Metro

April 21, 2024

Okuama: Residents, lawyer tell mind-boggling story of how militia killed, buried victims

Okuama

Photo of Okuama community residents living in the forest.

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

BEFORE the March 14, 2024 killing of 17 soldiers and an unspecified number of villagers at Okuama in Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta State, residents lived under the bondage of a militant gang that stalked, terrorized and put their victims six feet under without trial.

Interconnected with its lingering disputes with the neighbouring Okoloba community in Bomadi Local Government Area, some villagers had already relocated from Okuama-Ewu because of the daring activities of the militants.

A powerful leader is allegedly the backer of the terrorist group.

The President-General and Secretary-General of the community, Mr. James Oghoroko, and Mr. Bernard Esegba respectively, in a February 2, 2024 letter to Governor Sheriff Oborevwori, narrated the travails of the Okuama-Ewu residents in the hands of the militant gang.

They copied the Joint Task Force, JTF, in Bomadi, the Department of State Security, DSS, and the Divisional Police Officer, DPO, Otu-Jeremi Police Division, Ughelli-South, among others.

The community’s lawyer, Innocent Ejedegba, also sent a letter, dated January 29, 2024, to the Commissioner of Police, Delta State on the activities of the militant gang.
The community and its lawyer, in separate letters, sought the intervention of the governor and the police to “forestall total breakdown of law and order.”

Though the state government got the Okuama-Ewu and Okoloba communities to sign a peace accord on February 7, it did not expect any breakdown of law and order until the unfortunate incident of March 14.

The details of the felonious undertakings unpacked to the governor and police commissioner are mind-boggling.

January 27 abductions

According to the community leaders, the problem between Okuama and Okoloba got to a head following the forceful takeover of its Erhurhore farmland, Urhie Ewu (Ewu River), and threat to kill any Okuama-Ewu indigene found on the land by an Ijaw leader, who allegedly contaminated the river by establishing a diabolical shrine in the river and making animal sacrifices.

They said the Okuama-Ewu people warned the Ijaw leader “to desist from further making animal sacrifices in the Urhie Ewu river because it owns Urhie Ewu exclusively.”
The natives went on: “He (the sponsor) then threatened to visit his anger on us, telling us that we had bitten more than we could chew. He threatened to invade our community and stopped our movement to the river henceforth.

“Some of his boys were with him when he was threatening to kill our people, even attacking us. After the encounter, being peace-loving people, we did not suspect or envisage any attack from his militants because we thought it was an empty threat.

“Our people were going about their normal daily businesses on the 27nd day of January 2024 when the militant group, with gunboats, surrounded our community, chanting war songs and shooting sporadically into our community with the intent to kill our people.
“Everyone in the Okuama-Ewu community ran helter-skelter and fled to safety. While the attack was ongoing in our community, some of our people, who went for trading at the popular Okwagbe Market, were returning from the market in a Gbaregolor boat.

“At a point in the river, the militants accosted the boat and ordered it to dock. They abducted the persons whom they identified as indigenes of the Okuama-Ewu community, allowed the others to continue their journey, and took those people abducted from the boat to a marine school in the Okoloba community where they were thoroughly assaulted, mercilessly beaten, and dehumanized.

‘Most of them, being women, and sustaining different degrees of injuries, were later taken in one of the gunboats and drove back to Okwagbe where good Samaritans called for help.

“The abducted persons are: (1) Naira Osereta; (2) Helen Nana; (3) Helen Godwin; (4) Baby Ubiodekporo; (5) Victor Aphiayerhe, (6) Baby Edafe and (7) Kingsley Gentle—these persons were all rushed to the Otu-Jeremi General Hospital for medical help after reporting at the Otu-Jeremi Divisional Police Headquarters.

Killings

“On the same January 27, 2024, the militant group accosted some indigenous members of our community returning home on the river and unsuspectingly identified themselves to the militants in the gunboat, which patrolled the river that day.

