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Now that Odi and Zaki-Biam have resurrected in Okwuama



The hitherto lesser-known Okwuama community in Nigeria’s southern state of Delta, is now at the center of global attention courtesy of a bloodletting matchup between suspected armed militants and the Nigerian Army.

Okwuama now becomes synonymous with communities like Zaki-Biam, Odi and other places where Civilian/Army infractions resulted to wanton killings and destruction of properties.

On November 20, 1999, the Nigerian military, reportedly acting on the orders of then President Olusegun Obasanjo, invaded Odi, a predominantly Ijaw community in Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area of Bayelsa State and killed many including women and children, leveling the community to the ground in the process.

The attack was a reprisal for the killing of 12 policemen and an ambush of soldiers by a militia that apparently used the civilian population of Odi as its cover.

The Zaki-Biam massacre nicknamed ‘Operation No Living Thing’ was a mass execution of hundreds of unarmed civilians in Benue State by the Nigerian Army between 20 and 24 October 2001.

The massacre was carried out to avenge the killing of 19 soldiers, whose mutilated bodies were found on 12 October 2001, near some Tiv villages in Benue State.

Similar incidents have taken place over the years but none came close to the scale of Odi and Zaki-Biam until recently when the Okwuama incident occured.

Contrary to earlier reports which painted Okwuama people as the aggressor, facts have now shown that the Nigerian Army flagrantly abused the military code of conduct and rules of engagement when they turned what was supposed to be a ‘peace meeting’ to a massacre event.

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DDM gathered that military personnel arrived in two gunboats on Thursday, March 14, for a purported peace talk between Okwuama and Okoloba communities.

At the end of the said meeting, they (military) insisted on taking away the Okwuama community chairman and other community leaders for “further interrogation”, which the people resisted.

Their resistance reportedly infuriated the soldiers who rained bullets at the meeting venue, slaying about 50 persons.

The Nigeria Army, in a manner only fit for external aggression, struck, leaving blood and tears in its wake.

They were not in a hurry to leave the community, hence giving suspected armed militants enough time to lay an ambush along the waterways.

Late in the evening as they made their way home, the suspected militants struck successfully, killing 17 soldiers.

DDM’s sources in Ughelli, Delta State, and credible news tabloids like Vanguard Newspaper and Premium Times have all corroborated this.

On the next day (15th of March), the military returned to Okwuama, shooting indiscriminately and causing residents to flee.

DDM is not justifying the killing of the soldiers but truth be told: the unprovoked killing of Okwuama people during the purported peace talk was equally reprehensible and outrageous.
The army should have shown restraint.

There is absolutely no justification or rational for self help in any country.

Okuama currently lies in ruins, houses razed in flames even as decomposing bodies line the empty streets.

We align with the position of an elderstatesman, veteran politician and business tycoon, Chief Otu Ita Toyo.

He said, “those peace mediators (soldiers) could have de-escalated and resolved to revisit that matter at a more appropriate time and place.”

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Toyo added: “if they found it necessary, they would have invited the Police into the matter, who along with the Military Intelligence unit would more likely have arrived at a less violent outcome, without so much loss to the nation.”

Those military personnel took law into their hands by literally firing the first shot and then returning for revenge when their men were waylaid and murdered.

Turning their weapons against the citizens amounts to treason. They were given rifles not to destroy the masses but to protect them.

We support the hunt for the killers of the soldiers. They have to be brought to book.

We also call on the federal government to ensure that families of victims murdered by the soldiers before and after the killing of their colleagues, get justice.

Curiously, incidences were troops have been ambushed by armed gangs, bandits, herders and even terrorists in other parts of the country, especially in the north, have never led to a reprisal against the civilian population who may have had no hand in the attack on troops.

Issues like this must be handled with very strict carefulness, wisdom and sincerity.

May wise counsel prevail on this!

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