17 Army killed to get national honour, befitting burial

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu yesterday promised that the 17 military men who lost their lives while on a peace mission in Okuama, Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta State, would get a befitting burial and national honours.

Tinubu spoke during a special Ramadan Iftar (Muslim breaking of fast) with Vice-President Kashim Shettima and House of Representatives leadership, including Speaker Tajudeen Abbas.

He again expressed his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and pledged that the sacrifices of the fallen heroes will never be in vain.

The President said: ‘’In responding to distress calls they met the end of their lives in a savage manner. Let us work to sympathise and symbolise the fact that they are worth the sacrifices they have made for Nigeria.

‘’We salute all our men and women in uniform, and we sympathise with them. I will soon make further pronouncements but they must have a befitting burial and national honours.’’

The Commission of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) also condemned the gruesome killing of the soldiers and commiserated with the Nigerian government.

It called on the authorities “to carry out a comprehensive investigation into the circumstances surrounding the gruesome murder of the soldiers and apprehend the perpetrators with the view to bringing them to justice.

“The Commission urges the communities to eschew all forms of violence and employ pacific means to resolve their differences and maintain communal harmony in the overall interest of all”.

Delta State Governor Sheriff Oborevwori and policemen have not gained access into Okuama Ughelli South Local Government Area because of an ongoing military operation in the troubled community, the state Police Commissioner Abaniwonda Olufemi said.

“Since that incident (killing of officers and men of the Nigerian Army in Okuoma) happened, it has become what I call a military operation zone. We have not been able to move into that community,” Olufemi told a national television station yesterday.

Four officers and 13 soldiers were ambushed and killed a week ago by youths suspected to be indigenes of the Ijaw community.

The soldiers were said to have gone to Okuama to settle a land dispute between the community and its neighbour, Okoloba.

Olufemi added that “few individuals who have been brought in” were being quizzed over the killings.

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who on Sunday expressed deep concern over the killings had directed the Chief of Army Staff to immediately arrest the perpetrators.

Before visiting the President on Tuesday over the development, Governor Oborevwori confirmed to reporters that the troubled community had been deserted.

Giving an insight into the face-off between the two communities, the Police commissioner said his command has not been missing in action.

Olufemi explained that he would need clearance before deploying police operatives in Okuama since it is now a military zone.

He said: “We have been on the ground, we have been supportive and we have not been missing in action. In the Okuoma incident, we have an ongoing military operation there. We are working in conjunction with other security agencies and I can assure you that we are making progress.

“The situation in the general Okuama area, not just the communities, is calm for now. Most of the places are deserted.

“The Okuama and Okoloba communities have been having perennial disputes over fishing rights. The unfortunate incident happened when military officers went on peacekeeping. Since that incident happened, it has become what I call a military operation zone.

“We have not been able to move into this community. Of course, it is our responsibility as the primary line of defence in internal security. But when you have another sister agency conducting an operation, the reasonable thing to do is to wait for them to finish.

“We have not been able to get into Okuama because of the volatile nature of what is going on around that environment.

“I might not be able to accurately respond to these questions [if buildings were torched or more civilian casualties have occurred, but what is important to note is that these things are ongoing. We must seek to be collaborative.

“For us to get to Okoloba or Okuama, we must get clearance from a military theatre commander or the operation commander so that any police operative deployed would not be hurt.”

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On the possibility of deploying drones by the Police, Olufemi said: “When this situation happened, the main perpetrators disappeared into the creeks and to other states. Delta shares boundaries by the waterways with several states.

“A few individuals who have been brought in are being questioned. The manhunt is on. It is a collaborative responsibility and engagement. For now, our drones are not deployed in that environment.”

Senate Joint Committee on Defence, Army, Navy and Airforce which is currently probing Okuoma massacre has urged the military not to punish innocent citizens.

The committee appealed during its meeting with the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Gen. Christopher Musa; Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lt. Gen. Taoreed Lagbaja; Chief of Air Staff (CAS) Air Marshal Hassan and Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Vice-Admiral Emmanuel Ogalla.

A member of the committee, Senator Gbenga Daniel, told reporters that the security chiefs were also told the importance of using technology and artificial intelligence to track down the “gangsters’ behind the killings.

