FOR 10 days, the nation is understandably simmering over the butchery of 17 officers and personnel of the Nigerian Army, who journeyed on a peace mission to Okuama, an Urhobo community in Ughelli South Local Government Area, Delta State, on March 14.

The subsequent discovery that the heartless killers beheaded some of the soldiers and mutilated the remains of others infuriated Nigerians the more.

Even more worrisome is the truth that the killers also collected the arms and ammunition of the Nigerian Army found in the possession of the assassinated soldiers, a development that no security agency would joke with until the weapons are found and retrieved.

Too many mysteries

But how did a communal misunderstanding between Okuama and Okoloba, an Ijaw community in Bomadi Local Government Area, Delta State, degenerate into the slaughter of soldiers, especially after the people of Okuama had received the soldiers in their territory, and served them kola nut?

What crime did the soldiers commit to warrant such jungle justice?


Having signed a peace accord brokered by the Delta state government, more than a month earlier, seemingly to forestall further killings, kidnap, and counter-kidnap by both communities, why did some Okuama youth waylay, and take hostage Mr. Anthony Aboh, an indigene of Okoloba, whose rescue attempt by soldiers resulted in the March 14 debacle?

However, if truth be told, were soldiers, job-wise, supposed to have embarked on peace talks with the people of Okuama, who are having a land dispute with Okoloba?

What were the compelling reasons for the military authorities authorizing such peace talks, headed by the Commanding Officer of the 181 Amphibious Battalion, Lt. Colonel A.H Ali, in a communal dispute between the two communities? Besides the lieutenant colonel were two majors, one captain, and others.

Who authorized the mission by the military officers? They could not have undertaken such a mission without authorization and planning.

Was the Commissioner of Police, Delta State, informed of the peace talks and what is the involvement of the police, whose duty it is in the first instance, to execute such a mission?

Why was it not the Police that went for the peace talks?

Did the Army notify the Governor of Delta State, the Chief Security Officer of the state, Rt. Hon Sheriff Oborevwori, of the March 14 peace talks?

Why did the peace team consist only of military men? Where were the officials of the Department of State Services, DSS, traditional rulers of the area, and other stakeholders?

What of the state Committee on Peace and Conflict Resolution that earlier brokered the peace accord between the two feuding communities; the Chairman of Ughelli South Local Government Area, and the Divisional Police Officer, DPO, in charge of the area?

Why should the Army not track down those who killed their men rather than attack innocent women, and children of Okuama, who could not have been the ones that murdered the soldiers?

Why should soldiers embark on razing the community, a day after the 17 soldiers were killed, and continue knocking down the community days after, but in the same breath, remain indifferent to allegations of carrying out reprisal action against the fleeing Okuama natives?

The puzzles in this sad episode that has enveloped Delta State are many. But the truth is that there is more than meets the eye in the entire affair.

What is, however, palpable is that the two communities were at daggers drawn over land despite the peace accord put in place by the state government, leaders and youth of the communities fanned embers of discord by their actions.

Accusations, counter-accusations

Both communities had before now accused each other of engaging the services of Very Important Personalities, VIPs, and private armies to undermine the peace process.

For example, while Okoloba accused Okuama of hiring a militant leader and other mercenaries to kidnap and kill their indigenes, including the 17 military men on March 14, Okuama also pointed fingers at Okoloba, alleging that a VIP influenced the disquieting presence of soldiers in its land for the bungled consultation.

Curiously, a militant from one of the warring communities suspected to have participated in the killing of the soldiers, in a trending video, maintained that the use of soldiers to persecute the people of Okuama triggered the bloodbath.

Military didn’t come for peacekeeping – Militant leader

Daring the government to declare him wanted if it so wished, during the week, an unnamed militant, who communicated in Pidgin English, said the soldiers allowed some influential people to use them to repress the people of Okuama.

He claimed that the Okuama and Okoloba communities were indeed having a land dispute and connected Ijaw people who used the army to escort and carry out their crude oil business, betrayed their brothers.

He disclosed they used soldiers to ‘carry’ three people and slaughtered them, adding, “The day the soldiers were killed, they came to carry our community leaders, and the youth knew that once the community leaders were captured, they would be powerless.”

From his explanation, they killed the soldiers to stop them from taking away the community leaders and making the youths of Okuama ineffective.

“That is why the action took place but people say the soldiers came for peacekeeping. Point of correction – no army came for peacekeeping. They are fighting in support of somebody who ordered them to do so.

“This is my last video; my father is a retired army captain; he died last year, and I have lost over six of my friends and relatives in Nigeria.

“If you like, take the matter to the next level. If you like, make the Federal Government declare me wanted, I am proud of it. You people are saying show my face, if I show my face, what will you do to me,” he said.

Ogbodo traces crisis to oil bunkering

Meanwhile, a former Editor of the Guardian Newspaper, Mr. Abraham Ogbodo, who is of Urhobo nationality, corroborated the claim in an interview with a television station, saying the ambush and murder of the troops was not connected to the communal crisis between Okuama and Okoloba, but instead linked to illegal oil bunkering in the Niger Delta.

