– By Walter Duru
ONE of the biggest stories about the Niger Delta region of Nigeria today is the killing of a dreaded cultist, Johnson Igwedibia, also known as Don Waney, by a combined team of men of the military and Department for State Services – DSS.
In a Press Statement issued by the Nigerian Army entitled: “End of road for notorious cultist, kidnapper and mass murderer- Don Waney,” signed by Deputy Director, Army Public Relations, Colonel Aminu Iliyasu, the military announced the death of Johnson Igwedibia.
The statement reads in part: “The authorities of 6 Division Nigerian Army Port Harcourt wish to inform the peace-loving people of Omoku in ONELGA in particular, Rivers State and indeed the entire good people of Niger Delta in general that the notorious cult leader, kidnap kingpin and mass murderer Don Waney is dead.”
Igwedibia, one of the big players in the game of the underworld in the region is said to have been gunned down alongside two of his close allies in a border town between Rivers and Enugu states.
A former heavy weight in militancy, based in Omoku in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni-ONELGA Local Government Area of the State is a prime suspect in the new year massacre that took the lives of over twenty persons returning from a ‘cross-over’ midnight prayer in Omoku.
Johnson Igwedibia is not a push over by any standard, as at some point in the area, the fear of Don Waney was the beginning of wisdom. Even the Oba of Ogba land, H.R.M. Eze Nnam Obi gave him his way and never crossed his path. Reports say that some security agents were afraid of him, as he was deadly and believed to be invincible. The routes to his mansion in Omoku were manned by soldiers, said to have been detailed to arrest him, dead or alive, yet, he operated without encumbrances. Did security give way for conspiracy?
In the days of militancy in the region, sources say Don Waney and his boys were allegedly involved in pipeline vandalism, sea piracy, kidnapping, armed robbery, cultism, thuggery, rape and all other forms of criminality, prior to late President Yar’Adua’s amnesty programme for militants in the region.
But, did the amnesty deter him? Years after accepting same, he returned to his trade in full capacity. In 2016, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike introduced another round of amnesty programme, which he also accepted; but to what extent did that influence him? Don Waney was a billionaire by all standards and the peanuts provided for the amnesty programme may have even infuriated him; yet he accepted it, but continued with his ‘business’.
On the 20th of December, 2016, Don Waney was conferred with a chieftaincy title of Onyirimba 1 of Ogbaland by the paramount Ruler of Aligwu in ONELGA LGA, King C. Nwokocha. Two of his foot soldiers, Ikechukwu Adiela and Augustine Osisiah were also installed chiefs.
In his response to the recognition, Waney commended the Rivers State government for their efforts in ensuring that peace reigns in the region, even as he urged youths of the area to embrace same, promising to join hands with stakeholders to ensure that peace reigns.
Contrary to his pledge, he still returned to his old ways, compelling the 6 Division of the Nigerian Army to invade his camp and shrines in the early hours of November 20, 2017. Reports say he narrowly escaped death in that brutal military operation.
During the raid, about ten human skulls and human bones were allegedly discovered. Seven suspects, including two women are said to have been arrested and they must be helping security operatives in their investigations.
Ultimately, the slain Don Waney was an extremely dangerous person and had caused indescribable harm to many. He is believed to have been involved in the killing of many and destruction of property.
At some point, multinational oil companies in the area could not operate without paying homage and some royalty to him. Yes! It was that bad. The situation was helpless at some point. He became a negative role model in the area. Many young people gained employment in companies operating in the region through him. He had large and committed followership, no doubt.
On a number of cases, there were unfounded reports of his death, following attacks and invasion of his camp(s). Such reports made it difficult for people to believe that he has eventually been killed. But, now that there is evidence that he is dead, is the battle over?
The truth is that the problem in Omoku and the entire Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area may have just begun. Those celebrating his demise at this stage may need to have a rethink.
First, reports have it that among his followers are deadlier young people living under oath. Among his hundreds of followers are blood-thirsty and trigger-happy radicals, ready to take after him. In fact, his biological younger brother, whose name is given as ‘Obata Osu’ can best be described as a worse evil. While Don Waney was of a calm disposition, his younger brother is a more radical and violent person. In fact, reports say Don Waney alone could control him.
Hundreds of young people benefited from his criminal activities and still owe allegiance to him, even in death. These individuals leave among unsuspecting citizens.
More so, the arms at the disposal of the boys are so sophisticated that anyone believing that they are push overs is doing so at his own peril. A combination of high capacity for mischief, absence of repentance, sophisticated weaponry and very deep pockets makes the situation very complex.
Taking a clue from history, the crises in Omoku will take strategic planning on the part of security operatives, effective communication, stakeholders’ engagement, sustained operation(s) and ultimately, the grace of God to end. In fact, it will take the grace of God for normalcy to return to the oil-rich city of Omoku.
Prior to the reign of Don Waney, one Chi-boy was practically being worshipped in the area. Don Waney was said to have toppled Chi-boy, with support from some known politicians in the area, before assuming kingship over the ‘jungle’.
Now that Don Waney is no more, a few things are likely to happen. First, within his camp, there may be conflict over who pilots the affairs of the gang, particularly, now that he was killed alongside his 2iC, while the number three man broke away earlier, over alleged poor compensation from a bootie from some government quarters. The internal crisis may lead to the breaking away of a faction, thereby weakening the Don Waney camp further.
Another possible development will be that some other camps that were calm over the years as a mark of respect for the king of the jungle-Don Waney will want to rise to fight for superiority. This rivalry may mark the first phase of violence to be witnessed in the area, after the internal conflict in Don-Waney’s camp. Then, other camps and groups may spring up.
Ultimately, the way militancy has been handled over the years in the Niger Delta region shows that crime attracts handsome reward. Changing this narrative requires strategic planning.
Those thinking that the sad end of Don-Waney may serve as a bitter lesson and outright deterrent to others involved or intend to be involved may have a rethink. In fact, it will amount to wishful thinking. Even if Don Waney was caught alive and made to die slowly; even through an open torture, it will not change anything. After all, armed robbery attracts death penalty in our law books, but has that stopped the menace?
Nigeria’s security operatives must therefore go back to the drawing board and critically analyze the situation and think of the way forward. The way forward is not to celebrate the death of Don Waney, as nothing appears to have really changed, but leadership. There are still many other Don-Waneys in the jungle.
One very important task for security operatives is to ensure the protection of lives and property in the area, by taking steps to prevent any further attacks on soft targets.
For Omoku, it will take divine intervention for normalcy to return to the area anytime soon. Anyone thinking otherwise is living in fool’s paradise. Stakeholders must return to the drawing board, review the situation, adopt a carrot and stick approach and employ professional public relations strategies, in addition to excellent intelligence and security approaches in order to succeed. Community stakeholders must be engaged on sustained basis as a deliberate strategy.
The situation is further complicated by the fact that the 2019 election is fast approaching. Will politicians allow normalcy to return to the area? Who then will they use for thuggery, kidnapping and assassination during the elections? The problem is huge and requires a holistic approach.
Indeed, it is too early to celebrate, as not much has changed!
Dr. Walter Duru is a Communication and Public Relations expert/strategist. He is Executive Director of Media Initiative against Injustice, Violence and Corruption-MIIVOC and chairs the Board of Freedom of Information Coalition, Nigeria-FOICN. Duru can be reached on: firstname.lastname@example.org.