The documentation of the Odi tragedy was a difficult task for me to undertake. It was a matter that posed moral and political problems in Nigeria's post-Military history and politics. I had to ignore many messages on Odi, either because they were repeating points already made or else because they had no pressing relevance. Even so, I missed many important points. Following its initial publication, a number of people have sent in comments or even corrections of basic facts. I have accommodated many such generous comments. I believe they have enriched these pages.
The comments that I received from Dr. Nowa Omoigui were unique. First, they were extensive. Second, they offered different and new perspectives on the issues raised by the Federal Government's invasion of Odi Town. After weighing his rather extensive views, I thought it was best to invite him to develop them as an addendum to my Introduction. He has generously agreed to do so. I thank him for them. They are as follows.
March 4, 2001
By Nowa Omoigui, MD
As a moderator or co-moderator of several Nigerian and International internet egroups I have had the opportunity to read a wide range of material pertaining to that event which emphasize some additional related perspectives. It is important for the completeness of this web page that such perspectives be publicized.
1. In the weeks preceding the operation, the federal government made the names and ethnic origins of security personnel allegedly killed at Odi known to the public. The occasion was a highly publicized presentation by the Vice President on November 9, 1999 titled "The State of the Nation" attended by the Press as well as the Governors of the States of origin of many of the men - Edo, Rivers, Abia, Imo, Delta, Ondo, Cross River and Akwa Ibom states. (Curiously, no northern Governor was present even though some of the Policemen were northerners)
It can be surmised this highly divisive tactic on the
part of the Federal Government was aimed at widening the sense of outrage
beyond the traditional constituencies of the murdered men (i.e. the Police
and the Government) to involve their geopolitical communities.
Vice President Atiku also said: "It is instructive that the Odi youths
have demanded for a ransom of N2 million from the Bayelsa State Government.
The state government even offered N500,000. But this amount was rejected,
only to be informed that the kidnapped policemen were killed on the night
of November 11......They were killed despite the intervention of the Bayelsa
State Government led by its governor, civilian dignitaries including the
President of the Ijaw Youths council, among others''.
It seems obvious that in striving to make a distinction between protest and crime, the hidden objective was also to isolate the Odi group in particular and the Ijaws in general and undermine its credibility particularly among fellow South-South ethnic nationalities in Edo, Rivers, Delta, Cross-River and Aqua Ibom states who share many of the same political grouses against the federal government. This issue raises two separate but related issues for debate - the tactical (mis)handling of regional ethnic relations by protesting groups on one hand and the mischievous role of the federal government in fomenting division among the citizens of the country it leads.
2. Among the twelve
Policemen alleged to have been killed, were Sergeant Alhaji Atabor (reportedly
from Kogi), Corporal Umoh Ukbo and Constable Stephen Abor (reportedly from
Cross-River) killed - at Kaiama on November 8 - along with two others within
a week of the murder of Chief Superintendent Thomas Jokotola (Osun State),
DSP George Nwine (Rivers State), Sgt. Emmanuel Bako (Bauchi), Cpl. Ayuba
Silas (Kaduna), Cpl. Shaibu Zamayi (Kaduna), Cpl. Elias Bitrus (Borno)
and Cpl. Robinson Obaze (Edo) who were killed in Odi. It is
important to note that although none were from Bayelsa some of these men
may well have privately shared the aspirations of aggrieved local groups.
If the reaction among people who knew them personally is to be gauged,
two emails I shall share (below) with this site demonstrate the emotional
turmoil announcement of their deaths caused in their local communities.
In the days following the Army operation, beyond the initial public
ignorance about the scale of destruction, this factor may well have
influenced some of the allegedly pro-government
messages on the internet.
From: "Nowamagbe Omoigui"
Date: Sat Jan 1, 2000 1:23am
Subject: [edo-community] Osagiede Testimony: Robinson Obaze
I have been requested to post this message on the edo-community
egroup by Dr. Emmanuel Osagiede:
From: Emmanuel Osagiede, MD
Title: MR. ROBINSON OBAZE, THE MAN OF PEACE
I was shocked on Christmas day, when I
read from the Edo web page the names of those cops who were killed in cold
blood by the Odi youth gang. Among these names was Mr. Robinson Obaze CSP,
the peace loving man, a foremost Edo, and above all a Nigerian patriot.
I met Mr. Obaze and his family about 1985 in Owerri where he was the Police
Area Commander. He was so loved by his police colleagues superior and subordinates
alike. One of our patients, a cop from Cross River talked so nicely about
this man that I longed to meet him. On finally meeting him, his simplicity
deposition was disarming.
About 1987 when Babangida shut down most of the Southern Universities for almost six months the southern Royal fathers were in Owerri unannounced to discuss ways out of the problem. It was Mr. Obaze who quickly gathered all Edos in Owerri to give the Oba and his entourage from Edo a befitting welcome. The expenditure for this gathering was paid by this illustrious Edo man.
