In anticipation of the December 30 ultimatum set by the Kaiama Declaration, several thousand troops were moved into the Ijaw areas of Bayelsa and Delta states. In Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa State, located at the border between the riverine and dry land areas, residents spoke to Human Rights Watch of the arrival of several truckloads of soldiers on December 29 and 30. They said the soldiers boasted that they had come to attack the youths who wanted to stop the oil companies. The press reported that two warships and up to 15,000 soldiers had been moved to the region.9 There were other reports that army officers who were indigenes of the delta area had been posted to the north of Nigeria, and replaced in Bayelsa State with northerners.
On December 30, several thousand youths supporting the Kaiama Declaration demonstrated peacefully in Yenagoa, Bomadi, Oloibiri, and in other communities across the Ijaw areas of the delta, taking part in a traditional dance known as an ogele. In Bomadi, Delta State, the military administrator, Navy Captain Walter Feghabo, attended the demonstration. The Ijaw Youth Council gave the youths clear instructions not to carry weapons and not to drink before the demonstrations, in letters which went out to all the various communities of the delta. In most places, the ogele went ahead peacefully, but in Yenagoa, a peaceful procession was met with force.
Early in the morning of December 30, 1998, up to 2,000 youths holding candles and dressed in black moved in a procession along the main street in Yenagoa, carrying candles and singing as they danced, starting from the waterside. According to eyewitnesses not involved in the procession, they were unarmed. They passed by the police station peacefully, but as they approached the entrance to State House, the base of the military administrator of Bayelsa State, Lt. Col. Paul Obi, soldiers posted at the gate fired on the demonstrators, using rifles and machine guns, as well as tear gas. At least three youths were killed.10 Bayelsa State Police Commissioner Nahum Eli stated in a public broadcast that those killed had been shot by security agents acting in self defense when five hundred youths forced their way through the gate at government house, and that the youths had succeeded in taking a rifle from at least one of the soldiers.11 Several of those participating in the demonstration denied this to Human Rights Watch, stating that the soldiers had begun to fire when the youths were still some distance from the gate. Bystanders we spoke to had heard that some soldiers had been disarmed, but no one could confirm this information as an eyewitness.
One of those injured in the confrontation at State House, who later spoke to Human Rights Watch, was shot in the chest and fell to the ground as his colleagues ran away. By his account, when he regained consciousness, he tried to get away to a hiding place, only to be seen by the soldiers still at the gate. Two of them were ordered to chase him, and when they reached him lying on the ground, shot him in the leg at point blank range, shattering the bones. He was dragged across the road, and beaten severely, kicked on the head, and left unconscious. He regained consciousness several hours later, and said he found five corpses near to him (other eyewitnesses reported that three demonstrators had been killed). The military loaded him and the corpses into a commandeered Peugeot 504 taxi, after dragging out the passengers. He fell unconscious again and awoke in the mortuary at the Yenagoa hospital. He called for help, attracting the attention of another soldier, who wanted to shoot him, but was prevented from doing so by thenurses. Other eyewitnesses confirmed that a summary execution was prevented only by the courage of the hospital staff. The next day he was taken to Port Harcourt for better treatment, but his leg could not be saved and was amputated. When Human Rights Watch saw him in February 1999 he was still being treated in Yenagoa hospital, though all treatment had to be paid for by his family.12
In addition to those injured and killed at State House, up to twenty-five were arrested and taken to the police station. Eyewitnesses stated that those who had been demonstrating selected a group from among them to go to "rescue" the detainees.13 They were stopped by the sports complex in Yenagoa by about three truck-loads of soldiers under the command of Major Oputa, the head of Operation Salvage, a special paramilitary anti-crime unit in Bayelsa State formed in August 1997 in response to threats to oil production. Major Oputa ordered them to go back and said that he would release those in the cells. According to onlookers, the youths started to turn back, but the soldiers opened fire. At least three more youths were killed there: "Ghadafi" Ezeifile, Nwashuku Okeri, and one other. Others were injured and were later taken to the hospital for treatment. Many of the residents of Yenagoa fled into the bush, leaving the town deserted. Local activists said they had confirmed the killing of two others: Frank Nwankwo and Army Igbila.14 At Mbiama junction, where the road divides to lead to Port Harcourt or Kaiama, Timi Kaiser-Wilhelm Ogoriba, a co-signatory of the Kaiama Declaration and the president of MOSIEND, the Movement for the Survival of the Izon (Ijaw) Ethnic Nationality in the Niger Delta, and eleven others were arrested by soldiers and taken to Bori army camp, Port Harcourt. The Bayelsa State Police Commissioner Nahum Eli stated that they were being held in "protective custody" after Ogoriba disowned the demonstrators.15 They were released several weeks later.
