The Story of Derico Nwamama, Nigeria’s King of the Underworld

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INTRODUCTION

It was 13 long years ago. The year 2001, and everything was quite topsy-turvy in the country. The nation was still smarting from the Y2K scare that the world was going to come to an abrupt end and all computers would stop functioning at the exact strike of midnight on the 31st of December, 1999. Doomsday prophets went gaga, milking an ignorant populace from their brisk and dark businesses as they went around screaming the world was going to end. Nigeria was also experiencing the post-delivery pangs of democracy having just regained freedom from stifling military rule in 1999 following General Sani Abacha’s sudden and mysterious death. But away from all these superficial trivia, there were more disturbing issues heating up the polity and one of the most nerve-tangling of these was insecurity. Insecurity was all over the land, and the speed and ferocity with which violence was spreading was heartbreaking, to say the least.

BEATEN AND WOUNDED: Derico Nwamama after he was nabbed by the Bakassi Boys.

BEATEN AND WOUNDED: Derico Nwamama after he was nabbed by the Bakassi Boys.

Together, with the binoculars of history, we zoom in on southeastern Nigeria with Abiyamo as the legendary story of Derico Nwamama, Nigeria’s King of the Underworld is retold like never before. 2001 was a very turbulent year for Nigeria and one of the states that bore the biggest brunt of the madness and political violence was Anambra. My beautiful Anambra, the land of the greats and the finest okpa di oku. But for a land that has produced some of Africa’s greatest, all was far from well. The people of Onitsha could not display their wares with peace while going to bed at night was horror. All because of one 22-year-old lad who went by the name Okwudili Ndiwe, better known as Derico Nwamama or simply Derico. A frustrated Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju tried all tricks in the book to hook this damaged crook but all efforts failed until he went unconventionally ballistic.

Psychologically-traumatized and emotionally-battered, the people of Anambra went to their markets petrified and whenever there was a commotion with shouts of Derico renting the air, they fled in different directions, like the sprayed ashes from the palms of a dibia. It did not take long before the despicable name of Derico was on the mouth of everyone in and around the state. He was aptly described as the personification of terror. From Nnewi to Nkpor, from the villages in Umuleri to towns in Ihiala, the old and young were terrified at the mere whisper of Derico. Nwamama. Nwa. Mama. But as a saying goes, no condition is permanent and Derico would soon meet the nastiest of all endings…

DERICO, THE TERROR: THE DAYS OF ROBBERY

Derico Nwamama had a very interesting modus operandi. Although he terrorized the entire state of Anambra, striking in various places, particularly Onitsha, he was not residing in the state. As a matter of fact, his base was Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory. Derico only visited his hometown when it was time to launch maximum terror. And after raining a torrent of bullets and gunfire upon the hapless and ill-equipped officers of the Nigerian Police and defenceless Nigerians, he would speed back to his safe haven, hours away up north in Abuja, with his loot, safe on the laps of power, luxury and comfort.

At a period, Derico used the town of Umuleri as his hideout. Then from there, he would issue threatening messages to the police that they will pay for killing members of his gang. He also maintained his bases in other towns like Agbor.

HOW DERICO KILLED CHIEJINA, HIS FRIEND AND ANOTHER LEGENDARY ARMED ROBBER

Chiejina was from Aguleri, Anambra State and before Derico came onto the scene, Chiejina was described by the police as the deadliest armed robber in all of Anambra State. The centre of his lethal operations was Onitsha. Derico’s father too was from Aguleri and in no time, the paths of the two met and they became very good friends and colleagues in the armed robbery business. However, their friendship would not last for long as bloody arguments soon broke out between the two of them over the scope and nature of executing their operations. You know, when two lions fight over territory and stuff. Both of them were at the peak of their strengths and they were equally feared all over the region. But the lethality of Derico would soon prove too toxic for Chiejina. During a violent argument over their mode of operation, Derico blasted Chiejina to an early grave with a volley of bullets. After the death of Chiejina, Derico became the undisputed emperor of terror in the land. Anambra was in soup, and the environs would not be spared too.

THE HUNT, SEARCH AND CAPTURE OF DERICO

Governor Mbadinuju was not the only one visibly frustrated by the constant antics of Derico. President Olusegun Obasanjo was also enraged at the untamed banditry. Even more embarrassing was the fact that the Nigerian Police seemed to melt like candle in a bakery before the dreaded Derico and his daredevil gangsters. But the state government had one last trump card: the Bakassi Boys. But before then, the police will give Derico a run for his smoking-hot guns.

