The following are brief and highly generalized descriptions of the armed groupsgangs, cults, and militant groupswhose activities figure most prominently in the events described in this report. More detailed histories and analyses of some of these groups are available elsewhere.158 This is by no means an exhaustive catalogue: A Rivers State government law banning the groups includes a list of more than 100 separate cult groups active in the state (the law has never been seriously enforced).
The information presented here is based on interviews with current and former gang members, civil society activists, and individuals who have carried out extensive research into the origin, structure, and activities of many of the cult organizations in Rivers State.
The Supreme Vikings Confraternity was reportedly founded at the University of Port Harcourt in 1984. The Vikings have since grown to nationwide prominence, with members on campuses scattered throughout southern Nigeria. Vikings members have been implicated in numerous acts of violence, both politically sponsored and purely criminal, in Rivers State and beyond. In Rivers State, Vikings members have reportedly won seats in the State House of Assembly in such numbers that some Port Harcourt residents jokingly refer to the Assembly as Viking House.
The Icelanders was formed as a street wing of the Vikings groupessentially a vehicle to enhance that groups armed strength by recruiting members off-campus (membership in the Vikings and many other cult groups is only open to students on campuses where the groups operate). Former gang members and civil society activists allege that the group was formed at the initiative of former Federal Minister of Transportation Abiye Sekibo, a powerful member of the PDP and a native of Rivers State.
In the run-up to the 2003 elections in Rivers, the Icelanders were used to ensure a PDP victory in Okrika local government. Okrika had been controlled by the opposition All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) since 1999. The Icelanders, led by Ateke Tom, successfully drove the ANPP-affiliated Bush Boys out of Okrika and ensured a PDP victory in the local government. Atekes group grew in numbers and prominence over the coming years and took on the name Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV) in 2003.
The Icelanders are one of Rivers States most powerful and violent gangs and have been implicated in numerous assaults, murders and, other crimes. The Icelanders are also involved in oil bunkering and providing security to oil bunkering operations run by local politicians. Two of the individuals most responsible for the violence described in this report are affiliated with different factions of the Icelanders: Ateke Tom was one of the founders of the group, and Soboma George also began his criminal career as a member of the group.
Like the Icelanders, Deewell was founded by the Vikings as a street wing of the cult. Deewells members are mainly unemployed youth with no university education who engage in various forms of violent and petty crime. Deewell is also called upon by prominent members of its parent Vikings organization to engage in violent turf wars on their behalf. Most notably, Deewell has been involved in several bloody conflicts with Deebam, an off-campus affiliate of the Klansmen cult.
Deebam is the street wing of the campus-based Klansmen Konfraternity159and is one of the most effectively organized and most violent cult gangs in Rivers State. Deebam has been responsible for numerous kidnappings of expatriate oil workers and wealthy Nigerians and engaged in several bloody turf wars with rival groups in different parts of Rivers State.160
Deebam differs from the street wings of other cult groups in that it is largely autonomous from its parent Klansmen cult. Its members have often been hired by sponsors who are not themselves members of the Klansmen. For example, Deebam has been at the front lines of a long-running turf war in the Rivers State town of Bodo as the proxy militia of former state Commissioner of Finance Kenneth Kobani. Kobani himself is reportedly not a member of the Klansmen or any other cult, but has had no trouble securing the services of Deebam in a largely successful effort to drive his political rivals Deewell fighters from Bodo.
The late leader of the Deebam group, Prince Igodo, was killed in a May 2007 shootout with members of Soboma Georges Outlaws gang. Igodo was reportedly killed because he was believed responsible for the kidnapping for ransom of the mother of former governor Celestine Omehia,and had threatened to violently disrupt Omehias inauguration as governor.
The Outlaws gang was founded by Soboma George in 2005.161 Soboma had previously been a subordinate of Ateke Tom and a member of the Icelanders but fell out with Ateke following Sobomas incarceration on charges of murder in 2005.162 He founded the Outlaws either while in prison or immediately after staging a successful jailbreak in 2005.
Soboma and his Outlaws gang, along with close ally Prince Fara of the Niger Delta Strike Force, became an increasingly favored recipient of patronage doled out by Rivers politicians and had attained a position of clear dominance over other groups by the time of the April 2007 elections. Jealously on the part of other groups who felt excluded from such patronageespecially Ateke Tomwas the primary cause of the bloody inter-cult fighting described in this report.
During the run-up to the 2003 elections, Asari Dukobo was recruited by PDP officials to organize electoral violence and ensure the successful rigging of the polls. Shortly after the elections, Asari broke with his former sponsors and organized his fighters under the NDPVF banner. The NDPVF fundamentally transformed the dynamics of conflict in the Niger Delta with its adoption of overtly political rhetoric, identifying itself in opposition to the perceived marginalization and neglect of the Niger Delta and framing its activities in terms of strident political demands. In this it was the precursor to the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).
The NDPVF was badly weakened following Asaris arrest on charges of treason in 2005 but is still in existence and strong in some parts of Rivers State. Many NDPVF members are also cult members but in some communities, such as Ogbogoro, NDPVF members have tried to combat the violence carried out by cult groups through vigilante activities.
Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND)
The phenomenon of armed Niger Delta militancy essentially began with Asari Dukobo of the NDPVF and culminated in the formation of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) in early 2006. MEND has cast itself as the militant champion of the Niger Delta cause, demanding greater local control of oil resources along with other concessions and carrying out a series of attacks on government installations.
MENDs membership is an amalgam of existing armed groups that have continued to operate independently in addition to carrying out and supporting periodic politically motivated activities under the banner of MEND. Soboma George of the Outlaws, for example, has been accepted as a prominent MEND commander in Rivers State.
MEND started the wave of kidnappings targeting expatriate oil workers that has swept across the region. While MENDs first kidnappings were in large measure intended as a political statement, kidnapping has since grown into a kind of cottage industry carried out by a diverse array of groups and primarily for profit.
In 2007 MEND suffered from increasing internal disarray, splitting into eastern and western factions and largely ceasing to carry out effective strikes or function coherently as a group. Some current and former gang members ascribe these problems to disagreements over the allocation of money between several different MEND commanders. In October 2007 the group suffered a further blow when Henry Okah, one of its key spokespeople and arms suppliers, was arrested by Angolan authorities on charges of arms trafficking. Okahs faction of MEND has since threatened further attacks if he is not treated fairly by the Nigerian federal government.
158 In particular, see Small Arms Survey, Small Arms, Armed Violence and Insecurity in Nigeria: The Niger Delta in Perspective (Geneva: Small Arms Survey, 2007), pp. 109-136.
159 The Klansmen are also known as the Eternal Fraternal Order of the Legion Konsortium, or EFOLK.
160 For example see text box above, Sponsorship of Cult Violence in Bodo.
161 The Outlaws are sometimes also known as Island Marine Patrol, or IMP.
162 See above, chapter Background, section The Rising Power of Soboma George.