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Soldiers’ killing: Army, Delta community differ over reprisal as troops arrest 20

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The Nigerian Army, on Monday, said the Okuama community in the Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta State where military personnel were killed, had resorted to propaganda.

It denied any form of reprisal on the community, as SILVER NEWS gathered that about 20 suspects have been arrested.

Also on Monday, the Defence headquarters released the names of the Army personnel who were killed on Thursday, during a peace mission to Okuama.

The military slammed the community and stressed that no amount of propaganda would stop culprits from being nabbed, while the Defence Headquarters vowed that there would be injurious consequences.

A community leader, who spoke to our correspondents on the condition of anonymity, because of fear of harassment accused the military of carrying out mass arrests and killings.

He warned that the actions of the soldiers could lead to a repeat of the Odi incident.

In 1999, the Army attacked Odi town in Bayelsa State after some soldiers were killed in the community.

Accusing the military, the community leader alleged that soldiers had begun targeting innocent civilians in the community rather than going after the miscreants who committed the crime.

He said, “If it involves mass arrest, nobody will complain about it, but mass killings are currently ongoing in the community. A situation where soldiers will enter a community and open fire is a terrible thing.

“The same thing that happened in Odi is happening in Okuama today. When people take laws into their own hands because of the mischief of a few, it becomes a problem. When miscreants go to an area and cause mayhem, and the military is taking that to wipe out an entire community, that is a bad omen.”

Also, there were reports on Monday that soldiers deployed in Okuama resorted to burning houses as residents fled the community.

At least 17 military personnel were killed by irate youths during a communal clash over a land dispute in Bomadi and Okuoma communities in Delta State on Thursday.

The personnel attached to the 181 Amphibious Battalion were responding to a distress call when they were ambushed and killed on Thursday.

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

It was reported late on Saturday that the 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.

Army slams community

But in a statement by the Director of Army Public Relations, Maj. Gen. Onyema Nwachukwu, the Army lamented that rather than help to provide assistance to arrest the perpetrators of the crime, the community was dishing out propaganda.

Onyema stated that resorting to propaganda showed that the killing of troops was a “communally orchestrated attack against legitimate forces.”

The statement read, “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 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 Region, 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 the murder of the troops was a communally orchestrated attack against legitimate forces.”

Onyema noted that no amount of falsehood would prevent those involved in the killing of the personnel from being brought to book.

He, however, urged law-abiding citizens to go about their activities without fear, assuring that there would be no reprisal attack in the community.

He said, “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. No amount of propaganda 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 Army spokesperson noted that the Chief of Army of Staff, Lt Gen Toareed Lagbaja, has directed that all culprits must be brought to book.

“While commiserating with the families of the officers and soldiers who lost their lives, he has directed that no stone should be left unturned until the perpetrators of these gruesome acts are apprehended to face the full wrath of the law.

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

Slain personnel named

Meanwhile, the Defence Headquarters on Monday released the names and pictures of its personnel killed during a communal clash in Delta state.

The personnel consist of four officers and 13 soldiers. The officers are Commanding Officer 181 Amphibious Battalion, Lt. Col. A.H Ali ; Maj S.D Shafa (N/13976); Maj D.E Obi (N/14395) and Capt U Zakari (N/16348).

The soldiers are SSgt Yahaya Saidu (#3NA/36/2974); Cpl Yahaya Danbaba (1ONA/65/7274); Cpl Kabiru Bashir (11NA/66/9853); LCpl Bulus Haruna (16NA/TS/5844); LCpl Sola Opeyemi (17NA/760719); LCpl Bello Anas (17NA/76/290); LCpl Hamman Peter (NA/T82653); LCpl Ibrahim Abdullahi (18NA/77/1191); Pte Alhaji Isah (17NA/76/6079); Pte Clement Francis (19NA/78/0911); Pte Abubakar Ali (19NA/78/2162); Pte Ibrahim Adamu (19NA/78/6079) and Pte Adamu Ibrahim (21NA/80/4795).

A military source told one of our correspondents that about 20 suspects including three prime suspects had been arrested, and was quick to explain that the operation to arrest perpetrators was yet to be concluded.

“The operation to arrest the perpetrators is still ongoing. I am sure that the three prime suspects in the killing of the soldiers have been arrested. I don’t have the accurate figures of those arrested so far because it is an ongoing operation. If I am to put a figure to it, let me say about 20,” the source, who pleaded not to be named due to lack of authorisation, stated.

When contacted, the Director, Defence Media Operations, Maj. Gen. Edward Buba, promised to get back to our correspondent on Tuesday.

“You will get details by tomorrow (Tuesday). It is a developing story and requires accuracy,” he stated.

But the Defence Headquarters, on Monday, vowed that there would be measured responses and injurious consequences for killers of its personnel in Delta state.

The DHQ in a statement by the Director, Defence Media Operations, Maj. Gen. Buba Edward, stated that its rule of engagement and human rights laws would be respected while dealing with the culprits.

