argus concluded that: “The violence in Abua-Odual has taken a political dimension. The wave of killings and destruction that overran Abua was on the excuse that the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chibudom Nwuche, was setting up structure to challenge Gov. Odili in 2003”. (The Argus, January 21, 2002 pages 3-4)

Another Port Harcourt based Newspaper, ‘The Hard Truth’ on April 26, 2002 reported that: “On Sunday, March 21, 2002, Okirika town was turned into a battle field as the “Bush Boys” shot indiscriminately and with impunity.

“The “Bush Boys” as they are popularly known, who were supposed to serve as vigilante group, are now being used by a top government functionary from Okrika to protect and project his own selfish interest. Shots were fired and dynamites thrown which made women take to their heels and sought refuge in the church in Kalio…Okrika people are now refugees in their own town”. (The Hard Truth, April 26, 2002 page 9).

The seed of violence has been sown and soon after the entire political landscape of Rivers State changed for the worst. Every day, newspapers carried gory pictures of mangled corpses, villagers were displaced and manhandled by sponsored political thugs. Many Rivers people could no longer go to their hometowns because thugs have overrun the communities. Most towns and villages were in constant fear of militia men and so-called vigilantes. There were recorded killings in Abonnema, Buguma, Ke, Yeghe, Ogu and several unreported cases of equally severe dimensions.

The former Governor of old Rivers State, Chief Rufus Ada-George was chased into exile. Many years after, at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Ada-George narrated how Abiye Sekibo was the mastermind of his travails in the hands of state sponsored terror forcing him to flee his native land for so many years. The ex-Governor said that the policemen that raided his GRA Port Harcourt residence were at the instance of the Dr. Peter Odi-led government based on an alleged spurious petition by Abiye Sekibo.

Former Gov. Rufus Ada-George

 

The “Carry Go” election of 2003

Dr. Marshall Harry and Chief A.K. Dikibo were murdered in the most gruesome manner in the months leading to the 2003 general elections and Rivers State has not recovered ever since.

The PDP’s primary instruments of violence in the 2003 polls in Rivers were two gangs that have since been at the forefront of violent crimes and “militant” activities throughout the state. They are the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF) and the Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV). Although officials of the Odili administration vehemently denied their sponsorship of these groups, but the activities of some government officials are documented by Human Rights Watch, Nigerian civil society groups and independent journalists.

Dr. Marshall Harry, Murdered

When eventually Dr Peter Odili was declared winner of the 2003 Rivers State governorship election, the renowned columnist, Olusegun Adeniyi writing in THISDAY newspaper of 24/04/2003 said:

“With riverine areas and creeks, results from Rivers State under normal circumstances, are usually one of the last to be collated yet Dr. Peter Odili was one of the first governors to be declared elected with figures out of this world when due to rainfall voting did not start until around 3pm in most polling centers yet 96% of total registered voters exercised their franchise. That could only happen because of political abracadabra”.

According to Olusegun Adeniyi “Rigging is not new in Nigeria, what is new is the brazen manner in which it was done in Rivers State and a few other places in the Niger Delta and South East. In one Council area, according to BBC, PDP polled more than 73,000 votes while all the other parties scored zero and there was no single voided ballot”. He concluded that: “A critical appraisal of the results reveals a lot of monkey counting in which hundred percent voting were recorded in many areas which meant no voter died, no one relocated, no one refused to vote. The results of last Saturday election defy logic”.

Chief A.K. Dikibo, Killed

Also commenting on the 2003 elections in Rivers State, Patrick Naagbaton, a Port Harcourt journalist and activist said: “They buy guns for our youths; destroy our schools and our amenities, and our communities. They ask our youths to kill one another and do many other things… Most of these youths that the state had turned into cultists, hostage-takers, armed robbers, assassins, prostitutes and thugs would have been great and meaningful to this society, but today their future is rocked with violence and evil”.

