President Bola Tinubu and the Senate, on Sunday, ordered the military to apprehend the killers of 16 Nigerian Army personnel who were on a peace mission to the Okuama community in the Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta State.

In carrying out the order, it was gathered on Sunday that the military combed the warring communities and arrested a lot of persons including three prime suspects, as the President declared that the Defence Headquarters and the Defence Chief had full authority to bring anybody responsible to justice.

Also, retired army generals and civil society organisations lambasted the killers of the soldiers and called for their apprehension and speedy prosecution in order to serve as a deterrent to other criminal elements.

Many residents of Okuama in the Ughelli South Local Government Area and Okolaba in the Bomadi Local Government Area of Delta State, fled the communities on Friday, as soldiers took over the area after the killing of the Army personnel.

READ ALSO: Delta Community Where 16 Soldiers Were Killed Razed

Mutilated bodies of the soldiers were recovered by the Joint Task Force under the supervision of the General Officer Commanding 6 Division, Nigerian Army, Major General Jamal Abdussalam, at the Okuama community.

A commanding officer, two Majors, one Captain, 12 soldiers, and one civilian lost their lives in the ambush on Thursday, March 14, 2024.

The neighbouring communities have been engaged in a communal land dispute since January 27, 2024, when some youths from Okoloba were said to have ambushed and killed three Okuama youths, Igho Meshack, Godspower Awusa, and Okiemute Agbabuleke, over an age-long land dispute in the area as they were returning from Okwagbe.

The corpses of the deceased were said to have been hidden by the assailants. Some Okuama youths on Wednesday reportedly ambushed one Mr Anthony Aboh, an indigene of Okoloba, and held him hostage.

The Chairman of the Okoloba community alerted the Divisional Police Officer, Bomadi Police Division, the Joint Task Force, the Department of State Service, and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps.

It was learnt that the JTF swiftly swung into action and moved to Okuama to rescue the hostage.

JTF personnel

However, the aggrieved youths of Okuama, on sighting the JTF personnel, allegedly opened fire on them at the waterfront and killed two soldiers with some others missing.

The situation degenerated to a gun duel between the youths and the military, leading to some soldiers sustaining severe bullet wounds.

In the ensuing melee, some of the soldiers reportedly managed to escape with the two wounded soldiers, who are said to be presently recuperating in an undisclosed hospital in Bomadi.

On Sunday, troops took over Okoloba and Okuama communities and combed every nook and cranny for the culprits.

Tinubu vows retribution

Responding to the development, Tinubu, in a statement he personally signed, declared, “The cowardly offenders responsible for this heinous crime will not go unpunished.”

The response is titled ‘Statement on the killing of Nigerian soldiers on a peace mission to Okuoma community in Delta State.’

While noting that the military high command was already responding to this incident, Tinubu gave fresh marching orders for the manhunt and prosecution of the perpetrators.

“The Defence Headquarters and Chief of Defence Staff have been granted full authority to bring to justice anybody found to have been responsible for this unconscionable crime against the Nigerian people,” the President stated.

He added, “As the Commander-in-Chief, I join all well-meaning Nigerians and the men and women of our armed forces to mourn and express my profound grief over the needless death of our gallant soldiers.”

He also extended his “profound condolences to the families of these fallen soldiers, their colleagues, and their loved ones.”

The Senate condoled with the military over the killing of the commanding officer of the 181 Battalion, two Army Majors, and 12 soldiers.

The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Nigerian Army, Abdulaziz Yar’Adua, in a statement he personally signed, condoled with the service chiefs over the loss of their men.

He said, “On behalf of the 10th Senate Committee on Nigerian Army, I wish to extend our deepest condolences to the Chief of Defense Staff, the Chief of Army Staff, the Nigerian Army, and officers and men of Operation Delta Safe on the tragic loss of our gallant personnel who were mercilessly killed by some youths during a peace mission to Okuoma Community in Bomadi Local Government Area of Delta State on Thursday, March 14, 2024.

“The sacrifices made by the Commanding Officer, three officers, and 12 soldiers during this distressing incident shall forever be remembered. Their bravery and commitment exemplify the highest virtue of patriotism, courage, and sacrifice and their legacy will forever inspire us all.”

