Slain soldiers burial: Tinubu insists on killers arrest as families demand justice

President Bola Tinubu has insisted that the killers of 17 officers and men of the Nigerian Army in Delta State on March 14, 2024, must be arrested, as families demanded justice during the burial of the slain military personnel at the National Cemetery in Abuja on Wednesday.

In his address at the event, Tinubu declared that leaders in Delta State must fish out killers of the soldiers who were ambushed while on a peace mission in the Okuama community in Delta State.

This came as the President vowed that the killers would not go unpunished, as he conferred posthumous national honours on the slain officers.

The late soldiers were honoured in three categories, including Member of the Order of Niger, Federal Republic Medal I, and Federal Republic Medal II.

The Federal Government gave the families of the slain soldiers houses, and their children got scholarships. At the same time, the President ordered the military to pay the slain soldiers’ benefits to their family members within 90 days.

Also at the event, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Taoreed Lagbaja, stated that the death of military personnel in Delta was highly demoralising, as the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Christopher Musa, vowed to hunt down the killers.

Tinubu, who attended the burial ceremony himself, announced the provision of housing facilities for the surviving family members and scholarships for all their children to the university level and also directed the payment of death benefits to the family members within 90 days.

Wednesday’s national honours conferment comes one week after Tinubu made the promise while breaking the Ramadan fast with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abbas, and the House leadership at the Presidential Villa on March 20.

At the time, Tinubu declared, “We salute all our men and women in uniform and sympathise with them. I will soon make further pronouncements, but they must have a befitting burial and national honours.”

On March 14, Lt. Colonel A. H. Ali, the Commanding Officer of 181 Amphibious Battalion, three other officers and 13 soldiers were killed in the Okuama Community during a peacekeeping mission to mediate in the lingering dispute with Okoloba Community, Delta State.

Soldiers of the Joint Task Force reportedly recovered their bodies under the supervision of the General Officer Commanding 6 Division, Nigerian Army, Major General Jamal Abdussalam.

At the National Cemetery on Wednesday, Tinubu said, “They went as peacemakers and peacekeepers respectfully seeking to bring an end to the hostilities between the two communities.

“They didn’t go with tanks, machine guns, or other weapons. They were on a mission of peace. Ali kept faith with his military calling until the end.

“On behalf of a grateful nation, we honour the sacrifice of Ali and the other gallant patriots who died that day.”

He noted that the slain soldiers would forever be remembered as heroes who answered the call of duty and paid the ultimate price.

“Therefore, the Commander-in-Chief posthumously conferred the national honour of Member of the Order of the Niger on the Commanding Officer 181 Amphibious Battalion, Lt. Col. Abdullahi Ali; Major Salihu Shafa; Major Daniel Obi and Captain Usman Zakari,” Tinubu declared.

He also conferred the honour of Officer of the Order of the Niger on Sgt Yahaya Saidu; Corporal Yahaya Danbaba; Corporal Kabiru Bashir; Lance Corporal Bulus Haruna; Lance Corporal Sola Opeyemi; Lance Corporal Bello Anas; Lance Corporal Hamman Peter; Lance Corporal Ibrahim Abdullahi; Private Alhaji Isah; Private Clement Francis; Private Abubakar Ali; Private Ibrahim Adamu and Private Adamu Ibrahim.

In conferring the honours, he stated, “Each man now belongs to the hallowed list of servicemen and women who defended our country and protected their fellow Nigerians, not minding the risk to their own lives.

“They have all been awarded posthumous national honours. The four gallant Officers have been accorded the Award of Member of the Order of Niger, MON.

“The thirteen courageous soldiers who also lost their lives have been Awarded the Officer of the Federal Republic Medal.”

Tinubu also announced the government’s plans for the surviving relatives, saying, “The Federal Government will provide a house in any part of our country to each of the families of the four officers and 13 soldiers.

“The federal government has also approved scholarships for all the children of the deceased up to the university level. The military must, within the next 90 days, ensure that all the benefits of the departed are paid to their families.”

The President reiterated his resolve to obtain justice for the slain soldiers, affirming that ‘those who committed this heinous crime will not go unpunished. We will find them, and our departed heroes will get justice.’

He noted that the elders and chiefs of Okuoma also had a duty to help the military in fishing out the gunmen who committed ‘the barbaric crime against our men.’

Furthermore, Tinubu commended the Armed Forces for exercising restraint in not retaliating against Okuoma or its neighbouring communities.

He appealed, “We must all ensure that the innocent people of Okuoma are not made to bear the punishment of the guilty and wicked among them.”

To the officers and personnel of the Nigerian Armed Forces, Tinubu said, “Do not let the death of your compatriots discourage you. There is no higher honour than the vocation you have chosen to pursue.

“We cherish you. We cherish your labour of love. We salute your daily sacrifice in protecting your fellow citizens from danger.  We acknowledge your sacrifices to defend our nation.

“Within our continent, our sub-region and across the world, the Nigerian Military has remained a force for good, embodying a great example and keeping our democracy safe. It is now our duty to protect the families of our departed heroes.”

Tinubu said as Commander-in-Chief, he does not take for granted the contributions of members of the Armed Forces.

“I recognise your valour and bravery. I honour your unflinching commitment to making our country safe from criminals, bandits, kidnappers and insurrectionists,” he stated.

