April 10, 2024

Okuama: Army board begins sitting today in Warri

By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Jimitota Onoyume, Ozioruva Aliu, Akpokona Omafuaire & Chancel Sunday

WARRI — THE Board of Inquiry constituted by Defence Headquarters to probe the March 17 killing of 17 soldiers at Okuama, Delta State, is scheduled to commence sitting today in Warri.

Chairman of the Board, Air Vice Marshal David Ajayi, told Governor Sheriff Oborevwori in Warri: “We are on a fact-finding mission and not to apportion blame. We are here to gather facts from security agencies, community leaders, and community dwellers.

“This report will also help us to ensure healthy communication that will enhance civil-military relations and ensure that economic activities thrive again in the affected communities.”

However, Okuama leaders who spoke to Vanguard on the sitting of the board, said the people would not be part of the inquiry.

One leader said: “Our people cannot participate in the military inquiry because Okuama people are displaced in the bush. How can people come out to attend such meetings? They are not even safe now.”

Besides the Okuama leader, the community’s lawyer before the March 14 incident, Ejedegba Innocent, confirmed that Okuama people would not attend the sitting.

On the contrary, a leader of Okoloba community, which has a land dispute with the Okuama, indicated that his people would participate in the inquiry today.

Vanguard gathered that the panel would commence sitting in the morning, and meet with Okoloba community leaders from 2 pm.
The panel would resume sitting in Bayelsa State on the issue on Friday.

Correspondingly, Delta State government has indicated interest in presenting a position paper to the military inquiry.
The Pere (traditional ruler) of Akugbene-mein Kingdom, Bomadi Local Government Area, HRH Kalanama VIII, told Vanguard on phone that they did not invite his community to the sitting.

Meanwhile, a 106-year woman at Okuama, Madam Esther Obarogheruo, displaced among others, following the ongoing military cordon-and-search operation by the Nigerian Army, has screamed for help from Delta State government and the local council authorities.

Okuama won’t appear – Ededegba, lawyer

The siege on Okuama, which extended to other communities in the state, was consequent upon the March 14 killing of 17 soldiers in the riverside community.

Speaking to Vanguard, Ededegba, who faulted the composition of the panel, said he could not imagine how the same military institution that declared leaders of Okuama community wanted in several newspaper outlets, would still expect them to get justice from a panel it constituted or even make appearance to testify before the body.

He said the Chief of Defence Staff, General Christopher Musa, had made contradictory statements on why the soldiers were in Okuama community, saying these should be some of the issues the Army should be questioned on at an independent panel of inquiry.

The lawyer said the villagers who fled into the bushes on March 14 for the safety of their lives, remained trapped, but added that he was aware that the enlarged Ewu Kingdom, which Okuama belongs, would appeal before the panel.

His words: “As it were I was their lawyer before the burning and the ‘wanted persons’ declaration on leaders of the community by the Army. Since then, I have not been able to reach any of them. Without communication, no synergy.

“I am aware that Ewu kingdom which Okuama community is part of, is making an appearance. However, they cannot have first-hand information. I expected that before the panel, the military would have allowed the people to come back to the community, so the people could have confidence in the system.

“When you call them to come to a panel, I do not think they will be there tomorrow (today). The environment contributed to the problem; the entire situation is a problem. If they took steps to bring them back home, it would have given them confidence.

“As of now, they are in hiding. I cannot even reach them, their phones may have been lost, or they cannot buy recharge cards where they are to call me.

“In my status, I say the Nigerian Army is in breach of the doctrine of ‘Nemo judex in casua sua’ by constituting a commission of inquiry for the Okuama tragedy. The Nigerian Army, being a party in the matter, cannot be in charge of investigation and adjudication.

‘Okuama people not subject to military laws’

“To this end, the setting up of a commission of inquiry by the Nigerian Army is unlawful (because Okuama people are not subject to military laws), as the Nigerian Army cannot be a judge in its case: ‘Nemo judex in casua sua’. “This is one of the tenets of the doctrines of fair hearing; you cannot be a judge in your case.

An independent body like the Police and a commission of inquiry (not set up by the Army) would be a good panel to investigate and come out with dispassionate findings, but not the Nigerian Army. The doctrine of Nemo judex in casua sua’ is a rule against bias.

“It is the minimal requirement of the natural justice that the authority to make a finding must be composed of impartial persons, acting fairly without interference, prejudice, and bias.

“The actions already taken by the Army so far show that they cannot come up with a fair finding on this matter. The same military that is a party to this matter is the one handling the investigation I do not see how they can be unbiased. The people of Okuama may even have some allegations against the military.

“If it were the police that were investigating, they would be unbiased. The military will be too emotional, once you involve your passion, the truth may not come out.

