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HomeMetro/CrimeSoldiers' Killing: Okuama Women, Children Trapped In Forests For 6 Days

Soldiers’ Killing: Okuama Women, Children Trapped In Forests For 6 Days

DELTA, Nigeria – Hundreds of women and children of Okuama community, Ewu Kingdom, in Ughelli South Local Government Area, Delta State, who fled for dear lives when troops of the Nigerian Army invaded the community over the killing of 17 soldiers last Friday have been stranded for six days without food in the forests.

This came as Delta State governor, Sheriff Oborevwori, yesterday cautioned traditional rulers in the state against shielding suspects involved in the killing of soldiers in Okuama community, reports Vanguard.

This is even as governors of the 36 states of the federation flayed the killing of the military personnel, restating their demand for state police.

Also, former Minister of Communications, Maj. Gen. Tajudeen Olanrewaju (retd), Thursday warned that the killing of the military personnel might signal a new build-up of community warfare that could snowball into a bigger conflict in the region if not addressed.

Similarly, former Director of the Department of State Services, DSS, Mike Ejiofor, said an independent probe of the killing could indict some very important personalities, VIPs.

Starvation in Igbomotoru

However, in the coastal town of Igbomotoru in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, Bayelsa State, the siege laid by troops for the manhunt for a militant leader suspected to have masterminded the killings, is pushing the community towards starvation that could trigger a humanitarian crisis if it persists.

Days ago, Okuama women cried out that they fled into the forests when soldiers allegedly opened fire on villagers in the town hall after the community refused their attempt to take away the community leaders.

As of yesterday, Okuama was out of bounds as only the military could go in and out of the town as the place is deserted.

Even the state governor, Sheriff Oborevwori, confirmed he could not visit the place because of the situation.

It was learned that the neighboring communities to Okuama refused to take in fleeing residents from Okuama as refugees in their homelands because of fear of persecution by soldiers who come around searching for perpetrators of the heinous crime.

Because of how they escaped into the forests, the women could not take food items with them, and haven’t been able to return to the community as soldiers have taken over the town.

One indigene of a neighbouring community in Ewu Kingdom said the situation of the victims of the military onslaught at Okuama is pitiable.

“Hunger is taking a toll on them, especially the children they are carrying. This is a humanitarian crisis, and the government has to open a refugee camp for these people and provide them with food.

“Soldiers molest innocent people in neighbouring communities of Okuama in Ughelli South Local Government Area. As I am speaking with you, soldiers are still at Orere community in Ewu kingdom in search of the perpetrators, molesting innocent people.

“The fact is that neighboring communities in the Ewu Kingdom are not receiving fleeing indigenes of Okuama who are mostly women and children, for fear of harassment and molestation by the military.

“As we speak, neighboring communities are living in fear because the military is using drones to watch over all communities,’’ the local said.

A resident of Orere community said people in neighbouring communities are having sleepless nights over the presence of soldiers in their domain.

“We are having sleepless nights over what happened at Okuama because the military is after the perpetrators fleeing from the scene of the incident. To be candid, nobody is happy over what happened to the soldiers at Okuama.

“But, the issue has degenerated, and we are all affected. They would come to your community, brutalizing innocent people.

“I want to use this medium to call on the Federal Government to consider setting up refugee camps for women and children displaced from Okuama community, who nobody wants to accommodate because of fear of the rampaging soldiers in neighbouring communities.

“This is a clarion call on the federal government to save these victims. The government should set up internally displaced persons, IDP, camps to accommodate these vulnerable victims so they can be identified and avoid the harassment of neighbouring communities.

“I want to conclude by saying that nobody supports the killing of soldiers at Okuama, and the Federal Government should do something to save these innocent victims.”

‘Need to relax restrictions on movement’

Some concerned indigenes of Igbomotoru, who spoke to our correspondents, called on relevant authorities to prevail on the troops to relax restrictions on free movement in and out of the community to allow the people pick up the pieces of their lives.

Igbomotoru has been under military lockdown since last Sunday by troops in pursuit of suspects behind the killing of the soldiers.

Many lives were reportedly lost during the Sunday morning invasion of Igbomotoru, with houses used by the militants razed.

According to local sources, the usually ively community is now a shadow of its old self, as shops are shut.

Many of the natives who fled their homes are still taking refuge in the forest, while some relocated to other communities before the present lockdown in the area.

People cannot come into the community with goods and foodstuffs, and those trapped cannot leave the area.

It was, however, learned that a few persons in the community, especially the old, who could not run away are being denied access to their farms and fishing traps, a development, informed sources said, could trigger famine, as the people are facing hunger caused by restriction in movement.

