Interview

April 13, 2024

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

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

Photo of Okuama community residents living in the forest.

Former Commissioner in Delta State and Niger Delta leader, Prof Patrick Muoboghare, in an interview with Saturday Vanguard speaks on the March 14 killings in Okuama, his reservations about the ongoing actions of the Army, and his thoughts on the way forward.

Excerpts by Akpokona Omafuaire:

There are many versions of what actually happened at Okuama that led to the killing of soldiers, do you know the real story?

One would not know the real story because I was not there but we all read and listened to the news. We’re not sure of the veracity in what people are saying.

However, nobody has controverted the claim that on March 14, a team of 17 officers and men purportedly left Bomadi, 181 Battalion for Okuama on a peace mission because Okuama had a boundary dispute with Okoloba.

Therefore, the soldiers went to settle a boundary dispute but the peace talks went awry. Nobody controverted what both the soldiers and indigenes said that they came on a peace mission over their problems with Okoloba. Then, mysteriously, some people brought down 17 officers and men, including the battalion commander. It is strange to me as to who can do that in this environment.

This is an environment where if you see a soldier, even without his AK- 47 rifle, everybody would behave well. Then, what was the real mission of the 17 soldiers because these stories do not match? Okuama and Okoloba communities had a boundary dispute but you did not bring the two communities together at a neutral ground or even invite them to your headquarters to settle. So, it is beyond what they are saying but what is clear is that people died.

Don’t you think the military should have involved other stakeholders in their peace efforts?

Let us assume it was a peace mission, Okuama is in Ewu kingdom, but did they tell the king of Ewu that they were coming? Ovie was not aware, and they did not tell the president-general, my colleague in the university, that that they were coming to his territory. The military did not involve the Divisional Police Officer, DPO, Otu-Jeremi Police Division, they did not involve the local government, they did not involve the DSS and the NSCDC. They did not tell the governor of the state that they were going there on a peace mission.

Assuming they arrived at a decision, there was no provision as to who would sign that peace accord. Therefore, for that reason, people don’t believe that claim.

It was learnt that the soldiers went there in response to a distress call

Taking the military by their word that there was a distress call, who placed that distress call to them? Was it a phone call? Or a petition was written? Who was the person that invited the military or did the person die too?

If the person did not die but the soldiers died, then that person invited the soldiers to set them up. That person who invited soldiers set them up, they should look for him, why are they shying away from it?

If he said that, there is no oil pipeline in Okuama. No pipeline passes through Okuama. Okuama people are not into oil bunkering, it is a farming and fishing community. Since he said that the crisis has to do with oil bunkering, can the military tell Nigerians that they do not know the oil bunkerers? We, in the Niger Delta, believe that the military know the bunkerers, but shield them.

On the waterways, there are persons in military uniform harassing civilians. The people in communities on the waterways believe that these persons were not soldiers. Therefore, who was providing them the kits with which they harassed the people? The investigation must go beyond the 17 soldiers, it must be thorough to prevent a re-occurrence.

Then, the people wrote a petition to the Governor of Delta State, complaining that a particular man was terrorizing them and they mentioned the person’s name who is rich and close to the military. But they have not picked him up and they will continue harassing the Urhobo communities there. If the trouble spot is Okuama, what are the soldiers doing in Ogoda, what are they doing in Olota, what are they doing in Orere? Is it to wipe off all the Urhobo communities there as boasted by the man whom they have refused to arrest?

The CDS said he could not stop thinking of those soldiers, as some of their wives were pregnant

I feel for him and the people of Okuama, whose pregnant women, too, they mowed down, and the young boys that the soldiers killed, some of who just came to see their parents and go back but they were caught in the crossfire, they are now dead.

Nobody is talking about that, they said the Commander-in-Chief gave order that we should bring justice to the fallen soldiers. Before he became Commander-in-Chief, we elected him President of Nigeria.

Therefore, he is President of both the military and the civilians. If the problem was at Okuama, why did the military go to Igbomoturu to look for Amagbein? The People were waking up in Igbomoturu, they had not heard that there was a problem in Okuama, some women were carrying firewood on their heads, and cassava tubers, with their children sitting in their canoes, and soldiers opened fire on them because the people did not tell them the whereabouts of Amagbein.

The soldiers knew Amagbein’s house, why didn’t they go there? Why are they holding other people responsible? They hold Okuama people responsible for Amagbein, they also hold Ogoda, Olota, Orere, and Igbomoturu people responsible.

The Chief of Defence Staff said the soldiers were not armed because they were on a peace mission and that was why their assailants succeeded in killing them.

The CDS contradicted himself when he said because it was a peace mission, the soldiers went unarmed. What kind of military would do that? How was it a peace mission, they went unarmed and yet, you are looking for their arms? So, which arms are they looking for? There is too much pressure on the CDS. He said they were not destroying Okuama, but that at the end of the cordon-and-search, they would allow the people to return and rebuild their community. If they are not destroying the community as he said, what are the people coming to rebuild? They should occupy the houses.

The army boss also said that the community leaders know those who were responsible for the killing of the soldiers but they were shielding them and they are therefore complicit.

What kind of talk is that? Is the Emir of Katsina complicit in what is happening in Katsina almost on a daily basis where they kill soldiers and civilians? Has the Emir been arrested, was he complicit? Are the Fulani therefore complicit in what the bandits are doing? What of Boko Haram in Borno? The Shehu of Bornu has not been arrested, people are killed there daily, both soldiers and civilians.

Have you razed down Borno? Did you arrest the Shehu of Borno? Is it because it is Urhobo, therefore, you must exterminate them? You cannot do it. It is unacceptable. The showmanship here infuriates me, and then, blaming the Urhobo, that Urhobo people did this, we will deal with them, deal with who? Have they dealt with the Sultan of Sokoto on what happened in Sokoto? Have they dealt with the Emir of Kastina and the Shehu of Bornu?

There are laws and the military cannot seek remedy using its own law. The military can only seek remedy using known laws. Somebody attacked you and you went to attack his brother, it is not right.

Don’t you think the police should have been allowed to handle this matter?

Yes, the police know how to go about it. Do you know how long it took the police to track down Dr Oyenusi, the dreaded armed robber from the West? What about Anini? They gathered information; they gathered intel, and when that Supol got to Dr Oyenusi’s place, what did he say? ‘Doctor, I am here for you’. Dr Oyenusi knew that the game was over.

Police also tracked Anini to the room where he was with his girlfriend, it was not a one-day job. That was the level of training those police officers had. Anini killed people and police officers in Agbor, shot the Commissioner of Police and terrorized the people but the police did not go to Anini’s village to destroy it. They took their time and tracked Anini to where he was hiding. The police should teach the military how to operate in a civilian environment.

They will get Amagbein whom the CDS said was the mastermind. So, they should leave Okuama for us, if they are excavating because they are looking for arms, they will excavate nothing unless the ones they planted there. Because no farmer in Okuama has money to buy an AK-47.

An Urhobo monarch was also declared wanted, how do you react to this?

This is very wrong, you cannot just declare people wanted like that, and you cannot seek remedy, using your laws. Murder, even if it is mass murder, is a police matter.

Seventeen persons were murdered along the waterways and we are looking for who murdered them, the best institutions to look for who murdered them are the police and the DSS. They are the ones who can go underground.

Vanguard News