“OF BLOOD AND OIL”- Tales of The Gruesome Odi Massacre

A story about the Odi Massacre, as told from the viewpoint of an Ijaw girl.


February 2, 1999
Many things have been happening. Many awful things. I’m sad and upset, and I don’t know what to do. Then I thought, why not keep a journal? That way, I’ll have a place to vent, a place to empty the thoughts that keep swirling in my head.

Ayibaefie is dead.

Yesterday was his burial, but I still find it hard to believe. I feel that any moment from now, he would appear from nowhere, steal my journal, and run away saying, “Eremiemi the scholar” in a singsong voice.

Ayibaefie was playful and easygoing, kind and selfless. And now he’s just…gone.

A few days ago, Ebigba, one of my brother’s friends, rushed into our house to tell us that Ayibaefie had been killed alongside seven others at Agib Obama’s filling station.
Mother was frozen in shock. We all couldn’t believe it. Ayibaefie, my cheerful, smiling brother with a bottomless pit for a belly. Dead. Even now, I still find it hard to believe.

Do you know how he died? Those despicable beasts in uniform shot him. Killed like many others before him.

Just last month, young Ijaws in a peaceful protest were shot in front of the government house in Yenagoa. Father keeps going on and on about how we Niger Delta people ask for nothing but to be treated like human beings, but the government wouldn’t listen.

I don’t understand. Why does the government hate us? They mine our oil and give us nothing but pain and hate in return. And when we try to speak up, they cut us down!

I was born here in Odi, a town on the bank of the River Nun, where the inhabitants are farmers, fishermen and traders. The oil in our land is a blessing to others but a curse to us. That’s why innocent people like my brother keep getting killed.

I’m tired. I’m too drained to cry. I just wish… I don’t even know what I wish. All I wish is that he hadn’t died. But maybe, as his name states, it’s God’s time. I really don’t know what to think.

Mother has barely said a word since Ayibaefie died. All through the burial, she stared at nothing. My brother was her first son, and everyone who knew him loved him. I used to follow him to the Nun river to watch him fish. I remember the day he taught me how to fish. That was a long, long time ago. My heart is heavy, too heavy.

February 28, 1999
My hands are shaking as I write this. I can still feel my heart racing.

Today, I saw something horrible, something I’ve heard of but never witnessed until now. I overhead Oyinkuro telling Tokoni about her neighbour that was harassed on her way to the farm a few days ago.

“The woman sat on the floor crying and cursing those soldiers. They took her to produce, money, and even–”

“And what?” Iniye interrupted.

Oyinkuro hissed. “Some people don’t know how to mind their own business.”

“And what?” Tokoni and I said in unison. My curiosity got the better of me.

Oyinkuro’s voice dropped to a whisper. “And raped her.”

The sound of voices greeting the English teacher’s swallowed up our exclamation.

On my way home, I decided to pass a shortcut. Kalaya had promised to prepare my favourite dish, Keke Fieye, for lunch. I would have flown if I could.

I was halfway home when I saw two uniformed men afar off. A woman was with them, and they appeared to be having a conversation. Or so I thought. The next thing I knew, the woman got on her knees and started pleading. The soldiers laughed and forced her to her feet, then they half-dragged her into the bushes. I stood rooted to the spot, unsure of what to do. The woman’s cries for help reached my ears, and I shook in fear. A sound was like a slap, and then her cries became muffled.

My legs finally worked, and I ran in the direction I came. The journey took double the time. By the time I got home, I had calmed down somewhat. Doubra, my eldest
sister, asked me what was wrong. I told her I was tired and hurried into the room before Kalaya, the eldest sister, was alerted. She knows how to make anyone spill their guts, and I wasn’t ready to face her seemingly all-knowing gaze.

Today’s events terrified me, and I know one thing for sure.

I’m never taking a shortcut again.

March 14, 1999
Only Bibobra, Degbe and I still go to school. The older siblings are either working on their father’s farm, fishing, trading, or settling down with their families in other towns. Out of eleven, only six of my father’s children live in our house. My mother gave birth to six. The first wife bore five children before she died.

Doubra was supposed to pick Bibobra and Degbe from their school, but she told me to pick them instead.

On our way back, we heard a gunshot. Pandemonium broke out. That’s a new word I learnt today, and isn’t it funny how I got a chance to use it so soon?

The thing about being responsible for children younger than you is that you feel less like a child and more like an adult. At that point, amidst the screams and ruckus of people running here and there, I felt nothing but the desire to protect my crying siblings. I was calm all through as I searched for a place to hide until the riot ended. An old woman waved us into her house, and I ushered my siblings in.

We sat on a bench and held each other. Degbe sniffled one or two times, but eight-year-old Bibobra kept crying for Mother.

Apparently, the soldiers and mobile police had come to arrest some people. They didn’t leave without shedding blood, and I covered my siblings’ eyes and averted my gaze from the body lying in the middle of the street, forever silenced by the beast-man’s bullet.

It wasn’t until we got to the safety of home that I gave in to the feelings that gripped me. Fear. Panic. Nausea. I hurried to the back of the house and hurled my guts up, crying in the process.

Kalaya got me some water, patted my back, held me and let me cry on her shoulder.

When I close my eyes, I see an immobile body lying in the middle of the streets in a pool of blood.

I‘m afraid of falling asleep. But what’s the comfort in staying awake if reality is a nightmare?

April 10, 1999
Since that incident, Father has insisted that we stay at home.

“You can only study if you’re alive,” he said.

Nobody questioned him. Despite my love for school, I knew he was right. What would have happened if a stray bullet had hit one of us that day? The thought of my parents losing another child is unbearable.

Instead of school, I’ve been staying home to study and assist Mother. Sometimes I follow Opukimi to the River Nun to fish. It reminds me of Ayibaefie, though he and Opukimi are nothing alike. For starters, Opukimi is my half-brother and a very quiet person. He’s one of those people you can be with without talking, and yet feel completely at ease.

My father’s brother, Uncle Woyengiemi, visited yesterday. We made Polofiyai: a meal of fish, periwinkle, plantain and scent leaves. Everyone knows how much my uncle love that meal.

I was reading my notes when I overheard my father and Uncle talking about President Obasanjo’s NDC bill and the various shootouts resulting in the deaths of many Ijaws.
I didn’t want to listen, but still, I couldn’t stop.

That night, I tossed and turned for a long time before sleeping. And when I finally slept, I dreamt of that woman half-dragged into the bush.

This time, the soldiers saw me before I could run.

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