April 25, 2024

Okuama-Ewu: Over 12 residents trapped in forests die of hunger, sickness


By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Henry Ojelu, Akpokona Omafuaire, Ochuko Akuopha & Damilola Adebiyi

ASABA— More than 12 residents of Okuama-Ewu community in Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta State, trapped in the forests since last month, in the aftermath of troops’ invasion of the riverine settlement over the killing of 17 military officers and men have died of starvation, ill health, and snake bites.

This came on a day human rights activist, Femi Falana, SAN, wrote the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, demanding the transfer of investigation of the incident in the community to the Police.

This is even as the governor of Delta State, Sheriff Oborevwori, yesterday inaugurated an Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, management committee to resettle and rehabilitate the displaced villagers.

A former editor of The Guardian Newspapers and an Urhobo leader, Mr. Abraham Ogbodo, leads the IDP management committee as Chairman; the Director of Personnel Management, DPM, Ughelli South Local Government Area, Chief Austin Emaduku, will serve as Secretary.

Other members include former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Senator Emmanuel Aguariavwodo, Festus Utuama, Reuben Izeze, Commissioner for Works (Highways and Urban Roads), Dr. Richard Kofi, Chief Oviri Uto, Josephine Oduaran, Obukohwo Henry Ediyo, Karo Ovemeso, and Austin Ohwofaria, who is the camp commandant.

Innocent people should not suffer needlessly —Oborevwori

Speaking at the committee’s inauguration at Government House, Asaba, yesterday, Governor Oborevwori said: “I welcome all of you to the inauguration of a committee, charged with the duty of planning and coordinating the settlement and rehabilitation of our people at Okuama.

“Much as we condemn in strong terms the dastardly act that took the lives of our gallant officers and soldiers of the Nigerian Army, we will do everything we can to reduce to the barest minimum the attendant effects on the common man in the Okuama community.

“Innocent people have been displaced, their homes and properties destroyed; this was, and still is an unfortunate and unexpected development.

“Like I said when I visited Okuama the other day, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, and the military agreed that innocent people in Okuama should not be made to suffer needlessly.

“This is why we sincerely believe that soon the innocent will return to their homes. It is now right for the government to set up a committee to plan their resettlement and rehabilitation ahead of their return.

‘’We owe our people this minimum; we must reassure them to have a sense of belonging, as we make adequate arrangements for their resettlement and rehabilitation.

“Note that you have been carefully chosen based on your previous antecedents. We are, therefore, confident that you will do a transparent, thorough, and selfless job that not only the people of Okuama, but also every Deltan will be proud of you as you make adequate arrangements of receiving them and lessening their pains.

“Attach a sense of urgency to this assignment; we must demonstrate the highest love and responsibility towards our people. That is the least we can do for them.”

We’ll be meticulous, selfless — Ogbodo

Responding on behalf of members of the committee, the Chairman, Abraham Ogbodo, thanked the governor for finding them worthy to serve on the committee.

He said their appointment to the committee is a call to service, and assured the governor and Deltans that they will live up to expectations by delivering the needed services to the people.

We recorded more than 12 people who died of hunger, sickness, snake bites

One of the leaders of the Okuama-Ewu community, who spoke to Vanguard 48 hours before yesterday’s inauguration, said: “Many of our people have died since running into the bush. We recorded more than 12 people who have died of hunger, sickness, and snake bite.”

Another asserted: “Up till now, we are still searching for our missing people because most of them are scattered about; we have been able to recover some of them, while we have not seen others till now.

“As you can see, till now, our people have not returned to the community. This has caused a very great loss to us. As we are talking now, most are still in the bush, finding ways to survive. Some are wandering about other places for shelter, suffering all manner of humiliation. Surviving right now is critical.

“Regarding the children’s sickness, which is more critical, because till now (Monday), the state government has not responded to the people’s needs. There has been no relief material and no medical care.

“There is no support, so the means of survival there in the bush are not available. Some of them are begging to eat.
“We have succeeded in recovering some of our dead people, while we have not seen others till now. That is the reason we have not declared the number of dead in the community because we do not want to provide fake records.

‘’The ones we deposited in the mortuary right now are those who managed to escape with bullet wounds, died in the process of running, and were unable to make it to the hospital. That is why we have three dead people deposited in the mortuary.
“There was no way we could take them out because of the situation, so the few that died in the forest have been buried in the forest.

“The ones that died in the community when the crisis was going on, during the military operation, we were not able to recover. Most of them fell into the river. They raided the community and demolished the whole community.

Truth manifests with Oborevwori’s visit

“A few days ago, the governor went there and the whole truth was laid bare to the whole world that the entire community was razed and demolished, so the world can see that there is nothing the soldiers can hide from anyone again.

Egi is God-sent to Okuama people

“Well, the Urhobo nation has tried for us, but in the aspect of survival of our people with relief materials, nobody has done that, only one of our brothers in America, Mike Egi, who sent great support for our people. He is the only person who has helped Okuama so far.

“We were expecting some relief materials from the Red Cross. But then the ground was rough. They understood and said they would hold on till the people return. Therefore, they could not come. And since then, nothing has happened, and we have not heard from them.

“We got no response from the state and local governments until now. None of them, nobody has responded with any relief material to the people.

