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Rivers of blood, mind-numbing violence

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Rivers State has been ensnared in a mind-numbing cycle of violence orchestrated by vicious cult groups that operate without fear; neither do they worry about any dire consequences for their actions.

Of recent, gang wars have ravaged many communities, including Ogoni, Andoni, Emohua, Abua-Odual, Rumuolumeni, Ikwerre and Eleme, where everyone appears to be on edge.Some of the groups that have continued to perpetrate a culture of violence and bloodshed, as well as terrorise the people of the state are Deywell, Deybam, Iceland, Greenland, Green Bishops. There are others.

Their resort to decapitation of their victims, specifically severing their heads from their bodies, and ripping open their bowels offer a glimpse into the vile and barbaric modus operandi of these obnoxious groups.Since February this year, rival gangs in the Ogoni area of the state have been neck-deep in tit-for-tat violence over crime turfs. And by the last count, at least 50 persons have been killed in the now volatile Ogoni axis, while scores are hurt and thousands compelled to desert their communities.

The build up to the recent rash of killings in the area, it would be recalled, took place a few days to the presidential and National Assembly elections, when gunmen attacked and killed two policemen on election duty at Botem in Tai Local Council.The assailants, suspected to be cultists, ambushed the policemen, who were on their way to where they had been deployed ahead of the elections, where they felled their victims and carted away their weapons.

Meanwhile, a source in Bori told The Guardian that on the day of the Presidential election, officers from the Nigerian Army attacked a car belonging to a Deybam kingpin, who is an associate of a former warlord, Solomon Ndigbara.

When the soldiers left, a youth from Zaakpon Community alleged to be a member of the Deywell gang was accused of being an informant to the Nigerian Army and was later murdered.Shortly, afterwards, marauding gangs invaded Luawii Community and killed some persons. Two of their victims were beheaded and the heads taken away to an unknown destination.

The rampaging gangs also went on to the home of a chief priest, whom they accused of providing charms for protection to a rival gang, the Icelanders. Upon meeting his absence, they set his car ablaze and massacred four persons in the compound.Within 48 hours, the feud now regarded as the fiercest gang war in Ogoni Land had spilled into other communities, including Zaapkon.

On 25 February, the second in command to the Iceland leader in Khana Local Council was murdered. Consequent upon his death, an intense gun battle between Iceland and Deybam members ensued at the end of which no fewer than seven persons were killed in Zaakpon.“The streets of Bori in the Zaapkon axis were littered with human beings laying on the street, some of them were beheaded and their heads were taken away,” said a source.

About a month ago, unidentified gangs stormed Baen Community, where they shot dead three persons. One of the victims was an apprentice vulcaniser.According to a community source: “The apprentice who was hit by a stray bullet died due to the failure to rush him to Bori Hospital immediately he was hit. He was first taken to his home, before they headed for the Bori Hospital, he died on the way there,” he said.

Not deterred, the next day, the gangs stormed Aweh, another community, where they also killed some persons.A day after the atrocious attack at Aweh, the gangs allegedly killed seven persons at Kaani-Babbe, some of which were beheaded. In one of the affected families, the gangs shot dead a mother, father and their two sons. Names of some of the victims are: Mgbibari Nyornyaa, Sorlesi Youngman, Dornu Aanu, Bariagra Menebe, Lekia Eleaee, Boy-Mgbibari and Sira Mgbibari.

A community source said the reason why the gangs behead some of their victims was to signify that they have vanquished a foe.“They behead their opponents because they feel it is the only way to show that they are supreme. That is the way that they announce to their leader that they had vanquished the once presumed strong opponent. Here in Khana, after they killed a man, they went ahead to remove his intestine. In some cases, they would behead a person, cut off the two hands and legs and leave just behind the torso,” he said.

Penultimate week, suspected Deywell gang members raided Bere, located only a few metres from Bane, the hometown of the late Ogoni environmental activist, Ken Saro Wiwa. There, they killed the paramount ruler of the community and more than 10 others. A community source said the chief was slain because Bere had become the stronghold of Deybam, a rival gang.

“The cultists alleged that the community is the stronghold of Deybam. So, for Deybam to hold sway in that community, their assumption was that the traditional ruler might have tolerated their excesses to the detriment of Deywell members, who have been dislodged. The ruler was said to be praying when the daredevil invaded his home, killed him and his brother. I understand Iceland 1 is chasing Iceland 2 and Deybam. So, the attack that is on going is on three fronts and so it is sometimes difficult to know who is perpetrating any heinous attack,” he said.

Mr Paul Niabari told The Guardian that one death that has caused outrage in Ogoni Land is the murder of the Khana leader of a pro-Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) group, Grassroots Democratic Initiative (GDI), Mr. Sorle Deekae, who was struck by bullets as he and two others were travelling to Bere when they suddenly ran into gang members that killed them.

