We have called this press conference to ultimate you of the pathetic situation in Odi and other Communities of the Niger Delta.
Following reports of a military invasion of Odi, a community in Bayelsa State of Nigeria, the human rights, environmental rights groups and civil society movements decided to visit Odi to see for ourselves what we have heard and read. Twenty-nine groups from all parts of Nigeria visited Odi last Wednesday December 8 1999. Odi, a town on the bank of the famous River Nun is populated by the Ijaws of the Niger Delta. Estimated population before tile military invasion is put at 60,000. The inhabitant of the rural community survive through fishing, farming, harvesting and processing of oil palm produce, and trading. It is an oil community, and Shell Petroleum Development Company is present and controls three oil wells there.
In early November a group of lawless elements who had taken refuge in the area was reported to have abducted six policemen. It was later reported that despite tile intervention of social movements in the Niger Delta and elsewhere in the country and Bayelsa State government officials, the law officers were killed by the hoodlums. This was then followed by President Obasanjo issuing a 14-day ultimatum to the government of Bayelsa State to produce the miscreants, or he Obasanjo will proclaim a state of emergency.
Ladies and gentlemen, the ultimatum was yet to expire when General Obasanjo ordered troops into Odi and tile surrounding communities. The East-West road was cordoned off by the Orashi River at Mbiama and by the River Niger at Patani. Thereafter, a major military operation commenced, via the use of heavy artillery, aircraft, grenade launchers, mortar bombs and other sophisticated weapons. So ruthless, savage and thorough was the operation that it Could only have been intended to achieve a genocidal outcome.
It is difficult at this stage to establish the number of those killed, but we have received reports of mass burial, mass cremation and the disembowelment and mass dumping of corpses in River Nun. Two weeks after the operation, the stench of decomposing bodies dumped into various creeks could still be perceived from one kilometre from the town. We saw, so many corpses by the roadside as we drove along. The body of an old man, still clutching firmly to a copy of the Holy Bible, lay decomposing in a pond behind the Anglican Church, a chilly testimony to the scorched-earth objective of the invading troops contrary to tile officially declared objective of the mission: to arrest the hoodlums who allegedly killed some policemen. So complete was the destruction that crops were razed, yam barns were burnt, garri processing plants were wilfully wrecked, canoes were set ablaze, and every house in the entire community, with the exception of the First Bank, a Community Health Centre and the Anglican Church, were burnt down. No aspect of the community's existence was spared. Places of worship and other sacred places, including sacred forest and groves, churches, ancestral shrines and burial places, were demolished. We received reports that the soldiers looted many of the buildings and made away with the valuables before setting them ablaze. A yet-to-be established number of person, arrested and taken away by the soldiers to military barracks in Elele, Port Harcourt and Warri, were yet to be seen two weeks after the operation.
We saw no single livestock, poultry or other domestic animals except a stray cat. The community's 60,000 inhabitants had tied into the forest or been arrested or killed. Only a few thoroughly traumatised old women, old men and children could be seen around, some of them suffering from fractures and other injuries sustained while trying to escape from advancing soldiers. We also received information that the soldiers were particularly contemptuous of books. Several libraries and educational materials were particularly targeted and destroyed.
The Odi invasion by our investigation was premeditated. It was carefully planned to annihilate the people in order to make things smooth and easy for the oil companies. The invasion was called operation Hakuri II by the Minister of Defence, General T.Y. Danjuma. Briefing the Ministerial Conference on November 25, he explained Operation Hakuri II on Odi and other communities of the Niger Delta thus:
"This Operation Hakuri II was initiated with the mandate of protecting lives and property - particularly oil platforms flow stations, operating rig terminals and pipelines refineries and power installation in the Niger Delta."
In other words, it was for oil and oil alone that the soldiers who are today maintained with oil money from Odi and other communities of the Niger Delta went to Odi to commit those atrocities.
