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Aftermath of soldiers killings: Bloodbath in Delta, villagers flee, hide in forests

Residents of Okuama community in Ughelli South Local Government Area, Delta State who fled into the bush where they have been hiding since March 14, yesterday, narrated how soldiers surprisingly opened fire on them and allegedly killed about 50 persons.

This came as soldiers backed by seven gunboats, on Sunday, invaded the riverside town of Igbomotoru in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, allegedly in search of suspected militants and razed three buildings.
This is even as Delta State governor, Sheriff Oborevwori, visited the embattled Okuama community, yesterday, four days after 16 military personnel, including a lieutenant-colonel, lost their lives in an ambush.

The terrified indigenes, who preferred anonymity, said there were many dead bodies in the bush where they were taking cover.

They echoed that the slain military personnel had arrived in two gunboats purportedly for peace talks with the community chairman, and leaders on Thursday, March 14, adding that the community warmly received and offered them kola nut, leading to a peaceful dialogue.

It was learned that tension escalated after the military personnel insisted on whisking away the community chairman and some leaders for further questioning after the peace talks, which the people resisted.
The refusal, it was gathered, allegedly angered the military men who opened fire right at the town hall, where they held a meeting with the people, resulting in casualties within the community.

The fleeing residents did not, however, explain the role of the community in the dastardly killing of the 16 military personnel later same day but revealed that on March 15, the military returned for a second attack, wherein they set ablaze houses in the community, forcing them to flee.

One resident, who pleaded anonymity, said: “On March 14, military personnel visited Okuama and the people welcomed them. They first said they wanted to walk around the community; they walked around and said they wanted to go to the town hall for a peace talk. The people entertained them as is customary with such visit.

“They asked for the community chairman and leaders. They sat with them and they held peace talks together. After that, they asked the community chairman and some other leaders to follow them.

“The people said they had already held peace talks with them, but they said they must take the leaders away.
“The community refused, and from there, the army turned the whole story to violence, right there in the community town hall, the army started shooting our people there.

“People started running, some were killed instantly, and people ran away because nobody expected shooting by the army that very day.

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“Then, the army left, but within a while, they came back with more reinforcement, gunboats, and other things.
“Instantly, about 20 persons were killed, and when they came back again, they began to shoot, they killed nothing less than 50 persons on that day.

“Then, the following day, they mobilized again, some from Bomadi, Okwagbe, they came together and burned the whole community down, that was on March 15.”

A community leader, who corroborated this, recounted: “That very day (March 14), we didn’t expect what happened as we saw two gunboats come with the army. We were surprised, but the army maintained that they came for peace talks, so we welcomed and entertained them.

“When they wanted to go, they said they wanted to take our chairman and the leaders along, but the community refused, so the army changed all of a sudden, and they did not act as people we just entertained

“They opened fire, and in that process of firing, our youth, old women, and children died on the spot. More than 20 died instantly.

They left but came back and opened fire again, raising the casualties to 50, and they returned on March 15, and burnt every house in Okuama community.”

Another fleeing mother said: “Some of us have yet to see our children since March 14. We have been hiding in the bush, some dead bodies are there. Therefore, we want the government to come and rescue us.”

On the killing of soldiers, she denied that the community initiated the attack on the army, saying “the army came to meet us and we entertained them.

‘’It was after the peace talks they said they want to take our leaders away. We did not attack the army in the river; it was their insistence to take away the community chairman, secretary, and other leaders that led to the shooting.

“They killed the youth, women, and children in the town hall but there was confusion everywhere, therefore, people ran helter-skelter.

“We are calling for a full-scale investigation into this incident for government to find out those who killed our people and the soldiers also.’’

Meanwhile, as Okoloba community points fingers at Okuama leaders who they alleged hired a militant leader that purportedly spearheaded the ambush and killing of 16 soldiers, the Okuama community also claimed that an Ijaw top shot instigated the shooting and killing of 50 indigenes on March 14 by soldiers.

Okuama people called on President Bola Tinubu and the National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu, to call the military to order as their operations in the area should be neutral.

Military on rampage, arrest community leader, others over alleged harbouring of perpetrators

It was learned yesterday that while in search of fleeing perpetrators of last week’s killing of the soldiers, the military swooped on Akugbene community in Bomadi Local Government Area, in an effort to arrest perpetrators alleged to have fled into the community.