Armed criminality sparked by the emergence and political sponsorship of armed groups during the 2003 elections has since spiraled out of control in Rivers State. Militias and gangs have proliferated, maintaining camps of fighters in the creeks that engage in oil bunkering, kidnappings for ransom, bank robberies and street battles, turf wars, extortion and impunity.

The Devil descended in 2007

The spiral of violence that followed the 2003 elections repeated itself after the 2007 polls. In May 2007 gang members linked to a prominent militant, Soboma George, allegedly murdered another armed group leader, Prince Igodo and as many as a dozen of his boys.

Late Soboma George

Numerous sources indicated that Soboma was paid to carry out the attack by supporters of then Governor Celestine Omehia partly in response to concerns that Igodo was planning to disrupt the inauguration of Omehia on May 29, 2007.

Earlier, the “Outlaws” as Soboma gang members are called, were reportedly hired by the PDP to rig the 2007 elections in Rivers. One cult member described a meeting in Government House in Port Harcourt just prior to the April 14, 2007 polls during which he saw government officials hand out between N5 million and N10 million to several different cult groups in return for their assisting or simply accepting the PDP’s plans to rig the 2007 polls.

Celestine Omehia

In August 2007, Port Harcourt descended into chaos, as armed gangs waged battles on the streets of the city and wreaked devastation on the surrounding communities. The fighting was linked to the struggle between various gangs to assert claims on political patronage, the control of oil bunkering routes and the anger of some gangs at Soboma George’s preeminent role in securing such patronage.

It was the same old story – cult groups that were used for the April 14 and 21, 2007, were trying to establish supremacy over each other and the fighting bore a grim resemblance to the events that followed the 2003 elections in Rivers.

After weeks of violence, the Nigerian military’s Joint Task Force (JTF) intervened, engaging in a bloody battle with the gangs in Port Harcourt. A tenuous calm was quickly restored after a street battle that reportedly saw dozens of gang members killed, including many killed by attack helicopter. The toll in lives exacted by the fighting was heavy: local civil society groups reported that dozens of innocent bystanders were killed or wounded alongside unverified numbers of gang members.

Chief E. K. Clark

In the height of the 2007 post-election violence, prominent Ijaw elders, led by Chief Edwin Clark, on August 20, 2007 requested the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency in Rivers State and conduct a fresh, free and fair gubernatorial election after six months. The Ijaw leaders said most of the politicians ruling Rivers State were members of secret cults.

Rivers State Truth and Reconciliation Commission

It was in this state of disaster and anomy that Rotimi Amaechi was declared Governor of Rivers State by the Supreme Court of Nigeria in October, 2007 and on November 29, 2007, Governors Amaechi inaugurated a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” under the chairmanship of Justice Kayode Esho (now deceased) with the mandate to unearth the remote and immediate causes of the 2007 crisis in Rivers State.

While presenting a 572-page report of the Commission to Governor, Rotimi Amaechi on March 10, 2009, Justice Kayode Esho identified the ‘divergent ill’ of the state as “cultism, chieftaincy, politics and insurgency”.

Late Justice Kayode Esho

Jusice Esho said: “Rivers State is saturated with cults and cultism. The Government itself acknowledged the existence of 100 cults, we listed additional 16 cults, and it is one of our recommendations that all these cults should be proscribed”.

The 2015 Wike’s governorship adventure

He was a two-term Chairman of Obio Akpor Local Government Council in Rivers State, from 1999-2007.  He was the very powerful Chief of Staff to Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, from 2007-2011. He was nominated by Amaechi and appointed the Minister of State for Education by former President Goodluck Jonathan, a position he held from 2011-2015. But in 2013, he invaded the political landscape of Rivers State like a whirlwind, sweeping away her fragile peace with vehemence either to unknown.

Nyesom Wike

He is a man idolized by his supporters but detested by decent and law-abiding persons. His supporters call him brave and his opponents call him inconsiderate. – A man that hurts everybody just to please himself.

