The Event that occurred on January 4, 1999


On this day, Opia and Ikenyan, two small Ijaw communities of around 500 people each in Delta State, Warri North Local Government Area, were attacked by about one hundred armed soldiers using boats and a helicopter contracted to Chevron Nigeria Limited. The two communities are situated close to each other in the riverine area of Delta State, about two hours by speed boat from Warri, and five or ten minutes by speed boat from each other.
Each community is built on low-lying land edging a creek and surrounded by mangrove forest, with economic trees such as mango and coconut palm inter planted among the houses. Like most houses in delta, the homes in the village prior to the attack were built of wood and other local products; there were no brick structures.
According to community members in their accounts to Human Rights Watch, a helicopter of the kind they were used to seeing flying on Chevron’s operations first flew low over Opia. They thought nothing of it since there were two Chevron wells within hundred meters of Opia village and a pipeline that runs nearby; but as the helicopter approached the village it started firing down at them. Everyone ran into the bush.
After staying about half an hour at Opia, the helicopter flew to nearby Ikenyan and did the same thing. Again, everyone ran into the bush.
After the helicopter had left, people came back to the villages, but a short while later, soldiers came first to Opia and then Ikenyan in four boats. Three of the boats were “sea trucks” from a contractor used by Chevron, the fourth was a military boat with a machine gun mounted on it. At each village in turn, as the boats came towards the community the soldiers started firing indiscriminately, killing and wounding possibly dozens of people, including the traditional leader of Ikenyan, Bright Pablogba, who had been approaching the waterside to try to negotiate. Each village was torched by the soldiers before they left, destroying virtually all the houses; canoes were sunk and other property destroyed.
When Human Rights Watch visited both communities later during the following month, the death toll was still uncertain. Only four bodies had been found, but a woman and her five children fishing from a canoe by Ikenyan village were also presumed dead, since the boat was sunk and they had not returned. Fifteen people from Opia and forty-seven from Ikenyan were still missing: those who still remained in the villages believed they were dead, and that their bodies had been thrown in the river or taken away – given the isolated position of the two communities, it was unlikely that they could have simply fled without anyone knowing. In Opia, which previously had a total of perhaps fifty or sixty houses, forty-six were completely destroyed by fire, and others were damaged.
In Ikenyan, about fifty houses were destroyed, and only four left standing at one end of the village. Tear gas canisters and cartridge cases were still scattered on the ground at the time.
Following the attack, the remaining population of Opia and Ikenyan largely dispersed to other communities and established a committee to take up their case with the military authorities and with Chevron.

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