On the evening of December 30, the military administrator of Bayelsa State declared a state-wide state of emergency. In a broadcast on the state broadcasting corporation, Lt. Col. Paul Obi announced the imposition of a dusk-to-dawn curfew and a ban on meetings "to prevent violence."16
The next day, youths who had heard of these killings and of the arrest of T.K. Ogoriba came to Yenagoa from nearby communities, including Kaiama and its next-door community Odi, where there had been peaceful demonstrations on December 30. Large numbers of youths demonstrated along the main east-west road that runs from Port Harcourt to Warri through Kaiama, holding up traffic from early in the morning. Eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch of a number of incidents during that day in which troops fired on unarmed youths, notably at Mbiama junction. While it is difficult to obtain a complete picture of the day's confused events, there were also confrontations between youths and soldiers in which youths themselves reacted with violence, including a small number of youths carrying firearms who came into Yenagoa and exchanged fire with soldiers; according to government statements, youths at Mbiama also disarmed some police posted there. Most of the youths were, however, reportedly unarmed.
At Mbiama junction, youths from Odi were met with live fire from soldiers, and ran into the bush, most of them retreating back along the road to Kaiama. While Human Rights Watch cannot verify numbers shot, it seems likely that more than ten youths were killed in this confrontation, and tens of others injured.17 Some of the youths from Odi interviewed by Human Rights Watch, however, passed through Mbiama junction without any confrontation with the soldiers there—possibly earlier or later in the day—and came along the road to Yenagoa. At the motor park there,they were met by soldiers, who they said used live rifle and machine gun fire without warning once again. Several youths were killed, and others seriously wounded. About ten youths came right into Yenagoa—independent witnesses confirmed to Human Rights Watch that these youths were armed, with rifles reportedly captured from soldiers along the way. They met more soldiers as they came into the town along the main road and exchanged fire, driving the soldiers back, but eventually the youths retreated. At least one person not involved in the confrontation, Bonseni Ayowei, a resident of one of the houses along the road, was killed by a stray bullet. Several other bodies were taken away, but residents of the area could not say how many died or who they were.18 According to the version of events given in a statement by the state police commissioner, youths had commandeered vehicles at Mbiama junction and seized weapons from police at the boundary between Bayelsa and Rivers States and at the roadblock in Mbiama, and were only driven back from the Ekeki motor park, in Yenagoa.19
Over the next few days, soldiers were stopping young men and checking them for marks indicating they supported "Egbesu," a traditional Ijaw god followed by many of those involved in the ogele. Egbesu is believed by many Ijaws—and by many of the soldiers assigned to suppress their demonstration—to give protection from bullets when a particular ritual is followed; those participating in the demonstrations of December 30 and other militant Ijaw youth are sometimes disparagingly referred to as "Egbesu boys." Many people, not only youths, were beaten severely at road blocks. Others were detained. Some were shot. Local human rights activists reported that one of those wounded on December 30, who was receiving treatment in Yenagoa hospital, was taken out of the hospital on January 2 and shot dead by soldiers.20
In the "black market" slum area of Yenagoa, soldiers and Mobile Police posted to the community raped many local women, dragging them from their shacks at night, and threatening them and their husbands with violence if they did not comply. Several women described to Human Rights Watch how they had been brutalized, saying that they were just a few of those who had been raped in this way. One story is typical:
It was during the curfew. By seven in the evening we were all asleep because of the curfew. Three policemen came to my place and told me to open the door. I said I fear to open the door. They said I must come out because the soldiers are looking for me. I didn't come out, but they broke in and raped me. They said they were going to drag me to the road for the other soldiers to use. One other MoPo [Mobile Police] man came and was talking to them. I managed to run away to the waterside, where I stayed till the next day. Many other women have been raped. One of them was married and because of the shame she has gone back to her own community. The army is still coming and flogging and terrorizing people every day. Nothing like this has happened before.21
A young man of twenty described how he and his brother were beaten and his twelve-year old twin sisters raped:
It was after the marching happened. They made everybody sleep at 7 p.m. Around four in the morning MoPo people started coming around and saying that soldiers had been killed and because of that they were going to kill us. My little brother was looking through a hole in the side of our shack, and he made a sound and attracted their attention. They pushed the door open and said he is an Egbesu boy. They were flogging us using a koboko [raw hide whip]. They stole _1,200 [U.S.$13] from under my bed. Then they saw my two sisters and started to flog them. They pushed us boys outside. They threatened the girls that if you don't sleep with us we will shoot you. Three of them raped the two girls. We did not report this to anyone: the police are no good.22