Around May 2001, the Anambra State Police Command launched theOperation Derico which was aimed at capturing Derico and his gang members. There had been Operation Thunderbolt, Operation Abortion, Operation Cobra and Operation Mimicry to capture other armed robbers, especially those based in the Umuleri-Aguleri axis of the state. The police had varying degrees of success with these operations but they were never able to lay their hands on the dreaded Derico. They were on a wild goose chase.

Governors of the predominantly Igbo southeastern states were fed up with the spiraling level of violence from armed robbery, kidnapping and ritual murders. They decided to launch their own paramilitary outfits that would provide adequate security to the people. These vigilante outfits were to work in collaboration with the police force. Thus came the Bakassi Boys. However, it was not a solely southeastern thingy. The southwest had their own Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), there was the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF) in the north, Niger Delta Volunteers Force (NDVF), Ogoni Youth, Ijaw Youths and even the Egbesu Boys in Bayelsa. There was also the ruthless Mambilla Militia Group (aka Ashana No Case To Answer) in Taraba State. It was a time of near-anarchy. Not that it is all paradise now anyways (impunity still continues unabated in Nigeria with domestic terrorism spiraling out of control, as at the time of writing this, the kidnappers of the Nigerian President’s cousin turned down the sum of N30 million, calling it shikini money)..

Enjoying immense support from the local populace, the Bakassi Boys were at the forefront of the hunt and capture of Derico Nwamama. The violent and unbroken streak of Derico would come to a sudden but dramatic end on a Tuesday, the 3rd of July, 2001. He was captured by the much-dreaded Bakassi Boys, the militant wing of the Anambra Vigilante Services (AVS) in Onitsha, which happened to be his hometown. He was on the way to Onitsha from Agbor in Delta State.

BEATEN AND WOUNDED: Derico Nwamama after he was nabbed by the Bakassi Boys.

BEATEN AND WOUNDED: Derico Nwamama after he was nabbed by the Bakassi Boys.

Following the news of his capture, Onitsha erupted in joy and cheers. As the Bakassi Boys cruised and swerved round the city at neck-breaking speeds in their buses brandishing cutlasses, charms and all kinds of weapons, they were hailed as heroes and were treated to rapturous applauses wherever they went. Okada (motorcycle) riders, marketwomen, traders and school children trooped out onto the streets in their hundreds to celebrate the much-anticipated capture of the man who turned their nights into nightmares and their dreams into nibbly hopelessness. The police and Bakassi Boys had been combing everywhere for Derico for more than a year before he fell into the trap specifically laid for him.

Other suspects and contemporaries of Derico also arrested by the police.

Other suspects and contemporaries of Derico also arrested by the police.

Derico had killed over 100 people including 15 officers of the Nigerian Police whose lives he mercilessly wasted. He was a master of countless bus robberies and will not blink twice before pumping his hot lead bullets into the beating hearts of hapless victims. Before the coming of the Bakassi Boys, Derico sacked commercial banks in Onitsha carting away millions of naira of customer savings. What happened to those that he wrecked financially can only be imagined. And after his successful raids, he would boast and declare himself invincible. Derico seemed to have placed a lot of faith and confidence in the charms prepared for him by the traditional witchdoctors. According to reports, some of the charms were made inside some of the most well-known rivers in the state. He believed in the power of the amulets but eventually, the nakedness of his foolishness was laid bare.

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In one of his last operations in June 2001, his daredevil gang descended upon the Achalla Police Station in Awka North Local Government with all the fury left in Hell. Nigerian policemen scampered off for dear lives while Derico and his team conducted a surgical operation on the police station. By the time they were gone, they went with seven police assault rifles. That particular operation was so dangerous that Derico did not go all alone with his gang, he called for collaboration with another gang from Umuleri. They were planning to rob a bank in Asaba, the Delta State capital and they needed heavy weapons to carry out their heist.

The Nigerian Police requested that Derico be handed over to them so they could continue with the investigation and eventual prosecution but the Bakassi Boys simply ignored the request, brushing it aside just as a Gbagura woman would the idea of a junior wife. For the Nigerian populace that was already (and is still) highly distrustful and suspicious of the Nigerian Police, their overwhelming support went straight to the Bakassi Boys. Some of them asked whether the Nigerian Police officers were on sedatives all the time Derico was terrorizing the whole state, killing and robbing as he desired. Many were in support of Derico being dispatched to the Hereafter as soon as possible and without wasting the fraction of a microsecond. But how was Derico nabbed?

