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logoCorporations and Human Rights

Recent Human Rights Violations In Nigeria's Oil Producing Region

 (February 23, 1999)


In late December 1998 and early January 1999, a military crackdown in the Niger Delta area led to the deaths of several tens of people, the torture and inhuman treatment of others, and the detention of more, many of whom are still held in police custody. These abuses took place as a response to demonstrations held by Ijaw youths in Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa State, and Kaiama, a community an hour away by road.

On December 11, 1998, youths hold a meeting at Kaiama, Bayelsa State, form the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) and adopt a declaration, which stated that "All land and natural resources (including mineral resources) within the Ijaw territory belong to Ijaw communities and are the basis for our survival." Accordingly, "We demand the immediate withdrawal from Ijawland of all military forces of occupation and repression by the Nigerian state. Any oil company that employs the services of the armed forces of the Nigerian state to 'protect' its operations will be viewed as an enemy of the Ijaw people." The youths advised "all oil companies staff and contractors to withdraw from Ijaw territories by the 30th December 1998, pending the resolution of the issue of resource ownership and control in the Ijaw area of the Niger Delta."

In anticipation of the deadline, several thousand troops were moved into the Ijaw areas of Bayelsa and Delta states. On December 30, youths supporting the Kaiama Declaration demonstrated peacefully in Yenagoa and in other communities across the Ijaw areas of the delta. In Bomadi, Delta State, the military administrator attended the demonstration. In Yenagoa, however, a peaceful procession was met with force. Up to 2,000 youths holding candles and dressed in black met early in the morning and processed along the main street. According to eyewitnesses they were peaceful and unarmed. As they approached the entrance to government house, the base of the military administrator of Bayelsa State, Lt. Col. Paul Obi, soldiers posted at the gate fired on the demonstrators. Several were injured and, according to witnesses, one killed during the firing. Others were arrested and taken to the police station. Later in the day, at least three other youths were killed in a further confrontation with soldiers under the command of a Major Oputa.

The next day, youths who had heard of these killings marched towards Yenagoa from Kaiama and other nearby communities. There was a confrontation at Mbiama junction, where the road divides to lead to Yenagoa or Kaiama, and soldiers fired on the youths, killing several and injuring others. An army truck was set on fire on the bridge at Kaiama. One group of youths came past the junction into Yenagoa, and were met by soldiers again at the motor park, and again a number were killed and injured when soldiers fired without warning. Most of these youths were unarmed, but eyewitnesses reported that ten youths armed with rifles came right into Yenagoa and exchanged fire with soldiers, with no casualties; eventually the youths retreated. At least one person not involved in the confrontation was reportedly shot dead by soldiers at this time. Over the next few days, soldiers were stopping youths and checking them for marks indicating they supported "Egbesu," a traditional Ijaw god. Many were beaten severely at road blocks, some were killed. Others were detained.

In Yenagoa, to this day, tens of soldiers and mobile police posted to the small community are continuing to harass local people. In the "black market" slum area, soldiers and mobile police are continuing to rape local women, dragging them from their shacks at night, and threatening them and their husbands with violence if they do not comply. Several tens remain in detention in Port Harcourt, Warri and Yenagoa to date: several of those injured in the shooting at government house are being kept under surveillance in hospital in Yenagoa.

During the confrontation along the road between Kaiama and Yenagoa, two soldiers were allegedly killed by youths. In retaliation, three truck loads of soldiers went to Kaiama on January 2, where they carried out reprisals for these deaths over the next few days. 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 fire. Women were raped. At least two were shot dead as they tried to escape; others are missing and it is not known if they fled or were killed.

Sixty-seven people were eventually taken to the motor park, among them the traditional leader of the area, Chief Sergeant Afuniama, and several of his advisers, as well as the Anglican priest in Kaiama. These people were kept in the burning sun for three days, with no water for a large part of that time, and were severely and repeatedly beaten by the soldiers. Two of them had parts of their ears cut off with knives; many received matchet (machete) wounds to their heads, or were cut with broken bottles. Most appalling of all, Chief Afuniama was beaten to the point of unconsciousness, and was then killed, in full view of the others there, by soldiers who dropped a large rock on his head. His body was left in the open for most of the day, and was then taken away. It was found a day later floating in the water downstream from the village. At least nine other corpses were brought to the motor park and later taken away.

Eventually, on the third day that these people were held in the motorpark, the Military Administrator of Bayelsa State, Lt. Col. Obi, came to Kaiama, and ordered that most of them be released after giving their details to the commissioner of police, who accompanied him; twenty or more were taken to Yenagoa, where most of the rest were released, and some taken to hospital. Soldiers were withdrawn from Kaiama after about week, and the people who had fled gradually began to return to the community.

