Black Looks - Including an African LGBTIQ+ Archive

Conflict Mining/Resources, Environment, Human Rights, Niger Delta, Nigeria

State murder once again in the Niger Delta

Destruction of  Odioma Community

Testimonies and report by Ijaw Youth Counci and Ijaw Council for Human Rights – Port Harcourt, Rivers State.

When the soldiers arrived at the community yesterday with their gunboats, our people thought they came for peace, and so no one raised any dust. Our chiefs gathered immediately at the palace of the Amanyanabo to await the soldiers to explain their mission, but the next thing that happened was shooting, shooting, shooting…. firing and firing. The soldiers were shooting at everyone, and started burning houses at the waterside”                                       — Philemon Kelly Dickson, Odioma community spokesperson

“We are so surprised. Government says they are for peace but it is killing and killing. We never killed anybody, so why this?” — Reuben Diepre, Odioma community youth president

The Destruction Of Odioma

On Sunday 20 February 2005, the Deputy Governor of Bayelsa, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, led a team of government officials, and journalists to Odioma, or to the area once known as Odioma (Brass LGA – Nembe) community, to see what some community representatives reported had happened to Odioma. The scene that confronted the government team was more dumbfounding than the reports. Several buildings including houses, toilets, stores, barns, churches, and shrines have been burnt down right from the waterfront to almost all parts of the town. More than 90% of the buildings in the community have been burnt down, and over 1500 persons have killed while about 3000 others are held hostage by soldiers, according to Philemon Dickson the community spokesperson that was part of the team that visited.

This destruction was carried out on the morning of Saturday 19 February 2005 by a joint task force of Nigerian army and navy personnel who were deployed to the area to maintain peace, law and order following the tension that had been generated in the area over a disputed ownership of land where SHELL had started the drilling of oil wells and a flow station designated as Toru-9 flow station. The land in dispute is an area known as OWUKUBU located along the Santa Barbara River. The ownership of Owukubu is being claimed by Odioma community on one hand and Obioku (Nembe LGA – Nembe) Bassambiri communities on the other hand.

SHELL And The Communities

When SHELL discovered oil at Owukubu and muted the plan of establishing the Toru-9 flow station there, representatives and chiefs of Odioma, Obioku and Bassambiri communities were invited for negotiations. But the Odioma community representatives had worked out of the meeting with SHELL because they claimed that they are the sole owners of the Owukubu, and that Obioku and Bassambiri communities should not be negotiated with as owners of the said land. Following this protest by Odioma community, SHELL promised to contact the Odioma community later. This was in 1998. And up till date, SHELL has not contacted the Odioma community again on the issue of the ownership of Owukubu, so claims the Odioma community.

Also, SHELL did not start work on the said flow station until on the 22 January 2005 when a rig and a houseboat were sent by SHELL to Owukubu to begin construction / drilling. But this angered the Odioma community. They went en mass on 24 January 2005, women and children, to Owukubu and protested that SHELL stops work until Odioma community has been properly consulted and accorded due recognition as the owners of Owukubu. The youths of Odioma occupied the work site, and were only made to leave on 26 January 2005 after the intervention of some military personnel from a nearby community. Work was also suspended by SHELL.

And The Killings Begin

But both Obioku and Bassambiri communities were not happy with the action of Odioma community. Both claimed that Owukubu belongs to them. It is pertinent to note here that Obioku is a satellite community of Bassambiri, although Odioma is making the same claim over Obioku. And Bassambiri is asserting ownership of Owukubu via Obioku. It was alleged that a satellite community of Odioma known as Bolobio was burnt down by suspected youths from Obioku in order to have control over Owukubu. Both Odioma and Obioku were poised for war over the ownership of Owukubu. And Bassambiri was alleged to be in support of the Obioku community.

The situation took a new dimension when 12 persons on a peace mission to Obioku and Odioma were murdered on their way to Obioku from Bassambiri on 3 February 2005. The 12    persons included four Councillors from the Nembe Local Government Area. There were counter-allegations from both Odioma and Bassambiri communities. While many persons from Bassambiri claimed that the 12 persons were killed by indigenes of Odioma community, Odioma community on the other hand claimed that the Bassambiri community mistakenly killed their own kith and kin. At this point, it was very evident that a war is likely to break out between Odioma and Obioku / Bassambiri. In fact, the waterways between Odioma and Bassambiri were no longer safe for travelling as commuters were harassed and checked at different points community youths on security or vigilante duties.