Senator Yar’Adua also pledged the unwavering support of the Senate to the investigations of the incident that led to the gruesome killing of the soldiers.

He added, “I wish to commend the swift response of the Chief of Defense Staff in directing an immediate investigation to apprehend those responsible for this heinous crime. It is crucial that justice is served and those behind this criminal act are brought to account for their actions.

“The Nigerian Army’s unwavering focus on upholding peace and security in our nation is a testament to the resilience and dedication of our Armed Forces.

“The Senate Committee on the Nigerian Army stands resolutely alongside the Defense Headquarters and the Nigerian Army in seeking justice for the fallen heroes. We shall spare no effort in supporting the necessary investigations and legal processes to ensure that those responsible for this crime face the full consequences of their actions. “

Ex-generals lament killings

On his part, a former Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Tukur Buratai (retd), described the killing of military personnel in Delta State as “monstrous and barbaric.”

Buratai said the culprits must be seriously dealt with. He spoke in a statement issued on Sunday by the chairman, TY Buratai Humanity Care Foundation, Ibrahim Danfulani.

He said, “Going by the report I received from Delta State, this was the most monstrous and barbarous murder of soldiers in Nigeria’s contemporary history.

“The culprits must be severely dealt with, to serve as a deterrent to all. Soldiers should be respected and honoured at all times for the obvious sacrifices they make to keep the country safe.”

Also, Maj. Gen. Garba Audu (retd), decried the killing of the military personnel, as he stated that with the sacrifices being made by the army officers, they did not deserve to die in such a manner.

He called on Nigerians to respect soldiers.

Audu said, “How can people kill soldiers who are protecting and sacrificing for them? It is not good. They went to make peace and you killed 15 of them? That is not good at all.’’

On his part, Brig. Gen. Bashir Adewinbi (retd), called on the government to take drastic actions against the perpetrators of the crime.

He also said the disputed land should be taken away from the warring parties.


Adewinbi said, “The killing of the personnel who went on a peace mission in Delta state is highly condemned and totally unacceptable. If they can do that to military personnel, who else can be free from them? Recall that a similar thing happened in Odi village and the entire place was leveled.’’

The presidential candidate of the Labour Party in the 2023 elections, Peter Obi, joined others to condemn the killing of the army officers and soldiers in Delta state.

In a post on his X handle, Obi said, “For a nation already combatting a high level of insecurity, the killing of our security personnel who put their lives on the line for the security of the nation will be too much of a burden to bear.’’

Delta senator, Rep

Also, the Senator representing Delta South Senatorial District in the National Assembly, Senator Joel-Onowakpo Thomas, condemned the gruesome murder of the 16 soldiers, saying that the land dispute between the communities was “a crisis taken too far.”

Thomas, who is also the Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Defence, disclosed this in a statement issued in Warri, Delta State, commiserating with the military and the immediate families of the slain soldiers.

Also, a member of the House of Representatives representing Bomadi/Patani Federal Constituency of Delta State at the National Assembly, Nicholas Mutu, condemned Thursday’s killing of 16 soldiers by irate youths of Okuama community.

He, however, frowned upon distortion of facts of the incident in a section of the press, which linked the fate of the soldiers to Ijaw militias in Okoloba, an Ijaw community in Bomadi Local Government Area of Delta state.

He stated, “The killings of the 16 soldiers, including a Lt. Col, two Majors, and one Captain of the Nigerian Army, on a peacekeeping assignment in the Urhobo community was senseless and embarrassing,” he stated.

On his part, a human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, on Sunday urged the Federal Government to put an end to the reprisal attacks by soldiers of the Nigerian Army in Bomadi Local Government Area of Delta state.

Falana, in a statement, urged the military to halt the killings of residents, while calling for a full probe of the incident.

Falana said, “Unfortunately, some villages were attacked last night by angry soldiers. After the attack, the villages were set on fire during the nocturnal military invasion.

“Having regard to the destruction of Odi and Zaki Biam over killing of soldiers, the authorities ought to have taken adequate measures to prevent the attack and burning of the affected villages.’’

CSOs decry killings

The Country Director of the Amnesty International, Isa Sanusi, condemned the killing of the officers, adding that the incident showed that the security situation was “getting out of control.”