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The operations launched by the Nigerian Police were vast but the net did not catch the big fish. In one of the operations, six operatives from the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and Bakassi Boys left Awka, the Anambra State capital and headed for Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja, where Derico was based. They almost caught Derico but he escaped. Two of his deadliest lieutenants were however, arrested. Derico fled, abandoning his amazing cache of weapons, amulets and charms. With the heat on him, Derico scampered off and was on the way to his hometown, Onitsha. On getting to Agbor, where he maintained an armed robbery base, he alighted from the bus for a short stop-over. The Bakassi Boys got the wind of Derico’s movement and decide to ambush him. They mobilized at the end of the Niger Bridge which linked Asaba with Onitsha and stayed round the clock hoping to catch the very elusive Derico.

The beginning of the end for Derico was on a Tuesday night, the 3rd of July, 2001. Derico ran out of luck that very night at the Bridge Head (Niger Bridge) in Onitsha. He was on a commuter bus coming from Asaba in Delta State heading towards Onitsha when the vehicle ran into a checkpoint mounted by the Bakassi Boys. He was identified and arrested by the Bakassi Boys who stated that Derico was found with an ‘unspecified’ identity card that was reported to have been signed by a ‘highly-placed indigene of the state’. The name of the ‘influential’ figure was not mentioned.

THE END OF DERICO

Many had predicted that following Derico’s capture by the Bakassi Boys, his days were already numbered. That was because the Bakassi Boys had developed a terrible and blood-clotting reputation for their inhumane treatment of suspects. Known as huge guys bouncing their pectoral muscles like Vuga in a Nollywood movie reminiscent of the Ohafia warriors, wearing all-black and wielding machetes, the Bakassi Boys were not an easy sight on the eyes at all.

Captured criminals were savagely beaten, mutilated, dismembered and even set on fire, all without trial. After heaping the remains of the suspects in the blazing flames, the Bakassi Boys then asked the onlookers and bystanders to raise their hands in what was a symbolic form of worship and surrender. The end of Derico would prove to be even more dramatic.

On the 9th of July 2001, six days after Derico was captured, Bakassi Boys chanting war songs drove in their clangorous buses to the ever-bustling Ochanja Market Junction (Roundabout) along Iweka Road in Onitsha, one of the commercial nerve centers of the state and right there in the middle of the market, their buses came to a screeching halt. Crazy shouts of excitement and unspeakable terror filled the atmosphere of one of West Africa’s most active markets.

Some of the Bakassi Boys did not even let their buses come to their typical maddening stop before they jumped out of the vehicles, some from the windows, the doors were barely closed as they sped recklessly towards the centre of Onitsha. Traders and shopowners at the market hurriedly closed their shops to have a full view of the drama that was about to unfold. Many had not even seen the infamous Derico before and did not know how he looked like, whether he was handsome like the Prince of the Air, or as old as Melchizedek. What many saw next was not what they expected.

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Derico was dragged out, his face was thoroughly ‘panel-beaten’, a sure mark of the non-stop physical assault and the maximum shishi that he had received in the hands of the Bakassi Boys in the dungeon where they had locked him up. A 22-year-old lad, his body was ‘decorated’ with numerous cuts and gashes from cutlasses that went really deep into his brown, proteinous African flesh. It was the sight of savagery. Raw savagery. But the real savagery was to come.

Derico was in obvious pains but no one seemed to care. He was going to taste the same chili pepper and ata rodo that he had rubbed in the eyes of the hapless Nigerians.

Still chanting war songs and edged on by the ecstatic mob, the Bakassi Boys were totally in control and in minutes, a huge crowd had formed around the arena, waiting for the most anticipated spectacle in July 2001 in Nigeria’s enterprising southeast.

At that moment, one of the ‘war commanders’ of the Bakassi Boys named Okpompi addressed the crowd, which was now swelling by the minute. With a voice that pierced through the electrified crowd, Okpompi said that the Bakassi Boys were not in the state for politics. He said they had no business with politics and they were strictly interested in fighting crime. He went to add that whoever was thinking they were involved in politics was a joker.

Okpompi.

Okpompi.

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Vehicle of the Bakassi Boys. Credits: BBC

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DREADED: The Bakassi Boys.

Although chaotic, the end of Derico still had some semblance of a ceremony, even if it was a most gory one indeed. Responding to approving roars from the bloodthirsty and vengeance-seeking crowd, the Bakassi Boys assured their people that insecurity would become a thing of the past in the state. At that point, the microphone was handed to Derico.

Life was already ebbing out of his poor soul and his vocal cords soon betrayed him. Trembling like a flayed cat on a dark, lonely winter night, he begged for his life and like all legendary criminals staring death in the face, he made some feeble last attempts to declare his innocence and plead for mercy that would never materialize. Full of regrets, shrieking in pain and covered with sweat, tears and blood, Derico twaddled:

“My name is Oddy, alias Derico, alias Nwa Mama. I appeal to you the people of Anambra State, please don’t kill me, I don’t like evil. It was when I killed Chiejina (another suspected robber) that people thought I am a strong guy, you know.’’

