Since January 2006, violence in Nigeria’s delta region escalated dramatically as various militant groups and violent confraternities kidnapped Western energy workers in order to call attention to their political grievances. Most recently, kidnappings have begun to take on a more criminal nature, with kidnap-for-ransom schemes plaguing the delta region. While there are many groups involved in these activities, two of the delta’s most notorious cult groups are suspected of engaging in the acts: Deebam and Deewell. These two rival cult groups originated in the 1990s when established confraternities in the Niger Delta created street and creek wings to consolidate their territorial control. Today, both Deebam and Deewell remain responsible for much of the violence in the delta.
Origins of Deebam
Deebam was created in 1991 as a street/creek wing of the Klansmen Konfraternity (KK), a group also called the Eternal Fraternal Order of the Legion Konsortium. In the KK’s parlance, Deebam means “Be Strong.” KK was founded at the University of Calabar in Cross River State in 1983 by five students (The Midweek Telegraph, August 10-16, 2005; Terrorism Monitor, July 6). The first leader of Deebam was the late Onengieofori Terika, popularly called “Occasion Boy.” In Deebam’s terminology, he was known as “Teetan the Great,” or “Teetan the Giant,” meaning the group’s chief. Members who are undergraduate students at universities are called Klansmen and belong to the KK, whereas Deebam is strictly for the street/creek members. There is, however, an organic link between the university-based KK and the street/creek wing Deebam .
Deebam has a more formidable and clear leadership structure than its Deewell rival. This is because the initiation into Deebam is extremely tough and membership dues and contributions are high, explaining why many Deebam cultists take to organized crime such as commercial election rigging and other vices to meet their membership obligations. Their membership obligation is approximately 100 naira per month, unless there is an emergency when more money may be demanded . Deewell, on the other hand, relies more on support from politicians and others who are part of their patronage network.
Occasion Boy, the first leader of Deebam, hailed from Bukuma in the Degema Local Government Area of Rivers State. Under him, the group expanded and attracted membership. He was killed on October 9, 2003 when he led scores of his Deebam combatants to take over Tombia, a neighboring community a few kilometers away, and was shot dead by heavily armed Deewell and Icelander cultists. After the death of Occasion Boy, Kingsley Akogu, popularly called “King,” took over the group’s leadership. His tenure was short. He was arrested by security operatives from a brothel in Port Harcourt and taken to the city’s cemetery where he was shot dead. He hailed from Omoku community in the Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area of Rivers State.
Ichechi Iwaka, popularly called “Angel,” took over the leadership of Deebam after the murder of King. Before Owaka’s emergence, his group was already estranged from the state government at the same time that Mujahid Dokubo-Asari was estranged from Rivers State Governor Dr. Peter Odili. Asari decided to leave the Ijaw Youth Council and start the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF). Owaka’s Deebam and Dokubo’s NDPVF then forged a common alliance to confront Ateke Tom and his Icelander/Niger Delta Vigilantes (NDV)—and by extension the state government whom they accused of funding Ateke’s group to eliminate them. Owaka’s reign was characterized by intense armed insurrection against the state and its agents. He was killed when the military invaded Ogbakiri in June 2004.
Under Owaka’s leadership, Deebam’s headquarters was moved from Tombia in the Degema Local Government Area to Ogbakiri in the Emuoha Local Government Area, all in Rivers State. The purpose of the move was to find a safer area to conduct their activities and to practice their religious rituals . After the death of Owaka, Prince Igodo, the president of the Tombia Youth Council, emerged as the head of Deebam. Even after the death of Angel, Deebam was still working with Asari’s group until November 2005 when disagreements deepened between the cult group and the NDPVF over the share of money accruable from the disarmament program initiated by the Rivers State and federal governments in 2005. Deebam went their separate ways from Dokubo’s NDPVF, while one of the NDPVF commanders, Prince Farah Ipallibo, also broke away from NDPVF and founded a small but dreaded group called the Niger Delta Strike Force (NDSF).
On May 29, 2007, Igodo and hordes of his Deebam loyalists were shot dead in Tombia by a team composed of the NDSF, led by Ipallibo, Soboma George’s Outlaws and Deewell. During the last elections in April 2007, the state government had allegedly given large sums of money ranging from 10 to 50 million naira to Soboma to mobilize other armed groups to ensure the victory of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the state. Igodo and others who also worked for the party in the Okrika axis felt unhappy, and wanted to cause some violence during the May 29 handover ceremony, perhaps to attract government attention to get their part of the largesse (The Midweek Telegraph, June 6-12). The plan leaked to Soboma and his allies, who were practically working for Governor Celestine Omehia because during the ceremony the new governor had also given some money to Soboma to maintain “peace” and “order” . Therefore, when they had heard about Igodo’s plan, they went into action to eliminate Igodo and his combatants . Since Igodo’s death, no new leader of Deebam has been appointed or elected by the group. After his burial, Deebam cultists have said that a new leader will be appointed by early 2008.
