March 29, 2024

Okuama 17: Lessons for all


Nigerians, from the number one citizen to the grassroots, mourned on Wednesday, March 27, 2024 as the 17 soldiers slain by suspected militants at Okuama in Ughelli South LGA of Delta State, were buried at the military cemetery in Abuja. They met their tragic end ostensibly on a “peace mission” amidst an intractable communal conflict between Okuama and its neighbour, Okoloba.

Once again, President Bola Tinubu vowed to ensure the culprits are brought to book, while conferring national honours on the departed patriots and unfolding welfare packages for the families.

Okuama was definitely not the first place where civilians waylaid and massacred our soldiers and policemen. We have seen it in Odi, Bayelsa State; Zaki-Biam in Benue State, and several other places. On the other hand, we have also seen the military laying heavily and mercilessly into defenceless civilians at the orders of presidents and governors. We saw it at the Lekki Toll Gate, Lagos State; Sheikh Ibrahim el Zakzaky’s commune in Zaria, Kaduna State and in Aba, Abia State when unarmed pro-Biafra activists were mown down and buried in mass graves.

We must pause and ask ourselves: in which other civilised countries do civilians kill their policemen and soldiers except those wracked by terrorism? Definitely, the deliberate killing of soldiers and policemen is an act of terrorism targeting the state and its apparatuses of defence and law enforcement. It is totally unacceptable. 

Beyond giving the departed befitting burials and making templated speeches, how do we ensure that the people and their defenders/law enforcement agencies work together in the nation’s interest, rather than target each other? The continuation of the anomaly is another sign of system failure, and must be addressed holistically, not one-sidedly.

The leadership of this country down the ages must take the primary blame for this cat-and-mouse relationship between the people and their agents of order and public safety. Leaders manipulate and deploy these armed agencies to feather their political nests in the same manner that the departed British colonial masters did.

More than 60 years after independence, we have not created a Nigerian, people-centred police or military. These agencies have often been deployed in manners that have stoked sectional hatred, bitterness, alienation, domination, marginalisation and exploitation of the resources of the people.

We want a new dispensation whereby Nigerians, irrespective of their ethnic, religious, regional or political backgrounds will see our police and military forces as our valuable social assets rather than oppressors. After all, they were recruited from among the people, and they will eventually retire back to the people.

We need a better partnership.