Q: Excellency, President Obasanjo's spokesman said on 23 November that the security forces were deployed to Odi under the control of the state governor, whom he described as the chief security officer of the state. This seems to be quite a controversial issue. Can you please shed some light on the matter?
A: There shouldn't be a controversy. It depends on the way that people want to interpret it. Do I control as an executive governor any military force? Do I control a police force? The constitution is very clear. Can anyone produce any document I signed that I can no longer, or that I declared that it is beyond the capability of the state to maintain peace and therefore that the federal government should come in? Can anyone give me that kind of report? One thing that Nigerians should also understand is that as president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he [Obasanjo] has the prerogative to send troops to any trouble spot.
If you remember at Abuja in our PDP [People's Democratic Party] convention I led a team of Bayelsans there. We were there when the information got to us that soldiers had entered Odi. So I immediately cast my vote and rushed back to Yenagoa. It was at that point that I even got involved because I know the consequences of the military entering the place and I immediately took control of the operations. I insisted that they should not go beyond their mandate to cordon the place [Odi], to get those criminals arrested, if there are weapons, to recover their weapons and bring them to book.
That is a normal order but whether in exercise of that order they exceeded their bounds is a different matter altogether. The force applied was massive, unwarranted, uncalled for and it did not yield any criminals because the known criminals they were looking for, none of them have been arrested. They are in Port Harcourt, I understand, even with their guns. This is the only country I can think of where criminals killed 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12 security men and they are still not arrested after one and a half months. If they are not known it is a different thing. They are known and they have left my state so there is nothing I can do. I can only through intelligence reports inform the state government of Rivers State and the security forces. I cannot send policemen in my state or security services in my state to go to another state to catch criminals.
Q: Human rights organisations say that the military killed hundreds of people in Odi during the operation to catch the criminals who killed the policemen. Do you have a comment on this?
A: Well, the number of persons killed is definitely exaggerated. That number of persons were not in Odi at the time that the army entered and so it is not correct. But people died. One striking thing I keep on remembering is a federal government bus assigned to a secondary school parked at Odi was bombed. Federal government property was bombed. There is no rational explanation for that. A bank is left untouched but the house next to it is destroyed. But no single bullet touched the next building. You could say that it was selective destruction.
Q: Do you know who was responsible for the destruction of the houses in Odi?
A: Of course, someone had a high calibre gun and destroyed them.
Q: But was it the military or the criminals they were trying to catch who were responsible?
A: Well, if they were there to defend that village they would not have destroyed their own property. To answer your question directly it was the military that destroyed it.
Q: Some Odi residents told a crew from Africa Independent Television, which visited the town on Saturday, that the state government has not done anything to help them. What has the Bayelsa State government done to provide relief assistance for the people of Odi?
A: It is not true that the state government has not done anything. A lot has been done. We have quite a lot of consignments right now in the warehouse. The federal government has responded by sending us some relief materials. The first few days I just never wanted materials to go in there because we did not even have a place to put those materials as the whole town was levelled the whole town was smelling and you know why it was smelling. So it was not habitable for anyone at that time to even stay there. There are very few old women and children. Those were the only ones to be taken care of.
Maybe they have relations outside. I also needed to talk to the indigenes of the community. I wanted to tell them to be part of the relief committee. All these accusations and counter-accusations are not helpful. Let them be part of the reconstruction process. I am happy to announce that they are fully integrated and they are involved in the distribution of relief materials.
Q: When will the distribution commence?
A: It has started. It only depends on the number. There are no cold storage facilities there. If you take so much to a community that is thinly populated it is going to be a waste and it could even fall into the wrong hands. So every day the situation is assessed and we respond accordingly.
Q: Many homes were destroyed. Levelled to use your words. People in Odi are saying that government will have to reconstruct their homes. Are you planning to do that?
A: Yes. That town was the second largest town in Bayelsa state. Now that it has gone we have to take time and replan that town. First of all we must do an enumeration of the properties that are damaged; the second stage is to value them and we want as a government a credible body, people with a high reputation, internationally, so that when they come out with a value of the properties that are destroyed there will be international acceptance without any question (...) I've already got an interim report which I have submitted to the vice president. We are in touch with the presidency and I am optimistic that a systematic plan to resettle the people will soon be on the table.
Alamieyeseigha was elected governor of Bayelsa - one of Nigeria's 36 states - on 29 May 1999. Before that he was a businessman. The vast majority of the state's inhabitants, including Alamieyeseigha, are from the Ijaw ethnic group.
Members of the security forces were deployed in Odi after militant youths kidnapped and executed 12 policemen.
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 1999
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