Akugbene community chairman and many others who were brought to Bomadi, headquarters of the council area, over the allegation of harbouring the chairman of Okuama community and other perpetrators, were seen brutalized by soldiers at the military base at the time of filing this report.

However, Governor Oborevwori, yesterday, visited the 181 Amphibious Battalion of the Nigerian military at Bomadi.
Oborevwori’s visit brought heavy security presence in the riverine town from the early hours of the day, with armoured vehicles and combined security forces stationed at strategic locations, as well as a helicopter hovering around the town.

The governor, on arrival went straight to the military base at NDDC Road, where a meeting that lasted for over an hour was held with army authorities.

Vanguard’s effort to speak with the governor on his visit were futile as he reserved comments when asked about the purpose of visit and the present situation of things.

Troops storm Bayelsa community, raze buildings, some feared dead

Similarly, soldiers backed by seven gunboats, on Sunday, invaded the riverside town of Igbomotoru in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, Bayelsa State, allegedly in search of suspected militants and razed three buildings.
Some youths in the community who tried to resist the troops deployed in the area under surveillance, were reportedly killed.

Though the exact number of casualties during the operation could not be immediately ascertained, the soldiers were said to have stormed the community at about 8am in search of militants hiding out in the area.

It is still unclear if the military’s invasion of Igbomotoru community is in connection with last Thursday’s killing of some military men on a rescue mission at Okuama community in Delta State.
It was gathered that the stern-looking soldiers with gunboats cordoned off the area, preventing entrance into and exit from the community.

A community source said: “The soldiers came yesterday (Sunday) at about 8am in seven gunboats and a passport boat. I was standing at the waterside when suddenly all hell was let loose. I ran for dear life and took refuge in the bush. “

Another source said: “Since deployment of the military, we have been living in fear, those of us who have engagements outside can’t go out. We can’t sleep at night.

‘’We don’t know the next action of the military, most of our mothers who trade can’t do that, we are really living in fear.”

Also speaking on the development, a disturbed indigene of Igbomotoru who resides in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, said: “The military’s invasion has affected the people gravely. Lives have been lost, properties have been destroyed. Even after the attack, I am sure that life in that community can never be the same.

“This weekend was scheduled for the burial of one of my late uncles. We have paid for food, drinks, music, speedboat and canopies. And now because of this, the burial can no longer hold.

“In fact, some of the people we have paid money are saying if the date would be changed, then we would have to pay extra money. Is that not a huge loss? So we would have to start looking for more money, that is if there will ever be peace in the community.

“I am appealing to the federal and state governments to, as a matter of urgency, intervene in this matter. We do not have a hand in whatever transpired in Delta State. The international community should come to our aid.”
Attempts to get the comment of spokesperson of 16th Brigade of the Nigerian Army, Elebele, proved abortive as his mobile phone line failed to connect.

Resort to propaganda by Okuama community, callous, totally condemnable — Army

But reacting yesterday to the alleged killing of 50 by soldiers at Opuama, Army headquarters decried what it described as resort to propaganda by Okuama community, saying such propaganda is callous and condemnable.

The Director of Army Public Relations, Major Gen Onyema Nwachukwu, who denied the allegation, said: “The unfortunate killing of troops of 181 Amphibious Battalion of the Nigerian Army, while on a peaceful and mediatory mission, after a reported case of communal clash between Okuama and Okoloba communities in Ughelli South and Bomadi LGAs of Delta State respectively, is not only despicable but should also be unreservedly condemned by all.

“These were troops committed to peace and security of lives and property of citizens and non-citizens alike in the Niger Delta, murdered in cold blood by an armed youth gang of Okuama community in the most gruesome, heartless and cruel manner and went ahead to sacrilegiously debase their remains by ripping out their hearts by the very people they were there to protect.

“Regrettably, the community complicit in this dastardly act has resorted to media propaganda and shenanigans, rather than engage in a positive effort to fish out the perpetrators of this heinous crime.

“This again is a clear indication that murder of the troops was a communally orchestrated attack against legitimate forces.

“The falsehood being peddled by these criminals and their cohorts to whip up sentiments and sway the public to cover up, endorse or support the outrageous criminal acts of their armed youth gang should be disregarded in its entirety.