In spite of police and military raids on Deebam’s hideouts, they still have many areas they control, especially in Rivers State. They control large parts of the Ogoni area . They are also in control of all of Emuoha Local Government Area because Deebam’s headquarters is in Ogbakiri, which is located in Emuoha. They also control much of Degema Local Government Area, especially places like Tombia and Bukuma. In Port Harcourt, they are in charge of the majority of the slums, such as Njemanze and Gambia . Since they were the first street gang to emerge in Rivers State, their territory is much larger than Deewell’s. They are in almost all of the Local Government Areas of the state and in remote villages . In Bayelsa, they dominate Local Government Areas like Ogbia and Yenogoa, especially. They are also in Delta State and Akwa Ibom and Cross River states. It is estimated that they can call on more than 700 active members.
Origins of Deewell
Deewell, also called the Junior Vikings Confraternity (JVC), was founded in the mid-1990s as a rival to Deebam. The group was conceived as a street/creek wing of the Supreme Vikings Confraternity (SVC), also known as De Norsemen Club of Nigeria, which itself was founded in 1984 at the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State by a history student (Terrorism Monitor, July 6). The word “Deewell” in the SVC’s terminology means “Be Well.” The group was founded as a secret street cult meant for those who were not university students. The group made its dramatic debut around a squalid neighborhood on the southeastern edges of Port Harcourt called Diobu. In its early days, members were involved in petty street brawls for supremacy and territorial control using broken bottles, machetes and short, locally-created guns called Akwas.
In its early days, those who joined the group were red-eyed, hardened petty criminals who had a penchant for violence. There is no record that clearly defines the structure, leadership and names of those who joined the group from its inception. The cult group is neither anti-government nor a rebel group. A lot of unemployed youth and school dropouts embraced Deewell, but it was weak militarily and could not compete violently with its rival, Deebam. Worried by the impotence of Deewell despite the resources invested on it by its parent body, the SVC, who felt that they should control most of Rivers State, began an initiative to form a new group called the Icelander (German) . The Icelander was formed and handed over to Ateke Tom to head .
The creation of Ateke Tom’s the Icelander helped to consolidate Deewell. The two groups shared much in common, from their attire, communication codes, initiation rites and general behavior. Many Deewell members fought for Icelander during reprisal attacks from Deebam after the Icelander’s creation. On October 9, 2003, Mr. Owei, a school teacher, and Damiete Rowland, who led the Deewell as head and deputy respectively in Tombia, in alliance with Ateke Tom and his Icelander shot dead Occasion Boy, the first leader of Deebam, during one of their violent struggles for supremacy and territorial control. Nevertheless, Deewell and Icelander were later forced out and Deebam occupied the area.
The founding of the Outlaws, a splinter group of Icelander led by Soboma George, Tom Ateke’s former second-in-command, also added another feather to the violent cap of Deewell. The Outlaws was founded in 2005 as a secret street gang (The Midweek Telegraph, February 7-13). Whether Deewell, Icelander or the Outlaws, their pattern of initiations and other activities are the same and are derived from that of the SVC, their parent body. Like in the case of the Outlaws, many Deewell cultists also double as Outlaws fighters. The Outlaws has also been supporting Deewell with weapons, funds and men to acquire or regain new territories .
In Rivers State, Deewell controls the following areas: much of the southern axis of Port Harcourt comprising the old Port Harcourt township; parts of the slum Diobu; some areas of the Emuoha Local Government Area; northeastern parts of Port Harcourt; the entire area called Ken-Khana Kingdom; the heart of Ogoniland, southeast of Port Harcourt; and locations such as Harry’s Town in the Degema Local Government Area. Overall, although Deewell is most formidable in Rivers State, it has members in Bayelsa and Delta states.
The actual numbers of the group can not be determined, but in some villages where they exist they have more than 100 members. For example, in Bane in the Khana Local Government Area of Rivers State there are over 120 members of the cult group. Overall, it is estimated that Deewell has some 400 active members, which makes it smaller than Deebam.
The cult related violence in the delta will continue because the menace is now endemic. Yet, the groups will shrink and aspiring members will be discouraged from joining if the Nigerian government at all levels demonstrates sincerity and transparency in democratic governance, sustainable peace initiatives and provisions of basic social amenities and infrastructure for the population, especially in the Niger Delta region.
1. Comparing and contrasting Deebam and its parent body, the KK, is an internal analysis by the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD), Ogale-Nchia, Eleme, Rivers State, January 2006.
2. Author interview with Michael Okoro, a deck officer of Deebam, in Rivers State on September 20, 2007.
3. Author interview with Prince Igodo, October 1, 2004.
4. Author interviews with Ateke Tom on August 10, 2007 and Cynthia Whyte of the Joint Revolutionary Council.
5. Author interview with Boniface Paago, a leader of Deebam in Bodocity community in the Gokana Local Government Area, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, August 30, 2007.
6. The Guardian, July 21, 2006. Also, see “The Bodo War of Attrition: A Brief Paper on the Bodo-Ogoni Cult Crises,” a report issued by the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD), July 31, 2006.
7. Author interview with Boniface Paago, a leader of Deebam in Bodocity community in the Gokana Local Government Area, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, August 30, 2007.
9. Author interview with Osaro, one of the estranged commanders of Icelander, Diobu, Port Harcourt, April 30, 2005.
11. Author interview, anonymous Deewell officer, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, January 29, 2007.