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

ASABA — 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.

“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.

“By Emmanuel Amaize, Kingsley Omonobi, Henry Umoru, Samuel Oyadongha, Jimitota Onoyume, Ndahi Marama, John Alechenu, Ndahi Marama, Maiduguri & Sunday Chancel

ASABA — 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.

“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.”

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