“It is only a ridiculous attempt at justifying their crime, rather than turn in themselves to security agencies.
“There is no amount of propaganda that would arm-twist the narrative, they are complicit and must be ready to face the wrath of the law.

“While law-abiding citizens are assured that there will be no reprisal on the part of the troops, we enjoin all to go about their normal activities, even as ongoing efforts are scaled up to positively identify and isolate the criminals to account for their atrocious deeds.

“The Chief of Army of Staff, Lt Gen Toareed Lagbaja, while commiserating with the families of the officers and soldiers who lost their lives, has directed that no stone should be left unturned until the perpetrators of this gruesome acts are apprehended to face the full wrath of the law.

“Troops are determined to get these criminals, there is certainly no hiding place for them.”

How soldiers were ambushed, killed in Delta community — Major General Esekhaigbe
Giving an insight into how the military personnel were killed at Opuama, Major-General Cecil Esekhaigbe, retd, said the 16 military personnel were ambushed by residents of the community.

The retired Army general, who was a guest on Channels Television’s breakfast programme, The Morning Brief, said the soldiers were not in the coastal community with an intention to fight but to find out why their colleagues who were on peace-keeping mission to the village were held hostage.

He said had the soldiers gone to Okuama prepared, not one of them would have been killed.

The slain military personnel responded to a distress call after the communal crisis between Okuama and Okoloba communities, both in Delta State, before they were killed on Thursday, March 14, 2024.

Killing of 16 soldiers by irate youths unacceptable — defence ministers
Reacting to the killing yesterday, Minister of Defence, Muhammed Badaru Abubabar, and Minister of State for Defence, Dr Muhammed Bello Matawalle, declared that the Federal Government will not tolerate any threat to the nation’s sovereignty and stability.

“Our unwavering support for the armed forces and their efforts to maintain peace and stability across the country is not negotiable,’’ they said.

The minister said: “We affirm our unwavering commitment to safeguarding the security and well-being of all Nigerians and will not tolerate any threat to our nation’s sovereignty and stability.

“Additionally, we assure the Nigerian people that every effort will be made to bring the perpetrators to justice, and we remain resolute in our pursuit of peace and tranquillity across the nation, in line with the renewed hope agenda of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.’’

Speaking further, they said: “The ambush at Okuama community, Ughelli South Local Govement Area of Delta State, resulting in the tragic loss of the Commanding Officer, 181 Amphibious Battalion Lt Col AH Ali, 2 Majors, a Captain, and 12 soldiers, along with the unfortunate death of a civilian, is a matter of grave concern.

“This tragic incident underscores the immense sacrifices made by our servicemen and women in the defence of our nation.

“Their unwavering dedication and courage in the face of danger exemplify the highest ideals of patriotism and duty”.

“President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has directed the Chief of Defence Staff, to actively investigate this incident to ensure that those responsible for this cowardly attack face the full force of the law.

“We affirm our unwavering commitment to safeguarding the security and well-being of all Nigerians and will not tolerate any threat to our nation’s sovereignty and stability.

“We assure the Nigerian people that every effort will be made to bring the perpetrators to justice, and we remain resolute in our pursuit of peace and tranquillity across the nation, in line with the renewed hope agenda of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.’’

While reiterating the Federal Government’s resolve to maintain and secure the nation and Nigerians, the ministers added: “Our unwavering support for the armed forces and their efforts to maintain peace and stability across the country is not negotiable.

“We will continue to work tirelessly towards achieving lasting peace and tranquillity in every region of our dear country.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, colleagues, and loved ones of the fallen soldiers, as well as the entire nation mourning this irreparable loss.

“We stand united in grief with all well-meaning Nigerians and the men and women of our armed forces during this difficult time.

Senate charges security agencies to smoke out undesirable outlaws

Also yesterday, the Senate condemned in very strong terms last Thursday’s killing of 16 officers and men of the 181 Amphibious Battalion at Okuama in Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta by youths of the community, describing the incident as perfidious height of a barbaric and heinous crime.

In a statement by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Yemi Adaramodu (APC, Ekiti South), the Senate charged security authorities to smoke out the undesirable outlaws who put off the glowing lights of the promising officers and men.