“The GDI Coordinator in Khana, Sorle Deekae, lives in Bori, and he was not a cultist. He heard that the gangs had invaded Bere and killed some of his associates and relatives. So, he decided to visit Bere to confirm the incident. Unfortunately for him, one young man whose brother was killed in Bere, and the commercial motorbike rider who was conveying them to Bere, they ran into the cult members who riddled their bodies with bullets. They all died on the spot,” he said.

Amid the conflict that has left some Ogoni communities deserted, the Nigerian Army recently raided Yerge, the hometown of Solomon Ndigbara, who is accused by the people of Zaapokon of fueling the crisis in the Bori, Kaani and Zaapkon axis. The soldiers were said to have attacked his brother who is a counsellor, destroyed his vehicle and the vehicle that was conveying building materials to his building site.

It was gathered that Ndigbara has been angling to be crowned king of Bori Town, which Zaapkon, Kaani and Yerge are laying claims to. An activist from Zaapkon described Ndigbara’s ambition as absurd because much of his community is not part of Gokana Local Council.

“He wants to be paramount ruler of Bori urban just as Ateke Tom has been crowned. And if he is the king it means that the issue of boundary dispute between Zaapkon and Yerge, over the ownership of Bori will take a new twist that will be inimical to peace in the area. Zaapkon is not claiming the entire ownership of Bori, but Yerge is forgetting that Kaani also has a part of Bori. But the problem still boils down to supremacy. For Ndigbara, since Ateke Tom is a monarch in Okrika, he also wants to control Bori and that won’t happen,” he said.

But before the current bloodbath that has now permeated Khana, similar gangs clashed in January this year, which claimed the lives of two persons in Gwara Community.Indeed, violent crimes in the state have become so endemic that these daredevil gangs operate in broad daylight in Obio Akpor, Ikwerre, Emohua and Eleme local councils.

Early this month, suspected cultists operating within the Choba/Elakahia axis, killed a young man and set his corpse ablaze at the entrance of the Elakahia monarch’s compound. Another person was also killed at Choba and his headless body dumped on the street.

The state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) spokesperson, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), Nnamdi Omoni, blamed the killings on supremacy battle between two notorious cult groups operating in that area of the state.

“Members of two notorious cult groups, Iceland and Degbam engaged themselves in a senseless cult clash leading to the death of one of them, who was beheaded. The timely intervention of the police led to the recovery of the body,” he said.Four weeks ago in Rumuolumeni Community, which hosts a Nigerian Navy facility in Obio-Akpor Local Council, no fewer than eight persons were murdered in cold-blood, by suspected gangsters.

Within this period also, a gang clash at Rumuche and Rumuohia communities in Emohua Local Council claimed no fewer than five lives. Some of the victims were identified as Foundation Onuekwa, Bright Oteh, Junior Kayi. Penultimate week, Justice Azubuike, Nwobueze Woke, a certain Rhino, and another unidentified person were beheaded in Omuoko, Aluu, in Ikwerre Local Council. The Chairman of the Community Development Committee in Rumuodogo in Emohua Local Council, Mr. Ishmael Eze-otto, was also shot dead at his home, after days of receiving series of threatening calls from those who eventually murdered him.

Worried about the escalating violence and its bloody aftershocks across the state, Governor Nyesom Wike, recently met with heads of various security agencies in Port Harcourt, during which a decision was reached to pointedly combat the menace of cult-induced violence. He also directed the vice chancellors of state universities and heads of other institutions to compile and submit the names of cultists in their schools for action.

Wike said: “We will not allow these cultists who want to paint the state black to continue causing mayhem. We will take the fight to them. Enough is enough. These people cannot continue to kill our people,” he said.The governor craved the Council of Traditional Rulers’ support in the fight against cultism, and requested for prompt information that could be useful to security operatives in tracking down criminal elements operating in their domain.

Concerned by the mayhem perpetuated by gangs in Ogoni, the President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Legborsi Saro Pyagbara, has called for truce and peace in the area.Pyagbara lamented that the cult crisis, which has claimed lives in Zaakpon, Luawii, Kaani-Babbe, Bo-ue, Nyokuru, Lueku, Sogho in recent times, has adverse effect on the image and character of Ogoni people.

“Our youths should always put the interest of the Ogoni community first in the pursuit of their rights. While I cannot claim to knowing the reasons for the recent outburst of grievances resulting in the killing of ourselves, I am pleading with our brothers to stop the killings and not set Ogoni ablaze, or constitute a cog in the wheel of progress of Ogoni,’’ he said.

The MOSOP leader decried the failure of the Federal Government to provide Ogoni people with adequate security thereby leaving the area without protection for criminals and vandals to reign supreme.A factional MOSOP leader, Fegalo Nsuke, blamed the deteriorating security in Ogoni on the failure of government to provide the needed logistics for the police in the area.

“We blame the Federal Government for the current embarrassing security situation in Ogoni Land because it knows that by neglecting the Police in Ogoni, it is creating a security problem. I will also want to state that the situation in Ogoni is not out of hand,” Nsuke said.He claimed that at a point, the Divisional Police Station in Bori, Headquarters of Khana Local Council did not have a patrol van.

