Army 'show of force' destroys a town

ON THE ROAD into what was the Nigerian farming and fishing town of Odi, the sickly sweet stench of rotting bodies rises from the jungle and briefly fills the humid air. Empty shoes litter the street.

Further on are the first ruined houses. Wood and mud homes with dirt floors are demolished, the roofs burnt and caved in. Four corpses lie among the ruins. At the other end of town stand the burned hulks of larger, more prosperous homes with carefully trimmed front lawns. Their owners are nowhere to be seen.

Violence is common in Nigeria's oil-rich south. In Odi it started when an ethnic Ijaw criminal gang allegedly killed 12 police, seven of whom they had taken hostage. The gang then took refuge in the hapless village of fishermen and banana, cassava and yam farmers.

The Nigerian army arrived and ordered the townspeople to hand over the gang, something they were powerless to do. So troops moved in and levelled Odi.

Captain John Agim, a spokesman for the army's 2nd Amphibious Brigade, based in nearby Port Harcourt, was unapologetic. "The intention was just a show of force to let them know they cannot continue like that," he said. "I think that has been achieved. No village will want to go through what that village went through."

Anthony Ogbise, 80, a retired teacher, was one of the few townspeople who did not flee into the bush as the soldiers approached. He seemed baffled by the destruction. Asked what happened, he said: "According to the federal government, there was some youths of this place who were misbehaving... and had to be brought to book."

Are Ekate, a widow who didn't know her age, stood before her gutted home with her only possessions: a dress and an enamel pot stacked with unbroken dishes. "They come broke all this house. They spread cassava flour on everything and burn it all," she said, showing the skeleton of a burned sewing machine. With their job done, the military were pulling out late last week.

Of the hundreds of homes along the main road in Odi, few were standing. One was burning, having been set alight more than a week after the army took the town.

It was impossible to guess how many people were killed - according to the army, three of its men and about a dozen civilians died in fighting to take the town. Of the thousands of people who fled into the jungle there was no sign. "The biggest concern is these people," said a relief worker who toured Odi. "Where are they? How are they?"

Nor is this town alone . During a two-week army occupation of Choba, four young men were killed, one injured so badly that he lost his hand and 67 women were raped, said Godwin Agbaraosimi, a local lawyer. Homes were looted and goats and chickens stolen and slaughtered.

While ethnic violence has become a growing problem in Nigeria since President Olusegun Obasanjo returned the nation to civilian rule this year, it is exacerbated in the Delta region by conflicts between local people and the international oil companies which operate there.

While the military viewed Odi's destruction as a crime prevention measure, it may simply provoke retaliation from the thousands of unemployed young men in the volatile region rather than cowing them. Oronto Douglas, an Ijaw leader in Port Harcourt, said what happened in Odi was "unprecedented" in scope, calling it the "first organised, advertised attack on an Ijaw community". Asked how the young men of his community were viewing the attack, he said: "I think they may not be taken quietly. I think they want to act."

Capt Agim was unworried, however, remarking dismissively: "Some people say 'The government sent the military to some poor defenceless village. That must be a very bad government.' "

Whatever the people said among themselves, it was clear that the military did not fear their reaction.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West, performing in New York last week, has been the subject of controversy as rock's traditional headline slot at Glastonbury is lost once again
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Life and Style
Drinking - often heavily - is a running theme throughout HBO's Game of Thrones adaptation
food + drink
News
people
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living