Odi Massacre: Attorney General Should Bring Ex-President and Military Chiefs who Ordered Killings to Justice and Accountability

A2Justice welcomes the judgment of the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt that held that the widespread killing that took place in Odi, Bayelsa State perpetrated by the soldiers at the behest of the Commander in Chief at that time was genocidal, brutish, reckless and a gross violation of the rights of the victims to life, and to property. The court said the Judgment was predicated on “the need to curb the excesses of the Executive and to send a clear message that the days of tyranny are gone and gone forever”
The High Court has vindicated the role of the judicial branch, as the last bastion of hope for the oppressed, tyrannized and traumatized. This ruling will, at the very least, help fight impunity entrenched in the conduct of security forces, and hold the government accountable for the wanton conduct of its security forces. Since 1999, the tragic and unfortunate genocide against the Odi community had been held up by those who perpetrated the abuses as a benchmark of how government should deal decisively with communal restiveness and agitation, and the fact that thousands of innocent, defenceless residents of Odi lost their loved ones, were maimed and lost everything they had, including their dignity and sense of self-worth mattered so little. The Odi incident inspired other brutal crackdowns by security forces in different other parts of Nigeria, including those in Rivers and Benue States.
The High Court judgment is a clear indictment of those who ordered those killings and perpetrated them. These perpetrators should now be brought to justice in a more substantive sense because civil remedies alone will not atone for the crimes committed against the Odi people and is not, alone, a sufficient template of the kind of accountability the security forces need to take into account when considering an invitation to undertake another brutal crackdown. Those who ordered and oversaw the atrocious killings of innocent villagers, including those who gave executive orders for such crackdown should be criminally prosecuted for genocide or homicide if they are still alive, irrespective of their status. This is the finest way we can express justice and provide some form of assuagement to the victims of that unfortunate massacre many of whom lost their lives in that gratuitous violence unleashed on Odi by Nigerian soldiers.
The pains of Odi were made worse by the sense of gratification entertained by the then incumbent government following the massacre. For fourteen years, Nigeria has owed a massive debt of justice and accountability to Odi, but all the governments we have had since that time were simply not willing to acknowledge this injustice and to take actions to repair or remedy it, but must do so now. The government now owes it to those who were killed in that massacre to ensure that their lives were not wasted after all, and that never again, will the security agencies act with such disdain and impunity against defenceless citizens going forward. The Federal High Court’s judgment has now provided fresh impetus to begin an earnest effort to close this ugly chapter of our nation’s history: it is up to the current government to respect that decision, and comply with its terms immediately. We call on the Attorney General of Nigeria to take immediate steps to bring all surviving persons who played a role in the genocide in Odi to justice.
Joseph Otteh
Director, Access to Justice