The statement read: “The Nigerian Senate has received with sadness the gruesome and unthinkable killings of 15 personnel of the Nigerian Army by armed groups during a peace mission to Okuama Community in Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta State on Thursday, March 14, 2024.

‘’This is a perfidious height of a barbaric and heinous crime. The Nigeria Armed Forces need our maximum cooperation, prayers and support at this trying period in our nation, as they conduct operations all over the country to restore peace and stability in troubled locations.

“We salute the courage of the departed military men as they have paid the supreme price performing the ultimate act of service to the nation.

“The Senate leadership and all Distinguished Senators of the 10th Senate condemn this attack and convey their deepest condolences to the Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Army Staff,the Nigerian Army, officers and men of Operation Delta Safe as well as the families of all the personnel who have lost their lives.

“We consequently support The President, the Commander of the Nigerian Armed Forces, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s charge to the security authorities to smoke out the undesirable outlaws who put off the glowing lights of those promising officers and men.”

Senator Ndume, Rep Balami mourn Major Danjuma Shaffa

The senator representing Southern Borno, Mohammed Ali Ndume, and the member representing Hawul/Askira-Uba federal constituency, Dr Midala Usman Balami, also yesterday mourned the passing of Major Danjuma Shaffa who was among officers and soldiers killed while on a peace mission in Okuama community of Delta State.

Late Major Shaffa hailed from Shaffa town of Hawul local government area of Borno State which the two lawmakers also represent in the National Assembly.

According to a statement signed by Ndume’s spokesman, Junaid Maila, yesterday, Ndume “has been deeply saddened by the tragic demise of Major Salisu Danjuma Shaffa, a brave military officer from Shaffa in Hawul Local Government Area of Borno State.

“Major Shaffa, whose recent deployment led him to Delta State, met his untimely end in a devastating ambush alongside fellow military officers and soldiers following a successful mission.

“The news of his passing has cast a pall of sorrow over Senator Ndume and the entire nation.

Senator Ndume paid tribute to the late Major Shaffa, extolling him as a genuine patriot who epitomized the highest ideals of service and sacrifice.

“The senator urged Major Shaffa’s family, friends, and constituents in southern Borno to take comfort in the knowledge that their beloved relative lived a life dedicated to serving humanity and defending the nation’s sovereignty.”

Similarly, Dr Balami in a statement he personally signed, said: “It is with immense sadness that I convey my heartfelt condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of Major Danjuma Shaffa and the gallant soldiers, who lost their lives while on peacekeeping mission in Delta State.

‘’This death is a great loss to the Nigeria Army and the entire nation. Major Danjuma Shaffa was a patriotic soldier who dedicated his life to the service of our country. He was a role model and inspiration to many, and his death has left a deep void in our hearts.

“We condemn this senseless act of violence and call on the relevant authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice. The sacrifices of our soldiers will not be in vain, and we will continue to support our brave men and women in uniform who work tirelessly to protect our nation’s peace and security.’’

Rep calls for investigation to unmask mystery around the killing of 16 officers, soldiers

In a similar development, the member representing Ughelli/Udu federal constituency in the House of Representatives, Francis Waive, yesterday condemned the killing of the soldiers and called for an unbiased investigation to unmask those behind the killing and where the sad incident actually took place.

The lawmaker in a statement said preliminary media reports indicated that the corpses of the soldiers and officers were found in River Forcados, noting that there is need to also investigate if the heinous act was carried out by fifth columnists.

He said: “I am at a loss how a community of only a few hundred inhabitants can inflict this level of damage on our military. I worry if there are no fifth columnists and other vested interests at play. But I believe a thorough, unbiased and professional investigation will unravel this mystery.

“Reports have it that the bodies of our fallen officers and men of the military were found in the community and on the Forcados River. There is need to unveil the place of their killing and the actual killers. Whoever did this must be found and punished according to law. “

Waive, who is also the Chairman, House committee on Rules and Business said an unbiased and professional investigation will unearth the truth around the killing of the soldiers, urging the communities mentioned in the crisis to embrace law and order.

Reyenieju condemns killing of 16 soldiers, says it is a national tragedy

Also, a former member of the House of Representatives, Daniel Reyenieju, condemned the killing of the the military personnel, describing the incident as heart-wrenching and a significant loss to the nation.