In 1988 I was short changed by a business partner. So I went to the police to find justice. He reviewed the case, found I was right but on further thought advised that because of the family ties between my partner and I, recovering my goods back using the police may not yield the needed long-term peace in the family. So he advised an extrajudicial arbitration approach.
To assist me in starting again, knowing that I had no money, he gave me a personal loan without interest, before I started contacting others for additional loans. This kind gesture is what gave birth to St. Elizabeth Hospital in Owerri. To me and many others whose lives Mr. Robinson Obaze touched, including police officers from different parts of the country too numerous for me to mention here, he was more than a father figure, a man of peace.
There is a strong Edo/ Delta association in Owerri, for this we owe Mr. Obaze, for all the financial and moral support he gave us. He was later transferred to Warri in Delta State; while in Warri he was again highly commended.
I feel sad that the situation in Bayesa claimed the lives of patriots like Obaze and his fellow colleagues, who went to Odi to carry out their jobs. The barbaric manner they were tortured before the murder is condemn able and has given me much distress.
I mourn for Mr. Robinson Obaze. All Nigerians and Edo
/Delta people in particular should join to mourn this fallen hero. Mr.
Obaze is married and has children in higher institutions. May his gentle
soul rest in peace
Meanwhile, as so much has been said about the highly unfortunate Odi military disaster, what is the government doing about the officers who were killed on active duty while out there to protect citizens?
I am torn.
Emmanuel Osagiede, MD
3. Civil-Police relations clearly broke down. We might gain some insight into the discrepancy between the announced intention to fish out a few criminals and the assault on the entire community of Odi in Kolokuma Opokuma Council from comments made by local Police authorities. Officials of the Bayelsa State Police Command told the Guardian that "reports at their disposal indicated a communal plot to eliminate the policemen". Bayelsa Police spokesman, Mr. Nyanaba Agbozi, said "they were killed and buried in a shallow grave at the premises of Odi Secondary School after they had been paraded naked round the community..............43 stems of cassava were planted on the shallow grave to deceive the public...........certain inhabitants of the council area supplied arms to the youths. ............................. 13 vehicles including a kerosene tanker were seized by the youths.......every household in Odi benefited from the kerosene "windfall" ..................none of who bothered to make a report to the police." Reports that the sole administrator of Bayelsa Line, Lt.-Col. Parkinson Larry (rtd), alerted the Police about the risk to their personnel brought the response that Larry's letter, dated November 1, was received via the Post Office on November 5 one day after the officers had been killed. In the view of the police, soldiers were called in when it became obvious there was breakdown of law and order.
4. At the "buddy" level
of individual soldiers, the psychological effect of the alleged beheading
of four (4) fellow soldiers, in addition to the shooting of four others
(if the government is to be believed), was likely very profound.
For many soldiers who do not come from the area, tales of beheaded colleagues,
combined with unverified notions of Egbesu Cult rituals in the forbidden
mangrove jungles of the Niger Delta were bad enough. But the real
scandal is the possibility that many of them, recently posted from other
parts of the country, were probably unable to swim, and had limited training
low intensity "military police" techniques. Poorly led, left to their devices in the swamps, against a local group familiar with the terrain, speaking a "strange language", and allegedly armed with AK47 rifles, "artillery", and "voodoo", they resorted to indirect fire using support weapons like mortars.
5. Although Governor Alamieyeseigha has been criticized for acting as a federal agent, it is important to place the behavior of others in perspective. First, several other ethnic groups in the Niger-Delta (with similar grouses against the federal government) have not used the same violent tactics the Odi group used, targeting federal security personnel.
After the Odi operation, cheap press statements apart,
no single Federal Official from Odi, Bayelsa or the South-South in general
resigned from office in protest against Federal conduct. Even the Chief
of Naval Staff (who is an Ijaw from Bayelsa) held on to his plum
job. It is difficult to believe he did not know of the operation from conception
through execution. One of President Obasanjo's cabinet ministers
is reportedly from Odi. The individual did not resign in protest.
To this day President Obasanjo has never visited Odi - although reports now say he has belatedly decided to do so under pressure by a conflict resolution panel. Neither has his Defence Minister. Formal public hearings by the Senate and House Defence Committees have been relatively muted. The National Assembly has not used the unique opportunity of the Odi disaster to review Internal Security methods in general and establish guidelines for military support to civil authority. I fear, therefore, that in these permissive circumstances, more "Odi-type" operations will occur in the future.
Perhaps Governor Alamieyeseigha is 'going with the flow'.