On January 11, 1999, several hundred women from the waterside slum areas of Port Harcourt took part in a march organized by Niger Delta Women for Justice, in conjunction with the Ijaw Youth Council, to deliver a letter to the military administrator at the Rivers State government house protesting the rape and assault of women in Yenagoa. At the Moscow Road junction, a major intersection in Port Harcourt, they were stopped by five armored vehicles full of soldiers, Mobile Police, and ordinary police. They were told to go back, but stated that their only intention was to present a petition to the military administrator calling for troops to be withdrawn from Yenagoa and for the soldiers and police involved in raping women to be prosecuted, and that they would return peacefully if the letter would be delivered. The Divisional Police Officer (DPO), named Okafor, collected the letter and said he would pass it to the military administrator. The women then turned around to go, but as they did so one of the police or soldiers fired into the air, and then others started firing teargas. The women ran, but several were badly beaten with gun butts, whips, sticks, and boots, among them at least one who was pregnant. At least thirty-four women were arrested by the soldiers, and publicly stripped and beaten, though most of them were released the same day. Five were detained for several days at the police station.23
In Kaiama, the site of the Kaiama Declaration, about one hour by road from Yenagoa, there were peaceful demonstrations on December 30. Over the next few days, after the disturbances originating in Yenagoa, the people of Kaiama were the object of systematic abuse by troops. During the disturbances of December 31 along the road between Kaiama and Yenagoa, youths returning from Yenagoa/Mbiama reportedly seized an army truck being driven by a man in civilian dress and burnt it on the bridge at Kaiama. Two or three soldiers were, according to accusations made by soldiers to local residents, killed by youths; it was also reported that soldiers shot dead eight youths in this incident and threw their bodies in the River Nun.24 In retaliation, soldiers under the command of an army major, whom witnesses described as having one eye, went to Kaiama on January 2, where they carried out reprisals for these deaths over the next few days, apparently believing that those responsible had come from there, though this was denied by local residents.25
When the soldiers arrived at Kaiama, parking three trucks on the bridge over the River Nun which overlooks the town, one of the traditional leaders of the community, Chief Sergeant Afuniama, was holding an emergency meeting of his council in the local primary school to discuss the events of the previous days. When they heard the news that soldiers had come to the town, he dismissed most of the youths present, but took his advisers to the house of the overall traditional ruler of Kaiama, the amanowei, in case the commanding officer of the troops would want to meet with the leaders of the area to discuss what problems they might have with the community. However, there was no attempt to carry out any negotiation: when four soldiers led by a lieutenant arrived at the amanowei's house, they simply ordered those present to raise their hands and come with them, first to wait under the bridge and later to the motor park at the bridge head, where the buses traveling between Port Harcourt and Yenagoa and Warri stop to set down passengers. One of those at the meeting, Lokoja Perewarie, was shot dead as he tried to run away.
As the troops came into the village, most people fled, but some were found in their homes and beaten. Houses were ransacked and valuable property and money taken; others were set on fire. The headmaster of the primary school was paying his teachers when the soldiers arrived; seven soldiers dragged him from his house and beat him severely. He subsequently spent two weeks in Port Harcourt receiving treatment in hospital for head injuries. He later reported that _65,000 (U.S.$722) in salary money was stolen, as well as _6,000 ($67) exam fees, and _4,000 ($44) staff savings. The substantial home of retired Major F.G. Berezi was also looted, and a sum of over _100,000 ($1,100) in cash reportedly stolen; two cars parked at the property were burnt. A full-length portrait of the major was vandalized, and the head of the picture slashed off. The home of Kaiama's Anglican priest was looted, church property vandalized, and money stolen. Others also said they had sums of several thousand naira taken.
At least two people were shot dead as they tried to escape, including Lokoja Perewarie; others are missing and it is not known if they fled or were killed. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that they saw soldiers load several bodies into wheelbarrows and throw them into the river. Several women were reportedly raped. Soldiers also went to Olobiri, a neighboring community, where they found Wariebe Ajoko, the son of Chief Ajoko, and shot him dead in his house.