“They ordered them to berth at gunpoint, took them into Okoloba community bush, tied their hands and legs, and heartlessly killed Messrs. Igho Meshack, Power Awusa and Okiemute Agbakulaka.

Escape

“One of them, who was able to escape with bullet wounds into the thick bush, is the eyewitness. His name is Kennedy Israel. While he was in the bush, he saw the bloodthirsty group burying the trio they killed. When he was escaping, they shot several times at him.

“Kennedy Israel came out and made these revelations. While he was seeking treatment, the owners of the boat, who demanded an explanation of the whereabouts of the other occupants of the boat, arrested Kennedy Israel

“He was detained at the Area Command, Warri, where the police from the Bomadi Divisional Police Headquarters re-arrested him on false complaints and frivolous allegations of the sponsor, who is desperate to suppress the vital evidence of murder and other heinous crimes against him, and took him to Bomadi Divisional Police Headquarters.

“The whereabouts of many indigenous members have been unknown since then. There is a strong suspicion that the deadly gang would have murdered many.
“The sponsor has made himself a terror to innocent Okuama-Ewu people, most of whom are aged men, women, and children. We are in deep sorrow and grief because of the invasion of our community.

“Our people have become apprehensive, devastated, and defeated as we have been violently attacked, killed, and chased from our homes and community. Our people are now scattered all over the riverine communities as displaced people seeking refuge and living in fear.

“We can no longer go about our daily activities and attend to our sources of livelihood, we have been thrown into grief and mourning of our dear ones whose lives have been callously and punitively cut short by the criminal group.

Plea

“Your Excellency, flowing from the above, the criminal syndicates have perpetuated and masterminded the murder of Messrs. Igho Meshack, Power Awusa, and Okiemute Agbakulaka, the attempted murder of Kennedy Israel, the assault, kidnapping, and dehumanization of Naira Osereta, Helen Nana, Helen Godwin, Baby Ubiodekporo, Victor Aphiayerhe, Baby Edafe, Kingsley Gentle and others are promoting native war.

”Your Excellency, we call on you as the chief security officer of this state and demand justice for the dead, who were murdered; our injured and displaced people. We call for a thorough investigation into these heinous crimes, the sponsor, and others face the full wrath of the law.

“We are peace-loving people and our love for humanity is steadfast; hence, this opportunity for the law to take its course. We must be mindful of the fact that nobody has a monopoly on violence and crime.

“We assured our people that justice will take its course and that no one should take laws into their own hands. Consequently, we hope to see very soon that the perpetrators of this evil and wickedness against our people are brought to book to forestall a re-occurrence of this ugly and sorrowful incident and to abate further attacks on the volatile riverine terrain.

“Our people would not die and suffer in vain. Only justice would put an end to these further attacks, and only justice would put an end to retaliation. We, therefore, demand justice from Your Excellency.

“We believe and trust that Your Excellency would handle this matter with the utmost attention it deserves to foster justice and guarantee peaceful coexistence in the state”.

Justice

The Okuama-Ewu lawyer, Edejegba, enumerated the same events in his letter to the Commissioner of Police.

He wrote, “We urge you to use your good office to unravel all the perpetrators of these offenses so that our clients, who have fled their homes for fear of attacks, invasion, and fear of being killed, can begin to see some ray of hope and justice.

“Our clients demand justice for the dead who were murdered. We demand a thorough investigation into these heinous crimes and that all who perpetrated this great evil and criminality against harmless Okuama people, be brought to justice. They should face the full wrath of the law so that justice will not only be done but manifestly seen as being done”.

In refusing to appear at the Board of Inquiry set up by the Army on the killing of 17 military personnel at Okuama-Ewu, the leaders of Ewu Kingdom sent the letters of the Okuama-Ewu community to the governor and Commissioner of Police, warning about a total breakdown of law and order, in their objection letter to the military panel.