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April 7, 2024

Okuama Killings: How Army got entangled in intra-communal, domestic feuds in N-Delta


•Reporter narrates his story
•REVEALED: Councilor who took slain soldiers on trip reportedly captured, burnt

By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South and Chancel Bomadi Sunday

ONE conspicuous reason concerned citizens heaped scorn on the Army in the March 14 killing of 17 soldiers at the Okuama community in Ughelli South Local Government Area is the participation of its personnel in the settlement of communal disputes.

The Chief of Defense Staff, CDS, General Christopher Musa, made several attempts to validate the “peace mission” of the officers and men that turned catastrophic.

Not many agree with CDS’s robust avowals in defence of his men.

However, they all deplored the brutal killing of the soldiers.

Regardless of their primary mission of forestalling lawlessness, protecting the nation’s oil infrastructure, and maintaining the peace in the oil-rich Niger Delta, the military Joint Task Force, JTF, since its deployment in the region, had dug into settling issues, ranging from misunderstanding between individuals, and family relatives to both intra and inter-communal disputes in the region.

However, the simple reason is that the military outfit in the region appears to be more viable, forthright, and “quick” in resolving issues compared to other security agencies saddled with such responsibilities.

Therefore, people take misunderstandings and hostilities between relatives, including quarrels in matrimonial homes to the military outposts for arbitration.

Military personnel often shoulder the responsibility of resolving the issues without charges which has further endeared them to some.

Reporter’s experience

In 2005, the JTF arrested and detained a Vanguard reporter, Chancel Bomadi Sunday, at Bomadi, over a fight between his younger sister and his brother’s wife over a family misunderstanding. “During the fight, my younger sister bit my brother’s wife on the face and transferred her anger onto me by arresting me with soldiers. Though I was not at the scene of the quarrel that led to the fight, I only saw the soldiers on the arrest mission to my room, as my brother’s wife led them”, Sunday narrated.

“They threw me into their guardroom and detained me for hours with some others whom I met there. It was after the intervention of her husband, who told the commander then that I was innocent that they released me to settle amicably within the family.”

More so, creditors, debtors, property owners, tenants, house owners and thieves often take their issues to the different JTF outposts for settlement.

Military, civilians on joint missions Intermittently, the military carried out operations in the region with civilians, especially when the need arose.

In such missions, the military camouflages the civilians with military uniforms as occurred in the Okuama case, which some people had referred to.

For instance, when a former supervisory councilor, Hon. Pius Aboh, ran to the Bomadi Division of the JTF and complained that the Okuama people took his brother, Anthony Aboh, hostage, the Commander, Major Saffa, immediately mobilized his men to the Gbaregolor community waterfront to hire speedboats for the rescue mission.

In that mission, according to sources, they camouflaged the drivers of the hired speedboats, and the former supervisory councillor, who joined them specifically to identify his brother at Okuama.

The military believed that they would be shields to the civilians in case of any aggression, not envisaging the worst that would happen to them on that day.

That is why journalists participating in the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions wear camouflage, reporting and photographing, even during crossfire.

Supervisory councillor burnt on a stake!

However, community sources disclosed that those who ambushed the soldiers in Okuama captured Aboh,who dived into the river and attempted to swim away, bringing him back to the community.

A source said they tied him to a stake and burnt him alive right in the community while another source said they butchered him having identified him as an Okoloba indigene. Since the incident, nobody has heard anything about his whereabouts.

How JTF settled Okpokunou, Tuomo, Ojobo crises

Nevertheless, the JTF had settled some intra-communal crises, some being the Okpokunou, Tuomo, and Ojobo communities in the Burutu local government area, variously engulfed in intra-communal crises years back, and in recent times, over selection or election of community chairpersons and traditional rulers.

The military outfit went to the communities on invitation, settled issues, and saved the communities the agony of irate youths bent on destroying properties.

They have also ventured into communal issues of several other communities.
Therefore, the issue of Okuama was not different.

The soldiers were reportedly on a “peace and rescue mission” to avoid escalation of the brewing crisis between the two neighboring communities, Okuama in Ughelli South Local Government Area, and Okoloba in Bomadi Local Government Area, both in Delta State.

Extra-curricular activities of soldiers

Responding to what he, apparently, regards as immoderations of the Army in the state, a senior lawyer in a Facebook post, said, “Since 2016, the Army in Effurun is located at a checkpoint in a private residence. The house is painted in the color of the Command. Not less than 10 soldiers are posted there 24 hours.

“And the soldiers, as part of the command duties, or peacekeeping, established a ‘court’ in the premises, where they preside over matrimonial, land, landlord and tenants dispute. They also double as debt and rent collectors, enforcers of contracts/civil agreements, etc.”

Another reputable lawyer, Martins Ahweyevu Mukoro Esq., also in a Facebook titled, “Okuama Social Soldiers and Soldiers of Peace”, said, “Have not Nigerian soldiers always been soldiers of peace? I am at a marriage ceremony in Ughelli South local government area of Delta State. This is not Okuama, it is not near Okoloba, there is no communal land dispute between the neighbouring communities, yet two uniformed soldiers are on duty, possibly, on a peace mission.

“They are either from Effurun or Agbarha Army Barracks; or are they from the barrack in Bomadi? I think not. So, who and how was an application made, to whom, and why were these soldiers posted to a marriage ceremony to perform peaceful guard or security assurance duties for peak lovers getting married?

“In the part of Delta State where I live, soldiers are routinely posted at a price to man purely civilian social ceremonies, including burial and marriage ceremonies, where military functions are absent.

“We condone all of this aberration, we never queried the social soldiers, we never asked for a policeman in place of the corruptly posted social soldiers. It took Okuama for us to question the abuse of our soldiers. So, I ask, were we, honestly, taken back that soldiers went on a peace mission to Okuama?”