Today in 2005, the Nigerian town of Odioma was burned down and many of its residents killed by government troops during the hunt for a local militia leader.
The black magic guru, Chief Osei Clever, was accused of murdering 12 people from the nearby community of Obiaku. Among the 12 were a pregnant woman and four local councilors ambushed on a boat carrying them home after peace talks in the state capital.
It all started on January 22 when oil giant Shell sent a team of engineers into Owukubu, a riverside district where the company hoped to site an oil well, to examine the area. Little did they know their presence in the locality would trigger an old dispute over ownership of Owukubu between the people of Odioma and Obiaku.
Youths linked to Clever’s militia marched to Owukubu to demand jobs and compensations from the company, which had had an earlier agreement with the Obiaku community.
Unhappy about Odiama’s attempt to muscle in, Obiaku objected strongly. This led to misunderstandings it took the Nembe local government to quell using a well-armed police unit.
Shell’s engineers and surveyors pulled out of the area pending resolution of the crisis. Talks were held between the two communities. Local government officials had the opinion that a deal had been reached until the murder of the four councilors from Obiaku.
Clever’s boys were the only and likely suspects as it was believed that the boatload of youth who sprayed automatic fire on the delegation were from his militia. The chief himself was considered to have grown beyond the control of his community after being armed as a local law enforcer to maintain control of the oil-rich creeks of the delta.
As a joint unit of Nigerian soldiers, sailors and police descended on Odioma to pursue chief Clever and his boys, the sizable port community became the victim of an unjust collective punishment.
Reports indicate that barely one of the mud-brick or concrete block homes in the town centre survived the onslaught. Thousands fled the town as countless were killed by bullet wounds.
Commander of the raid, Brigadier-General Ellias Zamani said his men were attacked by Clever’s gang as soon as they entered Odioma and they returned fire. As stray bullets hit jerry cans of fuel stored in people’s homes, he claimed, accidental fires were triggered.
While that story would not be disputed openly by fearful local leaders, reports indicated that the evidence on the ground pointed to deliberate and systematic destruction by government forces.
As for chief Clever, he fled the area before the soldiers razed the entire community.