April 27, 2024

Okuama-Ewu: Displaced villagers recount more sorrows from forest

Refugees in forest: 'We're farmers, not oil bunkerers,' Okuama residents cry

By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South and Akpokona Omafuaire

AGGRIEVED refugees of the Okuama-Ewu community, Ughelli-South Local Government Area, dislocated in the aftermath of the incursion/occupation of their settlement by the Army over the March 14 killing of 17 military personnel, expressed more sorrows in the forest yesterday, vowing to return to their homeland, regardless of the military siege by next Saturday.

The famished residents implored the state governor, Rt. Hon. Sheriff Oborevwori, to return them to their hometown on or before next Saturday, or they would return en masse and let the army kill them.

They spoke in one voice to Saturday Vanguard on our second visit to them in the forest, where they have taken cover in the past 43 days, rejecting the plan of the state government to locate an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp for them outside Okuama-Ewu.

They said the Okoloba people, whom they had a communal dispute with, were busy harvesting their cassava from their farm and fish traps, and they could not afford to return to any place other than their fatherland.

However, a reliable government source said, “The Okuama-Ewu is a small community; for the management committee of the IDP camp to rebuild the place, it has to move them to a safer place; it cannot be in the bush.”

“There is a process in place; the Army is still occupying Okuama, and the government will get them to leave and the governor is handling that. But when the governor, Rt. Hon. Oborevwori visited Okuama and saw the ruins, he gave directives on what to do, so the people should calm down and cooperate with the management committee.”

Remove soldiers from our land—Mrs. Joseph, farmer

A farmer, Mrs. Evuarhere Joseph, said, “I have been in this bush since March 15, and we have been here suffering. I am not pleased with the news that the governor set up an IDP at Ewu. What we want is for him to remove soldiers from our town so we can return home. We want them to use the Okuama School and Anglican School as the IDP camp.

“We reject going to Ewu IDP camp. We want to go to Okuama. We have been suffering in the bush with no food or medical care. We want to go back home. The governor should bring food, mattresses, nets, and medicine.

”The governor should consider the plight of our children whose education has been truncated. The children have been suffering and there is no school attendance. I lost all the money I saved in the house, including everything I have worked for in life—my wrappers, garri, and palm oil stored in the home—I lost.

”Many of our people died but we cannot even quantify the number. They died of snakebites, poison from eating raw cassava, and sicknesses. Because of hunger, the children were eating anything they saw. We have to bury them in the bush.

“We want to go back by Saturday next week to Okuama. The governor should provide what we need to start life again. If, by Saturday next week, they fail to return us to Okuama or remove the soldiers, people will go and meet the soldiers so that they can just kill us because we have already lost everything.

”If they refuse to build the camp at Okuama and send us relief materials there, both the children and the old ones will go to the Okuama community so that the government and its soldiers will kill us there. We will then know that the governor is supporting Ijaw to kill us so that the land can become an Ijaw community.”

Take us home; rebuild our houses—Mrs. Oghenehwosa, farmer

Another farmer and garri seller, Queen Oghenehwosa, stated, “I have been in this bush since March 15, when the army stormed our community and we ran into this bush. We say no to IDP camp at Ewu, and I will tell you the reason.”
”First, we had farms we had planted before the crisis. If we go to Ewu, the Okoloba people, who are already harvesting our produce, will finish our potatoes and pepper. Everyone is aware of the high cost of garri, they will harvest the cassava we have left if we go to Ewu. Therefore, we want the camp to be at Okuama to harvest our cassava but we cannot do that at Ewu.

”We lost many people in the crisis, though innocent. I lost whatever I had in my life to this crisis. We lost our homes, properties, and people. Our children are suffering and are out of school. We lost our bank documents. Everything has been lost because we are in the bush.

”We lost people to hunger and starvation. If it rains, we have nothing to do; we remain under the trees. Whenever the rain stops, we hang our clothes in the sun to dry and wear them back.

”Our experience is terrible and we cannot describe it with words. Mosquitoes have feasted upon us; we eat raw cassava and palm kernels. We want the governor to take us home and rebuild our homes. The governor should provide relief materials.

If the governor takes us to Ewu, then he wants us dead—Mrs. Adam, farmer

Speaking to Saturday Vanguard, a farmer, Mrs. Maria Adam, asserted, “I have been in this bush since last month; my children, others and I have been passing through harrowing experiences in the forest.

”If the governor takes us to Ewu, it means he wants us all dead. We want him to take us to Okuama so that we can harvest our cassava. I am not happy to hear that the governor wants to build a camp for us at Ewu; he should site the camp in Okuama and provide relief materials for us.

”We have been sleeping on grasses where mosquitoes have been feeding on us. He should get drugs for our remaining children; the children have been out of school. I have lost everything with which I started life.

”We cannot even vote again when any election comes because we lost our voter’s cards. No Okuama person can vote again because of the destruction. We buried those who died here in the bush.
”When it rains, we have nowhere to go. Look at me, suffering has finished me. Those who knew me before cannot recognize me again. We want to go back to Okuoma even though they have destroyed it; we want to go back there.

Going to Ewu is capitulating to an enemy plot—community leader

One leader of the Okuama community, who spoke to our crew, said, “I thank the governor for setting up the camp by listening to the plight of our people. We hear that they are setting up a camp at Ewu. To the Okuama people, we do not want any IDP camp at Ewu if they wish to set up an IDP camp for Okuama people, they should do it in Okuama.

”If you set up an IDP camp at Ewu for Okuama people to settle down, it is automatically pursuing Okuama people out of that land. We are farmers, and do not mind; we are used to harsh weather. If we go back, whatever we see, we can manage ourselves, establish the IDP camp at Okuama and we will go there and stay.
”If they refuse, let me explain something deep for you to understand. We can see serious oppression in this attack against Okuama. The army has burned down the whole community, so they are supposed to leave. You can see that the soldiers are not just there; they have a purpose.
”Once the IDP camp is set up in the Ewu community, inevitably, their ambition is achieved. Their leader said he did not have a boundary with Okuama but Akugbene. So, right, they have evicted the Okuama people, and the community has been destroyed.
“Therefore, our people are not there now; by design, that land belongs to their people. This is what we do not want. If the government wants to solve this issue, it should let the Okuama people go home and stay there.

Gov should site IDP camp in Okuama—opinion leader
An opinion leader said, “The governor visited Okuama; we were happy he had come to our aid. However, later, we got the information that he wanted to set up an IDP camp. The problem is that our people will not accept this because if you keep them far away from their land, it implies the government has already given the land to Okoloba. After all, that is what the Okoloba leader wanted.”
“Right now, establishing the camp at Ewu is not favorable to us. We will be pleased if the governor takes the camp to Okuama and removes the soldiers so the people can return home and the students can start school again. they have lost much already.
“We can start life again when we go back. We need the governor to help us and take the camp to Okuama. The people are passing through difficult times and they need not aggravate the situation by taking them to an IDP camp outside their motherland.
”We are happy with the setting up of an IDP camp but it should be in Okuama. We cannot leave our people in the bush. They went to burn the camp where some of our people were hiding. Not only that, the people are still running; you can see that we have a few people now in the bush.”