Released Ewu monarch visits Oborevwori, IDP camp

Also yesterday, the Ewu-Urhobo monarch, HRM, Clement Oghenerukevwe lkolo, Urukpe l, visted Governor Oborevwori at Government House, Asaba.

The monarch, who was released from detention recently by the Army, said he was in the Government House to express his profound appreciation to the governor for facilitating his release from military custody.

Members of the Delta State Traditional Rulers Council, led by the Chairman of the Council and the Orodje of Okpe, HRM, Maj-Gen Felix Mujekpero (retd.), accompanied him.

He also applauded President Bola Ahmed Tinubu; the immediate past governor of the state, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, and the three senators from Delta State as well as others for their collective and individual efforts that facilitated his release by the military.

While condemning the tragic Okuama incident that led to the demise of four military officers and 13 soldiers, the monarch reiterated that he knew nothing about the dastardly act, just as he commended his people, the Urhobo nation, Deltans, and Nigerians for their prayers and solidarity during his trying moments.

Also speaking during the visit, the Orodje of Okpe Kingdom, Orhue l, who presented the released monarch to the governor, said the ordeal HRM Ikolo passed through in the hands of the military for three weeks touched traditional rulers in the state.

He called for peace in Ewu-Urhobo Kingdom, and other parts of the state to fast-track development in all sectors of the state’s economy.

Receiving the monarch, Governor Oborevwori, urged him to unite the people of his kingdom.

The governor said: “First, I want to congratulate you on your release. God has delivered you. When this incident happened, I told the president general when he called me to go and submit himself to the police.”

“I could not reach you. However, when you saw your name among those declared wanted, you went and submitted yourself and because you are innocent, they have released you.

“There is nothing to fear. I told the traditional rulers that anyone who connived with the perpetrators of the crime would face the wrath of the law.

“The charge before you today is to put Ewu together; let your people unite, and you should unite with them. Yes, different stakeholders made efforts to ensure your release.

“I visited the place; they told me that even you do not know Okuama. You should know all the villages in your kingdom and unite with them.’’

Falana writes AGF, demands transfer of investigation to Police

Meanwhile, a rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, SAN, has asked the Attorney-General of the Federation, AGF, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, to direct the Army to hand over the investigation of the killing of 17 soldiers in Okuama, Delta State, to the Police.
In a letter addressed to the AGF, Falana stated that the Army lacks the power to arrest, detain, investigate and charge civilian suspects with any offence whatsoever as they are not subject to service law.

Also condemning the panel of inquiry set up by the Army to investigate the incident, Falana posited that the governor of Delta State, Sheriff Oborevwori, is the only competent person empowered by Delta State Tribunal of Inquiry Law to set up a commission of inquiry to investigate the killing of the 17 soldiers.

The letter read: “As the judgment of the Supreme Court is binding on all authorities and persons in Nigeria, the armed persons should be directed by your office to transfer all arrested suspects and their case files to the police without any further delay. This is without prejudice to the manhunt for the remaining suspects by the Nigerian Army.

But once the remaining suspects are arrested, they should be handed over to the Police by Section 21 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act. Given the foregoing, you will agree with us that you owe it a duty to ensure that the infringement on the human rights of the Okuama people is halted while the suspects are isolated and brought to justice in strict compliance with the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Delta State.

“Under the current democratic dispensation, the Governor of Delta State, Sheriff Oborevwori is the only competent person empowered by the Delta State Tribunal of Inquiry Law to set up a commission of enquiry to investigate the killing of the 17 soldiers. Since the Defence Headquarters’ board of inquiry lacks the power to investigate community leaders and community dwellers, it should be disbanded forthwith.

“The Delta State Governor ought to be advised to institute a judicial commission of enquiry to probe the remote and immediate cause of the brutal killing of the 17 military personnel at Okuama.”

NDDC pledges regular stakeholder engagement

The Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Dr Samuel Ogbuku, has promised that the commission would now meet every quarter with stakeholders to enhance the formulation and sustenance of overall strategies for the development of the region.

Ogbuku made the promise in an interactive forum with opinion leaders and youth groups in the Niger Delta in Port Harcourt, stating that the engagement was necessary to ensure the durability of its programmes and projects.

He emphasised: “Not until we give all our leaders, political, traditional, youths, women and other leaders in the Niger Delta that platform and opportunity to discuss what our future should be, we may not understand the direction our people want to go.”

He pointed out that the NDDC had a duty to harness resources from different groups, saying “we have gathered at this forum to hear from the youths; to interact with them and rub minds because we realise that we cannot be planning programmes for youths without involving them at the foundational level.

“We have given more opportunities and hope to Niger Delta youths through our Holistic Opportunity Projects of Engagement, HOPE, meant to identify interests of the youths for skills training.’’

He explained that the HOPE project had helped the commission to develop a comprehensive digital repository, comprising important information about the youths of the Niger Delta, including their qualifications, skills, interests, needs, and current employment status.

“So far, 470,000 youths have registered in the database and we will partner with youth organisations to ensure that all our youths are registered.

‘’This database will serve as a plank for data-driven planning, enabling the formulation of impactful policies and programmes targeted at the youths.”

He announced that the NDDC was working with the Niger Delta Chamber of Commerce on the training of youths and young entrepreneurs in the region adding that the commission would collaborate with the chamber to support Small and Medium Enterprises, SMEs, in the region and ensure the sustainability of youth development programmes.