…Group calls for independent panel of enquiry

By Abiodun OBA


Reports from Channels Television have shown that the Delta community where 16 soldiers were tragically killed on Thursday by unknown gunmen around the bank of Okuama community, Ewu Kingdom, Ughelli South Local Government Area, Delta State, has been completely razed.

The Nigerian military acknowledged the deaths of the soldiers, including four officers, in a statement released on Saturday.

Among the victims were the commanding officer, two majors, one captain, and 12 soldiers.

The soldiers were deployed to intervene in the conflict between two feuding communities: the Okuama and Okoloba communities in Delta State.

Channels Television reported that the Okuama coastal community, where the soldiers were killed, was destroyed on Sunday morning.

The exact perpetrators of the destruction are not clear at this time, nor is there confirmation of casualties resulting from the incident.

However, residents have reportedly fled to the neighbouring Ughelli community out of fear of potential reprisals by the military.

Brigadier General Tukur Gusau, the spokesperson of the Nigerian military, stated in his Saturday release that the military would conduct an investigation and ensure that those responsible are held accountable.

He did not suggest any plans for reprisals against the community.

As of the time of this report, there is no evidence implicating soldiers in the burning of the Okuama community. General Gusau mentioned in his statement that some suspects have however, been apprehended.

“The military, however, remains focused and committed to its mandate of maintaining peace and security in the country.

“So far, a few arrests have been made while steps have been taken to unravel the motive behind the attack,” he stated.

Meanwhile, the Urhobo Media Practitioners Advocacy Group, UMPAG, on Sunday, demanded for an independent investigation and arrest of the culprits.

While the group, in a statement by its Secretary, Mr. Theophilus Onojeghen and Executive Member, Mr. Shedrack Onitsha condemned  the killing of the military personnel and some indigenes of the Okuama community, the statement, noted that “From information available to us, there is a grand conspiracy to twist the facts of the bizarre incident to paint one party as savages and adjudge another as saints.

“From our findings, the incident is coming on the heels of the renewed crisis over a land dispute between Okuama community in Ughelli South and Okoloba community in Bomadi Local Government Areas of the state.

“The Urhobos of Okuama community in Ewu Kingdom have lived peacefully with their Okoloba neighbours for ages. Both communities have robust inter-marriages and can even speak both Urhobo and Ijaw languages fluently.

“We have also been informed that leading from the killings of the personnel, Okuama community has been completely razed down by angry soldiers.

“The situation has sacked peace and law abiding citizens of Okuama community, especially when it has not been established that Okuama youths were responsible for this gruesome killing of the military men. This too, we strongly condemn in strong terms.

“While we commiserate with the Nigerian military, the Federal Government and the Delta State Government on the unwarranted killing of these personnel, we join other Nigerians to demand for an independent investigation and arrest of the culprits.

“To this end, we call on the Delta State Government and the Nigerian Army to urgently constitute a joint panel of enquiry to unravel the cause and what led to the killing of the soldiers on the said peace mission to Okuama and Okoloba communities.

“Falling from information available to us, we demand that the panel probe the following areas:

“What was the true mission of the soldiers to Okuama and Okoloba communities?

“Was the Ovie (King) of Ewu Kingdom and her subjects informed of the military visit on a peace mission? Was the Executive Governor of Delta State, Rt. Hon. Sheriff Oborevwori, informed of the PEACE mission?

“Why did the situation report come from DPO Bomadi, and not DPO, Otu-Jeremi? Why would the military, stationed in Bomadi, embark on a “PEACE” mission to Okuama in Ughelli South, without the involvement of DPO Jeremi, and local government officials?

“Why was the military “PEACE” mission escorted by Ijaw youths? How come, that civilian members of the “PEACE” mission survived to tell the story, yet no military man survived?

“If the King, PG, DPO Jeremi, LG officials were not involved, who were those to sign the peace accord? Why did the situation report come from DPO Bomadi, and not DPO, Otu-Jeremi?

“Where did the community source such sophisticated weapons to wage such war against the military men? Why were the police, DSS and other sister security agencies not involved in the military peace mission to Okuama?

“Why was the military peace mission only for the Okuama community?  From the reports, the bodies of the slain military personnel were recovered from the Forcados River. Who dumped the bodies in the River?

“Are we not sure that warlords from neighbouring areas were responsible for the attack on soldiers? Was Okuama and Okoloba at war for 16 soldiers to be gruesomely killed in less than 24hrs?

“Who were the civilians that took the military to Okuama as quoted in the report by Sunday Bomadi Chancel who had earlier claimed over 22 soldiers were killed? Who were the Ijaw civilians who accompanied the soldiers to Okuama? How come they survived while the soldiers were killed?

“There are many mindboggling questions to be asked on the incident.

“From the foregoing, we call on the Executive Governor of Delta State, Rt. Hon. Sheriff Oborevwori and the Nigerian military to thoroughly investigate the attack on the soldiers and the people of Okuama community.

“As media professionals, we are mediators and peace advocates; we therefore, call on our people in Okuama community and our Ijaw brothers in Okoloba community to maintain the existing peace, while the Government and the military get to the root of this tragedy.

“We use this medium to call on the military to refrain from assaulting peace and law-abiding citizens of the area in face of the recent development.

“We also urge parties involved in the communal crisis to refrain from making unguarded statements so as not to fuel the crisis.”

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