It is three years since Barrister Nyesom Wike emerged as Governor of Rivers State in the bloodiest election in the annals of Nigerian history and the questions on the lips of Nigerians are: “Are there no consequences for infraction, impunity, violence, crime and outright lawlessness?” “Can President Buhari be fighting corruption in all honesty, if he does not first punish politicians who get into office by fraud?” “Why does President Buhari fight corruption without fighting election rigging?”

The bloody governorship ambition

It all began like a bad joke and not a few persons saw the bid by Barrister Nyesom Wike to succeed Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi as the ambition of someone bent on plunging Rivers State into unimaginable and unmitigated political crisis.

The signs were clear from the beginning that any attempt to force another Ikwerre man on Rivers State shall lead to violence, loss of lives and property. This is because the act would negate the principle of harmonious co-existence among the ethnic groups and threaten the peace and understanding that exist among the people.

Adamant Nyesom Wike

But Nyesom Wike was determined. He insisted that there had been no zoning of the governorship seat in Rivers State and that it was his constitutional right to aspire to be governor. He argued that previous governorship elections were open to and contested by persons from other ethnic groups.

He refused to accept that Dr Peter Odili from Ndoni town, was elected in 1999 on the principle of power rotation to maintain balance and fairness among the ethnic groups in the State after Chief Rufus Ada-George, had become governor of old Rivers State. Nothing can make Wike drop his troublesome ambition.

But Nyesom Wike knew that an Ikwerre man will not be nominated by PDP or elected governor by Rivers people to succeed Amaechi in a free and fair process. He knew that the only way to actualize his governorship ambition was to take the election by force. He must bulldoze himself into office in a do- or-die manner. But as the saying goes “the outcome of setting a dry bush on fire can never be predicted”.

The Court ruling that ousted the Chief G.U. Ake led State Executive Committee was all Barrister Nyesom Wike needed to supplant Governor Amaechi as the leader of Rivers State PDP and it was done in the most unethical manner. Justice Isiaq Belllo of the High Court of the FCT was deceived into returning Felix Obuah who did not contest the State Chairmanship seat. Since then Rivers State has not known peace. It is one day, one new trouble.

But Wike, who later confiscated the Rivers State PDP governorship ticket had one more river to cross: The 2015 governorship election that became the Rivers of Blood in which election results were written with the blood of innocent Rivers people.

On Monday, April 13, 2015 Prof Faraday Osasere Oruwese, the returning officer for Rivers State Governorship Election and Vice Chancellor of the University of Benin announced that Nyesom Wike (PDP) has garnered 1,029,102 (87.77%) of the total votes.

But Professor Itse Sagay SAN said: “Everybody knew that Wike was not elected. Wike got into power through a brutal manner and I have never seen such brutal approach to power except through a coup. What Wike did was a bloody civilian coup, what he did was a big embarrassment to this country”. The Don Wannys in Rivers State had masterfully executed their task in 2015.

How they slaughtered Rivers people like animals

On Saturday, June 4, 2016, Mr Charles A. Etuko was buried. As his body was being lowered into his untimely grave, news filtered into the beleaguered city of Port Harcourt that gunmen had on the same day gunned down 23 persons, including a nursing mother in Aluu town. Mr Etuko, a stalwart of the All Progressives Congress (APC) was murdered on the night of May 10, 2016 in Bori town. Earlier on that sad day, Police Officer Halidu M. Nasir was killed in cold blood along with others in Ahoada town.

On Monday, May 2, 2016, the Rivers State Police Command confirmed the killing of 16 persons in two separate attacks over the weekend. The scene was at Ula-Upata town were gunmen open fire on a building killing several people and at Edoha town where five persons were killed and beheaded.  Yes! Decapitated.

