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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Nigeria: Odi Massacre Statements

Nigeria: Odi Massacre Statements
Date distributed (ymd): 991223
Document reposted by APIC

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains two documents concerning recent incidents in the Niger Delta which pose the most significant challenge yet to the new Nigerian government's credibility in dealing with the issue of human rights abuses and control of oil wealth in the Niger Delta. One statement is from Nigerian human rights and civil society groups; the other from Human Rights Watch (Africa). More details, including the full text of the HRW background paper and an earlier book-length report on The Price of Oil: Corporate Responsibility and Human Rights Violations in Nigeria's Oil Producing Communities, are available on the Human Rights Watch web site (

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Genocide in Odi

Being the Text of a Press Conference by Leaders of Human
Rights and Civil Society Groups Who Visited Odi, Bayelsa State
on Wednesday December 8th 1999.

(This Text was read by Abdul Oroh, Executive Director, Civil Liberties Organisation, Nigeria. Contact: The Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), 1A Hussey Street, Off Herbert Macaulay Street, Jibowu-Yaba, Lagos, Nigeria; tel: +234 (1) 860456, 846412; fax: +234 (1) 5840288;

Distinguished ladies and Gentlemen of the press.

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 the 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 the 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 the 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 the 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 willfully 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:

  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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), Nigerian 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, Media for Ethnic Equality.

HRW Call For Action Against Abuses In The Niger Delta

Human Rights Watch (New York)
December 21, 1999

For further information, contact Human Rights Watch, 350 Fifth Avenue, 34th Floor, New York, NY 10118-3299 USA.
TEL: 1-212-290-4700 FAX: 1-212-736-1300 E- mail:;
1522 K Street, N.W. Washington D.C. 20005; TEL: 202/371-6592 FAX: 202/371-0124.
Web Site Address:

New York - Human Rights Watch today called on the Nigerian government to initiate criminal proceedings against soldiers responsible for abuses in two recent incidents in the oil producing Niger Delta region. In a background paper based on recent research in Nigeria, Human Rights Watch condemned the razing of the village of Odi, Bayelsa State, by the Nigerian army, and confirmed allegations that soldiers committed rape in the nearby community of Choba, Rivers State.

"It looks like the new civilian government in Nigeria is using the same methods as the old military governments," said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. "The new regime has made progress in some areas of human rights, but these latest events in the delta cast doubt on President Obasanjo's real intentions." On November 20, at least several hundred soldiers were deployed to Odi, where a gang of armed youths had killed a dozen policemen in recent weeks. The soldiers made no apparent attempt to arrest the suspected perpetrators, and instead systematically destroyed the village over the next two weeks, leaving only three buildings undamaged. At least several dozen unarmed civilians were killed in the army operation, possibly several hundred.

In Choba, in Rivers State, on October 28 soldiers dispersed demonstrators outside the premises of Willbros Nigeria Ltd, a subsidiary of an American contractor to the oil and gas industry, based in Oklahoma. The soldiers killed four people and raped a number of women from the community. The Nigerian federal government dismissed the reports of rapes, asserting that photographs alleged to show the soldiers assaulting the women were staged, and the police have refused to investigate. Human Rights Watch found the women's claims of rape to be fully credible, and believes that contesting the accuracy of the photographic evidence is an inappropriate response by the government to serious allegations of human rights violations.

There has been increasing unrest in the Niger Delta in recent years, as local people have demanded greater control over the natural resources, chiefly oil, found beneath their land.

"The government and oil companies have legitimate concerns over protest when it takes criminal forms. Hostage-taking or the killing of security officers deserve a serious response," said Takirambudde. "But this kind of brutality from the army is certain to make the situation worse. It will fuel arguments that there is nothing to be gained by attempting to dialogue with the new civilian government, and that people must take to arms to make their case." Human Rights Watch called on the Nigerian government to:

  • Undertake an immediate process of criminal investigation of the events in Odi and Choba with a view to instituting court martial proceedings for murder, rape, and other offences against those responsible for the army operations in each case, including both perpetrators and their commanding officers, where appropriate.
  • Appoint independent and public judicial commissions of inquiry into the events in Odi and Choba with a wide mandate to examine the causes and consequences of the army operations and to make recommendations for appropriate relief and compensation to those affected, including the rebuilding of Odi.
  • Undertake an immediate consultation process with a wide range of respresentatives of opinion in the delta with a view to ensuring that in future clear distinctions are drawn between legitimate political demands and criminal acts and that those allegedly responsible for criminal offences are arrested and tried according to Nigerian law.

The organisation called on Willbros to:

  • Send staff from company headquarters to investigate the alleged rapes, killings and assaults by soldiers outside its premises on October 28 and 29, 1999; take steps to protest abuses with the appropriate authorities and urge that appropriate criminal and disciplinary action be taken against those responsible; review security arrangements to ensure that similar abuses cannot happen in future; and review its relations with the Choba community, consulting widely to develop means of improving that relationship.

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC's primary objective is to widen international policy debates around African issues, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.

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