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OKUAMA: WE’RE ALL LOSERS, BY WILSON GORUVWOGHOR

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It is no longer controvertible that the luring of 17 soldiers to death so brutal in a doubtful, reckless ‘peace mission’ and the collateral damage, particularly the military’s vengeful pushing of Okuama, the center stage, towards extinction was avoidable.

Beyond the associated growing pains, this tragedy has become another shame of a nation in which we’re all losers. In the can of worms being opened on the appalling episodes over Okuama, government and the military share
bulk of the collective blame.

And playing judge and prosecutor, passing tacit death sentences on perceived suspects on impulse in vengeful genocide against Okuama will not wish away the government and military failures that induced Okuama saga.

Egbetokun, Arase’s Delusions

As testament to the pretentions, insincerity of purpose and self mockery by government over Okuama killings, a critical analogy comes begging.

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Sunday 23 March 2023 disclosure by Inspector General of Police, IGP Olukayode Egbetokun, of the killing of six police officers with six others missing in an ambush by kidnappers/criminals in Ohoro, Ughelli North LGA, Delta state was most malicious and inciting.

If Egbetokun were not enjoying compassionate appointment and backing by a benefactor President Bola Tinubu, the IG should be under suspension and probe by now for his resort to half-truths and coverups to save his face over his willful negligence of duty.

While the media were screaming with the guided tone of ‘fresh killings’ in the IGP statement through Force Public Relations Officer, ACP Muyiwa Adejobi, the murder of the policemen in Ohoro and Agadama, Uwherun communities in Delta predated the March 14 horror in Okuama.

The massacre of Policemen the IGP referred happened between January and February this year in two successive attacks weeks before Okuama tragedy. From the State Command to Force Headquarters, the authority ignored media enquiry to confirm it and name victims while relatives greave.

Even Police Service Commission under former IGP Dr. Solomon Arase, was as gullible in his hypocritical threat to make heads role over Egbetokun’s censored disclosures on the police killings.

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If the IGP willfully kept mum for weeks and only compelled to spill half truths because of Defecse Headquarters swift report on the Okuama killings, Arase cannot claim ignorance of the profuse media reports on the horrific killings of the policemen in Delta, much earlier.

Notice that in both the IGP and Arase’s censored statements, they carefully evaded timelines on the killings and the common suspects, herdsmen in Uwheru open grazing fields of Delta.

Open Secret On How Policemen Got Killed

It all started January 24. Three police officers were mobilised to deal with a distress call by a complainant who was robbed at Ohoro, an Uwherun community on the East West Road. They never returned from the operation, their whereabout with their AK47s not ascertained.

Playing down the disappearance of the trio drafted from the Police Mobile Force, PMF, 51 Oghara, the State Command hesitated over a month before deploying about a 20 man strike force, assembled from the Intelligence Response Team, IRT, Abuja, PMF 51 Oghara and the Anti-Kidnapping Squad, Asaba on a belated rescue of three missing colleagues.

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Again, the second troop fell to fatal ambush at Agadama. Only one police officer reportedly escaped. Days after, the police and vigilantes recovered remains of the six slaughtered police officers Egbetokun referred.

Added to the trio Egbetokun confirmed missing since January 24 and the six missing in the February attack, by the IGP’s afterthought disclosure, the number of police fatalities in the twin attacks is just two shy of the 17 soldiers killed in Okuama.

More than two months after the January 24th attack and over a month for the second, the missing officers the Police are yet to account for may well be dead already as police sources privy to the ill-fated operations alleged casualty figures significantly more than officially declared.

Guess who were the deadly killers, from the point of distress through January 24 missing three MOPOLs to the slaughtering in the month following. Herdsmen. Yes. Fulani Herdsmen in a Delta community.

Gov Oborevwiri As Spectator CSO

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In this shared negligence of duty, Governor Sheriff Oborevwori should also bury face in shame for playing spectator while Egbetokun create the wrong impressions of his state before external stakeholders.

If the governor was discerning and hasn’t compromised his role as chief security officer in the state he governs, he should have first condemned the prolong silence of the police authority over the killings. He couldn’t claim not being aware of the killings yet he tagged along the police path of silence.

Aggravating the inadvertent de-marketing of Delta in his eventual damage control over the Ohoro horror, Egbetokun generalised that, “These brave officers tragically fell victim to a cowardly ambush by armed assailants.”

