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Okuama Killings: A Governor’s Sympathy Cry

By Felix Ofou

“It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die, than to find those who are willing to endure pain with patience” – Julius Caesar

On Friday, April 5, 2024, Rt. Hon. Sheriff Oborevwori, Governor of Delta State, exposed what had been hidden in the deep recesses of his heart since the tragic killing of 17 soldiers and the sacking of the community allegedly by another contingent on reprisal attack in Okuama in Ughelli South Local Government Area of the state.

The opportunity came during a visit by the board of enquiry set up by the Military high command in the killing of the 17 soldiers on a fact finding mission to the state. The Governor received members of the panel led by Air Vice Marshal David Ajayi at the Government House in Warri during which he bared his emotions on the unfortunate incident.

Prior to that visit, Oborevwori had been wrongly accused of keeping mum and not doing enough to show sympathy to the victims on either side of the crisis. Not minding that the Governor has roundly condemned the killing and sued for peace, there were some people, albeit in the minority, who felt he should have shown greater sympathy.

This is in spite of several steps taken by the Delta State’s chief executive soon after news broke about what had happened in Okuama. First was the bold and courageous decision to visit the scene to assess what had happened and to determine how best to de-escalate the tension stemming from the killings. Next was the storming of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, to brief President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who is the Commander-in-Chief, during which he promised to provide relief for those displaced as well as cooperate with the military high command to get to the bottom of the matter.

On the other hand, another school of thought alleged that the real issue that got the army peace mission involved in Okuama and Okoloba bordered more on the rampant bunkering and stealing of crude oil in the entire area. In the view of proponents of this view, the issue should not be swept under the carpet even as the hunt for the perpetrators of the gruesome killing continues.

But, Friday provided a rare opportunity for Oborevwori to let the world know how he truly felt about the tragedy. It was a no-holds barred moment for the Governor who spoke his mind in an unreserved manner; unrestrained like he has never done. He spoke about his pains as well as that of the state on account of the sad incident.

The Governor narrated how the state has managed the situation, promising that the State would do all it could to assist the Board on its assignment. Oborevwori further revealed that in an effort to honour the deceased officers and soldiers, he led a top level delegation of members of the State Security Council and members of the State Executive Council to attend the funeral of the slain officers and soldiers in Abuja.

While saying that a transparent investigation should be conducted to fish out the real culprits of the heinous crime, he said innocent citizens should not be made to suffer any further. “I am very happy for this meeting taking place here today in Warri. Most people who spoke about the issue did so out of ignorance because they lacked the true knowledge of the facts of what happened. Setting up this Board of Enquiry is a good one.

“In my MORE Agenda, we said we are going to ensure peace and security, and for the first time in a long while, we celebrated Christmas without any hitches and I must thank security agencies in the state for a job well done.

“In Delta State, there are two bodies we don’t play with – the Advisory and Peace Building Council and the Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Committee – because they are doing a lot to ensure enduring peace in the state.

“I told the Secretary to State Government to invite the Okuama/Okoloba people. l made it mandatory that the Chairmen of Ughelli South and Bomadi Local Government Councils should be in attendance. The members of the State House of Assembly representing the constituencies affected should also be in attendance and the Presidents-General of the communities.

“That meeting was held on the 7th of February and they signed a peace accord. So, we were not expecting anything negative when the military went there for a peace mission. In Delta State, we don’t encourage crisis. I want to assure you that whatever information you people want, we will give it to you and we will also come with our position paper to submit to you people before you leave.

“That will also guide you on the role that we have played as a state because if we don’t come with this position paper, you will not know the role that the state has played”, the Governor said.

Earlier, Chairman of the Board of Enquiry, Air Vice Marshal David Ajayi, said the Board was in the state to investigate the unfortunate incident that happened at Okuama.
He said: “We are here as a fact-finding mission and not to apportion blame. We are here to gather facts from security agencies, community leaders and community dwellers.

“This report will also help to ensure healthy communication that will enhance civil-military relationship and ensure that economic activities thrive again in the affected communities.”

He called on the Governor to assist the Board in its enquiry to ensure that relevant stakeholders were invited to the give account of what led to the crisis.

However, the Governor did not disclose his other pain: attempts by irredentists to hijack the process and introduce an ethnic colouration to the crisis by claiming that agents from Okoloba (neighbouring Ijaw community) allegedly recruited the slain soldiers to destroy Okuama (Urhobo community) which resulted in the said killings. The ethnic jingoist tried in vain to drag Oborevwori into their depraved plot.

As it turned out, the warlord, top on the wanted list of the military high command and said to have masterminded the killing of the soldiers in Okuama, is Ijaw with maternal link to the community. Those who tried to accuse the Governor of not defending Urhobo interests enough therefore failed woefully in their bid to input ethnic motive in Oborevwori’s actions.

But, it must be pointed out that a crisis like what happened in Okuama, is bound to affect the relative peace in the zone as well as the economic fortunes of the state. That, undoubtedly, the Governor is bound to be concerned about, the burden of which he bears with equanimity and uncommon humility.

Yet, like Caesar, Oborevwori has borne his pain with patience, never complaining, nor betraying any sign of panic. Instead, he has provided leadership and stability necessary to sustain peace and progress in the state. The days ahead will definitely be kind to him. History is definitely on the side of the Governor.

* Ofou is Executive Assistant on New Media to the Delta State Governor

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