Rivers people were slaughtered

In the afternoon of April 21, 2016, Dr Vycent Eebee, a Chief Lecturer at the Ken Saro-Wiwa Polytechnic, Bori town and a strong APC stalwart was ambushed, chased, shot and killed by assassins in his hometown, Yeghe. The killers did not spare a female student that was in the car with him, she was riddled with bullets. She died. Dr Vycent Eebee had on March 11, 2016 written a petition forwarded to the Inspector General of Police against a militant leader Mr Solomon Ndigbara. The militant is still at large but the petitioner is dead.

In the early hours of February 11, 2016, Hon Monday Eleayan, an APC leader and former member of the Rivers State House of Assembly was gunned down on Ada-George Road, Port Harcourt. His crime was that he belonged to a political party of his choice.

Such has been the gory experiences in Rivers State of Nigeria. The daily activities of bloodthirsty gunmen, kidnappers and cultists have kept Rivers people on edge since the 2015 elections.

It is an unnecessary price to pay for democracy. These people needn’t be killed for someone to be governor. The dead didn’t have to die if the actual motive of politicians were to serve the people.

The signs were obvious from the beginning that the 2015 elections in Rivers State will be violent. APC supporters that were on their way to the party’s presidential rally were ambushed and shot at; the PDP forcefully took over the Adokiye Amesiemeka Stadium for its presidential rally; APC rally was bombed in Okrika town where one policeman was killed and several people including a Channels TV reporter were injured.

The Presidential and National Assembly elections of March 28, 2016 and the Governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections of April 11, 2016 rose to its bidding. Mayhem was let loose on Rivers State as agents of the PDP, INEC, Army and Police took the elections beyond the reach of the electorate.

Describing what transpired during the elections, Max Princewill said: “the brutality and bloodshed was not only widespread but was executed with unmatched impunity and viciousness by well-known politicians.

“from Abua/Odual, Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni, Eleme, Ahoada East and West to Akuku-Toru, Asari-toru, Andoni, Bonny, Emohua, Etche, Ikwerre, Khana, Gokana, Obio/Akpor, Tai, Okrika and all other LGAs, the stories were the same; barefaced intimidation, molestation, endless threats, arson and deaths”.

He said further that “gunmen were unrelenting in all the LGAs. Their aim apparently, was to attack those courageous enough to challenge them and also scare voters. The operational template of unleashing violence and intimidating the people was essentially the same across the communities and LGAs”

The election that brought Governor Wike to power was the bloodiest in the political history of Rivers State. Prof Chidi Odinkalu, of the National Human Rights Commission and Chairman of Rivers State Commission of Inquiry on political motivated Killings said that in all, 97 persons were killed including Christopher Adube; Lucky Adube; Joy Adube; Iyke Ogarabe; Samuel Chukwunonye; Sampson Oreke; George Eweh; Nwabueze Robinson; Clever Orukwowo; Hope Aloson; Ada Wele; Saturday Lkia; Sampson Uchenna Chinah; John Cyracus Dimpka; Barrister Orlando; Thomas Wogu; Weli Okabie; Ngozim Omordu; Chima Ovunwo; Nnamdi Peter; Madu Sampson; Obele Piri; Chibuike Olocha.

The lifeless bodies of the Adube family members and others

Others killed were: Miebaka Opugulaya; Obinna Ndubuoke; Japhat Kingdom; Ndidi Ebere; Sydney Wokocha; George Eweh; Nwabueze Robinson; Daniel C. Okiridu; Okwu Osia; Eze Akio; G.O.Ahiaidu Achilike; Emenike Obulor; Idumo Michael; Chris Eneji; Kikpoye Okoto; Mrs Okoto; Andy Amaibi Horny; Clever C. Orukwowu; Sotonye Georgewill; Godspower E.J. Briggs; George Ogbuehi; Lekia Saturday Nkirine; Ikechi Dimkpa.

In all 97 people were killed, 93 persons injured and 83 properties destroyed, yet it was not a war but an election. It was the only way the PDP could ‘win’ the election with Wike as candidate#

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