6. It is worth analysing the federal government's press statement on November 29, 1999. In the face of near absolute initial public silence from military authorities, the Office of the President issued the following statement:
"It has become necessary to comment further on the deployment of troops to restore peace and tranquility in Bayelsa State after the situation of near anarchy that prevailed in the state prior to the deployment. I wish to make it categorically clear that government, by this act, has not violated any internationally acceptable human rights provisions as practised elsewhere in the developed world.
"Those who criticise the deployment of troops to the troubled area are either guilty of shameful ignorance or are simply playing to the gallery. How else can one explain a situation where people who are far removed from the state can claim to know better than the governor of the state who also is the Chief Security Officer of the state.
"The deployment of troops to Bayelsa was an inevitable step taken under very serious constraints on the part of the Federal Government and wholesomely endorsed and supervised by the Governor of Bayelsa State, His excellency Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha and nobody, and I repeat nobody can accuse His Excellency of not loving his citizens. In fact, if anything, this is one governor that directly and personally shares the pains and difficulties of his people which accounts for his overwhelming acceptance and popularity in the state.
"The federal and state governments, being in no doubt whatsoever that a serious intervention was necessary if anarchy with mayhem and the attendant social problems were to be prevented, resolved to act decisively to stop the dangerous drift towards impending and irredeemable disaster.
"The instructions to the troops were clear, specific and unambiguous - that is, dislodge perpetrators of violence, restore law and order and apprehend suspected murderers.
"Unfortunately, on arrival at Odi township, the soldiers were put under heavy bombardment from highly sophisticated artillery - masterminded by trained fighters disguising as "Youths." This gang of dissidents made it impossible for the troops to enter the township for over three hours and because of approaching night, and in order to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties, the government troops withdrew and laid low even though they had the fire power and manpower to override the militant terrorists. The troops resorted to this measure in order not to depart from their brief and to ensure that there is no wastage of human life.
"The following morning, the "militant youthful terrorists," had occupied virtually every building in sight from where the resistance through shelling continued unabated. This led to some casualties among the troops who later overpowered the militant terrorists, and finally succeeded in dislodging them from the town.
"I am happy to inform you, fellow Nigerians and the world, that peace has since returned in Bayelsa State and citizens have gradually picked up their lives from where the terrorists, nearly put them in jeopardy.
"Distinguished ladies and gentlemen of the press it is important to state here that the trouble in Niger Delta is not being perpetrated by hoodlums, or any group that can be described as civil agitators, but rather, it is being championed by a dangerous band of psychopathic, merciless mercenaries who exploit their artillery, sophistry to kill, rape or kidnap, destroy and extort money from anybody available.
"This band of criminals are neither interested in the Niger Delta people nor in any developed projects in the area. Their chief area of interest and concern is to exploit the sentiments of the wicked age-long neglect of this region for personal gains which usually runs into millions of dollars. How else can one explain the situation where those supposed ethnic agitators in the last few years have collected close to 50 million US dollars from individuals, local and international companies, oil companies, fishing companies, commercial vessels, etc, operating in the region in form of extortions, ransoms, direct grafts, etc, and yet have never even thought it fit to embark on any self help community project to help their own people on whose behalf they claim to be fighting.
"Undoubtedly, these are no progressive youth on any reasonable agenda. Rather, here we are dealing with "criminals of fortune" who predate on the blood even of their own people. How can it be said then, that a carefully planned and cautiously executed exercise to rid the society of these criminals is a violation of human rights. What about the gruesome murder of a dozen law enforcement agents or the senseless murder and cruel beheading of soldiers at their duty posts? The government will not allow criminals in any part of the country to intimidate and overrun innocent civilians in any community in Nigeria. Government will fulfill its commitment to the Niger Delta people and will not rest on its oars until justice is done to our people in the area where most of our wealth presently comes from.
"It is pertinent at this juncture to comment on the sad and unfortunate position that Afenifere has taken on the world acclaimed presidential pronouncement on the activities of OPC.
"It is perplexing and most regrettable that while most sensible, peaceful and patriotic Nigerians have commended Mr. President for this bold and remarkable pronouncement, the Afenifere, contrary to common sense, logic and good intention, openly encourages, the activities of hoodlums, who have unnecessarily heightened tension in Lagos and environs and made ordinary citizens become unduly apprehensive for their safety and well-being.
"Any endorsement, tacit or disguised, of the mindless killings, arson and mayhem that have characterised the activities of the OPC in recent times stands, condemned and is, certainly inimical to peace and stability in Nigeria.
"More importantly, the usual obvious ethnic
undertones that is the hallmark of the group is not only regrettable
as it endangers the life and properties of Yoruba elsewhere
in the nation, it also portends great danger to the corporate
existence of our great country, Nigeria.
