18 The tragedy of Ayakoromo

This piece responded to the heavy-handed assault by Nigerian military on a Ayakoromo community in the Niger Delta in May 2011[1]

It is difficult to resist the temptation of writing about the unfolding turmoil in the Maghreb region. The events in Tunisia, Egypt, and other countries that up until recently seemed untouchable by popular revolt is instructive in many ways.

In sub-Saharan Africa, we appear to be sitting on the ringside, buffered by the dessert, maintaining largely deserted streets, and probably see the uprisings up north as opera.

The courageous uprisings in North Africa reveal the complexity of history. Just take a look at Cote D’Ivoire with two presidents and divided streets. Cabals with political leverage have played various cards to maintain their hold on power and as long as the people are divided, their reign is secure.

It is also instructive that a movement can erupt without a physical icon or individual leader and led by even loose collectives as we see in Egypt.

But this piece is not about all of these places. It is about our own backyard, Ayakoromo in Delta State. This community received an end of year package from the Nigerian military on December 1, 2010 when bombs and other weapons of war were unleashed on it. Their crime? There was, or had been, a militants’ camp in or near the community.

According to reports, the Joint Military Task Force (JTF) attacked the community in their effort to apprehend or annihilate John Togo, the leader of a group known as the Niger Delta Liberation Force (NDLF). When the news broke, the JTF announced that they had captured and destroyed the camp of the NDLF. However, the militant group claimed that they had destroyed the camp themselves and relocated weeks before the attack.

The attack resulted in extensive destruction of property and displaced thousands of innocent folks who had to run to refugee camps in Warri and environ. The aged, infirm, and others who survived the raid but could not run away apparently remained in the community which was taken by the troops. The number of lives lost is contested. The community has used stakes to outline a spot they claim is a mass grave of the victims. This is a totem to an outrage.

Dreams betrayed

The tragedy of Ayakoromo is the tragic manifestation of dreams betrayed in the evolution of our national history. Ayakoromo underscores the fact that the citizenry of this nation have not, in any deep qualitative way, enjoyed better respect of their human rights under military autocracy or under democratic structures. Apart from the casualties of the civil war, more lives have arguably been lost under civilian rule than under the military.

We are in no way nostalgic about the days of the jackboot, but think of what the ordinary people have suffered since ‘agbada’ replaced ‘khaki’ in the corridors of power.

Odi happened soon after the return to civil rule in November 1999 when the town was shelled (no metaphor meant), bombed, and wrecked by the Nigerian military on the pretext that they were searching for some ‘kidnappers’.

In the attack, about 2,800 lives were wasted and a blanket of silence[2] still shrouds that monstrous assault. There has been no inquiry, and those who survived learnt their lessons from the several graffiti left behind by the rampaging troops who were obviously out on a mission to decimate the local population.

This was followed by the attack on Odioma.[3] Last May, the Gbaramatu kingdom of Delta State received a dose of the lethal medicine.[4] We are not mentioning several cases of lesser magnitude that have occurred in-between.

Consider also the unravelling events in Jos, Maiduguri, and Bauchi.[5] Bombs are used freely and now lynch mobs appear to have stepped into the fray. What do these portend for the forthcoming elections? The mass response of the citizens to get registered may be an indication that Nigerians are ready for change, to do things right. Are our leaders ready? One can only hope that we are not waiting until folks immolate themselves and trigger a Tunisian run.

Every assault is treated as being of no consequence. There are no enquiries. There are no punishments. Sometimes, there may be grudgingly given apologies, but generally, justice is not served. The streets of Jos and creeks of the oil fields run with the blood of the innocent. Is the life of the poor of such little value that we can simply shut our eyes and move on as though nothing has happened?

Certainly, we cannot afford a reign of terror either from the military or armed gangs in our country. The onus lies on the government to provide security for the Nigerian people. The Nigerian security forces cannot be allowed to terrorise, kill, and destroy at will under any guise. Where individuals run afoul of the law, it is the job of law enforcement agents to fish such out and bring them to justice through constitutional avenues.

The time has come for the books to be opened and all the cases that have been swept under the carpet openly examined in a special commission of enquiry. Offenders, military or civilian, should be appropriately sanctioned. Other elements of justice must encompass restitution; including the rebuilding and upgrading of destroyed communities. The tragedy of Ayakoromo must not be repeated.

Donations of blankets and rice to victims of these attacks may be good, but the real relief will only come when governments own up to their responsibility to protect lives, apologise to the people, and commit never to turn out troops against the people.

We see pictures of jet planes and helicopters flying low over protesters in Egypt. We see protesters step on armoured tanks. Here, when helicopters, gunboats, and air force planes swooped over Gbaramatu and Ayakoromo it was not to warn anybody. It was to bomb, level, and kill. This must stop.

  1. http://nigeriang.com/money/oil-politics-the-tragedy-of-ayakoromo/7349/ (accessed 31 May 2016)
  2. Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria documented 2483 names of victims of the Odi massacre. See A Blanket of Silence by ERA/FoEN at http://www.eraction.org/publications/silence.pdfaccessed 31 May 2016
  3. The attack on Odioma, Brass Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, Nigeria, took place in February 2005. More than 100 persons were killed in that incident.
  4. Several communities in Gbaramtu Kingdom of Delta State, Nigeria, were bombed by the Nigerian Military’s Joint Task Force (JTF) in May 2009. The stated reason was that they were chasing after Niger Delta militants that had camps in the area. The number of casualties are not precise. Sweet Crude reported 500-2,000 deaths. http://www.sweetcrudemovie.com/attacks.php (accessed 31 may 2016). Thousands were displaced and spent months in refugee camps before they could return home to pick up the pieces.
  5. These were the early days of the violent reign that came to be know as Boko Haram insurgency


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The tragedy of Ayakoromo by Nnimmo Bassey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


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