Story of Don Waney: The Deadly Escapades of A Dropout

Chukwudi Akasike of The Punch writes about the unfamiliar side of a notorious cult leader, Johnson Igwedibia, otherwise called Don Waney, who terrorised Rivers State before he was killed by security forces penultimate week.

The man, Don Waney 
The name Johnson Igwedibia may not be familiar to many. But the mention of Don Waney should do the magic. Omoku residents in Rivers State wouldn’t forget the brutality of the deadly kidnap and cult kingpin in a hurry, especially the killings masterminded by his gang on the New Year’s Day.

He was born in Aligwu and bestowed with a chieftaincy title in his village (Aligwu). He was crowned the Onyirimba I of Ogbaland by the Paramount Ruler of ONELGA, King C. Wokocha, on December 16, 2016. This happened shortly after he embraced the Amnesty Programme declared by the state Governor, Nyesom Wike.

Though said to have been killed by security agencies, his acts were akin to an unending nightmare. One of his classmates during their days at Community Secondary School, Egboro in Omoku, identified only as Smart, described him as a gentle pupil when they were in junior class.

He said Waney became rascally when they got to JSS3, adding that he was deep in cultism and usually led his class to fight with senior pupils.

Smart said, “He (Waney) was not a brilliant pupil and some teachers were afraid of him because he was fearless. He dropped out of school in SS3 in 2004 when he was arrested for armed robbery. Then, he was also into petty stealing and burglary. The school is a mixed school and he had a girlfriend there then.

“In 2002, when we had a clash with senior pupils, he was among the guys that led the fight. He was very bold and began to bear the nickname, Don Waney, while in SS1.’’

Like every mother, the notorious kidnapper was loved by his mother. She was said to have given him another strange appellation, Ogburu mmadu akwugwo (roughly translated to mean a man that kills without paying for his deed). It was also learnt that Don Waney was a strong defender of his mother.

This further buttressed the claim by one of Waney’s gang members, Desmond Okotubo, after he was arrested in Abuja, that they decided to attack and kill innocent people returning from crossover night after their boss’ mother was arrested by security agents.

Okotubo, 32, who hails from Egbema in ONELGA, said, “The arrest and humiliation of the mother of Don Waney, coupled with the destruction of Waney’s mansion, was the main reason for the attack in Omoku. The plan to invade Omoku was hatched in Owerri, Imo State. Omoku vigilance group members were our original targets and not church worshippers.”

His women, sobriquet 
gathered that the late cult leader might have picked his nickname from a character in popular Jamaican thriller, Third World Cop. In the movie, Carl Bradshaw plays the character, Don Oney. The one-armed character acts as a secret gunrunner who also sponsors major crimes in an area in Kingston, the Jamaican capital. It is this nickname that sources said the ex-militant doctored. The ‘Oney’ was modified as ‘Waney.’

Don Waney was also said to enjoy frolicking with women inside his bush bar each time he entered Enugu unannounced with some key members of his gang, including his second-in-command, Ikechukwu.

On his last trip to Enugu, it was learnt that the ladies didn’t know that he was already a fugitive, having masterminded the New Year’s Day killings in Omoku. It was learnt that he usually exhibited a gentleman’s mien whenever he travelled to Enugu or Calabar.

His mansions 
Despite his rough life, Don Waney had a penchant for the good life. This reflected in his choice of houses. A security source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told our correspondent that Waney built a mansion each in Lagos, Enugu and Calabar.

The source said, “His house at Lekki in Lagos State is occupied only by members of his immediate family and while he remained cool-headed each time he was in Lagos, he became an aggressive tiger the moment he entered Awara forest in Imo State from where he would eventually make his way to his area in ONELGA.

"One of the things he did was that while entering Enugu, Calabar or Lagos, he would not carry arms. But immediately he got to Awara forest, which is a boundary between Imo and Rivers states, the killer in him would emerge. It was as if he was sent to deal with his community.

“Before he was killed, he boasted that in 2018, no soul would be allowed to stay in Omoku. He actually said he wanted to start killing every Omoku person. He had vowed to kill one Chief Awan.’’

The Federal Government has, however, demolished the house he built in his Aligwu community a few days after he was killed.

Don Waney’s juju myth 
Those aware of his atrocities were convinced that he possessed some invincible power which made it impossible for security forces to kill him. Many believed he had black power (juju) that could prevent bullets from penetrating his body.

Some big politicians, especially those in Omoku, dreaded Don Waney because despite their retinue of security escorts, he and his gang were said to be able to kill their target without difficulty. It is a general knowledge that the dreaded militant leader made money through kidnapping, armed robbery and threats to kill.

It was also learnt that Don Waney was so feared that the rich in his community maintained a low profile and refused to flaunt their wealth in order to stay alive. Those who could not keep a low profile relocated outside the state.

An indigene of ONELGA, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told our correspondent that even Waney himself had, on several occasions, boasted about the efficacy of his juju. He was said to have a shrine inside his compound that housed two mansions.

On how his self-professed juju failed him, a security source, who was within close range when he was killed, said, “Don Waney had no magic or juju. Of course, no serious-minded security person believes in juju. We trailed him from Owerri, where he bought a new car. We were aware that he was moving to Enugu.

“He had a bush bar somewhere in Enugu, even close to a police station. Nobody knew that he was the Don Waney that had been declared wanted. But we tailed him. When he was finally caught, he actually bragged about his juju. His temple was targeted and was shot several times. He died without difficulty. Two members of his gang, who were within the environment, tried to escape but they were gunned down.

"Don Waney was using the non-existing juju to brag and frighten people. There was nothing like that. Though he had gang members who protected him from being reached physically, he was not protected by any form of juju. You can see his head the day he was displayed that his temple was shot several times at close range.”

Before his death, Don Waney’s name caused panic among residents of the Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area of Rivers State. Omoku and Aligwu communities are known because of the unpleasant escapades of the kidnap kingpin whose sobriquet was uttered in fear in the two communities.

Waney was killed at about 5pm on January 6, 2018, in a community in Enugu by operatives of the Nigerian Army and the Department of State Services, who it was learnt did the intelligence work that led to his demise. His death came just six days after he allegedly ordered a massacre of his community members, who were returning from a crossover night.

Before the final onslaught, security operatives had for several months been on the trail of the notorious cult leader also called ‘Maximum’ by members of his gang. He was believed to be unaware of the plot.

A man with nine lives? 
Though security forces said he had been killed, residents of Omoku are taking the claim with a pinch of salt. Their reason was based on the fact that it was not the first time he was said to have been killed.

An indigene of the area, Donatus Emereole, told our correspondent a day after Waney was reportedly killed, that the soldiers claimed last year that they killed him in the past, only to hear that he escaped.

He said, “Is it possible that Don Waney was killed this time around?

Waney would have been 34 years old this year. Many Omoku people felt he could have ended a hero if he had stayed away from the creeks and shunned criminality.