Many are disturbed that five days after the invasion, no government official has visited the area to sympathize with the people or send relief materials to ameliorate their sufferings.

Access to food and water in the area is diminishing due to the military blockade, a source lamented, noting that the people might be compelled to source water from polluted rivers.

“If two sachets of water are being sold for N50 in Yenagoa, you can imagine what it will cost at Igbomotoru where people are not allowed in and out. You can imagine what the local people are going through,” our source added.

A man who abandoned his wife in the village and escaped with two kids, told our correspondent from his hideout that he trekked all through the day and night backing one of his kids and carrying the other on his shoulder through the forest to neighboring Tebideba.

He lamented that they were denied entry by the people for fear that soldiers might also invade their community.

“I trekked for one and half days through the thick of the forest, running away from the invading soldiers with one child strapped on my back and another on my shoulder. I left my wife behind in that moment of confusion.

“When we got to Tebideba, I thought relief had come, but we were denied stay by the people who said they did not want to have any issue with the military.

‘’Understating their fear, given the tense situation in the area, we had to return to the forest and continue our search for succour until we saw somebody paddling a canoe and pleaded for assistance.

“The Good Samaritan paddled us to the boundary with Sangana community, and there we got another lift through a local canoe to Sangana, from where we boarded a boat and left. You can imagine carrying two kids for one and a half days trekking through the thick forest, using the sun as a guide.

“It was just by the grace of God that we escaped. My worry now is about my wife, particularly, as I have been unable to reach her on phone since I fled the town,” he recounted.

Lamenting the plight of the people, an environmentalist, Alagoa Morris, who is also from Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, urged the authorities to protect the law-abiding people of the community.

‘People may die of starvation’

He said: ‘’With the restriction in Igbomotoru, a situation where nobody is allowed to go about, our people’s traditional means of livelihood, fishing and farming, the people may die of hunger, if not by bullet.

“The federal and state authorities should step in and save the lives of law-abiding Nigerians in the community. Even in the ongoing war in Gaza, humanitarian workers are going in with drugs, food, and water, while criminals should pay for their crimes. The innocent citizens should enjoy the protection of the law.”

Also, a community leader and former councillor who represented Igbomotoru in Southern Ijaw legislative council, Ayebatari Easterday, said: “Although I am not at Igbomotoru, whatever information I am giving is not an eyewitness account of what has befallen my people but I have people who give me a report on daily basis.”

“I have been their representative as a councillor, they have confidence in me; they send me information on the daily invasion of the community by armed soldiers. As of this morning (yesterday), nobody living in the community can travel out, and nobody outside can also travel in.

“When I got the first report, I intended to go home and see how my people can be saved and how I can counsel them on ways of relating with the government, and particularly the security agencies. Several lives have been lost but my appeal to everybody is to remain calm.

“As of yesterday, I talked to some government functionaries, and they said government is on top of the matter to see how peace can return. Several people cannot be accounted for, and many people who ran into the forest are yet to be seen.

“They could have died of hunger in the forest. The children with no parents to cater for them may also die of starvation in the community.

“Our mothers are now helpless in the community and cannot go to their farms, and you know the source of livelihood in our communities is fishing and farming. They do not even have access to food anymore.

“Those who have shops cannot open, let alone people coming to buy. You cannot go fishing and farming, the only source of money to buy food to feed the family, these are some of the predicaments my people are passing through.

“The soldiers could have acted on provocation, but the beginning of every action determines the end. They should put their legs in the shoes of the community. Some of the victims are people who committed no offense.

“My candid appeal to the government, headed by Governor Douye Diri and assisted by his capable deputy, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, is to ensure that relief materials are timely sent to the people.

“These are our brothers and sisters and have no food to eat and water to drink, and you know that we live in an environment where the water is so polluted that they cannot drink it.

“These people have been helpless and could be forced to drink from the polluted river where they defecate, where the polluted oil flows, and also there could be another incident of unhealthy living for the people of the area.”

Killing of 17 soldiers, attack on Nigeria’s sovereignty — FG

On its part, the federal government also yesterday descried the killing of the military personnel as an attack on the nation’s sovereignty.

Minister of Information and National Orientation, Muhammad Idris, who stated this while breaking fast with some media executives in Kano, said: “I want you to have faith in our security agencies, all of them are working.

“They are Nigerians, we all saw what happened in Delta. Who is happy that somebody who swore an allegiance to keep this country together, somebody will just wake up and attempt to kill that person. Any attempt on our armed forces is also an attempt on the sovereignty of this country.