Sixty-seven people were eventually taken to the motor park in Kaiama, among them Chief Sergeant Afuniama—who was killed in custody—and several of his advisers who had been at the meeting. All of them were men and most of them were elderly, though there were a few teenagers and one boy of no more than nine or ten. These people were kept in the burning sun for three days, with no water or food for a large part of that time, and were severely and repeatedly beaten by the soldiers. One man of fifty-six described the ordeal:
I can only tell you what I saw with my own eyes. At about ten o'clock in the morning on January 2, I was visiting Chief Ajoko. While I was there I saw a crowd running towards us saying "soldiers are coming!" We turned to go into the next room of the house to decide what to do, and as we turned three soldiers came and called to us to come out. We went out, Chief Ajoko, myself, and two others, and the soldiers told us to lie on the ground. I was kicked in the hip. The soldiers went away and then came back and said we should move with them. As we went we met Milton Pens Arizia, Moses Ogori, Nairobi Finikumo, Chief Geigei, and Aklis Ogbugu. We were all taken to the motor park. As we got there they sat us under the fruit tree. Others were lying down in the gutter. Chief Ajoko was by me. A soldier just came and used his knife to cut off the bottom of his ear. The soldier took it and told him he should eat it. He refused, and one other soldier told the first, "don't do that." They brought four corpses on a wheelbarrow. In the evening they took them away.
They took us into the motor park. We were sixty-seven when we went in. They put us in three groups and guarded us with soldiers till morning. There were more than one hundred soldiers. They told us to take off our shirts. For some time they told us to look up at the sun when it was very high and they beat us if we closed our eyes. They took sand and sprayed it in our eyes. They said we should do some frog jumps. For some years I have had a problem with my right leg which does not bend properly. Up to today I now have pain in my leg because of the frog jumps. They said we should walk on our knees with our hands on our head. Then we had to lie on our back on top of broken bottles and creep along. They also had broken bottles and used them to cut us on our backs. Then they came with matchets [machetes] and told us to sit on the ground looking forward. They cut me on my head, which started bleeding—my clothes I was wearing that day are still stained with blood. They were beating us all the time for just anything. Chief Sergeant Afuniama, the traditional leader of Kaiama; T.K Owonaro, the deputy chief of Kaiama; Chief Tolumoye Ajoko, traditional leader of Olobiri; and Pereowei Presley Eguruze, the youth president of Kolokuma-Opokuma local government area, were taken outside for "special treatment." When Chief Afuniama was brought back into the park he fell down unconscious. a soldier came and dropped a stone on his head. He released it twice, and he said "The chief is sleeping." This was in the morning. They left his body until the evening and then took it out.
About ten that evening, January 3, another group of soldiers came, and one of them said "have these people taken water and food?" and he fetched water for us. Up to that time we had no water. Some were drinking their urine; about four were ready to give up had water not been given to them. The following morning the MilAd [military administrator] came, with the commissioner of police and the commissioner of health and education, and said we should be handed over to the police, who then took names and addresses, and then released us. The MilAd said nothing about compensation.
Twenty or more of those who had been held in the motor park were taken to Yenagoa, where most of the rest were released and some taken to hospital. Several of them spent some weeks receiving treatment (at their own expense). Pereowei Presley Eguruze, the youth president of Kolokuma-Opokuma local government area, was stillunable to move unaided in mid-February. The body of Chief Afuniama was found a day after the others were released, floating in the river several kilometers away. The soldiers posted to Kaiama were reinforced by two more truckloads two days after the first contingent arrived, and only left around January 11. About a week after that people who had fled began to come back to the community. Many are still missing: local residents believe that up to forty-five people, including those who have not returned, may have been killed.26
Apparently, the crackdown on the community was ordered not by the military administrator of Bayelsa State, Lieutenant Colonel Obi, but by the military commander based in Warri, Delta State. Lieutenant Colonel Obi subsequently ordered the release of those held at the motor park, and also invited youth leaders from Kaiama to meet with him in Yenagoa; but it seems that he was not prepared to take steps to provide redress for the military's abuses in Kaiama. When the youths went to Yenagoa, they were told that they should not allow "other youths" to cause them problems—that is, the ones who had killed soldiers and caused the reprisals—but that they should now "forget the past." Obi made no suggestion that there might be any compensation paid or that any soldier might be disciplined for the people killed and injured and the property stolen and damaged during the military occupation of Kaiama.27