On January 4, 1999, Opia and Ikenyan, two small communities of maybe 500 people each in Delta State, Warri North local government area, were attacked by about 100 armed soldiers using boats and a helicopter owned by Chevron. Community members described to Human Rights Watch how a helicopter of the kind they are used to seeing flying on Chevron's operations flew low over the community: at first they thought nothing of it, since there are two Chevron wells within 100 metres of Opia village, but as the helicopter approached the village it started firing down at them. After staying about half an hour at Opia, the helicopter flew to nearby Ikenyan and did the same thing. A short while later soldiers came to first Opia and then Ikenyan in four boats. Three of these boats were "sea trucks" of the type used by Chevron; the fourth was a military boat with a machine gun mounted on it. As the boats came towards the villages the soldiers started firing, killing at least two people in each place, including the traditional leader of Ikenyan who was approaching them to try to negotiate. Fifteen people from Opia and forty-seven from Ikenyan are still missing: the communities do not know if their bodies have been thrown in the river or taken away or if they have fled and not come back. The soldiers torched each village before they left, destroying virtually all the houses; canoes were sunk and other property destroyed.

In correspondence with a committee appointed by the two communities to take up their case, Chevron has stated that it was informed by the soldiers that the raid on the villages was a "counter attack" by soldiers who had been threatened by youths as they guarded a Chevron drilling rig which Chevron staff had evacuated following the Kaiama Declaration. Chevron expressed no regret for what had happened, and no company representatives have visited the community since the events of January 4. Members of the community state, however, that they know of no such altercation, and have no idea why they were targeted. Chevron facilities in the area were evacuated in advance of the December 30 deadline set by the Kaiama Declaration and soldiers posted to guard them.

There have been other recent attacks by soldiers on communities in the delta area in recent weeks. Up to nineteen people were reportedly killed by soldiers based at Shell's Forcados terminal on the Atlantic coast. There has also been violence between communities close to Agip's Brass terminal, and many soldiers have been posted to the facility. Human Rights Watch has not, however, been able to investigate these incidents.

The following are two testimonies given to Human Rights Watch by eyewitnesses to these events.

Testimony of A, a man of 56, of Kaiama, Bayelsa State

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 just lying down in the gutter. Chief Ajoko was by me. A soldier just came and just 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 67 when we went in. They put us in three groups and guarded us with soldiers till morning. There were more than 100 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 governor 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 [Military Administrator] said nothing about compensation.

Testimony of B, a young man from Opia Community, Warri North Local Government Area, Delta State (translated from the local dialect of Ijaw).

On January 4, we were here in the village. At about 2-3 pm we saw a Chevron helicopter in blue and white colours flying by on the other side of the river, and then flying along the route of the pipeline. We thought it was on a Chevron operation because they normally fly that way. By the time it got to us it was flying very low, and then it started firing at us. We were surprised, we didn't know what to do, and we ran into the bush. After thirty minutes or so the helicopter was gone. Then some of the community members came back and were calling to the others to come back from the bush. We were gathered here on the river side and discussing what had happened when we saw Chevron boats coming towards us carrying soldiers. Three were Chevron sea trucks (two numbers were 221 and 242), the ones they normally use, and the other one was a military boat with a machine gun mounted on it. They were full of soldiers, maybe more than 100 in all. We ran into the bush again but as we were running they started firing, it was so intense I can't describe it, dugu-dugu-dugu-dugu-dugu. As I was running a bullet wounded me on my leg. When we went into the bush we saw a fire in the community, everything burning.

Then we heard the boats leaving, so we came back carefully, crawling to see if it was safe and watching who was around. No one was there, so we called to the others in the bush to come back. We saw two people lying dead on the ground, Kekedu Lawuru, and Timi Okuru, a woman. We started crying, and called to the others to come. But some did not come back: 15 are missing till today. Maybe the bodies are in the river. About twenty were injured, of which ten or so were from bullet wounds, the rest from branches and stones as they ran into the bush. Almost all the houses were destroyed, burnt to the ground. All our property was destroyed. We had a boat that could carry 40-50 persons which was sunk in the river. All our canoes were destroyed. We have nothing now, no means of livelihood.

Since then Chevron have not visited or come to their wells which are behind the village. Major Joseph Osadolo from Koko came and sympathised with us on January 6 -- we learnt the soldiers who attacked came from the Mandagho military base by Chevron's operation at Escravos -- and he promised the Military Administrator would come to see what had happened. We were told he would come on January 16, and we all gathered here from the communities where we are refugees, but he only went to the local government headquarters at Koko and did not come here. Up to now nobody has come.

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