Urhobo Historical Society

 

 

Reflections on Historical and Political Dimensions of

the Federal Government’s Second Military Invasion of Niger Delta, 2009

 

 

 

 

Urhobo Historical Society

P. O. Box 1454

Buffalo, New York 14226, U.S.A.

Web sites: http://waado.org; http://urhobo.kinsfolk.com

E-mail: UrhoboHistory@waado.org

Fax: (716) 566-5889

 

 

 

President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua

Head of State
Federal Republic of Nigeria
Aso Rock, Abuja
NIGERIA

 

 

June 10, 2009

 

Your Excellency Umaru Musa Yar' Adua:

 

We salute you as Nigeria’s Head of State and wish you and your family well.

 

In this letter, we want to make several observations about the ongoing invasion of portions of the Niger Delta by the military forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We understand that the commencement of the invasion by the multiplex military formation named Joint Task Force, following events of May 13, 2009, was authorized by Your Excellency as Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces. In addition to the following observations, please permit us to draw our own conclusions on this matter as Nigerian citizens who hail from the besieged Niger Delta. We will conclude our petition by urging you to halt this domestic war against the people of the Niger Delta because we consider it to be illegitimate. Because these issues are fundamental and because they are consequential for the type of existence Nigeria will attain as a nation, we ask for your permission to allow us to treat this letter as an open petition to you as Nigeria’s Head of State.

 

It is noteworthy that Nigeria, as an independent nation, has never fought a single foreign war. Nigeria’s armed forces have, therefore, never been deployed in a foreign theatre of war in which they faced and fought against a foreign enemy of Nigeria. The nearest that our military forces came to engaging a foreign enemy was over the dispute with Cameroun on Bakassi Islands. But the Nigerian Government and military establishment chose not to fight for what many Nigerians believed to be a just cause. Indeed, it appears that the core reason for the existence of the Nigerian Armed Forces has nothing to do with the protection of Nigerian interests against foreign enemies. Perhaps because our Armed Forces have never fought Nigerian enemies in foreign wars, we, as a people, have not paid attention to international standards of warfare. As a people, we have not bothered about war crimes. As far as we know, no Nigerian political leaders or soldiers have ever been charged or tried for war crimes, despite abundant evidence that points to the fact that fellow Nigerians have been brutalized in domestic warfare waged by Nigeria’s Armed Forces.

 

Indeed, Nigeria’s history of warfare began with the Civil War of 1967-70. Historically and by international standards, most civil wars are barbaric in their prosecution. The Nigerian civil war, in which regions of Nigeria battled against other regions, was especially bloody. We fear that these unacceptable traditions of warfare, in which a whole region of Nigeria is deemed enemy territory by Nigeria’s armed forces, have been inherited from the Civil War and are now illegitimately employed against the people of the Niger Delta.

 

Aside from the Civil War, Nigeria’s Armed Forces, at least under civilian control, have been engaged in standard warfare in two instances, discounting those cases in which Nigerian soldiers served in peace missions of the United Nations. In both cases, the theatre of war was the Niger Delta. In November 1999, President Olusegun Obasanjo ordered the Nigerian Armed Forces into a military action that destroyed the Town of Odi in Bayelsa State of Niger Delta. As a direct consequence, hundreds of unarmed Nigerian citizens were killed by the very soldiers whose sworn duty was, and remains, to protect them and their property. In May 2009, under your Presidency, Nigerian military Forces have once more been deployed in Gbaramatu in Delta State of Niger Delta. This action, which continues to rage as we write this letter, is alleged to have implicated hundreds of thousands of Deltans, probably killing thousands of innocent and unarmed people. These two instances of domestic warfare by Nigeria’s military forces have much in common in their causes, prosecution, and consequences. Please permit us to analyze them in the hope that Nigerians will draw useful lessons from their wantonness.