”It is not true that a misunderstanding between an Urhobo community and an Ijaw community could bring that level of crisis, that level of tragedy that we witnessed is not true.

“It’s not about communal crisis. What level of communal crisis? The combined population of those communities will be less than 2,000 human beings. Where will they get the capacity to wreak that level of havoc?

He queried: “What was compelling about a peace mission in that place that will require the strategic team to go for a tactical mission? So, it shows that there are so many things underlying that we are not talking about.
”If it was actually for a peace mission, would it not have been for those community leaders to be summoned to the base in Bomadi for discussions to be held?

“This was not done. Instead, the entire leadership of the battalion went to Bomadi and was exposed. And if a mission like that was being carried by the strategic team, why was there, not enough tactical cover that they were just gotten and taken out like that so cheaply?

“The Nigerian military? That is uncalled for. So, you will see that there are so many wrong things.

Ogbodo urged the military to grant access to the community for thorough investigations into the attack, adding, “I think that what the president has said about the investigation should be allowed to go full course. An investigation means that independent investigators have to get to the site, get to the scene, and let the investigation be done.”

Fabricated storylines – Major General Abudussalam, GOC

The General Officer Commanding, 6 Division, Nigerian Army/Land Component Commander, Joint Task Force, South-South, Operation DELTA STATE, Major General Jamal Abdussalam, on Thursday, nevertheless, vowed that no amount of false narratives, arm-twisting, and blackmail would deter the Army from recovering its arms carted away by the criminals, who killed men and officers, and arrest all those involved in the act.

The Acting Deputy Director, 6 Division Army Public Relations, Lieutenant Colonel Jonah Danjuma, in a statement, said the GOC stated this when the Managing Director (MD)/Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Chief (Dr.) Samuel Ogbuku paid him a condolence visit at the Division’s Headquarters in Port Harcourt Barracks. Rivers State.

He stated that no amount of propaganda, arm-twisting, blackmailing, intimidation, and false narratives would distract troops from staying on course to achieve their objectives.

Abdussalam asserted, “Troops will not rest until all those involved are tracked down to account for their deeds. The operation is being conducted in such a way that going forward, nobody would contemplate attacking men in uniform. False narratives being churned out, and propaganda peddled over this mindless criminality would not deter troops from fishing out the criminals.”

What transpired in Okuama

Beyond the blame game, what went awry as the people of Okuama at the outset received the Lieutenant Colonel and his team to the community.

Before the March 14 slaughter, the day earlier, Wednesday, March 13, a young man from Okoloba, Mr. Anthony Aboh, was taken hostage by armed youths in Okuama community. His brother, a former supervisory councilor, Bomadi local government council, immediately reported the matter to the 181 Amphibious Battalion of the military Joint Task Force, Bomadi.

Upon the report, the commander mobilized his men on a rescue mission to Okuama. The former councilor was also asked to join them on the mission.

Saturday Vanguard learned that when the military team arrived at Okuama, they asked for the community chairman who the community earlier said had gone to the farm. But after much insistence to see him, he surfaced and took the military men to the community hall.

Discussions to free the hostage were deadlocked, and the commander insisted the community chairman must go with them to Bomadi since they refused to produce the hostage, who they later found dead.

According to a survivor, who was one of the drivers of the speedboats hired by the military at the Gbaregolor community waterside, the community chairman refused to go with the soldiers. They forced him towards the waterfront to board their boat when rains of bullets started coming from all directions.

Before that incident, the driver said: “While waiting at the waterfront, an old woman in pure water attire came out of the community and stared at us, making some incantations, and went back to the community. Within a few minutes, an old man with similar attire came to the same spot, gazed at us, and performed the same way as the old woman.”

”Not long after this scenario, the commander and his men started coming to the shore with the community chairman. At that moment, I made ready to start my engine just like my colleagues, but the engines refused to start, and efforts made to start the engines were to no avail at this point, I realized that the problem had come when I saw the performance of the old woman and the man.

”As the bullets started coming, the soldiers tried to respond, but none of their guns answered, and immediately I dived into the river. But suddenly, one of the engines started, some soldiers jumped into it, and the driver sped out of the community and carried me from the river.

”I do not know what he did to start his engine. Two of the soldiers in the boat sustained severe bullet wounds and were taken to the Bomadi General Hospital. The information then was that the JTF commander and one other officer were held hostage”.

”The following day, soldiers were mobilized from Agbarho to Okuama to negotiate and secure the release of the commander and others reported to have been held hostage.”

According to an inside source, who partook in the reinforcement that led to the burning of houses at Okuama, and who was discussing the operation with his colleagues, the soldiers who were mobilized from Agbarho were deceived and killed.

”The remobilized soldiers from Agbarho led by the Lieutenant Colonial, upon reaching Okuama, told the community folk that they were coming for peace talk. They said the soldiers should drop their weapons if they came for peace talks.

”The commanding officer asked his men to drop their weapons, and as they did so, the community youths took the weapons away from all of them. Then, suddenly the youths descended on them by butchering them from all angles.”