The statement partly read, “The senseless and barbaric killing of these men is a tragedy. They were killed in a dehumanised and unspeakable manner. Accordingly, on behalf of the CDS, Gen CG Musa, the armed forces mourn the loss of these gallant troops who paid the supreme sacrifice for the nation.

“We console 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 harm’s way to defend our great country.

“The military assures that there would be measured responses and injurious consequences for the perpetrators of these dastardly acts. Nevertheless, the armed forces being a disciplined force that complies with rules of engagement, laws of armed conflict, and the respect for human rights would be tempered by these provisions. We would not be led by emotions but by the rule of law.”

Buba also denied reports of reprisal attacks by troops in the community after the incident.

According to him, the community had been deserted before the arrival of the troops on the scene.

Buba urged those dishing out false information on the incident to stop disrespecting the dead.

He called on the community to assist the military in arresting the perpetrators of the heinous crime.

He said, “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 at the scene.

“Importantly, those involved in peddling this 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.

“Rather, it behooves on the community leaders, elders, and even the people of Delta State to assist in the 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.”

Buba, however, urged Nigerians to resist the temptation of sharing the gory videos of how the soldiers were killed.

“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.

“It would be dishonorable to the fallen heroes to allow such ugly videos of their demise to go viral. Above all, as the military mourns, it remains ever determined to ensure the safety and security of citizens across the country,” he said.

Okuama on siege

Tension has gripped residents of Okuama as operatives of the military Joint Task Force continue to lay siege on the troubled community.

It was gathered that many residents of Okuama who fled the community while their houses were being razed allegedly by military personnel, took refuge in nearby communities within Ewu Kingdom and beyond.

Meanwhile, the Ijaw Youth Council Worldwide condemned the brutal killing of the soldiers in Okuama, describing the incident as “very unfortunate”.

“To us, this is not only barbaric but also unacceptable,” the council stated in a statement issued on Monday and signed by its spokesman, Binebai Princewill.

The IYC said the Okuama incident “is an evil that must not be swept under the carpet,” hence everything possible should be done by the government to bring the culprits to book to serve as a deterrent to others.

“As council, we are calling on the military top hierarchy to conduct a thorough investigation into the matter with a view of bringing the perpetrators of this heinous crime to justice. This is an evil that must not be swept under the carpet as bringing the culprits to book will serve as a deterrent to others.

“Delta State Governor, Sheriff Oborevwori, should also quickly resolve whatever differences the people of Okuama and Okoloba are having now before it degenerates to something else. Government must not appear to be too relaxed in tackling communal clashes.

“There is nothing that is more disturbing than this news at the moment. The government must swing into action now. We have lost too many precious lives in this battle already as we cannot afford to lose anyone going further.”

Military bars journalists

The Delta State Governor, Sheriff Oborevwori, on Monday visited the embattled community to assess the extent of the destruction.

The military Joint Task Force, however, barred journalists from covering the governor’s assessment tour of the troubled community.

The JTF operatives barricaded the major entries to Okuama with an armoured personnel carrier tank, thus preventing vehicular and human traffic, including media men, from gaining access into the community.

But the governor, who was received by the leader of the military JTF, General Officer Commanding 6 Division Nigeria Army, Major General Jamaal Abdulsalam, held a closed-door meeting with the army general that lasted for about one hour.

In a related development, some soldiers reportedly invaded Igbomotoru community in the Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State on Sunday.

The reason for their presence at the community could not be confirmed, but it was gathered on Monday that the soldiers were reportedly in search of militants who used the area as their hideout.

Although it could not be ascertained if the soldiers’ mission was in connection with the killing of 16 military personnel in neighbouring Delta State, a community source said they stormed Igbomotoru in five gunboats.

About three houses suspected to be used by a militant leader and his gang were allegedly razed by the soldiers.

They were said to have allegedly shot sporadically at some youths at the jetty before proceeding to set ablaze the three houses even as the militant leader and his men had fled the area.

The incident caused panic in the community, forcing the people to run into the bush and the creeks for the safety of their lives.

The source said, “The military 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 my late uncles. We have paid for food, drinks, music, a speedboat and canopies. And now because of this, the burial can no longer hold.

“In fact, some of the people we have paid money to are saying that if the date is 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.”

However, another community source said the soldiers invaded Igbomotoru community in seven gunboats and allegedly opened fire on some youths sighted at the jetty.

The source said, “For now, I’m in the bush as I speak. But in the early hours of yesterday (Sunday) around 8 o’clock in the morning, I saw military gunboats about seven, and one passport that came to the community.

“I was standing at the waterside looking at them; they saw some of our youths in the jetty and that was how they started shooting at them. Many people are dead. Since yesterday (Sunday), we have been hiding.”

Efforts to reach the spokesperson for the Nigerian Army 16 Brigade, Elebele-Yenagoa, were unsuccessful.

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