• Thursday, April 18, 2024
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More lamentations over Okuama

More lamentations over Okuama

…Calls pour in for independent, unbiased investigation

…Set up IDPs camp for the vulnerable, NAWOJ tells Delta Govt

The Nigerian military is presently occupying Okuama Community in Ughelli South Local Government Area, after razing it down, following the killing of their officers and soldiers in the community last week. But the fleeing owners of the oil-producing and agrarian community are weeping and asking, “Our ancestral home gone just like that?” It’s like a dream to them.

They believe that if only independent investigation could be made into the killing of the 16 army personnel, the truth would be unraveled and freedom would be theirs.

As for now, they are homeless and living in fear. No freedom yet. Those who are residing in township said as long as their parents, siblings are sleeping in the bushes or displaced, they too are homeless.

“It is my ancestral home, Okuama, we are taking about. Right now, the Nigerian Armed Forces are said to be mounting sand buggies in that community to build their barracks there,” said a native of the community in an interview.

“Though we have dispute with our neighbouring community, Okoloba, an Ijaw Community in Bomadi Local Government, the whole thing about the killing of soldiers is complicated.

The Okolobos are accusing the Okuama of being behind the killing whereas the Okuama deny having a hand in the crime but said they were being framed up by their enemy.

They believe that if Governor Sheriff Oborevwori had acted swiftly, the crisis wouldn’t have climaxed to killing of soldiers and the consequent razing of Okuama Community by the military.

Though the governor has explained how he made efforts to ensure peace between Okuama and Okoloba, the people of Okuama are lamenting: “Our ancestral home is gone for no fault of ours. If only our governor had taken proactive measure to save us, this would not have happened!”

“If the governor was proactive, we wouldn’t have found ourselves where we are. Even after a peace accord was signed, it was a fragile peace, and we expected the governor to act and avert this tragedy that has befallen us. He even condoled the families of the slain army personnel, did he care about over 20 women and children that died when the soldiers shot at the Okuama town hall when they visited last Wednesday? Did he visit the land. Some of young men have been kidnapped and killed since late last year when the age-long dispute between our community and the Okoloba over ownership of land and river, resurrected,” an indigene of Okuama resident in Asaba told BusinessDay on condition of anonymity.

Oborevwori has also continued to meet with some stakeholders’ in the matter and his message is for them to join hands to fish out the killers.

“We cannot tolerate that. It has never happened in this state; to kill one Lt. Colonel, two Majors, one Captain and 13 Soldiers. We need to fish out those involved.

“Do not hide or shield anybody. The Chief of Army Staff and Mr. President have assured me that innocent people will not be victimised; unless you connive with the killers of the soldiers,” he said at a meeting with traditional rulers.

“I have briefed you and make sure that you fish them out from your kingdoms. If any traditional ruler shields a criminal, that traditional ruler is inviting trouble. We cannot tolerate that. It has never happened in this state; to kill one Lt. Colonel, two Majors, one Captain and 13 Soldiers. We need to fish out those involved.”

More weeping for Okuama:

“More people have continued to weep for the razed community,” as another resident of the community, Jeremiah, said.

“The aftermath of the Okuama/Okoloba dispute leading to the death of 16 personnel of the Nigerian Army is on cause but leaves many questions still unanswered. Apart from the loss of properties, what about the human casualties and the indelible and unforgotten trauma that survivors are emotionally going to confront with; heart-broken mothers with loss of their children, grandchildren and husbands; same goes for the husbands over dead or missing wives and children.

“It is a time when valuables and properties are immaterial to the present situation on ground, a war situation to start life all over if alive and breathing, a most dastardly and hopeless state of one’s life,” Jeremiah further said.

Some people see the incidents leading to the killings as a complicated one but some others argue in support of the Okuama community.

Abraham Ogbodo, former editor of Guardian Newspaper, in his submission, said that the ambush and murder of the troops from the 181 Amphibious Battalion is not connected to the communal crisis between Okuama and Okoloba.

