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March 18, 2024

Delta: Soldiers killed 50 villagers — Fleeing residents; falsehood, Army reacts

Delta: Soldiers killed 50 villagers — Fleeing residents; falsehood, Army reacts

The burning community.

By Emmanuel Amaize, Kingsley Omonobi & Sunday Chancel

Residents of the Okuama community in Ughelli South Local Government Area, Delta State, have narrated how soldiers opened fire on them and killed about 50 persons.

This is just as the Governor of Delta State, Sheriff Oborevwori, visited the embattled community, four days after 16 military personnel, including a lieutenant colonel, lost their lives in an ambush.

The residents spoke from hiding, as they fled into the bush after the March 14 ambush of soldiers.

However, military authorities described their claim as propaganda.

Army Headquarters said: “Regrettably, the community complicit in this dastardly act has resorted to media propaganda and shenanigans, rather than engage in a positive effort to fish out the perpetrators of this heinous crime.”

Residents’ story

The terrified indigenes, who preferred anonymity, said there were many dead bodies in the bush where they were taking cover.

They echoed that the military personnel arrived in two gunboats purportedly for a peace talk with the community chairman, and leaders on Thursday, March 14, and the community warmly received and offered them kola nut, leading to a peaceful dialogue.

However, tension escalated when the military insisted on whisking away the community chairman and some leaders for further questioning after the peace talks, which the people refused.

The refusal allegedly angered the military men, who opened fire right at the town hall, where they held a meeting with the people, resulting in casualties within the community.

 They did not explain the role of the community in the dastard killing of the 16 later the same day but revealed that on March 15, the military returned for a second attack, wherein they set ablaze houses in the community, forcing residents to flee.

READ ALSO: How 16 soldiers were killed in Delta community – Major General Esekhaigbe

One resident said, “On March 14, military personnel visited Okuama and the people welcomed them. They first said they wanted to walk around the community; they walked around and said they wanted to go to the town hall for a peace talk. The people entertained them as it is customary with such visit.

“They asked for the community chairman and community leaders. They sat with them and they held peace talks together. After that, they asked the community chairman, and some other leaders to follow them.

“The people said they have already held peace talks with them, but they said they must take the leaders away.

“The community refused, and from there, the army turned the whole story to violence, right there in the community town hall, the army started shooting our people there.

“People started running, some were killed instantly, and people ran away because nobody expected shooting by the army that very day.

‘They killed 70’

“Then, the army left, but within a while, they came back with more reinforcement, gunboats, and other things.

“And instantly, about 20 persons were killed, and when they came back again, they began to shoot, they killed nothing less than 50 persons on that day.

“Then, the following day, they mobilized again, some from Bomadi, Okwagbe, they came together and burned the whole community down, that was on March 15.”

A community leader asserted, “That very day (March 14), we did expect what happened as we saw two gunboats come with the army. We were surprised, but the army maintained that they came for peace talk, so we welcomed and entertained them.”

“When they wanted to go, they said they wanted to take our chairman and the leaders along, but the community refused, so the army changed all of a sudden, and they did not act as people we just entertained.

“They opened fire, and in that process of firing, our youth, old women, and children died on the spot. More than 20 died instantly.

They left but came back again and opened fire again, raising the casualties to 50, and they returned on March 15, and burnt every house in the Okuama community.”

Another runaway mother said, “Some of us have yet to see our children since March 14. We have been hiding in the bush, some dead bodies are there, therefore, we want the government to come and rescue us.”

On the killing of soldiers, she denied that the community initiated the attack on the army, saying, “The army came to meet us and we entertained them, it was after the peace talk they said they want to take our leaders away.  We did not attack the army in the River; it was their insistence to take away the community chairman, secretary, and other leaders that led to the shooting.”

“They killed the youth, women, and children in the town hall but there was confusion everywhere, therefore, people ran helter-skelter.

“We are calling for a full-scale investigation into this incident by the government to find out those killed our people and the soldiers also,” she said.

Meanwhile, as the Okoloba community points fingers at Okuama leaders, who they alleged hired a militant leader that purportedly spearheaded the ambush and killing of 16 soldiers, the Okuama community also claims that an Ijaw top shot instigated the shooting and killing of 50 indigenes on March 14 by soldiers.

The Okuama people called on President Bola Tinubu and the National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu, to call the military to order as their operations in the area should be neutral, not under any guise.

Falsehood, Army reacts

The Army headquarters has decried what it called the resort to propaganda by a certain community claiming the troops opened fire on civilians noting that such propaganda is callous and condemnable.

Director of Army Public Relations, Major Gen Onyema Nwachukwu made the disclosure on Monday.

He said, “The unfortunate killing of troops of 181 Amphibious Battalion of the Nigerian Army (NA), while on a peaceful and mediatory mission, after a reported case of communal clash between Okuama and Okoloba Communities in Ughelli South and Bomadi LGAs of Delta State respectively is not only despicable but should be unreservedly condemned by all.

“These were troops committed to peace and security of lives and property of citizens and non-citizens alike in the Niger Delta Region, murdered in cold blood by an armed youth gang, in the most gruesome, heartless and cruel manner and went ahead to sacrilegiously debase their remains by ripping out their hearts by  the very people they were there to protect.

“Regrettably, the community complicit in this dastardly act has resorted to media propaganda and shenanigans, rather than engage in a positive effort to fish out the perpetrators of this heinous crime.

“This again is a clear indication that the murder of the troops was a communally orchestrated attack against legitimate forces.

“The falsehood being peddled by these criminals and their cohorts to whip up sentiments and sway the public to cover up, endorse or support the outrageous criminal acts of their armed youth gang should be disregarded in its entirety.

“It is only a ridiculous attempt at justifying their crime, rather than turn in themselves to security agencies.

“There is no amount of propaganda that would arm-twist the narrative, they are complicit and must be ready to face the wrath of the law.

“While law-abiding citizens are assured that there will be no reprisal on the part of the troops, we enjoin all to go about their normal activities, even as ongoing efforts are scaled up to positively identify and isolate the criminals to account for their atrocious deeds.

“The Chief of Army of Staff, Lt Gen Toareed Lagbaja, while commiserating with the families of the officers and soldiers who lost their lives, has directed that no stone should be left unturned until the perpetrators of this gruesome acts are apprehended to face the full wrath of the law.

“Troops are determined to get to these criminals, there is certainly no hiding place for them.”

Vanguard Newspaper