Nigeria Town Divided Over Massacre Compensation

Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria's former president who is heading an African Union observation (AP Photo)
Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s former president (AP Photo)

HILARY UGURU, Associated Press
MICHELLE FAUL, Associated Press

WARRI, Nigeria (AP) — The people of Odi were for years united in their outrage, demanding compensation after the Nigerian military killed scores in their community.

The $83 million paid last month by the government is now dividing the community, with disagreements about how to share the money and charges that some has gone missing.

“What was supposed to bring development to my community has now pitched us against each other,” said Perye Brown, a former chairman of the Bayelsa State Youth Council.

Angry youths descended on the homes of community elders in recent days, blaming them for missing funds.

“They are saying that over 600 million naira has disappeared,” said youth leader Epiobowei Abiama, who is part of a committee set up to distribute the money. He said 40 percent of the 15 billion naira (about $83 million) paid in November went to lawyers.

The court last year ordered the government to pay 37.6 billion naira ($209 million) to the people of Odi. It had a population of 15,000 when it was attacked by about 2,000 soldiers in November 1999 set on avenging the deaths of 12 policemen killed by an armed group.

For some the money comes too late — like children who lost family breadwinners and couldn’t return to school. Some in the fishing and farming community rebuilt their homes, but many still live in shacks.

Odi is an oil community among many in southern Nigerian that continues to fight the government and oil companies for a fair share of petroleum proceeds.

A report at the time from Environmental Rights Action group and Friends of the Earth Nigeria said nothing was spared except government buildings, a bank and the Anglican church. Crops were razed and livestock stolen, it said.

Troops shelled Odi, killing scores. Many were shot.

The report listed 2,483 victims. It said the orders to attack came from then-President Olusegun Obasanjo, whose government put the death toll at 43.

The military never admitted wrongdoing, saying first that soldiers reacted to an ambush, and then that they were protecting oil company assets.

Faul reported from York, England.

(A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the $83 million compensation was paid last year.)

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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