By Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt
The people of Odi in Bayelsa State are demanding for N37.6 billion as compensation from the federal government for the invasion of the community in 1999 by soldiers and the subsequent killing of several members of the community.
The demand is contained in the amended claims in Suit No. FHC/PH/CP/11/2000 instituted by the community against the government at the Federal High Court siting in Port Harcourt.
The suit was instituted by Koloindi Aniso, Lt. Commander Koku Imananagha (Rtd.), Captain Jersey Tombiri (Rtd.), Chief M Asangba and Mr. Picolo Imbazi on behalf of the Odi Community against the President and Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the minister of defence, the chief of defence staff and the attorney-general of the Federation.
In the earlier claims filed in 2000 by the community through its counsel, Chief Olisa Agbakoba, it demanded N50 million as damages.
Agbakoba has since withdrawn from the matter, which is now being handled by Lucius Nwosu, SAN; Ifedayo Adedipe, SAN and Lawal Rabana, SAN for the community.
In the amended claim brought through a motion on notice, the community is now seeking N17.62 billion as special damages and N20 billion as "general damages for the gross violation of the fundamental rights of members of the applicants’ community."
At the resumed hearing yesterday at the Federal High Court I, Port Harcourt, Adedipe argued that the federal government violated the rights of the people of Odi by the invasion of the community by soldiers in 1999.
Adedipe told the court, "the rights of Odi people were brutally and sadistically violated. The president said recently that no militant was killed in Odi, only men and women. He said when he was deputy governor; he went there and saw things for himself. Did the president tell lies? In the light of the violations, they are entitled to the relief claimed by them."
He urged the court to reject the submission of the federal government that those killed in Odi were militants, describing the claim as an after-thought.
Lead counsel to the community, Lucius Nwosu also said it would be unfair for anybody to deny that what happened in Odi was genocide."
But counsel to government, Mrs Nkoli Amadi-Awa, said the federal High Court lacked jurisdiction to handle aspects of the relief sought by the community.
She said issues of fundamental rights being pursued by the community were constitutional matters that the court lacked jurisdiction to handle.
"The argument (of the applicants) is beautiful but the procedure is wrong. The right is individual but the claim is being made by the community," she noted.
She asked the court to throw away the claims, adding that the president acted within his powers to protect the people.
The presiding judge, Justice Lambo Akanbi, after hearing from both counsels, adjourned the matter to February 19 for continuation of hearing.