In the last few decades, Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta has had to battle many problems: damaged environment, lax security that made militancy and kidnapping thriving businesses for a select few, dwindling livelihood occasioned by oil spillages, and bad governance.
While militancy – mostly attacks on oil installations and oil workers – has taken the back seat in recent years, crimes have not let down. And in Rivers, one of the most prosperous states in the region, fatal clashes among street gangs are rife.
“The attacks happen more at city outskirts and hinterlands,” a resident of Port Harcourt told The Guardian on Monday. “Most neighbourhoods have cults.”
SBM Intelligence, a Lagos-based research firm, said in a report published on earlier in June that there are more than 100 active gangs in the state, with their activities mostly localised in and around Okochiri, Port Harcourt, Ogba Egbema Ndoni Diobu and Emuoha.
Data by the firm showed that 639 persons were killed in gang violence in the state between May 30, 2007, and May 26, 2020. About 73 per cent of the deaths were recorded between 2015 and 2020.
“These cult groups – such as Deewell, Deebam, Icelanders, Greenlanders, Gberesaako Boys, and the Outlaws – individually and collectively have constituted a menace to the inhabitants of the state, causing incalculable human and economic loss in the process,” SBM said in the report.
“The activities of these criminal gangs has not just led to the movement of businesses outside the state leading to a rise in unemployment, but has also affected the property business in the state.”
The report traced the genesis of gang violence in Rivers to the creation of the Supreme Vikings Confraternity (SVC), also known as the Adventurers or the De Norsemen Club of Nigeria, at the University of Port Harcourt in 1984 by a former member of the Buccaneers Confraternity.
In 1991, Deebam was formed by a member of the Klansmen Konfraternity in Bukuma to serve as a “street wing” of the group. Klansmen Konfraternity was formed in 1983 at the University of Calabar. Deebam was also used to pressure oil companies to pay compensations to their host communities.
Over the years, the number of groups increased with many of them bankrolled by the political class. Apart from spiking rates of kidnap-for-ransom and mindless murder of rival gangs, Rivers’ street gangs are a part of the reasons elections in the state are always a bloodfest.
A 2015 commission of inquiry by former governor of the state Rotimi Amaechi said, on average, 19 persons were killed every month between November 2014 and April 2015.
Chidi Odinkalu, a professor of law and former boss of Nigeria’s human rights commission, who headed the inquiry, said 94 persons were killed between November 15, 2014, and April 11, 2015.
2019 election-day violence claimed, at least, seven lives in the state. The Situation Room, which represents more than 70 civil society groups, said Abonnema, in Rivers State, witnessed the worst violence. Nigerian Army spokesman Colonel Musa Sagir said seven people, including a soldier, died in a gunfight between an armed gang and soldiers.
A joint report by SBM and Open Society Initiative for West Africa showed that the state recorded the highest occurrence of “thuggery” on the day of the elections…