Delta bloodbath: Surrender like Okuama monarch, CDS tells suspected killers

The Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Christopher Musa, on Wednesday, said the traditional ruler of Ewu-Urhobo Kingdom in Delta State, His Royal Majesty Clement Oghenerukevwe Ikolo, Urhukpe 1, took the best decision by turning himself in after being declared wanted by the military in connection with the killing of 17 soldiers in the Okuama community of the Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta State.

The CDS advised the seven other suspects declared wanted to take a cue from the monarch and equally turn themselves in.

Musa spoke on Wednesday while featuring on an Arise TV programme.

On March 14, 2024, the officers and soldiers of the 181 Amphibious Battalion were ambushed and killed by some hoodlum during a peacekeeping mission in the Okuama community.

The 17 military personnel, including four officers and 13 soldiers, were murdered during the mission.

Okuama and Okoloba communities have been embroiled in a lingering land dispute since 2023.

Last week, the military declared eight persons, including the monarch wanted in connection with the killing.

The suspects declared wanted were Prof. Ekpekpo Arthur, Andaowei Dennis Bakriri, Clement Ikolo Oghenerukeywe, Reuben Baru and Igoli Ebi.

Oghenerukevwe is the Ovie of Ewu-Urhobo Kingdom in Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta State and the traditional ruler of Okuama.

Others are Akevwru Daniel Omotegbono, aka Amagbein, Atata Malaw David and Sinclair Oliki.

The police in Delta State said last week that the monarch turned himself in shortly after being declared wanted, adding that he was subsequently handed over to the military.

Commending the decision of the monarch, the CDS said, “I’m happy with the traditional ruler who submitted himself, which is the best thing. I wish all those other ones that were in the pictures would also equally do the same.”

Giving an insight into how the hoodlums were able to overpower and kill the 17 military men, including the Commanding Officer, the CDS said the soldiers went to the community unharmed because their aim was dialogue.

He said the hoodlums, however, took advantage of that to eliminate the military personnel.

Musa said, “They were deployed legally; they were doing a legal operation and it was because the Commanding Officer felt the threat was not that high, that was why he went there and felt he could discuss with the individual. He did not go armed. If he had gone armed, he would erase everybody in that place, but he felt these were people he knew, these were Nigerians that he could talk to.

“And when he stepped up to talk to them with his team, they were rounded up and all shot, and not only shot, their body parts were cut, their hearts and private parts were removed.”

The CDS also knocked the argument from some quarters that the police, and not the military, should arrest and detain suspects.

The CDS said the military had the backing of President Bola Tinubu to arrest the suspects and recover missing weapons.

Among those who questioned the investigation approach was human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), who argued that murder was not a military offence and that the military could not arrest, detain, investigate and charge civilian suspects with any offence.

Citing the case between Dr Issa Perry Brimah v Nigerian Army, Falana said Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu had held that the military could only make a formal report to the police on such matter.

“Otherwise, it would transmute to self-help. The duty of the defendant is to make a formal report to the appropriate authorities like the police and await the outcome,” Falana said.

Also, a former Director of the Department of State Services, Mike Ejiofor, stated that the Nigerian Army was an interested party in the matter, adding that it should not be involved in investigating the incident.

However, speaking on Wednesday, the CDS maintained that the military was legally deployed and authorised to make arrests and interrogate suspects.

Musa said, “We are happy that the Commander-in-Chief has given us a mandate to recover the arms and to arrest the perpetrators. A lot of comments have been made by different kinds of people, some from lack of understanding.

“When you have a Joint Task Force, Joint Task Force involves members of the armed forces, that is the Army, Navy Air Force, we have the police, the DSS, every other security agency is part of it. So, when we have arrests, we have a joint investigation team, it is not like the army is taking the laws into their hands. Once we are deployed on operations, we have the right and the mandate to arrest all acts of criminality within that area.

“They were legally deployed and with their mandate, they are authorised to make arrests, they are authorised to interrogate, because we have a joint interrogation centre that works together as a team under the Joint Task Force.”

Musa described the killing of the 17 military men in the Delta State community as a deliberate act by the criminals, who were unhappy with the military’s onslaught against oil theft and pipeline vandalism.

He said, “The Okuama attack was premeditated. Just because they are a group of criminals, cultists, militants making a lot of money from crude oil theft, they believe they are above the law. And they did this deliberately.”

He described the operations ongoing in the community as a “measured response,” adding that the military was out to recover weapons and apprehend those responsible for the attack.

Musa said, “It was a measured operation, it was a measured response. We are conducting cordon-and-search operations to thoroughly search for our weapons and to arrest those who carried out this dastardly act.

“I’m sure you’re watching what’s ongoing in Ukraine-Russia, you’re watching what’s ongoing with Hamas and Israel. We’re not doing that. We’ll try to do things differently this time around.

“The aftermath definitely will be that gradually, when we finish the cordon and search operations, and cordon and search operation means we are searching every nook and cranny within the community because we know they have a lot of illegal money from crude oil theft, they have bought a lot of weapons.

“During the disarmament exercise that was conducted, a lot of them didn’t hand over all they had. And because it is in the riverine area close to other countries, they have ways that they also bring in weapons. It was because they had weapons that they were able to perpetrate this.

“So, it is for us to thoroughly clean this community and ensure that no weapons, no explosives, nothing is left there, and that none of them is hiding.”

Credit Gist New Today News in Newspaper Nigeria Headlines

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