By shying aways from pinpointing the armed assailants as same suspected Fulani herdsmen who have an inciting history of yearly killing of farmers and travellers in Uwherun community and other parts of the state, the IGP was insinuating that the killers of the policemen in Delta community where the locals.

In Oborevwori’s shoes, a bold Governor Nyesom Wike would have condemned the tacit blackmail in the Police suggesting Delta as a killing field where her indigenes habitually attack security agents.

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But Oborevwori was dead silent on the killing of the police for obvious reason. If he were alive to his responsibility, killer herdsmen couldn’t have migrated into the state in the first place.

The Governor was Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly that passed an Anti-Open Grazing Bill in September 2021 and promptly signed into the Delta State Livestock Breeding, Rearing and Marketing Regulations Law by then Governor Ifeanyi Okowa.

Now transformed from making the law to executing it, if Oborevwori has the political will to implement the state anti-open grazing law, this brutal murder of policemen would have been averted.

It is this lack of political will to assert self that equally made the military turn him a spectator over the Okuama tragedy to the extent that he was denied access to a community under his government.

How Much Does Police Life Matter?

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Now for some ‘JAMB’ questions: How much does Police life matter in Nigeria, compared to soldiers’? This was same state, same country. 17 Soldiers killed (their souls find peace with the Lord) and an entire country is, rightly so, shaken to its fabrics. But weeks earlier, likely more policemen were killed by herdsmen (6 bodies of those recovered slaughtered) in two successive ambushes by herdsmen.

Those declared missing in this instance may have been dead already and it took over a month for the Police Force Headquarters to confirm the horror, the hypocrisy compelled by the military announcement of Okuama killings.

The President has not granted the Police “full authority to bring to justice” the killer herdsmen. The Senate has not declared, “Smoke them out”, Police has not published photos of the suspected herdsmen and declared them “wanted dead or alive.”

So how many policemen will it take to be slaughtered to attract as much government’s attention as 17 soldiers killed? What a nation of hypocrite leaders?

Between Okuama & Ohoror, Who Needed Military Intervention?

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To prosecute the doubtful ‘peace mission’ men of the 181 Amphibious Battalion passed through Uwherun where the policemen were murdered to access Okuama.

Between the communal struggle for farming and fishing rights that pitted Okuama against Okoloba and policemen being slaughtered in the line of duty by herdsmen, which emergency should have attracted lawful attention of the military?

By the universal norm, the military only comes into internal security when the Police with primary duty is overwhelmed or an area is faced with a terrorist situation. In this paradox, nothing suggested the Police have been overwhelmed in the Okoloba, Okuama communal conflict to require military incursion into Okuama. Even Governor Oborevwori had implied this apologetically.

Both communities were not at a war requiring soldiers show of force. Assuming without conceding that the Police were overwhelmed and called for military intervention, an Army Battalion could not have invaded Okuama without the Police, DSS with primary duty for internal security being part of a needed peace mission.

Yet in Uwherun, stranger herdsmen slaughtering MOPOLs was a terrorist situation as marauding herdsmen killings have come to be tagged as terrorism in Nigeria. If there was any emergency that required the military intervention, it was in Uwherun, to nail the herdsmen.

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Doubtful Peace Mission

Besides, for the army of occupation, including the 181 Amphibious Battalion, that now overwhelms the oil and gas operating space in the Nigeria Delta, the core mandate has been to safeguard oil and gas assets and the personnel running the operations.

Peacekeeping in communities surrounding these assets never preoccupies the minds of the soldiers or Joint Task Force (JTF) often accommodated and well fed in comfortable house boats around creek assets or container apartments on land fields.

Beyond this core mandate, the personal interest of the army of occupation around host and neighboring communities is frolicking with their women which they are free to indulge in or aiding and abetting oil theft, vandalism.

These are no mere allegations. As a reporter who covered the oil and gas operating space for years, I have witnessed a Commanding Officer of the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Delta confront soldiers in a house boat and scolded, “you aide and abet oil theft and illegal refineries”.

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He did so with substantial justification. Leading a raid on illegal refineries in the Warri South West creeks, the sites he set ablaze and arrested culprits were just stone throw from the house boat of the military guards watching over oil assets at that point.

All of the inconsistencies indicate that the horror still unfolding over killing of soldiers is beyond Okoloba and Okuama. Everybody is a loser in this horrible conspiracy induced more by personal interest among key actors than the professed but very doubtful ‘peace mission’.

By burying their heads in the sand over the matter, not even government’s prosecution of the tacit genocide against Okuama will atone for the young, vibrant soldiers wasted with so much to still contribute to nation building.

