April 24, 2024

Okuama-Ewu: Community declares 17 soldiers killed along Forcados River

Okuama-Ewu: Community declares 17 soldiers killed along Forcados River

By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Jimitota Onoyume & Akpokona Omafuaire

UGHELLI—Contrary to the account that youths of Okuama-Ewu in Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta State, shot and killed 17 military personnel at the waterside on March 14, the community has sworn that the soldiers who departed the settlement met their death along the Forcados River while returning to their military base in Bomadi, Bomadi Local Government Area.

Secretary-General of the community, Mr. Bernard Esegba, declared Okuama-Ewu’s counter-position in a supporting affidavit to the N151 billion suit the people filed against the Federal Government, Attorney-General of the Federation, and Armed Forces of the Federation, Chief of Defence Staff, Nigerian Police and Commissioner of Police, Delta State at the Federal High Court in Warri as respondents.

The first applicant in the matter of enforcement of their fundamental human rights was Professor Arthur Ekpekpo, president general of Ewu Clan Development Forum, declared wanted by the Defence Headquarters, among eight others over the killing of the 17 soldiers. He hails from Okuama-Ewu.

The second and third applicants are Mr James Oghoroko, president-general of Okuama-Ewu, and Mr. Esegba for themselves and on behalf of the Okuama community in Ewu Kingdom.

17 soldiers departed Okuama-Ewu for Bomadi, killed along the Forcados River

Esegba stated in the supporting affidavit: “When the personnel of the third respondent got to our Okuama community on March 14, 2024, they were warmly received with our traditional kola nut breaking and wedging ceremony at Okuama community Town Hall by the elders and leaders of our community.

“After the warm reception of the third respondent’s personnel by our community elders and leaders, the third respondent’s personnel demanded our community chairman and other leaders of the community, apparently to arrest and forcibly take them to the third respondent’s base at Bomadi in Bomadi Local Government Area of Delta State.

“At that point, our community leaders politely appealed to the third respondent’s personnel to kindly permit our community leaders to come by themselves to the prime respondent’s base at Bomadi.

“Instead of acceding to the polite request of our community elders and leaders, the third respondent’s personnel insisted that they go with our community chairman and other leaders.

“In the process, some over-zealous personnel of the third respondent began shooting sporadically during which some of our community elders and leaders were shot dead, while others were seriously injured.

“When the 3rd respondent’s personnel sensed that the atmosphere at the Okuama Town Hall had become very tense, on March 14, 2024, they left the community in a hurry and were not attacked by any member of our community.

“We later discovered that while on their way back to the 3rd respondent’s base at Bomadi, the 3rd respondent’s personnel were attacked along the Forcados River during which about seventeen (17) personnel of the third respondent were killed.
“Following the killing of the said personnel of the third respondent along the Forcados River while they were returning from our Okuama community to their base at Bomadi, the fifth respondent ordered an attack on our community (Okuama) from March 15, 2024, to about March 25, 2024.

“The third and fifth respondents’ personnel invaded our community and assaulted, battered, maimed, shelled, shot and cold-bloodedly murdered unarmed and defenceless members of our community and destroyed our properties.”

What activated the Okuama-Ewu/Okoloba land saga?

The community deposed: “The land-grabbing tendencies of an Ijaw leader resulted in inter-community skirmishes between our communities, which resulted in the abduction and death of some members of Okuama community some time on or about January 27, 2024.

“Not to take laws into our hands, we wrote a petition dated February 2, 2024, to the governor of Delta State. The petition was submitted to the Governor’s Office on February 2, 2024. A copy of the petition is attached and marked as Exhibit ‘A’
“In the said petition, we narrated the various attacks on our people by militant gangs recruited by the Ijaw leader, including the abduction and killing of some of our people and the desecration of our ancestral river by setting up a shrine at our ancestral river, known as Urhie Ewu (Ewu River).

“We also ensured that the copies of our petition were delivered to the 7 to 10 respondents hereof, Divisional Police Officer, DPO, of the Otu-Jeremi police headquarters, Director of State Security Services, SSS, Commander of the 3rd respondents’ Joint Task Force, JTF, Asaba, Delta State, and Senior Special Adviser to the Governor of Delta State on Political Matters.

Why declare Ekpekpo and others wanted after fingering Amagbein as the mastermind?

Esegba explained further: “After declaring the first applicant, (Ekpekpo) and other members of our community as wanted people, in connection with the killing of the personnel of the 3rd respondent on or about March 14, 2024, I am aware that the 5th respondent (Chief of Defence Staff) granted an interview to some television stations. including Arise TV.

