The Odi Genocide and Olusegun Obasanjo

When George .W. Bush Jnr. was elected the 43rd president of the United States of America, it seems that the major reason that he contested for the presidency was to complete what his father George Bush Sr. started in Iraq with Saddam Hussein. So contrary to the advice of other world leaders and the UN, Bush marched into battle against Saddam Hussein. The reasons marshaled out by the Bush administration ranged from Saddam’s support of terrorism, to his annihilation of the Shi’ites. Since Saddam was tried for the killing of 148 Shi’ites, it logically follows that the war in Iraq was prompted by America’s decision to punish Saddam for committing genocide against the Shi’ites.

It later appears that Bush’s murder of Saddam through a clearly orchestrated trial is the last effective action of the administration (it was of course the only reason for his contesting the presidency). It seems to me that Saddam’s murder resembles Ikemefuna’s murder by Okonkwo in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Thus like Okonkwo whose affairs took a downward plunge after the murder of Ikemefuna , Bush’s affairs took a turn for the worse after the murder of Saddam.

But most important to us is the reason for Saddam’s murder: genocide against the Shi’ites. In order words, America , the bastion of democracy found herself unable to sleep after becoming aware of the evils perpetrated by Saddam to a class of people. That action of Saddam’s, America had perceived as violating the basic tenets of human rights.

In a similar vein, the U.N (conspicuously led by the United States) is at the moment pressing war crime charges against the former Liberian leader Charles Taylor. Taylor we are told supported and even ordered the killing of some Sierra Leoneans by a rebel group. Thus Taylor was declared wanted, and eventually arrested. It is clear that when Taylor ( as he must be) is found guilty, he would go the way of Saddam.

The examples of Saddam Hussein and Charles Taylor show the determination by the World to look into issues of the violation of human rights by powerful citizens of the world against weaker sections of the society, and the ultimate desire to ensure that a certain check is put in place to forestall further recurrences. That seems to be the only way that the weak are protected from the strong.

But the UN (and the U.S) seems to have deliberately overlooked a very important genocidal action. I am talking about the 1999 mass massacre of the people of Odi in Bayelsa State. Facts from that particular event show that the order by the Commander-in-chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces as at that time, Olusegun Obasanjo is tantamount to a direct order to annihilate the people of Odi.

Dubbed Operation Hakuri II, the purported aim of that military operation was to fish out the miscreants who had carried out the killing of six policemen deployed to the area. It should be recalled that the then president of the country had given orders to the people of Odi and the Bayelsa State government to produce the perpetrators of the act of killing the police officers, within fourteen days. Before the expiration of the fourteen days, Obasanjo, together with his Army commander T.Y Danjuma, had commenced full scale military actions against the tiny town of Odi with its estimated 60,000 people. It is disheartening to remember that artillery, tanks, and other sophisticated military weapons were deployed in this operation. More pathetic is the fact that the old, the young, children, the sick, the incapacitated were victims of that operation. There is no way that the operation can be justified as one aimed at finding the people who killed the six policemen. It was clearly an operation aimed at completely showing the Odi people their place in Nigeria . It was also an operation clearly aimed at protecting crude oil interests. T.Y Danjuma makes it clear: “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.” Thus in the process of protecting crude oil interests, the first aim which was to protect lives and property was jettisoned.

Once again we were back to Biafra . Once again, elephants in their frenzy were moved in to stamp out ants. And the elephants did that to perfection, putting the fear of the military in the minds of the few old and psychologically tortured survivors.

1999 was a long time away and many people would have forgotten that particular incident. But there are people who would always live in that nightmare. There is no way that the relatives of those who were victims will ever forget that incident. The wound may heal, but the scar will remain. And in their minds, they will continue to pray to God for justice. For who are they in this world of underhanded plans to stand up to the mighty one who occasioned their pains? Who are they to fight for justice in a world were justice is the toy of the highly placed?

The interesting thing about the Cinderella story is that it gives hope to those who have nobody to fight for them when they are up against forces far stronger. In Igbo folklore, this story finds its equivalent in the tale of the “The orphan and his wicked step-mother.” The ultimate lesson that these stories give to mankind is that there is something called nemesis that takes care of all evils. More than that, it occasions in the mind of the weak the belief that there is a God who avenges their plight all in good time. But in our contemporary world, intelligent people of the world had come together to create avenues through which the weak would be protected against victimization from the strong. Laws, rules of engagements in military operations and so many other policies have been put in place to protect the weak and thus strike a certain balance in the society.

In a world with so many powerful and often times power obsessed leaders, the UN becomes the real life representation of Nemesis and God for the weak and the downtrodden. Thus when Saddam Hussein violated human rights rules, the U.S and her forces under the guise of the UN moved in and destroyed him (and his country). In a similar vein, Charles Taylor today faces charges too for the violation of certain human rights in Sierra Leone.

If the above is the case then, it follows that Obasanjo too should face trials for violating the human rights of the Odi people; for violating the rules of engagement; and for ordering a full scale military operation in a civilian territory when all that was needed was police investigation. Or is it possible that Obasanjo and his cohorts can prove that the Odi people had begun a military action against his government before the deployment of the troops? If that is his claim, can he also provide us with proof that he warned them to desist from the military action which they may have initiated against him and his government? I daresay that he cannot provide any proof. The reason is simply because that was not the case. It was Obasanjo’s sadistic desires that fueled that operation.

Annoyingly, even though the facts of that particular incident are well known the world over, no authority has deemed it fit to look into the action and initiate appropriate punitive measures. Which then raises the very important question: Was Obasanjo protecting the interests of the West as represented by Shell BP? There are too many questions with too many conjectured answers. Why a trial or inquiry cannot be put in place to provide answers to these questions remain a visible and indeed eloquent testimony to the fact that here, there is no “god” who oversees the affairs of the weak and gives them justice. If Saddam Hussein can be tried, why can’t a man who did almost the same thing as he did be tried?

There is no need believing that by merely keeping quiet on this issue that we would just wish it away, and consign it to the dustbin of our history. This can never be the issue. For come rain or shine, one day somebody must bear the responsibilities for his/her action.

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