The state of emergency in Bayelsa State was lifted after five days, on January 4, 1999, though the military administrator stressed that meetings and demonstrations remained banned, and that anyone wishing to engage in any procession must obtain a police permit.28 Dozens of youths were detained for several weeks following these incidents in Port Harcourt, Warri and Yenagoa; those injured in the shootings who sought hospital treatment in Yenagoa and Sagbama were kept under guard. According to those still in the hospital in mid-February, those still able to move had been chained to their beds when they first arrived. As a condition of release, they had been urged to sign an undertaking that they would not engage in any further Ijaw youth protests.29
In late January, the Ijaw National Congress emphasized the need for dialogue to resolve the crisis, and appealed to the head of state to order the withdrawal of troops, approve appropriate compensation to the families of those killed, to release youths still being detained, and to hand over the bodies of those killed and kept in state mortuaries for burial.30 Although most of those detained have been released, the other demands have not been met. Local activists discovered that on March 6, bodies of twenty-one youths killed during the protests and held at Yenagoa mortuary were buried in a common grave, without any notification to the families of the dead.31
The death toll from the events of December 30 and the succeeding days is still unknown, but available evidence suggests that over one hundred people—and possibly over 200—were killed by soldiers and Mobile Police in Yenagoa, Kaiama and nearby communities during this period. The great majority of those shot were themselves unarmed; others were beaten to death after arrest. As noted, two or three soldiers were alleged to have been killed prior to the attack by troops on Kaiama, although no detail of casualties of this kind have been released by the military. Human Rights Watch was not able to confirm these deaths with eyewitnesses, and, despite attempts to arrange a meeting with Lieutenant Colonel Obi, was unable to meet with him to discuss these events.
9 Reuters, January 1, 1999.
10 Human Rights Watch interviews, Yenagoa, February 6, 1999.
11 Joseph Ollor Obari, "Government deploys warships, troops, in Bayelsa," Guardian (Lagos), January 4, 1999; Robert Azibaola, Field Report on the Violations of Human Rights of the Ijaws in the Niger Delta (Port Harcourt: ND-HERO, January 5, 1999). ND-HERO is the Niger Delta Human and Environmental Rescue Organization.
12 Human Rights Watch interview February 6, 1999 (name withheld), and written statement given to Human Rights Watch by one of those injured during this shooting; Azibaola, Field Report.
13 In July 1998, T.K. Ogoriba, the president of the Movement for the Survival of the Izon (Ijaw) Ethnic Nationality in the Niger Delta (MOSIEND) was rescued by a group of youths who broke into government house in Yenagoa, where he had been detained by the military administrator.
14 Human Rights Watch telephone interviews, December 31, 1998.
15 Reuters, January 2, 1999. Local activists alleged to Human Rights Watch that Ogoriba, who was a co-signatory of the Kaiama Declaration, accepted inducements from the Bayelsa State military administrator to disassociate himself from the declaration and its authors. He has since been expelled from MOSIEND and the IYC.
16 Lagos Voice of Nigeria, December 31, 1998, as reported by FBIS, January 4, 1999.
17 Human Rights Watch interviews, Odi and Sagbama, February 16, 1999.
18 Human Rights Watch interviews, February 6, 1999.
19 Joseph Ollor Obari, "Govt deploys warships, troops, in Bayelsa," Guardian (Lagos), January 4, 1999.
20 Azibaola, Field Report.
21 Human Rights Watch interview, Yenagoa, February 7, 1999. Translated from Pidgin English.
22 Human Rights Watch interview, Yenagoa, February 7, 1999. Translated from Pidgin English.
23 Human Rights Watch interview with Anemeyeseigha Brisibe of Niger Delta Women for Justice, February 4, 1999; Ogele, Bulletin of the Ijaw Youth Council, Special Issue, January 11, 1999.
24 The killing of eight youths was reported in Azibaola, Field Report.
25 Information for this section is largely drawn from Human Rights Watch interviews in Kaiama, February 7, 1999.
26 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, Patterson Ogon, of the Ijaw Council for Human Rights, April 16, 1999.
27 Human Rights Watch interviews, Kaiama, February 7, 1999.
28 Chris Ikwunze, "Ijaws: Curfew lifted in Bayelsa," Vanguard (Lagos), January 5, 1999; Reuters, January 4, 1999.
29 Notes provided to Human Rights Watch by the German organization Urgewald, April 21, 1999.
30 Joseph Ollor Obari, "Why Niger Delta crisis festers, by Ijaw leaders," Guardian (Lagos), January 28, 1999.
31 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, Patterson Ogon, April 22, 1999.
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