Odi, the scene of the November 20, 1999 bloody invasion by soldiers, erupted in protest yesterday over the delay by the Federal Government in paying the community the N37.6 billion compensation ordered by the Federal High Court.
The protesters, many of them aged men and women, blocked the East-West Road in Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government area of Bayelsa State, disrupting free flow of traffic on the highway.
They chanted anti-governement songs and brandished placards with inscriptions such as: “Odi has gone through the path of justice, FGN obey the court”; “It is time to know if truly there is respect to rule of law in Nigeria”; and “The people of Odi are crying for justice.”
Most striking was a placard with the inscription “Before it is too late”, a rehearsh of the title of the open letter former President Olusegun Obasanjo wrote to President Goodluck Jonathan recently.
The letter and President Jonathan’s reply are currently generating reactions across the nation.
Some of the women protesters wore sack clothes, rolling on the ground and lamenting the bloodshed that accompanied the destruction.
The youths carried a mock coffin as a symbol of harvest of deaths that greeted the Odi violence.
Some Niger Delta human rights activists such as the Chairman of the Civil Liberties Organisation, Chief Nengi James and Mr. Alagoa Morris, participated in the protest.
The community leaders ensured that the demonstration was peaceful and that the busy East-West Road was cleared after 20 minutes of barricade.
James recalled the destruction of lives and property during the invasion and said the human rights community should petition the United Nations with a view to dragging former President Obasanjo to the International Criminal Court of Justice (ICCJ).
He asked the government to immediately comply with the Federal High Court’s judgment in the spirit of the rule of law to put Odi on the path of recovery.
He said: ”It is the duty of the state and its institutions to safeguard the rule of law and harmony in the society.
“Ijawland and Odi community and indeed the entire Niger Delta cannot afford to sweep the military attack on Odi under the carpet or forget it in a hurry.”
Also speaking, a retired Federal Permanent Secreatry, Dr. Timiebi Koripamo-Agary, said Obasanjo’s action against Odi betrayed the carrot and stick approach he recommended in his letter to President Goodluck Jonathan.
She said Odi is yet to recover from the invasion.
“We have won all our cases and the court has ordered that money should be paid to us. We are not happy with Jonathan because if the court has given judgment, he should have complied with it in the spirit of the rule of law. If they have not reported to Mr. President, we want to inform him through our protest”, she said.
The judgment was delivered by Justice Lambi Akanbi last February in a N100 billion suit filed by the Odi community against the Federal Government.
Justice Akanbi said in the judgment: “The destruction of Odi was comprehensive and complete. No aspect of the community was spared by what I saw in the pictures showed here.
“The respondents violated the fundamental human rights of the people of Odi by the massacre. The people are entitled to fundamental rights of life, dignity and fairplay.
“The destruction of Odi was not as a result of gun battle but clear bombardment. The destruction was malicious.”