A new report by geopolitical research firm, SBM Intelligence says more than 100 cult groups in Rivers are fueling a rise in violence which has caused “incalculable human and economic loss in the process.”
The report traced the origin of cult groups in the state to the founding of the De Norsemen Club of Nigeria, popularly known as the Supreme Vikings Confraternity at the University of Port Harcourt in 1984 and said cult groups have since expanded to every part of the state, causing both destruction to lives, property and the environment.
Since the end of military rule in 1999, gang activities and the corresponding violence “have seen a gradual but steady increase in Rivers State,” leading to a militancy problem that escalated during the Umaru Yar’Adua administration. Prominent amongst the cult groups known to operate in the state are Deewell, Deebam, Icelanders, Greenlanders, Gberesaako Boys, and the Outlaws.
“In June 2016, two police officers and five other persons were killed in a cult clash between Icelanders and Greenlanders in Rumuji and Ovogo communities in Emohua local government area. In June 2017, 14 persons were killed in Sime community in Tai local government area of Rivers state in a cult clash between the Icelanders and the Greenlanders,” the report read.
“In April 2017, 12 persons were killed in a cult clash between Icelanders and members of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) in Andoni local government area.
“In February 2018 in Omerelu community in Ikwerre local government area, five people were killed in a clash between rival cult groups, with four of the five beheaded. While in August of the same year, a vigilante leader in Rumuolumeni in Obio/Akpor local government area was shot dead by suspected cultists.
“In May 2019, at least 10 persons were killed in an attack by members of the Iceland cult group on Kono-Boue in Khana local government area.
“In May 2020, members of Deewell beat to death a member of Deebam who was caught after snatching the phone of a pregnant woman in the Diobu axis of the state.
The study states that gang activities have been propped by the decades of deprivation of many communities, especially rural ones which have fuelled discontent among young people who have translated that frustration into outrage and violence against companies, state, and federal authorities. As a result, these groups have evolved into powerful political forces.
“However, there are two other crucial ingredients that make the problem become all-permeating and near intractable. First, the involvement of political patronage in gangs. This provides funding, as well as cover for impunity and some degrees of legitimacy for the gang leaders,” it read in part.
Despite a 2016 state-led amnesty programme and three anti-crime, anti-gang bills in 2018, Rivers has been unable to stem the rise of gang violence. In 2019, Governor Nyesom Wike said it would discontinue the amnesty programme “considering that many of those who were granted amnesty returned to their criminal activities.”
SBM’s report is based on data from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, the Council for Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker, news reports, and SBM Intel’s national network of researchers.