He said: “By and large, we encouraged them that they are doing a yeoman job protecting the assets of the nation. Without a doubt, Delta State is very important as far as the custodians of the assets of our nation is concerned and whatever happens, we must make sure that only guilty people face the consequences.

“These are some of the things we spoke about. Of course, we also spoke about the need to continually support the Armed Forces with additional funding.

“We recognise that Mr President has done very well, more than any other leader in recent history, but because of the peculiar situation, we find ourselves we just have to continue to appeal that within the framework of limited resources, we have to give more priority to ensuring we retrain and equip our Armed Forces. That is the summary of the meeting.

“The killing is a major affront and of course, we have to continue to appeal for patience and understanding.”

Chairman of the committee, Senator Ahmad Lawan, said: “We have been briefed on what happened and this meeting was the first. We expect that we will also hold subsequent meetings when we have more information in respect to what has happened.

“But let me say this, the Senate particularly and the National Assembly stand solidly with our Armed Forces.

“We will continue to support our Armed Forces and I want to also assure Mr. President that he took the right step when he gave that directive to our armed forces to fish out the perpetrators of this heinous and horrific crime by killing our officers and men in Okuoma.”

The Senate adjourned plenary till April 16 for Easter and Sallah festivities.

Military needs help to fish out culprits, says Diri

Bayelsa State Governor Douye Diri, Ijaw Leader Edwin Clark and Labour Party(LP) Governorship Candidate for Bayelsa State Udengs Eradiri yesterday joined in the call for the arrest of the perpetrators.

They sought support for the military in their efforts to get to the root of the problem.

Diri, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary Daniel Alabrah, said that Bayelsa, being the host of Operation Delta Safe (OPDS), Central Naval Command, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Mobility Command and the Nigerian Army 16 Brigade, was outraged by the “heinous attack on military personnel.”

He assured that his government would continue to support the military and other law enforcement agencies in their mission in the state.

The governor added that he has directed all security commanders in the state as well as the state Community Safety Corps to scale up patrol of the state’s borders and waterways.

Diri said: “The killing of our soldiers is barbaric, satanic and outright criminal criminality. And anyone involved should be seen and treated as a criminal under our laws.”

Clark, in a television interview, advised that leaders of the communities involved in the incident be questioned

He, however, said it was difficult to believe that the killing was carried out by mercenaries as inferred by Senate President Godswill Akpabio.

The elder statesman and former Federal Commissioner for Information said: “ Let’s look at ourselves. As I said, I spoke to the Lt Col on Thursday and he went to the place on Thursday and died.

“Except they had the information they were going to Okuma. Otherwise, nobody knew they were going there.

“People to come from outside to waylay them, to surround them is a matter they should investigate. We can’t rule anything out but at the same time let us look at ourselves.

“The leaders of the various communities must be brought together, and find out from them, nobody should be treated as a sacred cow.

“I may say this: I am an Ijaw man and I will be the last person to allow this type of matter to degenerate into a situation whereby we have inter-communal fracas or fights.”

Eradiri of the LP appealed to the military to identify, arrest and deal decisively with only persons directly and remotely connected to the gruesome killings.

He said: “What happened in Okuama is shocking, tragic and unimaginable. I strongly condemn the ambush and killings of military officials, who reportedly went for a peacekeeping mission in the area. Why and how did such barbarism take place?

“I sympathise with the military and condole with the families of the deceased. This bloodshed has provoked the military. But I call for restraint. The world is watching how the military will handle the incident and the military must show maturity by ensuring that only individuals connected directly or indirectly to the killings are affected by their actions.

“The military must resist the temptation of attacking innocent communities and killing people, who know nothing about the incident. This is the time to deploy a high level of intelligence in identifying, arresting and dealing with only the perpetrators. Nobody involved in this pogrom should be spared.”

Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) Youth Wing and Ijaw Youths Council (IYC) Worldwide also called for a ‘thorough investigation” of the killings.

“We call upon the Nigerian government to conduct a thorough and professional investigation to ensure that those responsible for this heinous crime are swiftly brought to justice, the Urhobo youth group said.

IYC Worldwide pledged to work with the military in its ongoing efforts to arrest persons behind the incident.

It, however, called on the military to focus its strength on isolating and dealing with the suspects instead of acts that could be termed an attack on communities in the region.

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