The crowd let out a confused mix of shouts and gibberish, the spirit of vengeance had possessed everyone in the city center but Derico continued begging and pleading for his life and at a point, he even denied robbing anyone:

“I trust Bakassi Boys. They are strong. Please, mercy for me. Nobody can identify me as having robbed him. People just believe that I am a strong guy.”

The whole scenario almost descended into a pandemonium when from nowhere a truck full of Nigerian police officers tried to penetrate the crowd. However, the charged mob booed the police officers and rained stones on them. Fearing total anarchy and even the possibility of their being lynched alongside Derico, the police officers fired some shots in the air to disperse the crowd and in minutes, they left the scene for the Bakassi Boys, the newly-minted heroes.

Still writhing in pain like a wounded Indian cobra, Derico let out some secrets. He said that while he was on the run, he was sheltered by a member of the National Assembly in Abuja. Derico did not stop there, he also confessed that he also had two other powerful protectors, one was a member of the Anambra State House of Assembly while the other was the chairman of a local government council. The stupefied crowd let out a stream of unbelievable shouts.

Following Derico’s ‘speech’ in anguish, the drama heightened and the crowd eagerly awaited what was to follow. What was to follow remains one of the most macabre displays of public executions in Nigeria. With the speed of a guillotine, a cutlass handled in the strong arm of one of the Bakassi Boys flew and came down with an unforgiving thud, landing on Derico’s slim neck. In a flash, Derico was beheaded.

His severed head rolled on the floor before the crowd while his convulsing body collapsed on the ground, with bright-red blood gushing from his carotid arteries. It was like a sacrifice to the gods had just taken place. Whether Amadioha was pleased or not, no one knew. An orgasmic shout rented the air as Derico was beheaded, the crowd reached a climax and the chanting of the war and victory songs continued. The crowd was satisfied and as far as the Bakassi Boys were concerned, that was a clear lesson and message to any criminal bent on making life miserable for the Anambrarians.

With the lifeless remains of Derico still lying on the floor, the people erupted in jubilation, patting one another on the backs and exchanging mutual congratulations after a monstrously grotesque show of iron and blood. That was not the end. Razor-sharp machetes flew from different directions and chopped his pitiful remains into sizable chunks. Derico’s mangled remains were heaped up, properly rinsed with fuel and set on fire. His pieces and innards twisted and succumbed to the hungry flames.

Many of the marketers interviewed were very happy with the Bakassi Boys and one of them even said that ‘taking Bakassi out of Anambra is signing our death warrant. ’ Some others described the capture and decapitation of Derico as an ‘act of God’ and a ‘miracle’. Others declared their vociferous support for the Bakassi Boys and emphasized that they would oppose anyone who wanted to ‘delete’ the Bakassi Boys from the state. Everyone seemed to enjoy the unspeakable savagery that had just taken place in a Nigeria that was just entering the 21st century. Few days before this bloody drama in July 2001, in faraway Alabama, USA, the world’s first artificial self-contained artificial heart had been transplanted into Robert Tools and in the next month Microsoft launched Windows XP. This is 2014, and we are still mobbing people, rinsing them with petrol and setting them on fire. It seems gasoline is not expensive when it is the time to burn a Nigerian.

THE AFTERMATH

Remember that the police were disgraced from the site of Derico’s public execution and that before the Bakassi Boys murdered Derico, they had called for him to be handed over to them but the Bakassi Boys flatly refused. Following the decapitation of Derico in front of thousands of people at the Onitsha Main Market, the police announced that the Bakassi Boys were in hot banga soup for killing Derico. An all-out war was declared against the BB and by the 26th of July, five of the Bakassi Boys were arrested with notice going out for the arrest of other BB members found complicit in the murder of Derico.

When the Anambra State Commissioner of Police, Daniel Anyogo, was interviewed by Kenneth Oboko of Newswatch in August 2001 following the death of Derico and his relationship with the Anambra Vigilante Service (AVS), he said:

Look at the killing of Edward Okeke and now Derico even after I gave advance warning. I advised them that he, (Derico), should be handed over to me first. They did not. Sometime I wonder why some of these sycophants do things the way they do, I don’t think they are people of God at all.