 

President Olusegun Obasanjo’s Invasion of Odi Town, 1999

 

President Olusegun Obasanjo’s controversial decision to invade Odi Town was an act that had its origins in the 1999 General Elections. We quote from an earlier composition (see http://www.waado.org/Environment/FedGovt_NigerDelta/BayelsaInvasion/EditorsIntroduction/Introduction.html) on the causes and conduct of the 1999 invasion by the Armed Forces:

The story can probably be started from the elections in early 1999 that brought President Olusegun Obasanjo into power. He and his ruling party, People's Democratic Party, won decisively in Bayelsa State, in central Niger Delta, thanks to the efforts of Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, the man who became the Governor of the state. According to several reports (e.g.  Human Rights Watch), the thugs who helped PDP to achieve its decisive victory were unemployed after the elections, turning into criminals in the state headquarters in Yenegoa. When they were chased out of the state headquarters, they and their leader Ken Niweigha settled in Odi Town. They terrorized the residents of this town and its environs, with no police force around to help [the local residents]. The criminal activities [of the thugs] led them to the oil companies whose protection is about the only reason why government security is around in Bayelsa State. It is this area of their duties, that is protecting oil companies, that led the police into confrontation with the criminals. They [the police] were said to have lost some twelve men in these encounters with Ken Niweigha's gang of criminals.

It is important to indicate here that Ken Niweigha and his men were not part of the leadership of the struggle for Ijaw rights that several youth organizations had mounted. He was a criminal who was nurtured by the largesse of the ruling People's Democratic Party, that is, President Obasanjo's party. Nor was this the only criminal gang operating in Nigeria, although it posed immediate danger to oil companies whose safety is vital for President Obasanjo's government.

The rest of the story is fairly well documented: (1) President Olusegun Obasanjo gave an ultimatum to the Governor of Bayelsa State on November 10, 1999, to arrest Ken Niweigha's gang and try its members within fourteen days, failing which he would declare a state of emergency and take over the state. (2) Four days before the expiration of the ultimatum, President Olusegun Obasanjo sent in an invasion army of more than three thousand well-armed men into Odi Town to "fish out" the criminals. (3) According to the Federal Government, the criminals resisted, leading the invasion army to raze Odi to the ground. (4) According to the reports in this documentation, so far specifically undenied by the Federal Government, the army had instructions to eliminate every male they saw, leading to charges of genocide from Nigeria's Human Rights and civil society groups.

It is significant that the thugs, whose capture was the announced reason for the military invasion, had fled in their speed boats before the military forces arrived at Odi. It was the hapless fishermen, palm wine tappers, and palm-nut collectors and their families – including the native Ijaw population as well as Urhobo and Isoko immigrants – who could not escape the bombardment of the Federal Government warriors. The residents of Odi suffered unspeakable brutality from the hands and armament of the invading army -- an army whose mission appeared to be the wanton destruction of a town that had been ruled by force and intimidation by the very thugs that the ruling PDP had nurtured.

 

Federal Government of Nigeria’s Second Invasion of Niger Delta, May-June 2009

 

The causes of the current military action in the Niger Delta are painfully similar to those of the invasion of Odi, almost ten years ago. They are rooted in a protected economic evil that torments Nigeria’s oil industry. It is called bunkering, which is a nice word for the theft of crude oil from the Niger Delta by well-placed officials. This open corruption requires its principal perpetrators to be in high places and to have access to foreign partners and sophisticated equipment. But bunkering also requires local operatives who work for the privileged “bunkering” class. This evil has gone on unchallenged for decades in the Niger Delta until some local operatives grew “militant” and turned against their illegal employers, using their masters’ equipment and resources for their own “bunkering.”

 

Coupled with political thugs, a class of youth employed by political parties and politicians to intimidate their opponents and to rig elections in their favour, these militants have wreaked much damage on numerous communities in the Niger Delta. They are well armed with sophisticated weapons, including the notorious Russian AK47. From where do they get these weapons? They obtain them from corrupt political parties, politicians, and bunkerers. With these weapons in their hands, many of these thugs have turned to crimes and their easy targets are ordinary communities of the Niger Delta. What is so aggravating in the circumstances of the Niger Delta is the absence of Government protection for Nigerian citizens who call these communities home and who are habitually victimized by these militants and thugs in acts of robbery and kidnapping. The only time the Federal Government of Nigeria gets agitated is whenever oil resources -- or the Police or Military who protect the oil companies and their assets – are threatened. Thus, the immediate cause of the recent invasion was on account of the loss of military personnel in a clash between so-called militants and military forces protecting oil resources.