Attempted Peace Efforts

The Ijaw Youth Council [IYC] sent a peace mission to Odioma and
Bassambiri to douse the tension. Both chairmen of Nembe and Brass LGAs
invited the chiefs of Odioma and Obioku to Yenagoa for peace talks in
which some agreements were reached. The Government also invited a joint
force of military personnel comprising navy and army to make the
waterways safe, patrol the area in order to prevent a war from broking
out.

It was this joint military task force that invaded Odioma community
two days later and brought it to rubbles. Four gunboats and ten
military shuttle boats were involved in the invasion of Odioma. The
Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, stated that the
Joint Military Task Force was asked to patrol the area to bring calm to
the territory while efforts are being made to fish out the culprits who
killed the 12 persons. According to him, the Joint Military Task force
was never directed to engage any community in warfare or battle.

A Community In Need

Today, the Odioma community is lying in ruins. And for those who did
not escape from the community or had returned, there is no food and
water. Most of them do not have a good sleeping place and are crammed
into the little available places. Worst still, the Joint military task
force has fully occupied the community. It is also feared, according to
the Ezekiel Young, a youth leader of Nembe, that the Joint military
task force is likely to invade the Ogbolomabiri community too.

CONCLUSION

What has happened to Odioma is another genocide being visited on the
Ijaws again. The Nigerian military [including the police] has once
displayed its incompetence at tackling crime in our society. While the
killing of the councillors and others is condemnable, the wiping out of
entire communities is no justice. It is for the same excuse of fishing
out criminals that soldiers invaded and destroyed Odi, Ogodobiri,
Ogbudugbudu, ETC.

The international community should support the demand for the
immediate withdrawal of all military personnel in Odioma and the whole
of the Ijaw territory; and the immediate trial of all military
personnel involved in these atrocities. Relief materials are urgently
needed for the Odioma community. SHELL should be held responsible for
the escalation of this crisis. The situation is likely to get worse,
for SHELL and the Nigerian economy.

Felix Tuodolo

Emeritus President, Ijaw Youth Council [IYC]

Alert Net Report

Names of Odioma indigenes killed on Saturday

Elder Jermiah Toru

Elder Zagiri

Madam Oroifie

Madam Erefate

Mr. Christopher Charles

Mr. Enenigha Karimie

Mr. Ekinetai Inemi

Yaya Evans

Mr. Daulagha Ebiegberi

Madam Margaret Orumiegha

Miss Ingoba Ebiribo

Miss Tariebi Inemi

Master Erimie Otokolo

Elder Otokolo Kunemo

Mr. Bomo Zagiri

Mr. Sunday Evans

Ebianga Oruama

Erisei Ingo

Okolo Robert

Gbali

Erisei Inie

Miss Ebinabo Karina

Miss Inie fred

Master Moses Frank

Master Smith Silver

Miss Ebiene Gow

Miss Happiness Ingo

Miss Tadaerigha Inemi

Master Friday Mark

Mrs. Ebingo Fred

Mrs. Clara Debo

Mrs. Karina steven

Mrs. Gift Selekuma

Note: The list is still being compiled. The Odioma Youth President
and the Odioma Community Spokesperson, Reuben Diepre and Philemon Kelly
Dickson supplied these names respectively. Phelimon Dickson was part of
the team that accompanied the Deputy Governor of Bayelsa state to visit
Odioma on Sunday 20/02/2005.

ANNEX 2

NAMES OF 12 PERSONS KILLED WHILE ON A PEACE MISSION

Hon. Iniebo Chiefson

Hon. Iruosuomoye Okoroma

Hon. Evan Ekosa

Hon. Ingo Tari Sylva

Mrs. Ikaebinyo Eneni

Miss Nyingilayefa Debo

Mr. Erefagha  Daulambo

Mr. Lucky Imbe Derri

Mr. Tonworio Godwill Keremah

Mr. Ebimonyu Jeremiah

Mr. Ebi Okuru
The Driver of the boat whose name could not be ascertain for now.

1 Comment

  1. felix tuodolo

    A Return To Odioma

    I left my warm meal and the handling of many disputes.
    Wearing nothing more than a pagne for the dewy mornings,
    I had only words of peace as protection and to open every road.
    And I too traversed rivers and forests full of dangers
    Where vines hung more treacherous than snakes.
    I went among people who would easily let fly a poisoned greeting.
    But I held on the sign of recognition
    And the spirits watched over my breath.
    I saw the ashes of burned-out barracks and royal homes.
    And under the mahogany trees we exchanged long speeches
    And ceremonial gifts.
    And I arrived at Elissa, the nest of falcons
    Defying the pride of Conquerors.
    I saw once again the old dwelling on the hill,
    A village of long and lowering eyelashes.
    I recited the message to the Guardian of our Blood:
    The diseases the ruined trade, organized hunts,
    And bourgeois decorum and the unlubricated scorn
    Swilling the bellies of the slaves.
    – The Message, LEOPOLD SEDAR SENGHOR [1906 — 2001]

