April 13, 2024

Okuama deserves ceasefire, by Emeka Obasi

Okuama deserves ceasefire, by Emeka Obasi

The pains of losing seventeen officers and men will linger for a long time following the unfortunate incident in Okuama. Military authorities, especially the Nigeria Army, deal ruthlessly with the enemy under such gory circumstance.

While we mourn with the bereaved families, there is need for a post mortem, to prevent similar developments in the future. I am glad the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Chris Musa and Army Chief, Lt. Gen.Taoreed Lagbaja, are not just fine officers, they are well educated.

Niger Delta politics is all about oil and the sea. In the Nineteenth Century oil was palm, today it is crude. In dealing with crisis around the creeks, the interests of the various nationalities must be studied. In the case of Bayelsa and Delta States, three groups stand out.

The Urhobo and their Izon cousins are like Iraq and Iran, always at war but never apart. The Itsekiri may be outnumbered numerically but have distant cousins in the South – West who will always offer support in times of perceived oppression.

I love the fact that the Nigerian Defence Academy offers courses in History. I am a Comparative Historian and can proudly announce that the Nigeria Army was blessed with excellent Historians in the past who knew so much about the country.

The first University graduate to join the Army was Emeka Ojukwu, in 1957. From a wealthy Nnewi background, he deviated from Law to study History at Oxford. In 1962, the British who still controlled the Army two years after independence, did not feel comfortable with Wale Ademoyega, from Ode Remo.

With a degree in History, from the University of London, he joined the Army. Historians are deep thinkers. Ojukwu joined the Army as a recruit, hiding his degree and status as an Assistant District Officer ( ADO ). Ademoyega hid nothing.

He was was a District Officer ( DO) before choosing  a career in the Army. The British were worried. Ojukwu and Ademoyega knew so much. After 1962, no University graduate gained commission until the collapse of the First Republic in 1966.

Interventions in the Niger Delta are documented and should be studied by the Federal Government. Before Frederick Lugard, there was Admiral Frederick Redford. He is best known as the man who destroyed Nembe, on February 20, 1895.

It was all about oil politics. In January 1895, King Koko of Nembe, attacked the Royal Niger Company ( RNC ) headquarters in Akassa over colonial manipulation of the palm oil trade. Twenty five British souls were lost and many hostages were taken. Some of them were later murdered at Sacrifice Island.

What began in 1895, is still with us in 2024. However, we must look beyond gunboats and bullets. President Bola Tinubu should set up a Judicial Panel to stem the Urhobo versus Ijaw war, cold and hot. And there are events that will serve as guide.

In 1976, a certain Urhobo man from Udu named Indian, was allegedly murdered in Ozobo, an Izon settlement in Bomadi Local Government Area. In 2003, Velvet Oyibode, another Urhobo fell to Isaba men from Ogbe – Ijo in Warri South Local Government Area.

The Urhobo also claim that one of their own, Sunday Obruche, from Aladja was killed by Isaba men in 2016. The Izon have so much to say about their dead and wounded. The Delta State government once set up an Administrative Panel of Inquiry, headed by Prof. Abednego Ekoko.

The Nigeria Army cannot claim ignorance of events in Okuama. Before the 181 Amphibious Battalion Peace Mission, 63 Brigade had intervened. There had been skirmishes between Urhobo and Izon along that axis. The Delta State Police command is also not at sea.

The Urhobo and Izon intermarry. They do so many things together, from oil deals to militancy. In one documented instance, they came together to organise a military coup in April 1990. The military laid siege to the Ughelli – Warri – Burutu – Bomadi axis after that.

Major Gilbert Turi Edoja was one of the masterminds of the Gideon Orkar coup. The alleged financier was Great Ogboru. Captains Nimibibowei Harley Empere and Perebo Abeela Dakolo joined brains with other subalterns, Capt. Sowaribi Tolofari, Lt. A. H. Ogboru and Second Lieutenant Arthur Badeyintite Umukoro to fight.

It was a bloody exercise that consumed President Ibrahim Babangida’s Aide de Camp. It is believed that the 1990 abortive coup forced IBB to relocate to Abuja in 1991.  That Urhobo – Izon nexus was so strong that many may not understand why they are still at each other’s throat.

Niger Delta militancy has not helped. The Urhobo feel shortchanged in the whole Amnesty Programme. The Goodluck Jonathan presidency seemed to have given the Izon some advantage. From the grapevine, there were insinuations that an Urhobo warlord never dared speak in a gathering of Izon, Isoko, Itsekiri and Urhobo militants.

These are issues that can show the way forward. The occupation of Okuama will not end the feud. This strategy did not work in Odi, it failed in Zaki Biam. I advise Gen. Musa to re-strategise, without depending so much on force. Military Intelligence will help.

I also insist that having produced elite Int. officers like late Gen. Owoeye Azazi and Brig. Gen. Cletus Emein, the Niger Delta is full of smart citizens. Peace can be achieved through dialogue. Call stakeholders together, gather information, work towards a solution so that History does not repeat itself.