“Where the 5th respondent admitted to the general public that the 3rd and 5th respondents have gathered intelligence reports, showing that a certain Endurance Amagbein, also known as General Amagbein, is the mastermind who plotted the killing of the third respondent’s personnel on or about March 14, 2024 while they were returning from Okuama community.

“In the interview, the fifth respondent also alleged that the third respondent’s personnel who came to Okuama Community on March 14, 2024, were on a peace mission, and not armed.

“Meanwhile, the 5th respondent, who asserted that the third respondent’s personnel, who came on the said date were not armed, also stated that the arms of the third respondent’s personnel were stolen during the attack on them.

“That the 3rd respondent’s personnel are ordered to continue to occupy our Okuama community territory to conduct search operations towards recovery of the allegedly stolen arms of the 3rd respondent’s personnel during the said incidence.

“In the said interview granted by the 5th respondent, the 5th respondent also alleged that the 5th respondent’s personnel were in our Okuama community to arrest persons carrying out illegal oil bunkering.

“I know that Okuama community is not an oil-producing community and no oil pipelines are crossing our community for which illegal oil bunkering business would be carried out.

“I also know that there was no illegal oil bunkering business of any kind in Okuama community on March 14, 2024, when the 3rd to 5th respondents’ personnel came to our community.

“I know as a fact that the 3rd (prime) respondent’s personnel who came to our community on March 14, 2024, clearly informed our people that they were on a peace mission to the community, apparently in respect of the inter-community land crisis between us and our neighboring community of Okoloba in Bomadi Local Government Area of Delta State.”

Urhobo leaders in Abuja call for proper rehabilitation

In a related development, the Urhobo Leadership Forum, Abuja, has said the next urgent step to take on the Okuama-Ewu crisis “is to return the citizens to their ancestral land and proper rehabilitation of all displaced persons.”
President of the group, Olorogun Peter Igho, and |General Secretary, Mr. Robert Itawa, recommended that the catastrophe “must be treated diligently.”

They said: “The nation must still be reeling from the shock suffered when 17 officers and men of the Nigerian army were disemboweled at Okuama, an Urhobo community in Ughelli South Local Government Area on March 14, 2024. The horror of the murders and the circumstances under which they took place fills us with continuing anxiety.”

“However, we as Urhobos, have a special duty of care on this matter. Okuama is our God-given land and the vileness and reverses suffered by all parties, unravelled on our land.

“We denounce the killing of the military and civilians and condemn the indignities heaped on them. We offer our condolences and pray that the loved ones they left behind will have the fortitude to cope with their unexpected transition.

“We join and support our other Urhobo institutions, our kings, the Urhobo Progress Union, UPU, at home and abroad, National Assembly members, individuals, and other well-meaning Nigerians in Delta State and across our country, who have also condemned the killings and deaths of innocent citizens caught in the aftermath.

“They have called on the Federal Government to establish a proper judicial commission of inquiry into the killings, the events leading up to them as well as the aftermath, and highlight the unusual items, so they can be addressed and the truth unraveled.’’

House committee holds investigative hearing in Warri tomorrow

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives Committee on Defence will hold a one-day investigative hearing on the recent massacre and border crisis between Okuama community in Ughelli South Local Government Area and the Okoloba community in Bomadi Local Government Area in Delta State.

A statement by the House Committee on Defence, signed by Babajimi Benson, and Clerk to the House, Musa Alihu, said the hearing will be held at Government House Annex, Warri, Delta State, from 10 am tomorrow, adding that interested members of the public are free to attend to render information on the sad incident.

“The House of Representatives invites the general public, stakeholders, and all interested parties to an investigative hearing on the carnage that occurred in Okuama Community, Delta State, resulting in the deaths of military officers et al.

“This investigative hearing, in line with the 10th Assembly Houe of Representatives’ Resolution of March 2024, presents an opportunity for stakeholders to provide valuable information and recommendations that will help unveil causes and effects as well as the perpetrators of the dastardly act and events that followed, intending to bring perpetrators to justice, prevent such occurrences in the future, and bring succour to the innocent members of the public.

“Members of the public who are willing to submit memoranda should do so in ten copies and submit same to the committee within one week of this publication to the clerk of the committee, Musa Aliyu Room 315 White House, House of Representatives, National Assembly, Three Arms Zone Abuja. Or at the public investigative hearing scheduled as follows: Date: Thursday, April 25, 2024. Time: 10 am. Venue: Conference Hall, Government House Annex, Edjeba Warri Delta State.

“The House of Representatives Committee on Defense looks forward to a robust engagement and meaningful contributions from all stakeholders.”