CDS, Maj.-Gen. Chris Musa

DHQ blames oil thieves for killing of soldiers in Okuama

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Barely days after it declared 8 persons wanted in connection with the killing of 17 soldiers in the Okuama community in Delta State, the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) has quoted the country’s Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Christopher Musa, as blaming criminal gangs profiting from oil theft for the act.

CDS, Maj.-Gen. Chris Musa

According to the DHQ, General Musa said the soldiers were deliberately targeted due to several crackdowns aimed at stopping pipeline vandalism in the community, even as he reportedly refuted allegations that the soldiers stormed the community aggressively, stating they went in for a peaceful dialogue.

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The General further raised concerns about traditional leaders withholding information, suggesting a deeper issue in the region.

Speaking as guest on an interview with Arise TV, Wednesday, General Musa stated that the traditional leaders may not have been directly involved in the killings, but that the community members and leaders cannot deny they knew what was happening.

“They cannot claim ignorance of what was going on there. I’m sure you are aware that since they decapitated the bodies of those men, there’s a lot of human sacrifice that is ongoing in those general areas. It was just a way of saying they have strength, and that’s why they disemboweled them. I don’t know what the intent was, but whatever it is, we remain focused and committed.

“Our operation was highly regulated. Ideally, before now, it would have been a situation where we would have gone in and flattened all the communities within that area. However, it was a measured response because we felt not everyone was involved. But we know that many people knew what was going on and kept quiet,” the CDS said

Musa said that the military could have eradicated Delta State’s Okuama community in retaliation for attacks on its men, as he also debunked claims that the slain military personnel stormed the community fully armed.

“I have heard comments about what they (the murdered soldiers) were doing. Once we are deployed on an operation, we have the right and mandate to arrest all acts of criminality within that area. So they were there legally and were conducting a legal operation. The commanding officer felt that the threat was not that high, which is why he felt he could discuss with these individuals. He did not go in armed.

“That gallant officer, if he had gone armed, he would have erased everyone in that place. He felt these were people he knew; these were Nigerians he could talk to. When he went to talk to them with his team, they were rounded up and shot. Their body parts were cut, their hearts were removed, and I think that’s one thing all Nigerians should stand against.

“I have heard what the Urhobo leaders have said, and I respect the elders, but I want them to speak from a position of strength. They cannot say they do not know what was going on there. Since they decapitated the bodies, there’s a lot of human sacrifice happening in those general areas.

“We are a professional army. We are the Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Armed Forces. We are here to protect Nigerians, and we will continue to do so. Sometimes, things happen, and people don’t understand, and then it’s open to speculation.

“We don’t follow speculations; we follow orders and directives. But I can assure you that we will always strive to do the right thing. Mistakes might be made, yes, because we are human, but we will try to curtail that as much as possible. I am sure you also know that we have standing Court Martials for all our operations. We don’t condone acts of indiscipline.

“If you commit an offense, you go before the Court Martials and are punished accordingly. We don’t hide our own; we bring them out because we want Nigerians to trust the armed forces and know that we are there for them day in, day out.”

It would be recalled that the DHQ, last Thursday, published names and photographs of eight persons suspected of having a hand in the killing of 17 soldiers said to have been deployed to a peace mission in Okuama community in Delta State.

The slain soldiers included one Lieutenant Colonel, two Majors, one Captain, and 13 soldiers.

The wanted persons include a professor, a woman over the deadly attack on the soldiers in the Urhobo community in Delta, last March 14.

In a post on its official X account, Thursday, the Army said the ambush on its soldiers on March 14, 2024 led to the death of Officers and Soldiers of the 181 Amphibious Battalion, Asaba, the Delta State capital.

The persons declared wanted are; Akevwru Daniel Omotegbono, Professor Ekpekpo Arthur, Andaowei Dennis Bakriki, Igoli Ebi (female), Akata Malawa David, Sinclear Oliki, Clement Ikolo Oghenerukevwe and Reuben Baru.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Army, Thursday, laid to rest the remains of the 17 personnel who were killed in Delta State on March 14 with military honours at the National Military Cemetery Abuja on Wednesday, March 27, 2024.

The personnel, made up of one Lieutenant Colonel, two majors, one Captain, and 13 soldiers, were laid to rest in a very solemn ceremony.

The personnel it would be recalled were ambushed and murdered by youths on Thursday, March 14, while on a peace mission, after a reported case of communal clash between Okuama and Okoloba Communities in Ughelli South and Bomadi local government areas of Delta State.

They include Commanding officer, 181 Amphibious Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel AH  Ali, Major SD Shafa, Major DE Obi, Captain, U. Zakari, Staff Sergeant. Yahaya Saidu, Corporal Yahaya Danbaba, Corporal Kabiru Bashir, Lance Corporal Bulus Haruna, Lance Corporal Sole Opeyemi, Lance Corporal Bello Anas, Lance Corporal Hamman Peter, Lance Corporal Ibrahim Abdullahi, Private Alhaji Isah, Private Clement Francis, Private Abubakar Ali, Private Ibrahim Adamu, and Private Adamu Ibrahim.

In his address, the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Taoreed Lagbaja, said it has become the toughest job for him to send men in harm’s way, despite providing the best equipment, knowing that some of them would not make it back alive.

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