    Returning to place after twenty days of a previous visit is like coming back to the same place to meet the same people, same faces, same houses, same streets, same scenes and same welcome. This is not the case with Odioma — for Odioma has changed. Listening to reports, I shudder to think that Odioma could have gone the way of Hiroshima and Nagasaki when the atomic bomb was dropped in 1945 or the cities of Iraq when the military might of America’s George Bush visited in 2003, and next-door Darfur in Sudan in 2004 when the tribal militia invaded. The peoples and landscapes of these cities changed negatively within a short period of time by the action of fellow humans, although these were war times.
    Of course, Nigeria was not at war with anyone, not even with any neighbouring country. An International Court had resolved the problem with Cameroon over the Bakassi peninsular, so no immediate external invasion of our borders. The last internal war, civil war, was fought in the 1960s and we all fought [at least our fathers did!] to defend the unity of Nigeria. But Odioma and Nigerian soldiers!
    My expectations were blurred on this return to Odioma. Definitely, Odioma had not gone the ways of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nor Darfur or Iraq. This is exactly nine days after the invasion of this deltaic community by a team of Nigerian soldiers, nay, a military Joint Task Force of the Nigeria Army and Navy on the 19 February 2005. This is Sunday the twenty-seventh day of February in the year 2005. I have been informed by some community indigenes that escaped the mayhem [did they?] that the soldiers are still occupying the community and shooting at community members that escaped to and are still hiding in the forest, bushes, swamps and creeks. During one of such raids on Wednesday 23 February 2005 by the soldiers one person was reported killed.
    The story making the rounds is that it is unsafe and unwise to get close to Odioma as the soldiers are battle-ready, and will not hesitate to shoot at any approaching boat. In fact, it was rumoured that members of the Joint Task Force shot at a boat conveying medical materials to Odioma and three persons were killed. This I discovered later to be untrue.
    There were other stories too. Of invasion or attack by neighbouring communities; of regrouping of a confraternity or cult group whose leader was chased out of Odioma during the invasion; of some politicians capitalising on the present crisis to make political gains etc. The summation of all these is that it is unsafe and stupid to venture into Odioma at this time.
    But I had taken some precautionary measures — I was joining the governor of Bayelsa state who had invited the head of the Joint Task force, General Zamani, to be part of the visiting team; the leader of the Joint Task Force at Odioma had also been informed of our visit; and we are all leaving Yenagoa together to Odioma escorted by military boats and a gunboat. Our convoy was made up of seventeen boats. The mass media was fully represented — Punch newspapers, ThisDay, Champion, Izonlink, NTA, Waves, Niger Delta Herald, Reuters, Rhythm Radio, Vanguard, and NAN among others. There was also a representative of the humanitarian group, Medicine Frontiers [or Doctors-without-borders].
    Of course, this is not the first time I will be visiting Odioma. All my visits are related to different palavers that had befallen the community. My first contact with this ancient city was in 1998, in the same month of February. It was in 1998, I was told that SHELL initiated a discussion between Odioma, Bassambiri and Obioku communities over the acquisition of land at the Owukubu area along Santa Barbara River for the construction of oil wells, pipeline and a flow station. That year, Odioma community had walked out of the meeting in protest. SHELL promised meeting with Odioma later, but never did.
    On 25 January 1998, there was this massive oil spill caused by a blowout from an EXXONMOBIL platform linking the Qua Iboe Terminal [QIT] in Akwa Ibom state. The oil spill spread to neighbouring states such as Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta and Lagos. The environmental damage was enormous. On behalf of ERA [FoE Nigeria], I had followed the spill and its devastation on local communities from Ibeno in Akwa Ibom state to Kula, Bille, Opobo and Bonny in Rivers state to Koluama, Sangana [Akassa], Brass, Okpoma, Odioma, Egbema Angalabiri, Aghorrho in Bayelsa state to Burutu, Odimodi, Ogulagha in Delta. This trip brought me to Odioma. In Odioma, like many other communities, it was a tale of fishing gears damaged by the oil spill, of dead fishes, of destroyed mangroves and vegetation, of polluted drinking water — of lost livelihood!
    I slept that night in Odioma, in the house of James Sampson Ovio Kokori, after listening to all the tales of woe caused by the ExxonMobil oil spill. Sleeping in Odioma that night was forced on me by the economic condition of the community. I had finished my investigation by 5.00pm, but there was no speedboat to convey me to Brass or Nembe. Boats plying this route follow a schedule of running twice a day — 7.00am and 3.00pm only. And there were only two boats available for this purpose. This is not uncommon with so many of the communities in the Ijaw territory, which makes transportation very cumbersome and costly. The effect of this kind of travelling difficulty on the prices of goods and services is left to the imaginations. Both goods and services, including petroleum products, are costlier in this area than most other places. I had to wait another day in Odioma, the next morning, to get to Brass to continue my investigation.