Deepening Shame Okuama Exposed

Oil host communities have been complaining about oil assets military guards meddling in communal disagreements and playing glorified ‘maiguards’ to individuals who hire them for private engagements. Okuama tragedy has exposed it all.

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The Defense Headquarters would not admit it, but calling one community’s inducement of oil assets military guards to storm another in struggle over farming and fishing rights a ‘peace mission’ is a misnomer.

For conceited Ijaws of the Niger Delta, there is an inbred desire to push Okuama, like every other Urhobo close neighbours into extinction. Having failed, time and again, to achieve that goal independently, perhaps someone found a willing third party in the Army to be sacrificed to have their way.

It is also interesting to hear the Defence Headquarters, by its own disclosures, coming to terms with the reality that a sparsely populated creek village of predominantly farming and fishing peasants has no near capacity to take out a military battalion troop led by a Lt Col.

The claim by the Defense Headquarters was that the 181 Amphibious Battalion moved into Okuama on a distress claim by Okoloba that Okuama was holding one of Okolobo’s leaders hostage. If Okuama were that bloodthirsty and mighty in battle, they would have wiped out Okoloba before the army had the chance to meddle in the communal dispute.

Now that the Army is tracking an identified “Militant Leader” believed to have masterminded the Okuama killings, to his Southern Ijaw, Bayelsa state base, it remains confounding how an Ijaw militant leader could empty his armoury and unleash his killer squad to defend an Urhobo community against Ijaw’s.

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And the more impulsive comments Defence Headquarters is conjuring to justify its judge and prosecutor role on this tragedy, the more it indicts the military and federal government.

By identifying the prime target as a Militant, by conceding he took advantage of the situation to move into Okuama to kill soldiers on a ‘peace mission’ in anger over the military disruption of his illegal oil bunkering activities, Defense Headquarters under CDS,
Gen Christopher Musa, was inadvertently concluding that the army of occupation in the oil and gas operating space has been a scam.

The CDS was, without realising it, exposing that the Amnesty Programme for the Niger Delta has been a scam, the multi billion naira duplicated contracts to individuals or private firms for oil assets surveillance, all scam.

The Amnesty has outlived set span and transformed into a patronage tool to appease militant leaders who now flag threats of returning to militancy Amnesty it be stopped. With Okuama, it is confirmed militants remain in operation in the oil and gas operations space, yet Amnesty was intended to eradicate militancy.

With Okuama, it is confirmed Federal Government and the military authority are aware there still exists in full gear, Ijaw militancy, an euphemism for organised oil assets vandalism, disruption of operations and kidnap, killing of military guards and workers operating in the oil and gas space to force government to appease militant leaders with juicy gratifications.

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That is why a government can declare a militant leader most wanted dead or alive today and same government in u-turn hero worship same wanted figure and reward him with most juicy oil assets protection job.

Why Ijaw Militancy Won’t Go Away

Chief E K Clark is so proud of this militancy as a culture exclusive to his kinsmen that he insists all other Niger Delta ethnic neighbors must be isolated from Amnesty opportunities, for refusing to join Ijaw style militancy.

Do we blame conceited Clark? No. Militancy now makes uninformed stakeholders believe the entire oil and gas operating space including my own Otu-Jeremi (Otughievwen) which host the strategic Utorogun NAG1, NAG2, and NAG3 in the making, a flow station among other key assets, is Ijaw territory.

This oddity will keep stimulating sustained militancy, because while appeasing violent Ijaws for taking up arms against the Nigerian state, Federal Government had failed to offer corresponding rewards to peaceful Urhobo and other Niger Delta ethnic groups who saw the scam in the modern day Ijaw militancy and refused being part of it.

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It is strange why no government has realised this. Ijaw militancy is reason the Niger Delta oil and gas space is so pressurised into the most expensive endowed enclave to operate, the duplicated structures and budgets for securing assets and operation swelling the operational expenses (OPEX).

What goes around coming around, It is interesting that after celebrating the disguised genoside ongoing against Okuama as “collateral damage”, Clark is out crying how his Kiagbodo country home has been invaded and ransacked by same soldiers prosecuting the vengeful war over Okuama killings.

Double Standard

To raid Chief Clark’s father’s house in Ughelli and his Kiagbodor country home, the military had to call to inform him and apologise for the embarrassment their actions may have caused the Ijaw supreme leader.