He rather believes that the killing was connected to illegal oil bunkering in the Niger Delta.

Speaking on a popular television programme on Thursday, the Urhobo indigene, said that the military should give investigators access into the Okuama community so that they can find out reasons behind the attack that killed 16 soldiers.

“To deliver that degree of tragedy, where will they have the capacity? It’s not possible. It’s like a crime taking place in all these drug enclaves in Latin America, and you will be looking for something else other than drugs. There is no crime that happens in Niger Delta that does not have crude oil and the arising benefits, and how those arising benefits can be allocated,” he said.

On the possibility that illegal oil bunkering was behind the attacks, Ogbodo said, “What was actually compelling about a peace mission in that place that will require the strategic team going for a tactical mission? So, it shows that there are so many things underlying that we are not talking about.

“If it was actually for a peace mission, wouldn’t it have been for those community leaders to be summoned to the base in Bomadi for discussions to be held?”

According to him, “It is not true that a misunderstanding between an Urhobo community and an Ijaw community could actually bring that level of crisis, that level of tragedy that we witnessed, it is not true.

“It’s not about communal crisis. What level of communal crisis? The combined population of those communities will be less than 2,000 human beings. Where will they get the capacity to wreak that level of havoc?

“This was not done- instead, the entire leadership of the battalion went to Bomadi and be so exposed, and if a mission like that was being carried by the strategic team, why was there not enough tactical cover that they were just gotten and taken out like that so cheaply? The Nigerian military? That is uncalled for. So, you will see that there are so many things that are wrong.

“The Niger Delta today is a big crime scene. What matters in the Niger Delta is oil, and everything is subordinated to oil. And so, even the lives of the people, their livelihoods, subordinated to oil. And so, the mandate is that go and get the oil out at all costs. All of this has to be addressed. If they are not addressed, nothing is going to happen.

“Right now, every military officer wants to work in the Niger Delta because they know what is involved. Underlying all of this is the issue of bunkering, and it is something that we are not bringing to the fore. But it is so unfortunate because if it is not addressed, it is going to happen again, and we will come back to be saying the same things that oh, we ought to have done this, who did this, and then the military will move in again in their normal way to level a whole community in search of culprits.”

Ogbodo then urged the military to grant access to the community to allow for thorough investigations into the attack as he said, “I think that what the president has said about investigation should be allowed to go full course. An investigation means that independent investigators really have to get to the site, get to the scene of crime and let the invest

“The way we have it now, even the governor of the state could not get access to it, nobody is able to get there. The commissioner of police lamented his inability to access the place, it’s not done that way.”

The Nigerian military, had on Wednesday, redoubled efforts in the demolition of houses at Okuama community sequel to the arrival of the three swamp buggies transported on barges from the Bomadi axis of River Forcados to the community on Tuesday, this week.

The General Officer Commanding, 6 Division, Nigerian Army/Land Component Commander, Joint Task Force, South-South, Operation DELTA STATE, Major General Jamal Abdussalam has assured that troops conducting operations, over the gruesome murder of officers and soldiers at Okuama would be firm, strong, decisive and professional in the cause of the operations in the general area.

Call for setting up IDPs camp:

Meanwhile, the South-South Zone of the Nigerian Women Journalists (NAWOJ), while commiserating with the families of the slain troops, also called on the Delta State Government to set up Internally-Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp to cater for the vulnerable persons from Okuama community.

This is contained in a statement signed by the Zonal Vice Chairperson, Stella Macaulay and the Zonal Secretary, Eunice Emeyazia also called on government to as a matter of urgency investigate and bring to book all those involved in the heinous crime just as she encouraged military personnel to remain focused and undeterred in its mandate of maintaining peace and security in the country.

Conclusion

With the truth gradually coming out about the killing, all eyes are on the state and federal government to set up the much-asked independent panel of inquiry in a matter of days and the real issues addressed unbiased for a lasting peace and economic development of Delta State, South-South and the entire country.