"Our young democracy needs time to get properly established and stabilised. Without democracy, it is obvious from our recent history, our nation stands the risk of political and economic annihilation. We therefore have no alternative as stakeholders in this great nation, but to come together, shun and bury all centrifugal forces within us, and nurture our democratic project to maturity.
"Necessary ingredients of this nurturing will include political integration, growth and development, equity and social justice.
"To bring about all the above, we will undoubtedly require massive injection of foreign funds in the form of investment, as it is too obvious that an annual revenue base of US$10.15 billion definitely cannot be sufficient to create substantial growth for this nation of 120 million with nearly 1,000,000 square kilometres of land area.
"Without doubt growth and development, economic prosperity, and even social justice are totally incompatible and unachievable in an atmosphere of instability, incessant ethnic clashes, sustained wanton destruction of lives and property, gradual and pervasive feeling of insecurity.
"The inevitable conclusion therefore is that ethnic militia and those who encourage or condone them have an agenda that is against the aspirations and interest of the Nigerian people and the Nigerian State. Their activities are inimical to peace, stability and promoting of our nation and its people.
"In fact, such individuals, groups and associates are the true enemies of a modern Nigerian state. I enjoin all Nigerians to go on bent knees before God and pray that now that Nigeria, at last, has a chance to make a breakthrough to grow and develop its full potential, under the able leadership of President Olusegun Obasanjo, Almighty God should silence all war mongers and those who beat the drums of war within our beloved nation.
"We must collectively agree to resolve all our
grievances and misgivings through open, frequent and unfettered
dialogue, negotiations and compromise. Therein lies the future
of this great country in the next millennium."
This was a complex press statement which expresses the frustration of the government. However, my comment will specifically focus on this quote:
"Unfortunately, on arrival at Odi township, the soldiers were put under heavy bombardment from highly sophisticated artillery - masterminded by trained fighters disguising as "Youths." ........... "The following morning, the "militant youthful terrorists," had occupied virtually every building in sight from where the resistance through shelling continued unabated. This led to some casualties among the troops who later overpowered the militant terrorists, and finally succeeded in dislodging them from the town."
Did the Government seriously believe that the Youths had "highly sophisticated artillery"? Did the government seriously believe that they "occupied virtually every building in sight from where the resistance through SHELLING (emphasis mine) continued unabated."? How does one use artillery from within the confines of a house on shaky foundations in the mangrove swamps of the Niger Delta? Did the Aso Rock propagandists bother to educate themselves on what a piece of artillery looks like and how it works? Such a strategy (perhaps more appropriate for the rock and hill based houses of Lebanon) would have exposed the youths to self destruction through the recoil effects of their own artillery. In any case had such high caliber weapons truly been used by the youths they would have been displayed by the triumphant soldiers in an international press conference.
7. Be that as it may, there have been some late salutary effects on military behavior from the widespread condemnation that followed.
(a). On January 24, 2000 the Chief of Army Staff, General Victor Malu, told a Press conference that his soldiers were uncomfortable with the operation and did not want such missions in future. According to him the Odi task force was forced to act in self-defence. It was a lame excuse but the expression of discomfort by the Army Chief is a relatively new phenomenon in Nigeria.
(b). The civil-police-military approach to the recent occupation of oil facilities by Ijaw youths in Delta State seems to be another example.
(c). Recent comments by the Permanent Secretary in Defence and the Defence Minister to a visiting South African delegation in which they both acknowledged the sensitive and controversial fallouts from using the Army for such matters come to mind. These comments seem to have been aimed at counteracting the negative image of President Obasanjo's defence of the Odi operation during a public question and answer NTA session shortly after New Year's day. Obasanjo said (in an angry response to a question from the BBC reporter) that the BBC had not publicly reported worse violations by the British Government against the Irish during its campaign against the IRA. This undiplomatic response was at variance with a more cautious public comment he had made to a visiting South-South delegation several months earlier that he regretted that the Odi operation became "necessary".
8. Although the Odi operation led to an obvious temporary reduction in the overall intensity of violent agitation in the Niger-Delta, this did not last long. What has, however, been noticeably sustained is a near cessation in the practice of killing security men. Internecine killings among local ethnic communities in both the Western and Eastern Niger Delta have not stopped and violent protests aimed at oil companies, their personnel and their equipment have not stopped either. After several hiccups, the Niger Delta Development Bill was eventually passed and the commission inaugurated. Resource Control and onshore/offshore derivation controversies continue to dog the relationship between federal and state governments. Pipeline vandalization continues to be a contentious issue. Precisely what the heavy handed tactics of the Odi operation achieved for the federal government in the long run is open to debate.
9. Lastly, the status and progress of the Odi court case brought in late February 2000, by Mr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) needs to be clarified. The community sought to enforce its fundamental rights and claimed N1 billion damages and a public apology from the government.
Nowa Omoigui, MD