Speaking to journalists in Abuja, the former lawmaker said: “The recovery of 14 lifeless bodies of soldiers in the Delta community has sent shock waves throughout the nation, casting a shadow of mourning over our collective conscience.”

Killing of Soldiers: NHRC calls for restraint, prosecution of culprits

The National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, has condemned the killing of 16 soldiers on a peace mission at Okuama community in Ugheli South Local Government Area of Delta State.

In a statement personally signed by its Executive Secretary, Chief Anthony Ojukwu, SAN, the commission, said it is against the practice whereby aggrieved individuals and groups take laws into their hands, attacking and killing law enforcement agents.

It maintained that such behaviors occasion human rights violations and distrust.

“To this extent, it specifically amounts to violations of the right to life and dignity of human person as guaranteed under Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 4 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), and other international instruments to which Nigeria is a signatory.

“Furthermore, everyone is entitled to life and security of their person under Section 33 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended).

“These senseless killings of security agents which has been going on in several parts of the country are not acceptable.

“Citizens must engage and collaborate with the Law Enforcement Agents (LEAs), by providing them with the necessary information that will assist them in fishing out those behind these heinous and dastardly acts and ensure that they are prosecuted and punished in accordance with the law,” it stated.

Ojukwu, SAN, further urged the authorities to put necessary mechanisms in place to arrest everyone allegedly involved in the gruesome murders.

“This is aimed to bring all perpetrators to to justice and prevent further occurrence in the future.

There’ll be measured response, injurious consequences for perpetrators — DHQ

Defence headquarters vowed yesterday that there will be measured responses and injurious consequences for the perpetrators of the dastardly act from the military.

It said, however, that the armed forces, being a disciplined force that complies with rules of engagement, laws of armed conflict and respect for human rights, will be tempered by these provisions assuring, stressing that it would not be led by emotions, but by the rule of law.

A statement by the Director, Defence Media Operations, Major Gen Edward Buba, last night, read: “It is against this background that the military debunks all claims that the military embarked on reprisal attacks in Okuama community after the incident.

“The community was deserted even before troops arrived the scene. Importantly, those involved in peddling these misinformation, disinformation and fake news that the military had embarked on reprisal attacks on the community, following the incident, should desist from further dishonouring our fallen heroes.

“It is no longer news that troops of Operation Delta Safe suffered a setback that resulted in loss of lifes of gallant personnel of the armed forces.

“These personnel were on a peace mission to Okuama community of Delta State when members of the community launched unprovoked attacks on the unsuspecting troops, killing the Commanding Officer of 181 Amphibious Battalion, 2 Majors, 1 Capt and 12 personnel of the battalion.

“The senseless and barbaric killing of these men is a tragedy. They were killed in a dehumanized and unspeakable manner.

“Accordingly, on behalf of the CDS, Gen CG Musa, the Armed Forces mourn the loss of these gallant troops that paid the supreme sacrifice for the nation.

“We condole with their families, colleagues and loved ones over the tragic incident. They have died trying to restore peace in the nation. It is necessary to reiterate that both the Constitution and the Armed Forces Act saddled the military with the responsibility of the protection of sovereignty and territorial integrity of our nation.

“Accordingly, the armed forces consist of citizens from every nook and cranny of the nation, that have taken an oath of allegiance to put themselves in harms way to defend our great country.

“Given ongoing security situation across the country, troops are deployed on internal security operations in about all the states of the federation.

“Troops intervene to de-escalate and contain tensed situations. However, the ugly incident in Okuama community in Delta State is indicative of the dangers our gallant troops experience in order to secure our nation.
“The military assures that there would be measured responses and injurious consequences for the perpetrators of these dastardly act.

“It behoves on the community leaders, elders and even the people of Delta State to assist investigation to identify the perpetrators of the dastardly act so that they can be held accountable for their actions.

“Furthermore, it must be noted that the dispute between Okuama and Okoloba communities remains unresolved.

“It therefore implies that there could be untoward activities not initiated by the military. Overall, there is no doubt, that this is an extremely sad development and untoward activity by members of the Okuama community against troops that were there to protect them.

“We urge the public to resist the temptation of allowing any videos of the incident of the killed personnel from going viral. Their loved ones are still alive , even though they have died protecting our country and its citizens.”

Source: Vanguard


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