    My second visit was very recent. It was on 10th January 2005. The same James Sampson had paid me a visit the previous day to inform me of the misunderstanding between the Odioma community and SHELL, and that the community had shut down the only SHELL flow station in the community known as Odeama creek flow station. I had accepted to visit the community to investigate the problem, and assist the community in whatever way I could, especially with publicity. More so, whatever information I am able to gather could assist my research on corporate social responsibility. I was accompanied on this trip by two journalists, who were very helpful in giving publicity to the plight of the community.
    This time, there were no tales of woe, but of anger and frustration. Anger – over the level of neglect of the community by SHELL, anger over SHELL’s refusal to abide by the memorandum of understanding [MOU] signed with the community. Frustration – over the inability of the community to make SHELL to do its bidding, and over the fact that help seems far away, not even from government. We were taken on a tour of the community. We saw the beautiful palace of the Amanyanabo, a two-storey building. We drank water in the house of James Sampson Ovio Kokori. We were taken to the house of the youth adviser, another two-storey building where we were given some food — simple but very delicious. We returned to the Amanyanabo’s palace for a brief interview before departing the community. At the waterfront where the community jetty is located, we bought some drinks [coca cola] from a store whose music was blaring very loudly.
    All these were before the crisis. There was no serious tension between Odioma and its neighbouring communities except Okpoma, which was being resolved by the Bayelsa state government. We travelled freely, and without fear or harassment to Odioma. All these changed on the 22nd January 2005. SHELL had started work on Owukubu, the disputed area along Santa Barbara River. Odioma, Obioku and Bassambiri were claiming ownership. Odioma had protested and stopped work at the site to the displeasure of Obioku and Bassambiri. Hostilities increased between Odioma and Bassambiri. Duetugubio was destroyed [by suspected Bassambiri youths]. And unknown persons [although government thinks otherwise!] had killed twelve persons, including four councillors, on a peace mission. Bassambiri accused Odioma of killing the twelve persons. Odioma countered: Bassambiri carried out the killings. Odioma was battle-ready, so were Bassambiri and Obioku. The waterways between Odioma and Bassambiri became unsafe. Rumours of harassment of indigenes of both communities filled the air.
    It was at this point I embarked on my third visit to Odioma. The Ijaw Youth Council [IYC] was disturbed by the increasing hostilities between these communities. A peace mission was sent comprising Oyinfie Jonjon [president], Mike Wenibowei [Chairman, Central Zone], Primrose Onegiriye, Nelson Douglas and myself. We visited Bassambiri, Ogbolamabiri and Odioma. This was 7 February 2005. Again, I was at the Amanyanabo’s palace at Odioma where we held a meeting with the council of chiefs. It never occurred to me that this might be the last time I will be seeing the Amanyanbo’s palace in its majestic posture.
    The government’s response to the heightening tension in the area was to invite the military. Government sources claim that the Military Joint Task Force known as Operation Restore Hope was invited to patrol the creeks and rivers to maintain peace and order. Why this Joint Task Force abandoned the assignment of patrolling the rivers and creeks to visit Odioma was best known to the military authorities or the government that invited them. The same Joint Task Force was responsible for the burning down of Ogodobiri, and Ogbudugbudu communities in Delta state. And they did exactly what they had done in Ogodobiri and Ogbudugbudu in Odioma — bringing it to rubbles!
    As we approached the community, I could not fail to imagine what scenes will confront us. Could the destruction here be worst than what happened in Odi in 1999? How many persons were killed? Community sources said over 1500 persons have been killed or are missing – Is this the truth? Is it a community with all its buildings burnt down? If there is no building, where are the soldiers sleeping? Was the Amanyanabo’s palace burnt down? What of my friend James Sampson’s house where I had slept and drank water? Will I meet anyone in the community? That is stupid — for no community will remain the same when Nigerian soldiers come in, says Governor Alamieyesiegha. The people of Odioma couldn’t have forgotten what happened to Odi, Ogbudugbudu or Ogodobiri so soon. Too many questions, but no sure answers!
    This was Sunday, 27 February 2005. And we are very close to Odioma where all my questions will find answers.
