Metro

April 20, 2024

37 DAYS AFTER OKUAMA KILLINGS: Troubling posers amid probe 

Okuama

 

•Who killed 17 soldiers, Okuama youths, or oil bunkers?

•What took soldiers to the embattled community?

•Who conspired against the Army, and why? •

What did they tell President Tinubu?

Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South

Not many knew Okuama-Ewu, an Island community in Ughelli South Local Government Area Delta State, until the horrible events of March 14, when 17 military personnel of the Nigerian Army, and an undisclosed number of villagers were killed in the riverside settlement.

Two weeks after the massacre, on March 28, the Defense Headquarters, Abuja, declared eight persons, including the traditional ruler of Ewu Kingdom, HRM Clement Ikolo, wanted for the cold-blooded murder of the soldiers.

More than a month after the atrocity, there are so many unanswered questions and disturbing developments arising from the management of the land disputes between Okuama-Ewu and their neighbor, Okoloba, an Ijaw community in Bomadi Local Government Area of the State.

Who killed 17 soldiers?

 Initial reports were that the youths of the Okuama-Ewu community ambushed a Lieutenant Colonel, two Majors, a Captain, and 13 soldiers who came on a “peace mission” to the enclave and heartlessly killed them.

The reports said soldiers were dragging the community chairperson and others to the waterside to board a speedboat to Bomadi when gunmen dressed in military camouflage emerged from another end of the river and opened fire on the military personnel.

Later, the Chief of Defense Staff, CDS, General Christopher Musa clarified that the Army knew those who killed Lieutenant Col A.H Ali and his troops.

Speaking on Arise News, Musa said a certain “General” Endurance Amagbein was the main suspect in the soldiers’ killings in Okuama.

His words: “He is, actually, the mastermind. He is the one who planned and executed this with his boys. You know they have many issues of cultism within the general area. Again, like I always say, because they were making money illegally, they feel that they are above board; they have so much money that they can do whatever and they buy whoever it is that they can….

“But that is one mistake they made. I think they have tried the wrong guys. And this time around, the full weight of the law is coming after him and his team.”

Days after the incident, the CDS had said, “We know who did this; we are following up with him, and it is just a matter of time; we are sure we are going to get him.”

He accentuated, ”I know him, the C.O himself, Lieutenant Colonel Ali. Recently, because we were emphasizing, we want the oil production of Nigeria to increase so that we will have enough foreign exchange, and things can go down because we all know the challenges we are going through.”

“And so he insisted that all illegal activities within the general area must stop. He directed all his troops and they were stopping all these illegal bunkering, stopping all these things, and then these are the people benefiting from it. And so, when this issue came, it came as an opportunity for them to go and do away with him, and that is exactly what happened.”

Confirming the death in a statement on March 16, the Acting Director of Defense Information, Brigadier General Tukur Gusau said that community youths surrounded the troops of the 181 Amphibious Battalion that were on a peace mission

To date, the people of Okuama deny knowing anything about the killing of the soldiers on their land. Therefore, who killed the soldiers and the villagers who also died? Is it Okuama youths or Amagbein?

What took soldiers 

to Okuama-Ewu? 

General Gusau explained: “The unfortunate incident occurred when the troops responded to a distress call after the communal crisis between the Okuama and Okoloba communities, both in Delta State.”

He said they attacked the commanding officer and his team, leading to the deaths of the commanding officer, two majors, one captain, and 12 soldiers.

Also speaking on the deployment, the CDS, General Musa said, “They were deployed there legally; they were doing a legal operation and it was because the commanding officer felt the threat was not that high that was why he went there and felt he could discuss with the individuals.

“He did not go armed. If he had gone armed, he would have erased everyone. He felt these were people he knew and Nigerians that he could talk to, and when he stepped up to talk to them with his team, they were rounded up and all shot, and not only shot, their body parts were cut, their hearts and private parts were removed.”

According to him, “The Okuama attack was premeditated, just because they are a group of criminals, cultists, and militants that because they make a lot of money from crude oil theft, they believe they are above board. They did this deliberately.’

“Just because the commanding officer and his team were ensuring that any acts of pipeline vandalism, crude oil theft, and illegal refineries were completely eradicated from that region.”

However, one of the eight people the Army declared wanted said, in a viral video, that the military did not come on any peace mission, and was in the community at the instance of an Ijaw leader to oppress the Okuama people.

An Okuama leader said what the Joint Task Force JTF Commander, who came to Okuama on March 14 with his team, told the villagers that they were in the community over the abduction of one Anthony Aboh, an indigene of Okoloba.

He said the people told him they knew nothing about the kidnapping of the said person, and the soldiers went around the community before deciding to take the chairperson of the community and others with them, which angered the community.  

Many believe the actual reason for the soldiers’ visit to Okuama on March 14 remains shrouded in secrecy.  Because constitutionally, it is not the duty of soldiers to intervene in a land dispute between two communities. It is the responsibility of the police.

That an Okoloba citizen reported the abduction of his brother was not enough reason for the Army to deploy a JTF commander and his men to the Okuama community, involved in a land dispute with the latter. 