Even at that, Clark still declared subtle threats to the federal government, that should anything happen to him on account of the Defense Headquarters impunity in the guise of seeking justice for Okuama 17, government cannot imagine the repercussions.

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But in search of Okuama leaders suspected to be involved in the killings, the military raided Urhobo communities with impunity, harassing, intimidating and arresting leaders for allegedly providing cover for fleeing suspects.

In the tacit double standard on display by the Defense Headquarters, an Urhobo monarch whose domain encompasses Okuama was declared wanted, like a common criminal.

At the Delta State Police Command Headquarters, Asaba where he submitted self voluntarily in response to the wanted tag, the military went, seized him from the police and dragged him to Defence Headquarters in damning humiliation.

While the Defense Headquarters has ordered its own determined Enquiry into Okuama saga, the panel set up already in Delta, the Ovie of Ewhu Kingdom remains in custody of the military in Abuja.

Who Speaks For Urhobo

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Among Urhobos, it has been disappointing that the apex social cultural leadership organ, the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) lost its voice when it needed to share the pains and speak to truth power against the vengeful conspiracy to push Okuama into extinction.

Even a Governor Oborevwori, himself an Urhobo, has lost his voice. He did even worse with earlier suspected herdsmen slaughtering of police men in Delta while Ijaw officeholders, the Ijaw National Congress and Ijaw Youth Council stir all manner of threats in defence of Okoloba community who invited the military on an ill-fated doubtful peace mission into Okuama.

Urhobos, including some of the most informed, must be thankful to Zik Gbemre, Coordinator, Niger Delta Peace Coalition who has emerged a hero of sort over Okuama, for standing the gap as the consistent lone voice asking all the critical questions over the military playing judge and prosecutor in their own case.

Gbemre reasoned, “When I cried out that Urhobo no longer has the UPU created by the great D D Mowoe and other founding fathers, I was labelled as being too critical. Aren’t I vindicated? Suspected herdsmen murdered a number of policemen in Uwherun communities of Urhobo and the IG in belated fave saving half truths is making unheathy insinuations.

“Weeks later, Ijaw power brokers induce soldiers’ incursion into an Urhobo community in fishing and farming rights dispute with a neighboring Ijaw community for very doubtful ‘peace mission’ without knowledge of a state governor who said his administration had the situation under control.

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“In the process, an Ijaw militant leader and alleged oil thief who has scores to settle with the military and known to the military cashes in to kill soldiers in a reign of terror.

“The military who claimed to know the Ijaw gang leader and his intention cannot get hold of him. They won’t arrest his monarch, but they go into vengeful invasion of the Okuama where it happened, to kill and destroy. They arrest an Urhobo monarch like a common criminal and the UPU is playing spectator.

“It is not unusual for government of the day to have interest in UPU affairs, but a UPU that has been induced into a partisan wing of Delta ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has abdicated its primary duty to lead Urhobo’s advancement and now preoccupied with singing praises of failed Delta governors in power since 1999 has lost it.

“Degenerating into irrelevance by the day under successive slack leaderships, the selection of current UPU Executives was highjacked, bankrolled by the PDP hegemony in Delta who ensured that only PDP card carrying members emerged winners.

“With a partisan UPU what do you expect? The Ese Gam led UPU can’t question Oborevwori’s predictably colourless governance even with glaring justifications to point the flaws. They must reject or accept the exact same things the governor rejects or accepts.

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“Governor is silent over the danger herdsmen slaughtering of policemen posed to Urhobos of Uwherun and attempt by the IG to blackmail Urhobo, so UPU must be silent as well.

“Okuama is raised, sacked by the Nigerian state over the harsh consequences of a doubtful military ‘peace mission’ there. Rather than assert his displeasure over being treated as a bystander by the Defense Headquarters over the matter, Oborevwori who has not been allowed access to Okuama till date is issuing apologetic statements hardly anybody cares to listen to.

“I bet the Ewhu monarch would not suffer the humiliation he is currently being subjected if he were an Ijaw king. Violent Ijaws militants would have been sent into the creeks to vandalise oil assets, kidnap expatriates and cut into pipes to steal and possibly face the army fire for fire until their king is released.”

Similar scenes have been created before, so a reenactment won’t be a surprise. As the Defense Headquarters intensifies its vengeful justice over Okuama against the debate of the legitimacy of the military playing judge and prosecutor over its own case, whatever outcome from the self determined probe would not change anything.

Okuama killings is another shame of a nation. We are all losers, after all.

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Goruvwoghor, public affairs commentator wrote from Warri

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