    The first expression that crossed my mind on sighting the community from a close distance was “O my God! This is wicked!” Is this Odioma, the Odioma I visited few days back? Odioma has changed, a complete turn around. Where are all the buildings that adorned the landscape? From the waterfront where the Community Jetty is located, all the houses have been burnt down. The store with blaring music where I bought coca cola on my previous visit was no more. What about the Amanyanabo’s palace? It was burnt but not destroyed completely like other surrounding buildings. The palace was no longer majestic, a shadow of its previous self. The narrow walkways were littered with burnt bricks, zinc, bottles, clothes, household utensils etc.
    Where is the house of James Sampson, my friend? It was no more. I could not even make out the exact spot it was located, just the direction. The two-storey building of the youth adviser was also burnt down. For a while, I could not make out any building that was not torched. The community people I met, over one hundred survivors, appeared very pitiable, dejected, dirty and hungry. What pains these ones are passing through! There was fear in the air, and a silent plea for help. I could feel it myself. I could see it in their eyes. I could sense it in their slow awkward movements. The silence was deafening!
    The soldiers were everywhere, like a school of fishes, in a battle mood and happy over their conquest. Another enemy has been brushed and crushed. But this did not deter the community from presenting a speech to the governor of Bayelsa state. The level of destruction in the community was depicted by the instruments of the speech presented by the spokesperson of the Amanyanabo. The speech was handwritten and written on two sheets of paper detached from a partly charred notebook. The preamble to the speech by the community spokesperson was: “His Excellency sir, you can see that there is nothing left in our community. Not even a paper to write on nor a typewriter or computer to write this speech…” This speaks volumes. After all the speeches, we were conducted round the community, an exercise I did once on 10 January 2005.
    We saw the charred corpse of Elder Gbalis Albert [75yrs] who was too weak to run when the soldiers set fire to his house [see http://uk.msnusers.com/odiomacrisis%5D. The corpse was stinking. We also saw two other charred corpses left to rut in their houses. One of the corpses was that of a child, Ebinabo Mark [2yrs]. Then I met Mrs Adatoru Sibia, a mother of six, still in rags. She had tried to escape with two of her young children when the soldiers invaded. The older children had already escaped. She was able to carry both children but when the weight was becoming too heavy for her she dropped her ten years old son to run for his life while she tried to escape with the other eleven months old baby. Her ten years old son, Master Lucky Sibia was not lucky. He was shot in the stomach by the soldiers and died. When Mrs Adatoru Sibia returned from her hideout the following day, she met the grave of her son that had already been buried by family members.
    We also visited the graveside of Elder Finengi Allison [63yrs], a leper who was unable to escape the invading army. Other gravesides were visited, those of Newman Obed [71], Sunday Evans [53], Bomo Zagiri [41], and Otokoto Kunemo [76]. Then we saw the burnt building of a church — Brotherhood of the Cross and Star- it was not spared [see pictures of scenes of the destruction at http://uk.msnusers.com/odiomacrisis%5D.
    The leader of the Joint Task Force informed us that several attempts have been made to encourage those still hiding in the bushes and forest to return to the community, but that instead of the people returning to the community, more persons are deserting the community. And I don’t begrudge them — what will anyone return to? Are they to return to charred and roofless houses, or to be jammed into the few rooms in the school building? What will they eat or drink? Should they return to the misery that they are trying to escape? What guaranty is there for their safety?
    As we departed Odioma that Sunday evening, I was filled with nostalgia. This was another Ijaw community being destroyed by soldiers ordered by government. This community does not deserve the havoc that has been visited on it. Definitely not! Odioma has changed; it will never be the same again. There are some losses, which cannot be replaced. Like Hiroshima, Nagasakia, Darfur, Iraq, the people of Odioma will not be able to replace their losses or totally recover from what befell them on Saturday 19 February 2005.
    The action of government is unjust, and involvement of OIL in the crisis is no secret. Despite the wealth, fortune and power that oil endows on a community its attendant defects, which Ryszard Kapucinski [1982] wrote about in SHAH OF SHAHS, was expressed in Odioma: Greed! Violence!! Deaths!!! Destruction!!!! Rubbles!!!!! And I know that no lessons will be learned, at least not by government or the rulers. The rulers never learnt from what happened in Odi, Ogbudugbudu, and Ogodobiri. There is the likelihood of another occurrence. More so, the oil wells, harbingers of violence and destruction, have not dried up.

    Felix Tuodolo
    Emeritus President, Ijaw Youth Council [IYC].