The military said it reported the killing of the 17 soldiers in Okuama to the Governor and Chief Security Officer, CSO, of the State,  Rt. Hon Sheriff Oborevwori. However, the same Army did not bother to seek his consent or inform him when they deployed soldiers to the community on March 14.

Amagbein, bone in  Okuama’s neck Okuama has done everything to exonerate the community from Amagbein, the militant leader and oil bunker, who the Army described as the mastermind of the March 14 killings.

Try as it had, many do not still believe that there is no connection. One worrying poser is how the notorious oil bunker and his killer squad found themselves in the community, fighting the soldiers on its behalf if there was no nexus.

 One leader of the community swore by his mother’s grave that the people do not know Amagbein, saying, “The only thing is that the crime was committed on our land, but I can tell you that this whole thing is a setup against Okuama-Ewu.”

Why the continued occupation, and attacks on other communities?

If the Army already knows the killers of the 17 soldiers, as the CDS explained, people are wondering why the continued occupation of Okuama, destruction of houses in the community, and harassment of residents in other communities, since last month.

Troops have occupied Okuama since March 15 and the residents, who fled for their dear lives on March 14, have had no access to their homeland.

Though the Army has a gunboat stationed at the jetty of Igbomotoru 2 in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, where soldiers mounted sentry for Amagbein, it is obvious that the militant leader is not taking cover at Okuama or Igbomotoru currently.

The Army has to re-strategize on the means of tracking him and his gang down, and not to hold innocent people to ransom, as is the case of Okuama women and children suffering in the bush.

Machination notion

The people of Okuama have insisted that the whole thing about the killing of 17 soldiers was a conspiracy against them, claiming that an Ijaw leader from Okoloba boasted that he would do everything to wipe out the community from existence.

They said what was playing out with the Army’s occupation of Okuama and destruction of their homes were evidence of the plan.

Though hard to believe because, as admitted earlier, the killings took place on Okuama land, the allegation by the Army that the community people were involved in oil bunkering and that with the illegal funds acquired, they stockpiled weapons, gave cause to worry.

In truth, Okuama-Ewu is not an oil-bearing community and no single oil pipeline passes the community. So, how are the people involved in oil bunkering?

The fact that Okuama is not an oil community makes the Army’s allegation that it procured weapons with funds acquired from oil bunkering unpalatable, given that the military deployed earth-moving equipment to the community. ostensibly to dig up the arms allegedly buried in the ground, giving oxygen to the conspiracy theory.

However, there is no proof that the Army conspired with the Okoloba community against the Okuama-Ewu people. The Nigerian Army could not have conspired with anybody to lose 17 of its soldiers, and no soldier would give up his life for any such arrangement.

Rather, what looks more plausible in the circumstances is that some people conspired against the Army and killed its men for no justifiable reason.

Give or take, the soldiers came to Okuama over an abducted Okoloba indigene, or a “peace mission,” as the authorities put it, there was no justification for snuffing life out of the military personnel.

What did they tell Mr. President?

So far, President Bola Tinubu has not acted as one who understands what is going on in Okuama beyond the certainty that unidentified persons shot dead 17 soldiers in the riverine settlement.

Justifiably, he directed the Army to fish out the killers. But Mr. President ought to know that in a case of murder, the law is that the Nigerian Police Force, NPF, would carry out the investigations and prosecute the suspects.

Mr. President should have sought counsel from his Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation if he was in doubt.

The Army has undeniably not helped in figuring out the puzzle by being the accuser, investigator, prosecutor, and judge of the March 14 killings, having set up a military Board of Inquiry.

It was not only soldiers who lost their lives in Okuama. The community screamed that both the army and gunmen shot dead some villagers, but nobody is talking about them.

There is a standing court judgment stating the Army had no right to declare people wanted over a criminal act. But contrary to the subsisting judgment, the army, on March 28, declared eight people wanted over the killing of 17 soldiers.

Governor Oborevwori visited the President on March 19 to brief him about the March 14 tragedy, with the military disallowing him access to Okuama, a community in his state, which he came to brief Mr. President about what transpired there.  

Only the governor can say exactly what he told President Tinubu about what happened having being denied access to the community and having not had interaction with the helpless villagers to date.

The Minister of Defense and other appropriate officials, surely, would have also briefed Mr. President on the Okuama-Ewu gruesome murder. It is not clear what they told Mr. President. 

However, from Tinubu’s pronouncement since the ugly episode, his major concern was the welfare of the families of the fallen soldiers, a right thing to do. The government granted scholarships to their children, and promised to build houses for their families in areas of choice, and directed the Army to pay their due entitlements. Great.

However, he seemed unconcerned about the innocent women and children of Okuama-Ewu, who knew nothing about the killing of the 17 soldiers but found themselves in a dilemma for originating from the community.

For 37 days, these vulnerable Nigerians, who fled from the community following the killings, have been in the forests without food, shelter, water, and medical supplies, and the government has not uttered a word about them.