Some of the graffiti left on the walls of the destroyed buildings by the soldiers also confirm their genocidal state of mind. A few examples of such graffiti include the following:
"We will kill all Ijaws
"Bayelsa will be silent forever"
Worship only God not Egbesu
" Egbesu, why you run "
"Our power pass Egbesu. Next time even the trees will not be spared.
"This land is for soja, not for ljaws".
We believe the soldiers were on drugs or were fed with divisive propaganda to motivate their punitive expedition. There is nowhere in the world where battalions of troops - the airforce, army and navy - are sent to arrest a few miscreants.
In the light of the foregoing we wish to observe and state as follows:
1. That the events in Odi cannot be isolated from the larger crises in the Niger Delta which have their root in the historical political alienation, economic deprivation, environmental devastation, physical brutalisation and psychological traumatisation of the people by an oppressive Nigerian State and exploitative multinational oil corporations
2. That General Obasanjo's handling of the Niger Delta crisis, as exemplified by his unconstitutional and reckless deployment of troops to Odi, has been consistent with the oppressive philosophy of governance of erstwhile military dictators which conceives of force as the basic strategy for resolving social and political problems. We would have expected that the coming into power of a civilian government would have ushered in a different approach to the crisis, one that would emphasise dialogue and popular participation in the quest for a just and lasting solution. Odi has cast a big question mark on the ability of the Obasanjo government to resolve the nation's social problems in a democratic manner.
3. The military action in Odi not only violated sections of the 1999 Constitution, it was inconsistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
4. The actions of the soldiers in Odi amounted to a genocide and were clearly inconsistent with Article 5 of United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officers.
Flowing from the above observations, we make the following calls and demands:
a. An independent Judicial Commission of Enquiry should
be conducted into the miIitary action Odi with a view to determining the
circumstances surrounding the President's unconstitutional action, investigating
the atrocities committed by soldiers and punishing the perpetrators.
1.. A complete reconstruction of Odi should be embarked upon urgently by the Federal Government and its inhabitants resettled, rehabilitated and compensated adequately.
2.. We call for the immediate withdrawal of all troops from the Niger Delta in order to end the devastation, killing, looting, raping, maiming, and other forms of inhumanity for which the troops have become notorious
b. We support the legitimate struggles of the peoples of the Niger Delta for self- determination, resource control, environmental justice, cultural self-expression and genuine participation in determining the conditions under which oil companies operate in the area. We therefore endorse the Kaiama Declaration, Ogoni Bill of Rights, lkwerre Rescue Charter, Aklaka Declaration for the Egi, the Urhobo Economic Summit Resolution, Oron Bill of Rights and other demands of peoples' organisations in the Niger Delta.
1.. We call on the Obasanjo government to commence forthwith a transparent process of multi-lateral dialogue that would involve the government, the oil companies and freely chosen leaders of the Niger Delta peoples to work out the modalities for meeting the just demands of the people.
2.. We call on the United Nations and the Organisation of African Unity to institute an International War Crime Tribunal to try and punish all those who in one way or the other perpetrated the atrocity in Odi.
For and on behalf of the underlisted organisations.
Civil Liberties Organisation, Environmental Rights Action,
Ijaw Youths Council, Niger Delta Women for Justice, Ijaw Council for Human
Rights, Women in Nigeria (WIN), Ikwerre Solidarity Congress, Journalists
for Democratic Rights (JODER), Pan African Youth Movement (PAYM), Nigeran
Institute of Human Rights (NIHR), International Center for Development
& Environmental Planning (ICDEP), Community Rights Initiative, National
Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Constitutional Rights Project
(CRP), Campaign for Democracy for Human Rights (CDHR), Pan Ibo Federation,
Huri-Laws, Agape (Birth Rights), Bayelsa State Youth Development Foundation
(BSYDF), Oduduwa Liberation Movement, Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian
law (IHRHL), United Community Action Network, Public Inhouse Lawyers link,
(This Text was read by Abdul Oroh, Executive Director, Civil Liberties Organisation, Nigeria)