He urged the military to be guided by human rights laws in the prosecution of apprehended culprits.

In the last 10 years or so, the military has been carrying out internal military operations in at least 32 states. This is very unusual, and it shows that the insecurity is nationwide, and it is getting out of control.

“Coming to the situation in Delta, we condemn the killing of the 16 military personnel, and we call on the government to investigate and make sure that those suspected of responsibility are brought to justice through fair trial.

“And while doing that, we will always ask the military to make sure that whatever they are doing, they are doing it within the framework of human rights laws and human rights regulations that guide their rule of engagement,” he said.

On his part, the Chairman of the Centre for Accountability and Open Leadership, Debo Adeniran, said the situation showed the debilitating situation of security in the country, noting that the attack revealed the failure of the Army in intelligence gathering and necessary safeguard of its personnel.

He urged the President and Commander-in-Chief to rejuvenate the security architecture, while also urging intelligence units of security agencies in the country to be proactive rather than reactive.

He said, “It shows how debilitating the security system in the country is, because normally if there is an attack anywhere, you would think that you can rely on the army and other security agencies for rescue.

“But in a situation where even the military is aware that there is a security challenge in a place and they also move to that environment unguarded, it is highly reprehensible. So, I wonder why they walked into the ambush of the enemy marauders, who murdered them with reckless abandon, beheaded a number of them, and dismembered their bodies.

“It means that they had enough time to do the damage. It means that the army generally has failed, we do not have to mince words. It is a failure on the part of security, on the part of intelligence gathering, and on the part of necessary safeguards that should concern our military and intelligence institutions.

“If armed forces could be murdered in cold blood, it means nobody is safe again. So, what we can tell the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces is for him to rejuvenate the security system in this country. Intelligence agencies, the Directorate of Military Intelligence, DSS, all of them should swing into action, and nip things in the bud. They must be proactive rather than reactive”

Meanwhile, the National Coordinator of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, Emmanuel Onwubiko, in a statement, condemned the killing.

He said, “We in HURIWA condemn in no uncertain terms, the dastardly criminal act and indeed one of the most gruesome acts of terrorism, the brutal slaughtering of so many Army officers by some armed hoodlums in a part of Delta State.

“This is so tragic and despicable, to put it mildly, and it is hoped that all those involved in this terror attack are arrested and decisively dealt with.”

But an Urhobo elder statesman, David Emeneh, has accused the Nigerian military of carrying out mass and arrest killings, warning that the action of the soldiers could lead to a repeat of the Odi incident.

Emeneh, in a telephone interview with The PUNCH, claimed that soldiers had begun targeting innocent civilians in the community rather than going after the miscreants who committed the crime.

He said, “If it involves mass arrest, nobody will complain about it, but mass killings are currently ongoing in the community. A situation where soldiers will enter a community and open fire is a terrible thing.

“The same thing that happened in Odi is happening in Okuama today. When people take laws into their own hands because of the mischief of a few, it becomes a problem. When miscreants go to an area and cause mayhem, and the military is taking that to wipe out an entire community, that i a bad omen.”

Similarly, the President of the Urhobo Youth Association, Prince Pureheart Kpeyi, has said its community is a peace-loving area and urges people not to be judged by the actions of a few.

Kpeyi, during a telephone interview with The PUNCH on Sunday, said the association had trust in the state governor and others in the authority to get to the root of the matter while also hinting that misinformation could have led to the crisis in the region.

He said, “As far as I am concerned, the Urhobo, Itsekiri, and Ijaw nations are brothers. We are one. If you have been following up on the issues, you will see that there’s misinformation somewhere. That’s the only thing that could have led to this kind of thing. These are regions that have been very peaceful for many years.’’

The National Leader of the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, Chief Edwin Clark, also condemned the killing of the soldiers.

Clark, in a statement on Sunday, described the killings as a “dastardly act”, while calling for a full investigation, adding that there must be no sacred cows.

The statement reads in part “The National Leader of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) and Elder Statesman, Chief Dr Edwin Clark,OFR, CON has received with shock and total condemnation the killing of senior military officers and soldiers at Okuama Community, Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta on Saturday, 14th March, 2024.

– Punch



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