“The military is a party in the whole issue. The Okuama people will want to ask the panel why the military was in the community. Mind you, the Chief of Defence Staff, CDS, has been conflicting himself.

“At one point, he said the soldiers went for a peace mission, at another point, he said the whole thing was bunkering-related. Again, the people of Okuama may not be relaxed before a military panel.”

Okoloba meets panel at 2 pm

An Okoloaba community leader told Vanguard that the military panel invited the leadership of the community, and other neighboring communities to a roundtable discussion on its fact-finding mission to the state.

He said the panel asked the community to be present and give the needed information from Okoloba.

“We are informed that the military panel of inquiry into the Okuama killings will be sitting in Warri on Wednesday (today) and we are asked to attend to give the needed information that the panel wants from the community,” the community leader said:

Nobody invited Akugbene-mien kingdom – HRM Kalaname VIII

His Royal Majesty, Pere S.P. Luke Kalanama VIII, the Pere of Akugbene-mein Kingdom in Bomadi Local Government Area, told Vanguard that the panel did not invite his kingdom.

“Nobody has invited me. I am also not sure they invited my kingdom, so we have nothing to say. Like every other Nigerian, I condemn the killing of the soldiers. “

Pressed further for comments on the panel, he said: “I do not know what the panel is set up to achieve, so I cannot say anything for now.”

Vanguard gathered that the Akugbene-mein kingdom has strong historical ties with the Okuama community.

Delta Govt to present position paper – Oborevwori

The governor of Delta State, Sheriff Oborevwori, had while receiving the chairman and members of the Board of Inquiry in Warri, stated that the state government would submit its position paper to the panel.

The Executive Assistant on Communications to the Governor, Dr. Latimore Oghenesivbe, noted that the governor, in the paper, would detail elaborately the role of the government in maintaining peace between the border communities, Okuama and Okoloba, before the recent killing of the soldiers.

Displaced Okuama centenarian cries for help

The centenarian, who spoke to public enlightenment officers at Okwagbe in Ughelli South, said her ordeal began when pandemonium erupted in the community after the killing of three Okuama youths who visited their mother living in Okoloba community in Bomadi Local Government Area.

She said the subsequent killing of soldiers in the community on March 14 heightened the problem.

The centenarian, who spoke in the Urhobo language, however, disclosed that soldiers, along with her daughters, rescued her from Okuama because of her age.

She said: “My daughter, Mary, was not at home when the crisis started. Soldiers held her on her way to see me in the house. When she told the soldiers that she was coming to see me, her elderly mother, they brought her personally to me. After seeing me, they asked us to leave Okuama immediately.

“In the rush, we could not take anything from the house. They carried us out on a motorcycle. Amid the tension and destruction, nothing was as important as life. I recall seeing my friend, the next oldest woman in Okuama, trying to leave as well; but until now, no one has heard about her. I do not know if she is still alive or dead.

“This is how my daughter and I were moved from one village to another until we got to Okwagbe, my maternal village. Right now, we have nothing to live on. We have lost everything we worked for over the years.

“I am using this medium to call on the state government to help us. People have lost their livelihoods, as well as properties. The government should help us.”

Oba of Benin grieves over Okuama killings

Meanwhile, the Benin monarch, Omo N’ Oba N’ Edo, Uku Akpolokpolo, Ewuare II, has expressed grief over the massacre of 17 Nigerian Army personnel who were on a peace mission to Okuama.

Oba Ewuare II sent his condolences to victims of the recent tragedy when the 4-Brigade Commander of the Nigerian Army, Brigadier-General Ebenezer Oduyebo, paid a courtesy visit to his Palace in Benin City, Edo State.

A statement by the Oba’s Chief Press Secretary, Osaigbovo Iguobaro, said Oba Ewuare II called on Nigerians to support bereaved families of slain personnel to overcome the grief. The traditional ruler also expressed his best wishes to the Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant-General Taoreed Lagbaja, for his enduring dedication to duty.

Oba Ewuare II said: “I think the Army should be appreciated by Nigerians a lot for what they are doing. I want to quickly express our condolences to the Army on the killings that happened recently in Okuoma. It was terrible.

“We have heard different versions of what happened. Whatever story they are going to tell doesn’t really justify the soldiers being killed like that.

“I think Nigerians should support the Army. The Army is seen to be disciplined. It is a Force to be reckoned with, and should not be treated anyhow.’’

The Benin monarch, thereafter, prayed to God and his ancestors to protect the Nigeria Armed Forces and other security agents along with their families from harm’s way.

Earlier in his remarks, Brigadier-General Oduyebo pledged his loyalty to Oba Ewuare II for adding a touch of glamour to royalty and solicited his blessings, prayer and cooperation.

The military officer said his prayer request was necessitated by the command’s philosophy of the chief of army staff, with highly motivated forces that discharge their constitutional responsibilities.