 

It is a grievous mistake to confuse these thugs with worthy youth leaders who have done so much good for suffering communities in the Niger Delta. Sadly, from the distance of far-away Abuja, there is a tendency to create a false effigy of a violent Niger Delta youth whose sole existence is devoted to misdeeds. Nothing can be further from the truth. We should remind Nigerians that in spite of the hardship that the misfortunes of the oil industry have foisted on the region, the youth from the Niger Delta region are some of the greatest achievers in academics, sports and various other fields. Unfortunately, a good number of our unemployed youth have been corrupted by politicians and privileged bunkerers who arm them with dangerous weapons. Many such youths have turned to crime against their own communities in the Niger Delta without challenge from Government forces. Those of them who confront the Federal Government’s interests in oil exploration in their crimes have occasionally provoked invasion of the region by Nigeria’s Armed Forces. That happened in 1999 under President Obasanjo. That is what is happening again in 2009, ten years later, under President Umaru Musa Yar' Adua.

 

There is an area of clear similarity between Odi and Gbaramatu that deserves to be emphasized. In 1999, Nigerian military forces deemed the entire town of Odi to be guilty and bombarded it as if they were fighting a foreign enemy. The consequence was that hundreds of people died and their entire community was razed to the ground, although the political thugs, who killed the policemen and whose capture President Obasanjo demanded, escaped from the town. In 2009, the Armed Forces have again bombarded unarmed communities, which had been victimized by thugs, on the assumption that the whole community was guilty. Again, there are strong indications that the so-called militants had in fact escaped from these communities before the arrival of the Joint Task Force.

 

The victims of the 1999 bombardment of Odi were largely unrecognized. Their names have not been published anywhere. They were buried in mass graves, without the honour of individual identification and without the knowledge and participation of their families. We fear that the same fate awaits the VICTIMS of the massacre of Gbaramatu. We are sure that if the Nigerian Armed Forces had killed so many persons and tossed them into mass graves in the course of a modern foreign war, there would be a call for an investigation for war crimes. It appears that when unarmed Nigerians in the Niger Delta are killed by the military, they who unjustly kill and they who order them to kill unarmed citizens are unaccountable to any form of justice or restraint. There are indeed some Nigerians who would want the nation to decorate and brand as heroes those military officers who murdered hundreds of innocent and unarmed Nigerian citizens.

 

Two Key Players in the Two Invasions of Niger Delta, 1999 and 2009

 

In the events of the two instances of domestic warfare embarked on by the Nigerian Military Forces in the Niger Delta, two Nigerian institutions played major roles in urging on the invasion or else in influencing its termination. These are (a) Nigeria’s Legislative Assemblies and (b) Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF). It is important that we underscore their roles in the two invasions because they point ominously to complications in Nigeria’s future.

 

House of Representatives and Senate of the National Assembly. Characteristically, the 1999 decision to invade Odi Town was taken and its plan was carried out by President Olusegun Obasanjo without consultation with the National Assembly. The Senate was dissatisfied with the President’s action and did much to expose the magnitude of the carnage and destruction that was done by Nigeria’s own Armed Forces who attacked an unarmed Nigerian Town. As PhoneNews (27 November, 1999) reported: “The Senate … kicked, yesterday, over the militarisation of Odi, Bayelsa State, with the Senate resolving to send a delegation to be led by the Senate Leader, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, to the town on Monday for an on-the-spot assessment…. Senator David Brigidi, sponsor of the motion, drew the attention of the Senate to reports that over 500 people had died in Odi on account of the military action, while over 800 women had been evacuated from the community to the Elele Military Cantonment.”

 

The visit to Odi by Senator Okadigbo’s team was a show of parliamentary maturity in 1999 that seems to be absent from our body politic and our National Assembly in 2009. It bravely visited Odi to see the carnage and its report helped to put an end to a destructive domestic war that made no sense. As Vanguard (Saturday, December 4, 1999) reported, "Never in the history of Nigeria," [Dr. Okadigbo’s team lamented], "has such a massive force been assembled and used against a supposed Nigerian town in peace time. Even at the declaration of secession by Ojukwu, the Nigerian government replied with a police action before full-scale military engagement ensued."

 

The response of the House of Representatives to the invasion of Odi was more mixed. As The Comet (Wednesday, November 24, 1999) reported it,  “The House of Representatives was yesterday divided over government deployment of troops to Bayelsa State and the escalation of mayhem in the oil-rich state. While legislators from the Niger-Delta area sought the condemnation of the act and immediate withdrawal of the troops, those from the North opposed it, but rather blamed the people of the area for the persistent uprising.”

