The sum of N15 billion, being part payment of N37.618 billion, intended as compensation to Odi community by the Federal Government for the infamous 1999 invasion by the Nigerian soldiers has pitched the members of the community against each other.
A mob of angry youths from the community on Saturday attacked the deputy traditional head of the community, Chief Ebitimi Karuiru, and other leaders over alleged discrepancies in the sharing of the N15 billion compensation money paid so far.
The compensation money was paid last month by the Federal Government in compliance with a 2013 court ruling, which had ordered that N37.6 billion be paid as compensation for the invasion and destruction of the community by the military under the administration of Olusegun Obasanjo.
The controversy trailing the payment of the initial N15 billion was worsened by the fact that 40 per cent of the sum was reportedly deducted from the source by the consortium of lawyers engaged by the community.
The angry youths, according to the report, had descended on the homes of some prominent elders of the community over the disappearance of over N600 million from the total sum remaining.
Chief Karouiru was attacked at his Odi residence with machetes and his car set ablaze, as the rampaging youths went naked into the streets of the town, calling for the heads of those identified as the beneficiaries of the missing N600 million, including chiefs and notable government officials from the community.
An eyewitness account reported that the youths swarmed to the community burial site to invoke curses on those accused of diverting the funds meant for the affected families of the community.
A squadron of armed mobile policemen has since been deployed to Odi to maintain law and order.
A community source identified the signatories to the account to consist of the chief of the Odi Community, Chief Sine Akpere, Professor Kobina Imananagha, Commander Koku Imananagha (rtd) and Koloigidi Aniso.
Meanwhile, the state government, through the office of the Deputy Governor, Rear Admiral John Jonah, has held a meeting with the community leaders and demanded for the list of the illegal beneficiaries of the missing money.
The deputy governor spoke through the Special Adviser to the Governor on Security Matters, Col. Bernard Kenebai, the Commissioner on ICT, Komonibo.
“The issue of the sharing of the money has become a poisoned chalice to the community,” he said. If not for the intervention of the state, the Odi community would have burned again. At the meeting convened by the state government, it was agreed that representatives of the women and the youths should be included for wider representation.
“It was also agreed that the signatories made up of category A, Chief Akpere and Prof.Imananagha and Category B, Commander Imananagha and Amiso should be changed and the N9billion be domiciled in a special account pending the resolution of the issues.”
A Federal High Court in Port Harcourt had last year ordered the Federal Government to pay N37.6 billion compensation to the people of Odi community over the military invasion during the Obasanjo administration.
The presiding judge in the N100 billion suit filed by the community, Justice Lambi Akanbi, had also ordered that the compensation should be paid within three weeks.
In the suit, they had prayed the court to award them the amount as damages for the destruction of lives and property in Odi. The community had also asked for N17.618billion as general damages and N20billion for special damages. They in addition had demanded public apology and the re-building of Odi community by the FG.
The judge, however, granted two of their prayers and rejected the other two. He accused the Federal Government of being economical with the truth by pleading in their counter affidavits that no inhabitant of the community was killed apart from some armed militant youths who engaged the military in gun battle; and that no property was destroyed by the soldiers.
Relying on various statements by the government, National Assembly, and inscriptions left on the soils of Odi by the Soldiers, as well as video clips on the invasion which was watched in the open court at the January 17, 2013 session, the judge had described their claims and counter affidavits “as worthless”.