Narrating how he was privy to this gruesome murder, the soldier said: “As we were burning houses in the community, somebody ran out of one of the houses on fire, and I threatened to shoot if he ran. He hesitated a while and surrendered. So, we interrogated him as to why he remained in the village while all the others had fled.”

”His reply was odd and awkward. He answered by saying, it could be the blood on his head. Then, when he was asked how many he had killed? He said 46 and at this moment, a colleague cocked his gun and wanted to shoot him in anger, but others calmed him down, telling him that he was a possible source of hidden information.

”We discovered six shrines in the community in the process of burning the houses, which are stained with blood. We also burned them but one of the shrines refused to burn. It was one Hausa soldier who did what he did to set it ablaze.

”The culprit, after his confessions, also led us to discover hidden corpses under the jetty at the community waterfront. He has already been flown to the Defence Headquarters in Abuja”.

Chronology of the Okuama/Okoloaba crisis

The inter-communal crisis between Okuama and Okoloba communities in Bomadi Local started like child’s play.

The brewing crisis between these neighbouring communities came to public notice when one of the communities, Okoloba, through the community chairman, Mr. Clement Koki, addressed a press conference at Bomadi, headquarters of Bomadi local government area, on December 20, 2023, alleging that neighbouring Okuama community invaded farmlands and fishing grounds belonging to Okoloba, as well as attacked and brutalized indigenes on several occasions without any provocation.

They also alleged that indigenes of Okuama trespassed their community by blasting dynamites indiscriminately and cutting off grasses in the name of catching fish thereby exposing the community shoreline to coastal erosion.

The community equally sent an open letter to the state government, drawing the attention of the governor, Rt Hon. Sheriff Oborevwori, to the brewing tension, urging the government to intervene and call the aggressor to order.

The people of the Okoloba community clashed with some youths on a speedboat, going towards Okuama, who they alleged were mercenaries moving weapons to the Okuama community around 2 am in January 2024, The Okoloba community chairman, Mr. Koki, who narrated the night incident, said: “On 28th January 2024, we had intelligence of an allegedly planned attack on our community with mercenaries coming with weapons from the Warri axis that same night, which prompted us to keep watch.”

”A speedboat came from that same direction, the Okuagbe direction of the river at around 2 am. We tried to stop them by beaming torchlights on the boat and waved to stop them, but they responded by firing at us. We pursued them with our boats and they moved in the opposite direction of our community, abandoned their boat, and fled. Arms and charms were inside the boat which we handed over to the Bomadi Police Division”.

But when contacted over the incident, a leader of Okuama, Prof. Ekpoko, alleged that the boys were not mercenaries as erroneously alleged and reported by the people of Okoloba.

He said: “We are not at any offensive but the people of Okoloba are”, stressing “they were coming back to their community from Okuagbe”.

In that incident, it was reported that about six of the said mercenaries met their Waterloo during a gun battle between the two groups, among whom was an Ijaw youth. In the following weeks, the youths who escaped with gunshots were posted on social media.

The Delta State Government, through the office of the Special Adviser to the Governor on Peace and Conflict Resolution, on February 6, 2024, called both parties to Government House, Asaba, where they discussed issues and at the end of the discussions, came up with a Peace Pact that was signed by the leadership of both parties.

On February 20, 2024, the people of the Okoloba community, again, raised the alarm in another press briefing at Bomadi, with an open letter to the governor, updating the public on current developments.

Mr. Koki, in this briefing, said the people of Okuama were conducting a stop-and-search operation on market boats, searching for indigenes of the Okoloba community in the boats with a vow to kill any if found. He also alleged that the harassment of fishermen and farmers of the Okoloba community was on the increase.

”They threatened the boat drivers with guns not to pass without stopping by their waterfront, where they searched for Okoloba Indigenes returning from the market.

, “On the following day, February 21, 2024, our women who were fishing at the Mein-toruabubor River were threatened with guns and chased back home. The Mein-toruabubor River belongs to the Okoloba community”, he said.
Other allegations in the open letter to the governor included efforts to scare away teachers posted to Okoloba, and forceful takeover of fishponds belonging to Okoloba Indigenes and others despite the Peace Pact signed by both parties in Asaba.

But in their reaction to the purported development, an indigene of Okuama spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the allegations were fabricated and unfounded.

Ambush and killing

On the 5th of March, 2024, Mr. Pigha Zipamone of the Okoloba community disappeared from his mother’s farm and the community raised the alarm.

The community chairman, Mr. Koki, who once again addressed the press at Bomadi, when handing over the corpse of the slain youth to security men, said: “On 5th March 2024, Mr. Pigha Zipamone went to work in his mother’s farm and was kidnapped by Okuama bloodletting savages and mercenaries who have been laying ambush to attack us.

”He was taken to Okuama, beaten mercilessly with hands tied behind his back daily in the village square, and eventually killed on 8th March 2024. His lifeless body was thrown into River Forcados in the early hours of 9th March 2024″.

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