 

The responses of the Nigerian National Assembly in May 2009 to President Umaru Yar’ Adua’s invasion of Gbaramatu in Delta State contrast sharply with such demonstration of parliamentary prowess that cut short President Obasanjo’s ill-advised invasion of Odi in Bayelsa State in 1999. In the current invasion, only one voice has been allowed to emerge from the National Assembly: a call to war against Nigerian communities in the Niger Delta. The House of Representatives was guided by a war-monger and an Arewa militant, Representative Bala Ibn N'Allah of Kebbi State, to pass a resolution calling on the military forces to extend their domestic warfare to the rest of the Niger Delta. Remarkably, this time around, Niger Delta legislators kept mum. Many of them complain privately that they were intimidated and that campaigning against the resolution or suggesting a counter-resolution that would condemn the invasion might result in circumstances in which the PDP would bar them from any future elections. Obviously, standards have fallen so very badly in just a matter of ten years.

 

The sharper contrast is in the Senate. Gone are the days of Dr. Chuba Okadigbo. The Senate has remained silent while Nigerian Armed Forces are being used to wage an unjust war against unarmed Nigerian communities in the Niger Delta.

 

Arewa’s Campaign against the Niger Delta. Long before the current invasion of Delta State by Nigeria’s Armed Forces, several Deltan writers had expressed fears that Arewa, the privileged Northern consortium, was spoiling for a fight with the region and that it was likely poised to use Nigeria’s military forces in its bid to rule and control the resources of the region. We will cite two perceptive paragraphs from one such expression of concern in an essay written in July 2008 by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde (“The Arewa Consultative Forum and the Niger Delta Conflict” see Nigerians in America, published 07/9/2008, http://www.nigeriansinamerica.com/articles/2726/1/The-Arewa-Consultative-Forum-and-the-Niger-Delta-Conflict/Page1.html):

 

Latent and offensive primordial feelings are bubbling. Silent whispers are becoming audible. Even if other Nigerians are oblivious to such sound and fury, those of us in the Niger Delta can hear it loud and clear -- more so in the last couple of weeks when decision-makers from Northern Nigeria seem to be singing war songs. These persons are becoming edgy, insulting, disdainful and militaristic in their pronouncements. They speak from the pulpit in the inner sanctum of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF). Are these unguarded statements a prelude to a civil war?

 

The position of the likes of Alhaji Tanko Yakassai seems to be the position of the ACF. Their thoughts and disposition could be a natural tendency, a sign of frustration, or a signal to Aso Rock to unleash government’s instrument of brutality on the region. It could be all three. No matter. Still, it should be noted that when the day comes when the Federal Government decides to obey the ACF to go to war with the Niger Delta region…

 

Such war-mongering threats against fellow Nigerians from Arewa have been compounded by flagrant incitement to genocide from its privileged ranks. The most notable of such goading to full-scale genocide has been spurred by a member of the Nigerian House of Representatives, Bala Ibn N'Allah of Kebbi State. In an unprovoked statement, he called for the extermination of 20 million Niger Deltans in order to allow the rest of Nigeria to live in peace. His harrowing words were the following:

 

“What is happening in the Niger Delta is pure criminality of the highest order, arising from total disregard for constituted authority. In Iraq, thousands of people lost their lives because of an insurrection against the government during the reign of former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein. We can do away with 20 million militants for the rest 120 million Nigerians to live” (see Guardian Newspapers, Thursday, May 28, 2009).

 

Of course, this Arewa militant would not hesitate to use the Nigerian military to curb other Nigerian nationalities if Arewa were to succeed in its intentions in the Niger Delta. Indeed, it appears to be the case that a leading segment of thought in Arewa Consultative Forum regards politics as a game of conquest in which it is legitimate to employ Nigeria’s military resources in pursuit of its ambition of ruling the rest of the country.

 

We must press the point that statements such as Bala Ibn N'Allah’s incitement to genocide were always precursors to appalling incidents of genocide in Yugoslavia in Central Europe, Rwanda in Central Africa, and Darfur in the northeastern African country of Sudan. The people of the Niger Delta can only overlook such grave threats at their own peril. We urge that as Head of State, you try to understand why Niger Deltans cannot take these threats lightly.