“Mr. President has said clearly in his statement that it is unacceptable and that all the perpetrators will be brought to book and punished without harming other community members.

“In February, 2024, our armed forces neutralized 974 terrorists, apprehended 621 suspects, rescued 466 hostages and recovered over 1,500 weapons.

“I think we need to amplify that. You need to know that these terrorists are also fighting psychological warfare on all of us. So, I urge you as practitioners not to celebrate these criminal elements with your reportage.

‘’We need to deny them their capacity to do propaganda and inflict psychological wounds on all of us as Nigerians. It is our collective duty to deny terrorists that possibility.’’

Okuoma killings could snowball into a bigger conflict – Gen Olanrewaju

Reacting to the killing yesterday, former Minister of Communications, Maj. Gen. Tajudeen Olanrewaju, retd, warned that the killing of the military personnel could signal a new build-up of community warfare that could snowball into a bigger conflict in the region if not addressed.

He also warned that non-state actors who parade themselves as militants, should not be seen around crude oil pipelines in the name of security and protection in Nigeria.

Olanrewaju was the former General Officer Commanding, 3 Armoured Division of the Nigerian Army.

General Olanrewaju said: “That event in Okuama gives me an unsettled mind about events surrounding the nation’s high volumes of oil deposits in Western Delta.

“The consequences of collateral damage resulting from gang warfare between two warring communities of Okuama and Okoloba could lead to further serious consequences of collateral damage to our national assets as a result of this unwarranted conflict.

“I believe strongly that the federal government should reconsider a new security protection template for our oil rich region, not on a piece meal basis but the entire oil belt in the country.

“I also have a strong feeling that non-state actors should be called their true identity and not dressed up nicely with a patronising name. They are militants, thugs, hoodlums and are not different from bandits. That is what they are. Their transition has always been from thuggery, militancy to terrorism. That was how Boko Haram started.

“The Okuama community may signal a new build-up of community warfare that can snowball into a bigger conflict in the region. Who knows? It was Odi, Zaki Biam, now Okuama and Okoloba.

‘’This is a smoldering smoke that must be quenched as quickly as possible. The earlier the Federal Government steps in quickly and keeps the smoldering smoke down as fast as possible, the better in the oil region.

“My view, as my committee suggested on Gen Abisoye’s NNPC’s Report still stands the test of time. The National Security Adviser, NSA, and the military high command must come out with a new creek defence plan and policy to include the crude oil zone, oil platform, offshore assets and resources to support them by laws, regulations and the constitution.

“As a matter of digression, I have made the points that the so-called non-state actors cannot protect our oil pipelines for lack of total patriotism. The nation needs a national institution to protect our national assets.”

Independent probe of Delta killing will indict VIPs — Ex-DSS boss, Ejiofor

Similarly, former Director of the Department of State Services, DSS, Mike Ejiofor, said an independent probe of the killing of the 17 soldiers will indict some Very Important Personalities, VIPs.

Ejiofor, who stated this in an interview on Channels Television’s breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily, yesterday, however, faulted the decision to deploy a lieutenant-colonel, two majors, one captain and 13 other military personnel to settle a land dispute.

He said, “The federal or state government should set up this or harmonise: the state government brings representatives, the federal government brings representatives to form a very high-powered independent investigation that will come up with an objective report of what happened because as it is now people are scampering, some people that might be indicted in this investigation

“A lieutenant-colonel, two majors cannot on their own just move out on a peace-keeping mission in a community. There is so much to this incident that must be found out.’’

He urged the federal and Delta State governments to set up a high-powered, independent investigation to unravel the circumstances behind the deployment of 17 military personnel.

“The military is a party interested; they cannot undertake such investigation. By now, the federal government or the state government must have set up an investigative panel to look into this matter because time is running. we need to get to the root of this matter to know what really happened.

“We have lost our values as human beings, no respect for lives anymore, a very tragic incident for me, I can’t comprehend it anymore.

“The gruesome murder of those military personnel, looking at their mutilated bodies, we’ve lost our values as a people. I still can’t come to terms with that but the military too, out of emotions, has taken a pound of flesh on them by razing down the community, even though they said they didn’t.’’

He said though the military denied burning down the community, reprisals were common for the military.

“Despite the denial by the military, it’s usual with them for such reprisal attack. They will continue to say they did not but then, who razed the community?

“Nobody knows the number of casualties but we can see from videos, we can see the place burning, to the extent that the governor had no access to the place, nobody had access to the community. That’s going too far.

“We sympathise with the military; Nigerians are mourning that our military men were killed but two wrongs don’t make a right.”

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