By Musa Sunusi Ahmad
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo
The leaders of Odi, a community in Bayelsa state, say former President Olusegun Obasanjo is not qualified to deliver lecture on how to disperse a peaceful protest without violence.
The leaders were reacting to Obasanjo’s statement amid the #EndSARS protests in which he asked President Muhammadu Buhari not to use “brute force” against citizens protesting against police brutality.
“The shooting and murder of unarmed protesters, no matter the level of provocation has never been effective in suppressing public anger and frustration,” he had said in a statement during the week.
But in a statement signed by Odi leaders, including Goddey Niweigha, CDC Chairman, Odi; Ebimoweni Kemepade, Women Leader, Odi; and Prenus Ogboin, Deputy King, on Saturday, they said the former president is not qualified to give counsel on the issue of violence on peaceful protesters.
They asked him to apologise for the killing of their people by the military 21 years ago.
The military, under the presidency of Obasanjo, had reportedly attacked the people of Odi on November 20, 1999. The attack was in the context of a conflict in the Niger Delta over indigenous rights to oil resources and environmental protection. It led to loss of lives and property.
The military defended its actions, claiming it was ambushed on its way to Odi.
The Odi leaders noted that the force of the Nigerian Federation was unleashed on their rural community of Odi “all because some young people dared to ask for their rights.”
They stated that what they expected from Obasanjo was an “unreserved apology”, not “adding salt to injury” with his sermon of how to disperse unarmed protesters.
“While you have the right and freedom to express your opinion, we believe that, even for you there should be issues that are off-limit. Better not said. Not least the issue of violence on peaceful protesters,” the statement read.
“Odi people are not qualified to judge current happenings in Nigeria, but as the saying goes: an old woman becomes uneasy when dry bones are mentioned in a proverb. The trauma that Odi went through under President Obasanjo is still fresh in living memory.
“The Nigerian Army moved in tanks, the Nigerian Navy moved in warships and the Nigerian Air force was overhead. All the force of the Nigerian Federation was unleashed on the sleepy and unarmed rural community of Odi. All because some young people dared to ask for their rights. It was a time no-one in Odi wishes to recall. Definitely, there are some lectures that professor Obasanjo may not be qualified to deliver, especially a lecture on how to disperse a peaceful protest without violence.
“On November 20th 1999 under President Obasanjo’s watch, the whole Odi community was razed down. Countless people were killed, old and young women, girls, boys and children. Our women and girls were raped.
“Times like these in our National history provide opportunities for reflection. What we expect from President Obasanjo is an unreserved apology to the Odi people. Delivering a sermon at this time, on how to dialogue and peacefully disperse unharmed (sic) protesters, is like adding salt to injury.”