 

In the light of these statements, we are compelled to object to one particular aspect of the Federal Government’s ongoing invasion of the Niger Delta. In the face of these serious threats of war and genocide from those who bear Arewa’s insignia, it does not help to make Maj-Gen Sarkin Bello and Col. Rabe Abubakar the Commander and Spokesman, respectively, of the invasion, thus flashing them as the standard-bearers for the invaders of the Niger Delta. Are there no Nigerian military officers from other regions of Nigeria who could perform one or both of their responsibilities?

 

Key Issues to be Resolved in Nigeria’s Management of the Niger Delta Crisis

 

We know that there are numerous recommendations for solving the problems of the Niger Delta. The recommendations outlined in the recent Report of the Technical Committee on the Niger Delta (November 2008) are especially worthy of the nation’s attention. Beyond them, however, there are three fundamental issues, all of which will help to avoid a repetition of the grave missteps that the Federal Government has taken in its bad decision to invade the Niger Delta and subdue it with military force.

 

Bunkering.  This is an economic evil that must be stopped. Most of those who engage in it are far away from the Niger Delta and are usually resident in Abuja and are well positioned in places of power. Unless we, as a nation, rid our economy of this open secret, many more local “militants” will take advantage of their illegal employment by wealthy oil bunkerers to become rich themselves by indulging in criminal activities in the oil sector. It is a subject that the National Assembly ought to consider in a public debate with the aim of taking additional steps, including legislative enactments that will effectively forbid this awful economic malpractice. Meanwhile, we believe that it is wrong to deploy any military officers with ties to bunkering interests to fight in the Niger Delta. This is because their interests in the invasion may be self-centred.

 

Electoral Malpractices. During the last General Elections, violence with sophisticated guns, and thugs hired by political parties to use them, made for the violent environment in which the elections were conducted. Need we add that the farcical “elections” were neither free nor fair? Following the elections, public security of the Niger Delta region was handicapped by the thugs and the guns which the politicians left behind. We understand that much of such violence was sponsored from Abuja. We must ask that there should be no repetition of this form of brigandage by political parties and politicians. As President, your leadership may help to turn matters around.

 

Domestic Warfare. The deployment of military forces for domestic law and order is rare and exceptional in most civilized polities. Sadly, in Nigeria the sole purpose of having military forces is for domestic law and order. In these circumstances, it is a matter of time before Nigerian Armed Forces are employed to fight domestic enemies of those in power. It is our judgment that the current invasion of the Niger Delta is one such instance. That is why we add our voice to those of other Niger Deltans who demand that the Federal Government withdraw its army of invasion immediately.

 

In any case, this is a serious matter that deserves the attention of the National Assembly. It is important that Nigeria should make laws that will regulate the exceptional use of military forces in Nigerian domestic affairs. Otherwise, the institution of the military will continue to be badly politicized and corrupted.

 

We thank you for reading our petition. We hope you will act in the best interest of all Nigerians in weighing the issues that we have raised in this letter. Nigeria’s history is being recorded and we hope that you will be adjudged to have acted correctly and with speed where others failed or refused to act.

 

We remain,

 

Your Fellow Citizens

 

Members of Editorial & Management Committee, Urhobo Historical Society:

 

Peter P. Ekeh, Ph.D., Chairman

Isaac James Mowoe, J.D., Ph.D., Deputy Chairman

Onoawarie Edevbie, M.A.; M.Sc., Secretary

Edirin Erhiaganoma, M.Sc.

Joseph E. Inikori, Ph.D.

Francis Odemerho, Ph.D.

Omokere E. Odje, Ph.D.

Aruegodore Oyiborhoro, Ed.D.  

Ufuoma Scott, LLM

Ajovi Scott-Emuakpor, M.D., Ph.D.

 

 

Cc:

 

President, The Senate, National Assembly, Abuja, Nigeria

 

Speaker, House of Representative, National Assembly, Abuja, Nigeria

 

Governors – Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross-River, Delta, Edo and Rivers States, Nigeria.

 

Speakers – Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross-River, Delta, Edo and Rivers States, Nigeria.

 

Secretary General, United Nations

 

Secretary for the Commonwealth

 

Secretary-General, African Union

 

President, European Union

 

United States Secretary of State

 

Human Rights Watch

 

Amnesty International

 

President-General, Urhobo Progress Union

 

President, Ahaneze

 

President, Afenifere

 

President, Arewa Consultative Forum

 

Chief E. K. Clark, Ijaw Leader

 

 


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