According to him, government cannot convince the people of Ogoni that it can run a police force without equipment and expect not to be faced with security challenges. Nsuke maintained that neglecting the police in Ogoni over a long period was well calculated to create the present situation where their agents will call for military intervention to repress civil protests against injustice.

“I think the Federal Government deliberately allowed things to deteriorate so as to justify the militarisation of Ogoni Land, which has always and clearly been their intention. Its hope is that militarisation will pave way for repression of civil activists calling for justice in Ogoni, and consequently enhance resumption of oil production in Ogoni. It is sad and shameful that Ogoni faces this kind of situation due to the failure of our government,” he said.

To address the security problem in Ogoni, Nsuke suggested the establishment of more police stations in the area and properly equip of existing police divisions in order to effectively secure the area. Nsuke also condemned the Nigerian Army’s attack on Solomon Ndigbara’s home, describing it as provocative and a violation of his rights. He wondered why the army that should protect citizens has now turned itself into an instrument of terror.

Already, peeved residents of the state are worried that in spite of the numerous military and police bases in the state, that cultists could run riot across the state with impunity, and firing at one another and anyone in their way.

Mrs. Trish Emeka, a resident of the state has blamed the upsurge in violence on the proliferation of illegal arms in the state, particularly during the elections. She said the use of cultists was one of the reasons why election seasons in the state have always been characterised by chilling violence.

“We all including security agencies know that major political parties in the state have a culture of colluding with cult groups used as private armies during elections. So, due to political undertone, security agencies seem impotent to act. There is clear nexus between politics and these gangs. Political parties once in power have routinely shielded cultists in exchange for political backing during elections. This erodes confidence in the rule of law, and makes it harder to tackle violence,” she said.

The President of the Zaakpon/Bori Youth Council, Dornubari Asogho, whose community is one of the worst hit by the latest round of violence, said his people feel the government has abandoned them.“If you come to Zaakpon my community, it has been deserted. There is no single human being there. The Nigerian Army does not even have presence there. How do you expect people to go back home when the soldiers are not even there? If they drive their cars there, they won’t spend up to 10 minutes before returning back to Bori. The war is not even taking place much in Bori, but if you go to interior villages Luawii, a lot of villages in Baabe, and even in Nyokhana, some homes have been sacked and the governor does not even make any statement about that. Is it that the governor does not even take us serious?” He said.

Asogho said rather than lay emphasis on clamping down on cultists in the state tertiary institutions, the state government should be more concerned with dealing with rural gangs who are responsible for beheading fellow humans.
On his part, the Ogoni Youth Federation President, Legborsi Yamaabana, whose group has threatened a mass protest against the killings in Ogoni said taking up a fight against cultism while human lives are being wantonly wasted in the rural communities is diversionary.

“That is totally out of place. We never expected that. We know these boys causing mayhem in our communities,” he said.Also concerned that feuding gangs have made life unbearable for rural people across the state, a resident of Port Harcourt, Tekena Iyalla, wants the government to get to the root of this menace and tackle it from there.
“This issue can be tackled effectively, not by asking the vice chancellors to write and submit names of cult members. The people who are doing these things are not students, so, let us know where our problem is. Let us go to the root of this problem and solve it so that everybody in this state will live peacefully,” he said.

An Ogoni monarch, Gbenemene Bangha Kingdom, Suanu Baridam, observed that even though the governor is the chief security officer of the state, there is nothing he can do if traditional rulers and youths fail to offer their support, or assist in tackling insecurity.“No one will say that they don’t know who is disturbing our communities. We know the people who are creating problems in our communities.”

A sociologist, George Boma said that the lack of job opportunities in the rural areas was contributory to the hopelessness that is prevalent in most communities. The quest for survival at all cost makes cultism alluring to these youths, who are least bothered about the consequences thereof, and this makes it alluring. “Life is tough in Ogoni, Kalabari, Ogba, Egbema, Ikwerre, Abua/Odual and in Ekpeye communities. There are no job opportunities and these youths need to survive. You have families that are fractured and there are no role models to warn these youths of the dangers of cultism. So, these boys grow up not feeling love and having seared conscience. We need to rebuild our communities,” he said.

The state Commissioner for Information, Emma Okah, said the directive of the governor to vice chancellors was germane because there is no way government and security agencies can effectively tackle the menace of cultism if they don’t go the root of the problem, which originated from the universities.

According to him, if you want to hold the rain you first hold the thunder. “So for us, the more people we prevent from germinating into cultists, promoting cult-related sentiments/hatred, wooing and indoctrinating people the better for us. If we can get a large chunk of people that we can convert from the academic environment, then we would have taken a big step because we are talking of the future of our state; we are talking of our tomorrow. If we can rid the university of cult sentiments and cultist, using the vice chancellors and the heads of these institutions, the governor thinks that we would have at least done substantial justice to the fight against cultism,” he added.


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