Okuama: How soldiers fell to suspected mercenaries, oil bunkerers

•Suspected oil bunkerers first kidnapped Major Saffa, JTF commander
•Lt Col Ali, Commanding Officer, 181 Amphibious Battalion went on a rescue mission

•Why Army is livid

By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South and Sunday Bomadi Chancel

With the latest revelations on the March 14 killing of 17 soldiers in Delta State, the prevalent supposition that the misapprehension between Okuama, an Urhobo community in Ughelli South Local Government Area, Delta State, and Okoloba, an Ijaw town in Bomadi Local Government Area, was the chief reason for the unimaginable massacre appears off beam.

Saturday Vanguard learned from multiple sources that a group of oil bunkerers, who were hired as mercenaries, might have carried out the bloodshed.

The Army, which is everywhere in the creek and land in Delta and Bayelsa States, searching for the killers, and stolen weapons has arrested some suspects, but it has not formally announced the capture of the killers.

Acting on intelligence, soldiers, who had laid siege to the Okuama community since March 15, invaded the Igbomotoru community in Southern-Ijaw Local Government Area, Bayelsa State, on March 17, stalking a suspected militant leader and oil thief, who has his operational base in the riverside community.

The storming of Igbomotoru swung attention to an alleged militant leader and oil thief, whose father is a retired army officer, and purportedly an Urhobo in Delta State as the mastermind of the Okuama killings. There is controversy over whether he is an Ijaw from Igbomotoru or maternally from Igbomotoru.

Some traced the militant leader’s paternity to Okuama and maternity to Igbomotoru. When the inter-communal crisis between the two communities started brewing, the community leadership, reportedly, contracted him to come and fight for them, which he did by mobilizing his boys to Okuama.

Saturday Vanguard could not immediately confirm the veracity, but it was the information that made the army send troops to Igbomotoru, Bayelsa State, in search of him.

When a strong clue emerged

However, a stout clue that oil bunkers were behind the butchery emanated when a supposed militant, who claimed to have participated in the killing, stated in a trending video, that they killed the military men for their support for another set of oil bunkerers.

He also said that if they had allowed soldiers to take away Okuama community leaders, the youths would be rendered powerless.

Generally, his statement in the video centred on divergence among oil bunkers in a part of the Niger Delta that entailed the use of soldiers to settle scores.

His words: “That is why the action (assassination of the soldiers) took place but people say the soldiers came for peacekeeping. Point of correction – no army came for peacekeeping. They are(sic) fighting in support of somebody (names withheld), who ordered them to do.”

However, within the week, another militant group, which identified itself as Amagbein Force, also in a trending video, pledged its loyalty to its leader, who happened to be the same militant leader that the army went in search of at Igbomotoru.

Could it be a coincidence? The group member, who spoke, did not make a direct claim that they participated in the killing of soldiers at Okuama, but said oil bunkering would not stop unless the government settled the matter peacefully, and easily.

He urged the Federal Government to hand over waterways security to the right person doing the work for peace to reign, saying the militants would stand with their leader, Amagbein, till death do them part.

Amagbein, in the past, denied allegations by the army that he was a militant and oil bunkerer, but has kept running.
Many expect that the army, which confirmed narrowing investigations to “persons of interest and their cohorts”, will release the outcome of its investigations shortly.

Who invited alleged bunkerers to Okuama?

Some curious minds, however, want to know what the mercenaries and oil bunkerers were doing in Okuama, which is not an oil-producing community when the soldiers came on a peace mission over an abducted Okoloba indigene.

How did they get to the Okuama community? Who invited them? Who authorised to intervene on behalf of the community when the soldiers decided to take away the community chair and other leaders?

There was an unconfirmed report that oil thieves cuckolded the soldiers to Okuama. How true the claim is remains a conjecture.

The commanding officer went to rescue JTF commander

However, Saturday Vanguard scooped that the Commander of the Joint Task Force, JTF, in Bomadi, the late Major Saffa, was the first to come to Okuama, on March 14, with his men.

A former supervisory councillor, whose brother, Anthony Aboh, the Okuama youths allegedly abducted the previous day, March 13, reported the matter to the JTF, and he was with them in a camouflage uniform.

The suspected mercenaries held the JTF commander who went to Okuama on the botched ”peace mission” and one of the soldiers in his team hostage.

They took the army officer hostage when he insisted on going away with the chairperson of the community and others.
Reports said the former councillor was among the persons killed on that day, while the corpse of his brother they went to rescue, was found floating in the River Forcados, just like the soldiers’ remains.

The Commanding Officer of the 181 Amphibious Batallion, late Lt. Col. A.H. Ali, proceeded on a peace mission to Okuama when information reached him that some armed youths in Okuama had abducted Major Saffa and another soldier.

Ali mobilized men in his command the same day to save his colleagues, but he met the same fate.

A driver who escaped with some soldiers when the brigands opened fire at the waterfront, said: “When the armed youths came out of their hideout after the peace talks in the community hall, as the soldiers were forcing the community chairman to the waterfront to board their boats, they signaled the community chairman to stoop and lie low on the ground.”

”The commander and his men did not notice the signal. This was after the incantations by the juju priestess and priest. It was after the chairman laid down that the shooting started. The soldiers could not return fire because of the powerful incantations.

”They did not kill Major Saffa instantly; they took him in a speedboat with the other officer, and sped towards the opposite direction of the community into the creek leading to Ewu, the traditional headquarters of Ewu kingdom.
”The Lt. Colonel and his team might not have seen the colleagues they went for. They exterminated all of them, but it was the following day the news broke that they had slaughtered them.

“They beheaded Major Saffa and killed others with weapons other than guns. The reinforcement and burning of houses at Okuama started the same day.”

The story of how the mercenaries asked Lt. Col. Ali to ask his men to drop their weapons if he did not come for war, after which they collected the weapons, and opened fire on them, is no longer news.

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