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Dateline: YENAGOA, JANUARY 6,1999


Following the Kaiama Declaration issued by Ijaw youths   demanding the control of their resources and an end to decades of ecological warfare being waged against them by transnational oil corporations like Shell, Agip, Texaco, Mobil, Chevron, etc., the military regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar responded in the language it understands best violence.

The lawlessness of the troops sent into to Ijawland ostensibly to maintain law and order has manifested itself on several fronts - people harassed, arrested and killed. Up to 30 women, including under-aged children raped. Communities sacked and properties looted. Thousands of people have also been forced to flee their homes. Many live in fear even as the dusk to dawn curfew imposed by the military administrator of Bayelsa State has been lifted only on paper.

Judging from the massive security presence and their human rights atrocities, the state of emergency imposed alongside the curfew is still in force. Thus, it could be said that the military regime and their allies in the oil industry have declared war on the Ijaw people. The same allies treated the Ogonis who had traveled this path in a similar manner without being able to stop their democratic campaign to reclaim their humanity.

The Ijaws are a nation of about 12 million people living in Nigeria's Niger Delta. It was in the Ijaw community of Oloibiri that Shell first struck oil in 1956. Since then, the Ijaws and others in whose land oil has been found have continued to suffer severe economic neglect, environmental despoliation and political subjugation even though they produce a large chunk of the oil, which sustains the Nigerian federation.

Despite the relentless repression, the Ijaws remain undaunted. The target of the youths is to close down all oil flowstations in Ijawland. At present, they have succeeded in doing so by 85 percent. On January 13, they will meet in Ijawland to assess their successes and failures. In the following testimonies, ERA brings to you the story of the war and terror in Ijawland as told by the people themselves.


"THERE IS TENSION IN IJAWLAND" MR PATTERSON OGON (Director, Ijaw Council for Human Rights and participant at the last December 11 Ijaw youths' meeting which produced the Kaiama Declaration).

" With over four decades of the crude business of crude oil, the Niger Delta environment has suffered terrible devastation through oil spills, gas flaring and other forms of pollution. The people have not fared better as they have been subjected to abject deprivation and even deaths. It was against this background that over five thousand Ijaw youths from over five hundred communities met at the historic town of Kaiama on December 11, 1998 to adopt the now famous KAIAMA DECLARATION. That declaration demanded a cessation of all oil business (exploration and exploitation) and the withdrawal of all transnational oil companies (TNCs) by December 30, 1998, from Ijaw territories until the issue of resource ownership and control has been addressed by the central government. A few days after that declaration, the military dictatorship of General Abdulsalami Abubakar threatened through the office of the Chief of General Staff (Deputy Head of State) Vice Admiral Okhai Akhigbe who remarked on national television on Friday, December 18,1998, that the junta will not fold its hands while Ijaw youths attempt to take the law into their hands.

"Instead of opening channels of dialogue towards resolving the lingering issues of deprivation, destruction of our environment and the systematic killing of the peoples of the Niger Delta, he warned that any action by the youths to actualise the Kaiama Declaration will be met with military might. In a letter to various human rights bodies, issued on December 22, 1998, the Ijaw Council for Human Rights (IJCHR) stated the need for leading human and environmental rights groups around the world to prevail on the transnational oil companies to withdraw from the Ijaw area so as to prevent possible violations of human rights on a scale comparable only to that which existed in Vietnam of the 1960s.

"To map out a specific programme of action, the youths convened again at Bomadi on December 18. There, it set up the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) consisting of all chairmen and secretaries of all the organisations that made the Kaiama meeting a reality. Additionally, a seven-man contact committee was mandated to co-ordinate the activities of the council.

"Among other things, the Bomadi meeting adopted a number of programmes between the December 28,1998 to January 10, 1999. First was the publication
of Ogele, the official bulletin of the IYC. A world press conference and a meeting with Ijaw elders as well as Ogele(processions) in all communities held on the December 29 and 30 respectively. December 31 was slated for an all night vigil during which all Ijaws were expected to pray for freedom and justice.

"At the second meeting after the Kaiama Declaration held again at Bomadi on December 27, it was brought to the knowledge of council that Chief Melford Okilo and other Ijaw "leaders of thought" have written a letter requesting a meeting for December 28, on ways of reaching a peaceful resolution. Other signatories to the letter were Professor T.T. Isoun, Chief Joshua Fumudoh, President of the Ijaw National Congress, Dr. A. Zuofa, etc.

"It was resolved that instead of attending the Okilo meeting which was scheduled for Port Harcourt, a letter be written to request that they meet with the youths at Oloibiri, Nigeria's first oil community on Tuesday December 29 where the world press conference was also to hold. The position of the Okilo delegation was that the youths should adopt a political platform under which to be engaged in the on going transition programme. Even as this position was dismissed, the Okilo delegation
admitted that the demands of the youths were just but insisted on a change in strategies.

"As the ultimatum drew close, the junta deployed combat-ready troops to Yenagoa, Warri, Kaiama and other communities in the Niger Delta. On December 30, youths trooped out in their hundreds in Yenagoa to honour the call for a peaceful procession. What was supposed to be a day of sober reflection became a reminder of sorrow and mourning as soldiers acting on the orders of the military junta opened fire on unarmed youths, sending an official under estimate of seven persons to their untimely graves. The harassment, intimidation and assault on law abiding citizens took a dramatic turn when the soldiers set up barricades at every kilometre to subject commuters to thorough and undignified search for the much dreaded tribal marks which were wrongly interpreted as marks of Egbesu (a powerful Ijaw cultural sect).

