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Odi Community Gets Justice As Court Orders FG To Pay N37.6bn Compensation For Invasion

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SAN FRANCISCO, February 20, (THEWILL) – Twelve years after men of the Nigerian Army sacked Odi community in Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area of Bayelsa State during the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, destroying lives and property, a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt Tuesday ordered the Federal Government to pay N37.6 billion as compensation to the victims of the invasion.

Delivering judgment in the suit filed by Prof. Kobina Keme-Ebi Imananagha, Chief Ndu Gwagha, Chief Shadrack Agadah, Mr. Idoni Ingezi and Mr. Nwaka Echomgbe,on behalf of the Odi community presiding judge, Justice Lambo Akanbi ordered that the payment be made within the next three weeks.

While the community asked for N17.618 billion as general damages, N20 billion for special damages as well as a public apology and re-building of Odi community by the Federal Government in the N100billion suit they instituted against the Federal Government, the judge however awarded a total sum of N37.618 billion compensation in their favour for the wanton destruction of the place by Nigeria soldiers.

Describing the action of the military as genocidal, brutish, reckless and a gross violation of the rights of the victims to life and to property, Justice Akanbi 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.”

In his two-hour judgement, Justice Akanbi held that the Federal Government was economical with the truth by pleading in its counter affidavits that no inhabitant of the community was killed apart from some armed militant youths who engaged the military in gun battle; and that no property was destroyed by the soldiers.

Relying on various statements by the government, National Assembly, and inscriptions left on the soils of Odi by the soldiers, as well as video clips on the invasion which was watched in the open court at the January 17, 2013 session, the judge described their claims and counter affidavits ‘as worthless’.

“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 to life, dignity and fair play, the destruction of Odi was not as a result of gun battle but clear bombardment, the destruction was malicious,” he said.

The judge also quoted President Goodluck Jonathan as saying in a media chat on the National Television Authority (NTA), on November 18, 2010 that “only innocent people, including women, children and the very weak that could not run escape were killed in Odi”.

According to him, the then Senate President, late Chuka Okadigbo was also quoted to have said that “the facts speaks for themselves, no need to speak again, as there are nobody to speak.”

He equally reviewed the exhibit tendered quoting the soldiers who carried out the destruction as saying, “we go kill all the Ijaw people with our guns, come to Odi and learn a lesson, Ijaw face, monkey face, government has given us power to kill, Odi is for soldiers not for Ijaws, Bayelsa will remain sorrowful for ever,” among others.

The plaintiffs had through their counsel, led by Lucius Nwosu (SAN); Lawal Rabana (SAN) and Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), urged the court to declare that the invasion of Odi and its attendant assault, battery, maiming, shelling, shooting and cold-blooded murder of Odi indigenes and the destruction of their property by Nigerian armed forces under the command of the president, was tantamount to a gross violation of the people’s fundamental human rights to life, dignity and personal liberty.

The respondents were the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; Minister of Defence, the Chief of Defence Staff and Attorney-General of the Federation.

The plaintiffs also argued that the deployment of troops by the President and on the order of the Chief of Defence Staff, which led to the wanton destruction of lives and property of the people of Odi, was a gross misuse of power vested in the state.

But as the judge was about to deliver judgment on the matter yesterday, counsel to the Minister of Defence and a director in the Ministry of Defence, Malam Jimoh Adamu, told the court that he had filed a fresh application seeking an extension of time on the basis that his principal was not served any of the court processes. This was however dismissed by the judge after going through court records, which indicated that the Attorney-General of the Federation was duly served.

The judge expressed dismay that the wanton killing of innocent persons in Odi by the military had battered the image of Nigeria and portrayed it as an enclave inhabited by primitive people. He said the action of the military was not only unconstitutional but also reckless and an outrageous behaviour.

He observed that even if taken for granted, it was the responsibility of the government to protect lives and property, it could not offer justifiable excuse for its reckless engagement in the wanton massacre of innocent persons in Odi.

Describing the destruction of Odi as comprehensive and total as nothing was spared by the marauding soldiers, Akanbi said the Federal Government brazenly violated the fundamental human rights of the victims to movement, life and property and to live peacefully in their ancestral home.

He ordered that special damages of N17,618,871 and general damages of N20 billion be paid to the community as compensation. He also issued a perpetual injunction restraining the respondents and their agents from invading Odi and bombing the place.

Awarding the cost against the Federal Government, the judge held that no amount could be adequate enough to compensate for the pains and trauma of the people of the community, but said the cost for the damages given them was as valued by their valuers.

Reacting on the judgement the lead lawyer for the community, Mr. Lucius Nwosu (SAN), described the judgement as “a victory for an aggressive Nigerian Bar, and more a victory for Nigerian judiciary, particularly the Federal High Court,” saying “It’s a reflection of courage, erudition and consideration for justice governed by conscience, truth and good faith.”

On the two other prayers that were rejected, he said, “it would have been double compensation if the prayer for re-building of the community was granted, having already granted them general damages.” He however agreed that “The judgement was very sound and considered with truth and common sense.”

It would be recalled that former President Obasanjo on November 20, 1999 deployed troops in Odi and authorised the use of force to deal with militants who were accused of killing some soldiers in the state.

After the Odi invasion, the indigenes brought a N100 billion suit against the President, the Chief of Army Staff and the Chief of Defence Staff.

When the matter came up on Thursday, January 17, 2013, DVD and projectors were used to show military operations in Odi, and how the various machine guns, bombs and helicopter gunships were used to destroy lives and property in Odi.

The lead counsel to the plaintiffs, Nwosu (SAN), said: “The President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, had responsibly stated that no militant was killed in the military invasion.

“It was only old men, women and children, who could not run, that were massacred in that military operation.

“A situation where you turn guns and artillery purchased with taxpayers’ money against the taxpayers, is a call for sober reflection and a matter of serious concern.

“It calls for atonement for the dead and compensation for the living, for the trauma and loss they have been made to suffer as refugees and loss of their precious homes, loved ones, friends and objects of reverence,” he said.