November 20, 1999

On this day, the Nigerian armed forces, allegedly on direct orders from the Commander-in-Chief, president Olusegun Obasanjo, ravaged the predominantly Ijaw community of Odi in Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, killing many people – men, women and children – in what was described as the worst human rights violation of the government. The attack came in the context of an ongoing conflict in the Niger Delta over indigenous rights to oil resources and environmental protection.

Prior to the military attack, twelve members of the Nigeria Police were murdered by a gang near Odi. In retaliation, the military decided to invade the village. There were reports that the army ambushed close to the village, and thus tension soared, they broke through the ambush and exchanged fire with armed militias in the village who were believed to be using civilian population as cover. That, coupled with the ambush provocation, led to the attack on civilian population and the town’s buildings. Every building in the town except the bank, the Anglican church, and the health centre was burned to the ground.

While the Federal Government put the casualty figure at 43, some reports said about 2,500 civilians were killed.

According to Mr. Tari Bolou, a two-time commissioner in the state, and council chairman during the massacre of this day, the cause of the problem actually started with one Mr. Jokotola, a police Area Commander, said to have come from Abeokuta, the same local government as former president Olusegun Obasanjo.

Mr. Bolou said further that, “The then Area Commander (Jokotola), had destroyed a place called ‘Black Market’ in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital. During the destruction of the market, he allegedly killed some persons. As a result of that, so many people escaped, and some of the escapees went to Odi.

On a particular day, he said he was going to visit Odi. When he drove to Kaiama, we learnt that the Divisional Police Officer in Kaiama told him not to go to Odi and that there were some rough boys there. But he (Jokotola) refused to heed the D.P.O’s advice. The Area Commander on getting to the Mobile Police Command at Kaiama, was advised by the MOPOL commander, as we learnt, not to go to Odi and that he would not go with him. But he refused and went to Odi.

When he got to the College Junction in Odi, those boys that ran from him in Yenagoa after killing their colleagues were there. They had laid an ambush for him. They caught him. One of the hoodlums, simply called Ken, retorted, ‘This is Jokotola that made me to be alone in this world. We are six in my family, but today, I am the only existing child of my mother. Since I have seen you today, I will kill you and kill myself. You will kill me or I will kill you.’

The DPO at Kaiama was an Odoni man, our brother. He had a stroke and his health had deteriorated. When the police were torturing some hoodlums arrested earlier, the DPO collapsed and died. So the hoodlums said, ‘If our brother has died, then all of you will die.’ So they killed them (Jokotola and eleven other policemen). Thereafter, Obasanjo decided to avenge the death of his kinsman. He sent the military to level Odi, a small community,” Mr. Bolou concluded.

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