"Both men and women were stripped naked and all those found to have  marks on their bodies were summarily dealt with. The shooting and intimidation led people to  desert their homes to opt for a safer heaven in the forests. No fewer than 20,000 people within the communities in the Epie/Atissa axis of Bayelsa State deserted their homes. On December 31, soldiers and mobile policemen started random shooting following speculations that youths were planning an attack on Government House. This resulted into the shooting of a police corporal Mr. Gideon Lagumo assigned to the Mile one Police Station, Port Harcourt, Rivers State who was on his way home to celebrate the new year. On the same day, the military administrator in the state, Lt. Col Paul Edor Obi announced a state of emergency and a dusk to dawn curfew.

"It must be stated that no fewer than 30 persons have been killed either by the reckless shootings and/or the psychological trauma that running away from home to live in the forest has caused. The action of the soldiers drafted to ensure that the "Ijaw rebellion" is quelled took a rather bizarre turn when some soldiers and  policemen broke into the houses of some couples, threw the husbands out, tortured them while some others raped the women. Owing to the courage of some of the women who insisted on justice, three of the armed personnel who took part in that indecent act were identified and subsequently arrested. The situation is still tense as soldiers still on routine checks are busy extorting money from commuters even as the military administrator announced the lifting of the curfew but not the state of emergency."


"HOW I WAS RAPED" MABEL, 34, TRADER:[A policeman who threatened to drag her to the soldiers in the dead of the
night raped her.]

"THAT night (January 2), around 7.0'clock, army people come tell us to sleep, sleep, sleep. I don sleep go far when I just hear when person march (kicked) my door. Na him I come ask: 'Who be dat?' The person come tell me say, 'na me, open this door now'. I come deceive the person say I dey with stranger. Him come talk say, 'you no go open this door before I fire (shoot) you with that your stranger ?' Him come shout again: 'come out! come out!! Come out!!! Because na policeman, so I come meet am. No light for the house but I recognise the policeman well well. Na him tell me say, 'you no know say this our army people wey dem bring for upland, you no know say woman no dey there. Now, I go take you down, go meet dem'.

"I come kneel down dey beg am say, 'oga, I beg now, you wey know me, I beg now'. Him come shout, 'for where I know you?' Na him I come beg am make e no go carry me go meet dem. I dey fear. This night, everybody don sleep'.

"I come beg am, beg am, him come force me (for bed) once but when him
finish, him still dey drag me say him wan carry me go. From there, one Mobile Police wey dem they call 'Chop Better', come come. I come complain to Chop Better. As him face Chop Better now dey talk with am, na him I run enter bush. Na inside bush na him I hear wey people dey shout, dey cry."

"MY BOYFRIEND WAS STABBED" JOAN, 36, TRADER: [A tale of extortion, violations and sheer terror]

"Army tell us say 7.0'clock everybody don sleep [curfew]. So that evening (January 2), hungry come wire me, na him I say make I go buy mineral [soda]. As I buy mineral, I wan enter house, three policemen say: 'Hey! Hey!! Hey!!! Who are you?' I come stop. Them say, 'where you dey go?' I say, 'hungry want kill me, I say make I run go buy mineral. Them want open my house, I say somebody dey inside. Them say who be dat person. I say na my husband. Them say: 'Haa! This is one of the Egbesu. This is one of the Egbesu. Come outside"

The boy dey inside house, him tie only wrapper. Them drag am out say make the boy come sit down for outside. Na him dem begin flog us, flog us. As dem they flog us, one of the police come light gay (indian hemp), na him fear catch me. I think say I don die. This one wey dey smoke gay. But as we dey there now, another police wey dey like say na him senior all of dem come tell them to leave us. We come enter house. "Around 4.00 a.m., one of the three police and another new police come begin knock my door. Dem knock am, knock am. The door sef don spoil. Na him dem come ask for money. The boy say him no get money, na only N100 ($1.2) dey for him hand. Na him dem begin stab this boy, say him be Egbesu. The boy na Akwa Ibom person. As him dey give the money, na him another man wey dem they call 'Chop Better' come. Him be mobile [police] and I know am. So him come ask them to leave us. Small time now day come break. No be small thing happen that night. Dem naked man and woman inside house that day."


"AROUND noon today (January 6), I heard a noise. So I ran outside. I saw two boys naked with one soldier pointing his guns to the boys. I understand the boys were stripped because the soldier suspects them to be Egbesu members. Any person with marks on his body is an abomination. Any person with any mark is an Egbesu. So I intervened. I told the soldier that I'm an ex-man. He told me that if I don't take time, he will fire (shoot) me. I said if so, I will go and report you. The soldier ignored me and used the nozzle of the gun to hit the boys.

"As a result, I ran to report the soldier and the officer in charge promised to mete out disciplinary measures against the man. At the market this morning, soldiers fired about two rounds into the air to scare away people. OUR LIVES ARE IN DANGER.

"All people shall have the right to (a) safe and generally satisfactory environment favourable to their development".
(Article 24, African Charter of Human and People's Rights)