I don’t know whether you understand what I mean by that. Because if you are a man of God you cannot do what some of these people have done, unknown to the authorities, unknown to the government. Some of these people seem to be enjoying this barbaric way of doing things. And I tell you there are very few of them and I keep saying it in the security council meeting. That unless these people are identified and removed, they will continue to embarrass the state.

The police command was enraged and declared that the Bakassi Boys also produce the charred remains of Derico and others that they had killed extrajudicially. The Police Public Relations Officer, Haz Iwendi said:

“The action of the Bakassi Boys should be condemned in totality. Whatever form of extra judicial killing should be condemned by law-abiding people. Today, it is Derico, tomorrow it could be any other person. The leader of the Bakassi group is still on our wanted list and we are determined to get him.”

However, the huge uproar and anger from an overwhelming fraction of the population meant that those in authority had to find some other wiser ways of solving the issue, one of which was releasing the Bakassi Boys who had been arrested and placed in custody. At the end, Governor Mbadinuju came out and said regarding the whole debacle:

“I can tell you on good authority that it (the Derico affair) is over. The police have unraveled every detail of the Derico affair and the police are satisfied. There is no problem. They are no longer looking for anybody. As far as we are concerned, Derico has gone the way of his fore-fathers. And as far as we are concerned, the police are still in control.” 

INTERESTING THINGS ABOUT DERICO NWAMAMA

A movie was made about Derico Nwamama with Emeka Ike acting as Derico. Others in the movie were Hanks Anuku, Christie Okonkwo and Gentle Jack. You can watch on IrokoTV.

-At a point, no one actually knew precisely who Derico was, until he was tracked and identified. In fact, Daniel Anyogo, the Anambra State Commissioner of Police once called Derico ‘the man without a face.

-Following the death of Derico, some of his gang members fled the city and regrouped in Lagos leading the police to issue a public notice. Derico’s men as they were called, were said to be targeting the Alaba International Market, and were hiding in places like Okokomaiko and Agbara pending the launch of their attacks. The electronic section of the market was hit by robbers not too long after Derico’s end and the police pointed fingers at his men who had escaped the heat in Onitsha. The same period, members of Derico’s gang (after their leader had been decapitated) visited a village in Anambra State and slaughtered 20 Nigerians. When the news reached Alaba International Market in Lagos, the terrified marketers openly called for the Bakassi Boys to come to Lagos and provide them some security.

-When Derico was caught by the Bakassi Boys, his other gang members actually launched a violent attack on Bakassi Boys’ base where the chief thug was locked up, in attempt to rescue Derico but it was all a futile exercise. Derico’s boys had mobilized themselves from Abuja and Lagos and marched towards where their leader was chained, as they approached the area where the Bakassi Boys were, they opened a rapid volley of gunfire. The Bakassi Boys returned fire leading Derico’s men to disappear into the nearby Army Barracks. Luckily for them, the AVS men did not operate in military barracks at that time and could not give them a hot pursuit.

-Even a week after the killing of Derico, the Nigerian Police was still saying that they were not aware of the killing, insisting that Derico was still alive.

-Derico was nabbed alongside another dreaded armed robber named Nwancho.

-Popular urban legend then has it that Derico and Chiejina were bathed in a special charm called odeshi which rendered them imperceptible to bullets but any scientific mind knows that na wash. If dem born anybody with odeshi well, make that person go face correct Zastava M92 submachine gun and see if you no go open ya eyes for heaven.

MATTERS ARISING

The Nigerian judicial system is still far from ideal. While thousands of prisoners are wasting away in prisons awaiting trial till the Messiah will come and hear their cases, the police is not even trusted at ALL. That is one. Two, the mindset of a vast majority of the Nigerian populace is not helping matters as far as mob violence is concerned. Repeatedly, Nigerian citizens are lynched and are beaten to coma or even killed based on evidence that has been fabricated, extracted under very brutal circumstances or even based on absolutely no evidence at all.

Common sense and rational thinking should reign in our country and when due process is not followed, we end up killing innocent people like it happened in the ALUU4 case where four Nigerian future leaders were killed in a very barbaric manner by an unthinking crowd of senseless zombies. The Nigerian system is still very feeble, corrupt a capite ad calcem and there is so much impunity in the land. An armada of information is needed to lay the foundation for a system where scientific knowledge, rational thinking, merit, mutual respect and honour will take the place of ignorance, religious fanaticism, hypocrisy, political banditry, and tribal wars, which are nothing but pitiful displays of infantile rabble-rousing, apologies to Dr. Doyin Okupe. It may not happen in this generation but it seems the march towards enlightenment and greatness for the world’s most populous black nation has started, even if it is with its growing pangs. We watch with so much hope and atimes, lip-biting trepidation.

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