Justice has finally come for the people of Odi in Bayelsa State. A Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, presided over by Justice Lambo Akambi ordered the federal government to pay the sum of N37.6 billion as compensation to the people for the invasion of their community by soldiers in late 1999.
The judge, in his ruling, described the action of the military as "genocidal, brutish, reckless and a gross violation of the rights of the victims to life and own property". The court also directed that the payment be made within 21 days.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had ordered a military expedition against Odi community following claims that some military personnel were killed by residents of the community. The action in both Odi and later Zaki-Biam in Benue State, another community that was destroyed under Obasanjo's watch, portrayed the country as lacking in democratic ethos, scant regard for human rights and the sanctity of human life.
We commend the judiciary for restoring hope to the people. However, it should go beyond that. Those who ordered this dastardly act should be brought to book. These are heinous crimes against humanity; the perpetrators should not go unpunished. The Odi and Zaki-Biam indigenes should consider taking their case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague for adjudication. This will serve as a deterrent to future leaders.
It is time our political leaders at every level adhered strictly to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), which they swore to, as a guide for their actions. The principle of fair hearing must apply before any action could be taken. This is what obtains in every civilised society.
The challenge before the government of Bayelsa State now is a judicious administration of this amount. Governor Seriake Dickson should set up a committee whose responsibility will include identifying the persons who lost their lives and those whose properties were destroyed for compensation. It should also provide infrastructure such as mass housing projects, hospitals, schools, roads, and steam boats for the waterways. Also, a trust fund should be instituted for the children whose parents or guardians paid the supreme price in that attack. When this money is released, the Bayelsa State government should not, under any guise whatsoever, divert it to other causes. Though no amount of money can pay for the trauma the beleaguered residents people have had to pass through in the past 13 years, the only thing the state can do for them is to ensure that they are re-integrated into the society.