He said while the nation continued to grieve for the courageous men it lost weeks ago, Nigeria must not forget the unfinished business of working for peace and harmony and ending the cycle of violence and bloodletting in the communities.

Soldiers killing demoralising

The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Taoreed Lagbaja, said the death of military personnel in Delta was highly demoralising, adding that it was sad that those responsible for their deaths were those they swore to protect.

According to him, the personnel were on a legitimate duty when they met their deaths.

Lagbaja also spoke at the burial ceremony for the slain personnel in Abuja.

He said, “Ours is a profession that deals with matters of life and death. When soldiers die in the hands of the enemies of the state, we take it as dying for what the nation has considered a just cause; we celebrate them as gallant heroes.

“But when they are gruesomely murdered by the very people they are trained, equipped, and took an oath to protect, it is highly demoralising.

“It is no longer news that 17 of the Nigerian Army’s finest men, whom we have come to bury, were murdered in a reprehensible manner on March 14, 2024, in the Okuama community of Delta State while they went on a legitimate peace-making mission.

“It grieves my heart that it took our search and recovery effort over 72 hours to recover some vital organs of the decapitated and disembowelled bodies of my men that were scattered all over the Okuama community by the community youths and their friends.

“I consider it the most barbaric act any citizen or community can commit against the authority of the state, and I must place on record that a lot of restraints have been exercised so far in our search and recovery efforts for missing arms, ammunition, other equipment, and body parts.”

He also said that a total of 21 children had been orphaned and 10 widowed by the actions of the culprits.

Lagbaja said, “The Okuama killing has added to the care of the Nigerian Army and, by extension, the Nigeria state – 10 windows (three of whom are four, five, and eight months pregnant), 21 orphans, and many other dependents which include parents.

“While commiserating with the families of these gallant soldiers, I assure them that the Nigerian Army and the good people of this country will not leave them in the cold. We shall do all within our power to provide succour to them and preserve the memories of their departed loved ones.”

He noted that the incidents would not deter the Army, vowing that the culprits would be brought to book.

Lagbaja, however, sought the cooperation of the community to apprehend the culprits of the heinous crime.

He said, “I assure Mr President and all Nigerians that the Nigerian Army remains committed to its constitutional responsibilities and will not be deterred by setbacks such as witnessed in the Okuama community.

“As tasked by Mr President and Commander-In-Chief of our Armed Forces, the Nigerian Army, with the assistance of its sister services and other security agencies, is committed to bringing the perpetrators of the Okuama murder to book and recover all service and personal belongings taken from the murdered troops.

“The Nigerian Army will continue to seek the cooperation of all well-meaning Nigerians, particularly in the affected area, to swiftly and successfully conduct our search and recovery operations.”

‘We’ll hunt killers down’

The Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Christopher Musa, vowed that those behind the deaths of the military personnel in Delta would be hunted down.

Musa promised that the perpetrators of the heinous crime would be brought to justice.

Musa said, “To the perpetrators of violence who seek to sow division and fear among our people, know this: our resolve will not waver. We will hunt you down, bring you to justice, and restore peace and security to every nook and cranny of our dear nation.”

He admitted that though the death had caused them grief, the perpetrators would pay for the deaths of the soldiers.

Musa said, “Your evil actions may cause pain and suffering, but they will never extinguish the spirit of unity and resilience that burns within us. You will surely pay.”

He, however, promised the slain soldiers that the military would ensure that peace reigns in Nigeria as a mark of honour for their sacrifices.

Musa said, “Finally, let us once again pay tribute to the men and women who have given their lives in the service of our nation.

“May their souls find eternal rest, and may their families find comfort in the knowledge that their loved ones are heroes, forever remembered and cherished.

“As we bid them farewell, let us pledge to carry their legacy forward, to work towards a Nigeria that is peaceful, prosperous, and secure.”

Families demand justice

Brother to the late Lance Corporal Abdul Ibrahim, Ahmed Abutu, described the death of his brother as saddening and demanded justice from the government for the slain soldiers.

He said Ibrahim was the breadwinner of the family, adding that his death came to them as a rude shock.

Abutu said, “It is a very sad thing for us. We have lost the family breadwinner. He was a man of peace and a Muslim to the core. He was a man who, if you don’t say go, won’t go. He respects everybody in the family. He was caring and ensured we were well taken care of when he was alive. This is a great loss to the family.

“His death was not what we expected. We received the news with great shock. He was not troublesome. He was not somebody you would find where he was not supposed to be found. So when the news came, it was so sad. His death is very painful to the family. “

He, however, urged the military not to relent until the perpetrators of the heinous crime were brought to book.

Abutu said, “For the perpetrators, a criminal is not supposed to live in society. So, anywhere they are, they should be fished out. Why must you take their lives?  What are you taking them for? Our security agencies should go out day and night and ensure these people are brought to book.  We will be very grateful for this.”

Speaking in the same vein, a retired Warrant Officer, Zakari Aliu, who is the father of the late Captain U. Zakari,  lamented that though his deceased son was married but was still expecting a baby before he was gruesomely murdered by the killers.

“He is married with no child yet. He was expecting one before his death. His wife is pregnant,” he said.

Asked what he would like the government to do to the culprits of this dastardly act, he said he believed the Federal Government was on top of the issues and would ensure justice was served.

“I leave them in the hands of the Federal Government. They are already handling that,” Zakari said.

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