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April 23, 2024

Okuama-Ewu: Help, we’re dying in forest, displaced residents beg Oborevwori

Okuama Killings: Army knows mastermind, arrest him, leave Okuama alone — Prof Muoboghare

Photo of Okuama community residents living in the forest.

•Urge him to ask the Army to vacate our homeland

•Troops allegedly destroy satellite camp; US-based Nigerian sends welfare aid

•Soldiers whisk away Ijaw community chair, 4 others

Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Akpokona Omafuaire and Chancel Bomadi Sunday

UGHELLI: Displaced residents of Okuama-Ewu in Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta State, have urged Governor Sheriff Oborevwori to establish an Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, Camp for them, saying they were dying and in pain in the forests.

Recall that the residents had taken refuge in the forest in the past 39 days to escape the onslaught of the military in the aftermath of the killing of 17 military personnel in the community on March 14.

They also pleaded with the governor, who visited the riverside settlement last Saturday, to ask the Army to withdraw from their homeland to enable them to return home.

While inspecting the ruins left of Okuama-Ewu last weekend, after over 30 days of the military invasion, the governor had said: “I want to assure the people of Okuama that there is no point in running away from your community. We are going to bring you back to your community. It is only those who are involved that the military is looking for.”

In his Facebook post the later same day, Governor Oborevwori added: “The stage now is the rehabilitation and return of innocent citizens who fled the community in the wake of the horrendous incident.”

Provide IDP camp and relief materials

Reacting to the governor’s visit, a leader of the community, who spoke to Vanguard yesterday on grounds of anonymity, said: “He (governor) said that now is the stage of rebuilding Okuama-Ewu. Therefore, we want to plead that he should do something and act quickly, so the military can move out of there, and let the people come back home.

“At the same time, he should also think of the welfare of the suffering refugees and create an Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, Camp, so that relief materials can be sent because if they leave the forest, they have nothing to fall back on.

“Our people are dying and suffering in the forest because of lack of food and complications from bullet wounds.
Okuama-Ewu people have no home and food, as the soldiers not only destroyed their homes, they also destroyed their foodstuff. The governor should do enough so that our people can come back home.

“We thank God that the governor finally visited; he saw the community and walked on the wrecks of our homes the Army destroyed.

“The visit will make him vindicate the indigenes and let the world know that Okuama people were not lying when they said that they were suffering and dying in the bushes.”

US-based Nigerian donates relief materials

Meanwhile, a United States-based member of the Urhobo Historical Society, UHS, Michael Egi, has donated a charity package to Okuama refugees.

One of Okuama-Ewu leaders, who received the package, said it included food items, toiletries and medical supplies.
“Though he is Urhobo, we did not see this coming from this concerned individual in Diaspora. We are, indeed, grateful to Egi and groups who have shown compassion in these trying times when we face threats from the military. Okuama needs peace, not war at the moment.”

Speaking from his US base, Egi said: “The move was not for any self-glorification but to let all men of good conscience know that the world is watching the Nigerian state and her military’s vengeful mission to wipe out Okuama.”

“No one is happy that soldiers were killed, but against the emanating critical issues, the killing of soldiers in Okuama is beyond the community, even according to the military’s reports.

“It is untenable to declare all Okuama people guilty as charged and push to wipe them out for the sins of a few, who even have no link to Okuama. Must they turn Okuama into Odi or Zaki Biam?

“I call on men of good conscience to come to the aid of Okuama, even as we ask the military to vacate their land, and let the people go. For too long, they have been left to run, and suffer; no food, no water, and no peace.”

Okpokonou chair, three others arrested since March

In a related development, residents of Okpokonou community in Burutu Local Government Area of the state have raised the alarm that soldiers currently on search operations for the run-away killers of Okuama-17, have whisked away the chair of the community, Mr. Jonathan Amakuromor Fiemotonghan, and three others to an unknown destination.

They said the soldiers accused them of harbouring fleeing indigenes of Okuama-Ewu in the community.

A traditional chief of Okpokunou community, who spoke confidentially, said: “Last month (March), soldiers from Bomadi Division came to our community and arrested the community chairman and three other persons, and took them to their base at Bomadi.

“We do not know what they did, but according to information available to us, they were arrested in connection with the allegation that our community is harbouring fleeing indigenes of Okuama.

“We do not have anybody called an Okuama indigene in the Okpokunou community. No, that is not true; we do not harbour visitors from that community and we do not know them.

“Okpokunou is an Ijaw community, while Okuama is an Urhobo community. There is a long distance between Okuama and Okpokunou, and several communities within this distance. Even an Urhobo community is among them. How will they flee to Okpokunou, closer to Bomadi, where the military base is?

“As I am talking to you, their whereabouts are unknown but some people whispered they have been taken to Port-Harcourt, Rivers State, while others said they transferred them to Abuja, the nation’s capital.”

A teacher was arrested for calls made on his phone

Reliable sources hinted that soldiers from the 181 Amphibious Battalion, Bomadi local government area also arrested a schoolteacher who teaches at Olou Primary School, Bomadi, Mr. Preye Oyazimo, from his residence in what appears to be a case of mistaken identity.

A witness said: “I was about to go out to attend morning service around 5 am when I sighted these uniformed men at the school gate with many vehicles and a drone hovering around the premises.

“Sighting them, I ran back and went inside my house. The operation took some time before they left. I heard they arrested the teacher later. I do not know what offence he committed for them to have come at that early hour”.

A family source, who is one of the Oyazimos, speaking with our reporter, disclosed that his brother’s whereabouts were unknown, stressing the family was trying its best to let the military understand that their brother was innocent of the allegations that led to his arrest.

“Through our findings, the Joint Task Force, JTF, arrested him on the intelligence they gathered that he had been communicating with some suspects of Okuama on the phone. They said he was sharing information with some Okuama suspects, which prompted his tracking and consequent arrest.”

We’re not harbouring Okuama refugees, Gbaregolor chair

Troubled by the developments in other communities, the chair of the Gbaregolor community in Ughelli South Local Government Area, Mr. Ovwemuvwose Ufuoma, has distanced his community from rumours that Okuama-Ewu residents were taken refuge in his community.”

Hear him: “The rumours that Okuama people fled to our community are false, and I will not allow it to happen. I will not invite the military to come and raid my community in the name of hiding fleeing indigenes of Okuama.

“I condemn in its entirety the killing of the peacemaking soldiers at Okuama on that fateful day, we condemn it because the soldiers have been making peace in this riverine area since they came to this area.

”They have been friendly with us, settling civil issues, and we have not quarrelled with them. Therefore, I am not happy about that incident.

“The truth of the matter is that we have no Okuama visitors in our community and I will never allow it to happen to avoid inviting trouble from the military.”

Palpable fear

Moreover, palpable fear is currently gripping residents in most communities in the riverine area over rumours of arrest and detention of people on the allegation of harbouring Okuama indigenes, as there are unknown residents and visitors residing in various communities.

People no longer lend their phones to others to make calls for fear of being arrested and detained by the military.