Nigeria Army engages in a Deadly peace mission: Delta community deserted

By  Dele Ogunyemi 

Many residents of the Okuama in the Ughelli South Local Government Area and Okolaba in the Bomadi Local Government Area of Delta State, on Friday, fled the communities as soldiers took over the area and reportedly set some houses ablaze in reaction to the killing of 16 soldiers, including senior officers. 

Channels Television reported late on Saturday that 15 bodies of the soldiers were recovered by soldiers of the Joint Task Force under the supervision of the General Officer Commanding 6 Division, Nigerian Army, Major General Jamal Abdussalam, at the Okuama community. 

Some of the recovered corpses had their heads severed off, while the stomachs of others were ripped off with some of the vital organs missing. 

At the NDDC jetty in the community, the bodies of the commanding officer and two Majors were seen floating by the river bank as others were separated on land.

Meanwhile, the entire communities in the Bomadi and Ughelli South local government areas were cordoned off by troops of the 6 Division, Nigerian Army, Port Harcourt, who also oversees the 63 brigade in Asaba. 

The neighbouring communities have been engaged in a communal land dispute since January 27, 2024 when some youths from Okoloba were said to have ambushed and killed three Okuama youths, Igho Meshack, Godspower Awusa and Okiemute Agbabuleke, over an age-long land dispute in the area as they were returning from Okwagbe. 

The corpses of the deceased were said to have been hidden by the assailants.

Community under siege 

Sunday PUNCH gathered that troops had placed the Okuama community under siege as soldiers were said to have set fire on houses during which no fewer than three young men lost their lives. 

One of our correspondents gathered that several residents of the community suffered life-threatening injuries, many of the women and children displaced in the ensuing melee had yet to be accounted for as of the time of filing this report. 

When Sunday PUNCH correspondent attempted to visit the warring communities, he was turned back by stern looking and heavily armed soldiers, who had taken over the roads. 

‘Soldiers carrying out genocide’ 

Speaking to journalists from his hideout, the Vice President-General of Okuama Community, Mr David Akata, expressed displeasure with “the lackadaisical approach of the state government and security operatives to quell the crisis between the two communities initially.” 

“We entered into a peace accord with the state government and security operative in the state, and we stand by that accord, but often times the Okoloba people harass and assault our people. Our pleas to the state government to expedite action and caution the Okoloba leaders fell on deaf ears. Rather, they aided the Okoloba community and used their mercenaries to attack and kill our people,” he stated.

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Akata also called on President Bola Tinubu; Delta State Governor, Sheriff Oborevwori; the National Assembly, Amnesty International and the United Nations to urgently intervene and reprimand the military personnel, whom he accused of carrying out acts of genocide, from annihilating the people. 

He said, “Some armed men in military uniform invaded the community in the early hours of March 14, 2024, with a gunboat. 

“The gunmen arrived in the community around 8am and started shooting at anyone in sight, thus leaving three killed while several victims injured are currently receiving treatment in a hospital in the state. 

“Troops suspected to be men of the Nigerian Army on Friday, March 15, 2024, while chanting war songs, carried out what could be termed genocide on the innocent citizens of the community by setting their buildings ablaze.” 

Another youth from Okuama, who did not want his name in print said, “Our people woke up on Wednesday to see our community surrounded by men in military uniform numbering over 60, and without provocation, they started shooting and caused the death of three promising youths of the community with several others sustaining gunshot injuries. 

“The same military men repeated their genocide actions on innocent and law-abiding citizens of the Okuama community on Friday, March 15, 2024, bringing many buildings to rubble. As I speak, the number of persons who died in the barbaric attack cannot be ascertained as many aged men, women and youths fled into the nearby bushes and we suspect that some women and children might have drowned, because many ran into the river out of panic.” 

A leader of the Okoloba, who begged to remain anonymous because of the tense situation, accused the Okuama people of being the aggressor and called on the federal and state governments as well as security agencies to beef up security in the communities to prevent an escalation of the crisis.

Similarly, the senator representing the Delta North Senatorial District in the National Assembly, Ned Nwoko, condemned the loss of lives on the part of the military and the communities, and appealed to the military not to use the tragedy to descend on the communities and inflict pain on innocent people. 

He told one of our correspondents on the telephone on Saturday, “The military should identify the culprits after a thorough investigation. They should not descend on the entire communities and molest innocent citizens. They should not invade the state or the communities. I want to particularly beg them not to treat anyone like criminals, but they should be circumspect. 

“It is a tragedy and a national one for that matter. The killings should be condemned. Killings in Nigeria are unbearable. Just two weeks ago, some policemen were abducted in the same state and five bodies were recovered. What is happening is not something we should gloss over. It is sad that killings in Katsina, Zamfara and Plateau states are now spreading to the southern part of the country.” 

Attempts to get the reaction of the member representing the Bomadi/Patani Federal Constituency of Delta State in the House of Representatives, Nicholas Ebomo, were unsuccessful. Calls to his mobile telephone were unanswered while messages sent to him via WhatsApp were not acknowledged. 

Ex-soldiers, others react 

Reacting to the development, a security consultant and defence strategist, Col. Hassan Stan-Labo (retd.), said there was a need for the military to investigate the incident to ascertain what happened. 

He added that although the military had become civilised compared to past years when retaliations would be carried out on the communities, the perpetrators would in no time be brought to justice.

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