Face-to-face with Okuama residents in forest: ‘We’re dying, Army should allow us return home’

EVEN if your heart is made of stone, you will weep at the sight and circumstances of the famished innocent babies, children, women, and men of the Okuama community, at their sanctuary in a forest in a part of the state, VANGUARD reports.

The villagers displaced from their homeland because of the March 14 brutal massacre of 17 soldiers in Okuama by suspected crude oil bunkers and militants had fled into the deep forests where they had been living in shocking conditions, drinking polluted water and without food, in the past 21 days.

Snakes and other dangerous animals play host to them for many nights.

The adults jumped with joy, searching for any available food items and water as Saturday Vanguard reporters, and their escorts arrived at the concealed encampment. It took our snooping investigative journalists a week to get information about their forest whereabouts, and another three days to arrange logistics for the trip.
Read their soul-stirring revelations:

Gunmen in 4 boats from Bomadi side opened fire on soldiers, villagers — Evelyn Edjekota, a 45-year-old mother of seven
I am a trader and a farmer, I do not know where my husband is since the day the crisis started, he is still in the bush.

That fateful day, I was in the house, and many people had gone to the farm, I saw many people coming to the community wearing military uniforms, and most men had left for farms too, we were scared but some person said that we should all come to the town hall.

We told them that our chairman had gone to the farm, and two leaders called him from the farm. We then entertained them before our chairman came. They said they wanted to go with our chairman and leaders. We inquired why they would arrest them.

Therefore, other women and I resisted and held them on the legs, and were pleading, they said if we resisted, they would shoot, next thing was fire, I did not even know how I escaped.

They shot many people instantly. Later on, other boats came from the Bomadi axis of the river and opened fire on the people at the jetty, including the army.

Immediately, we ran into the bush, we heard that soldiers were coming again. Now, I have not seen my two children, Omafuvwe and Andrew, including my husband.

Since we have been suffering in the bush, we survive on fruits from wild trees and drink polluted water, one of my children is very sick now, and there is nowhere to get him medication in this bush.

We sleep on top of leaves at night. Mosquitoes bite us, no place to go, and we do not know when they will allow us back home.

We hear that the army is in the community as we speak, and they destroyed our homes with caterpillars, we want them to leave so we can still go back home.

Our people did not kill soldiers, it was the people in the boats that came that shot everybody.

When the gunmen started shooting soldiers and villagers, we ran away and could not identify them, but they came with about four boats from the Bomadi side.

The soldiers killed Eshedi, Teddy, and Ejomafuvwe. We want the soldiers to leave our community because we are suffering in the bush. Tell our governor, Rt. Hon Sheriff Oborevwori to talk to the army to go. I do not want to die inside this bush with my remaining children.

Soldiers killed Magdalene, James, John, and others – 50-year-old Vero Joseph, tailor, trader/farmer, mother of five
I am in this bush because of the trouble in our community; we were on the farm that day. The farm I went to was not far, We heard that soldiers were coming, so I ran home. I got to the town hall and we entertained the soldiers.

In the end, they said they would go with our chairman and leaders, so, we, the women knelt and pleaded with them, but they were trying to drag him with others.

We held and dragged them back. From there, the army started shooting, some people fell, and there was commotion.
We later heard that as the soldiers were going to the jetty, other boats came and started shooting everyone. That is how they killed the soldiers and our people. We have been suffering in this bush since March 14.

We do everything inside this bush, no food, no drugs. I have worn this single wrapper since then, we are hungry and suffering. I am with only two of my kids, I do not know where my husband is, and I do not know where the other children are.

Everyone is scattered, I do not know who is dead. We do not know when we will return, our businesses have crumbled, and everything is gone. We cannot do anything inside the bush now.

I do not know whether my children are among those killed, there is no one to ask. Our people did not kill soldiers, we do not know Amagbein that they are talking about, we do not have oil in our community, and we do not do bunkering.

Soldiers killed Magdalene, James, and John. They are the ones I could remember before running into this bush. We do not know those people, who came in the boat to shoot our people and the soldiers.

We beg the governor to tell the soldiers to leave our community so that we can go back home, the suffering is too much.

Soldiers shot residents in the town hall – 78 years old Pa James Ubrebu, father of 19 children
The day the incident happened, I was at home because I was not well, someone came to call me, saying that soldiers had come and all the elders should come.

Shortly, I saw the soldiers pass through my house down to the end of the town. They met one Felix Orhiunu, who they accosted, asking if we saw people running away; he said he did not see anyone and that he was going to the toilet.

The soldiers turned back and passed me, again, back to the town hall, so, myself, and Felix went towards the town hall. As we were going, some women told us not to go because the army was arresting the leaders.

I walked near there and saw what was happening, but Felix continued. The next thing I heard were gunshots, so, someone came to hold me and was dragging me to run into this bush. You can see that I am not well at all.

If I walk a long distance, I start to feel dizzy. I am here in this bush with my wife, all my children have left the town long ago, and they do not stay here. I had been living with my wife alone. I cannot even get medication because I left the drugs behind.

In the bush now, I do not know how to get to any town to go to hospital. There is no money too; my children do not know where I am in the bush. I want the governor to think about our suffering, we have suffered so much.

It is not our people that killed the soldiers, the boats that came were not from our people. We do not own oil; we are not an oil-producing community, so where do we do bunkering?

It is a lie that we do oil bunkering – 53-year-old Bernard Michael, father of 6 children.

We are in the bush here, today, because one Ijaw man brought soldiers to our town when I was on my farm.

So I came home, they were asking after our chairman. The chairman then came from the farm and we entertained them and they said they came for peace.

However, later, they insisted that they would go with the chairman. The women refused, and soldiers started shooting and people scattered.

Some boats later came to attack the soldiers and our people. It is a lie that we have oil in our community. We do not do bunkering.

If the government uses every piece of equipment to dig our ground, they cannot see anything concerning oil bunkering.
Amagbein is not from our community, we do not know anyone like that, and we have not heard that name in our community.
Our children are out of school and we are suffering so much in the bush. We have nothing to eat in the bush; we eat wild fruits here and sleep on the grass.

I am with all my kids and my wife, I did not lose anyone, but they have destroyed our houses and everything I have in the community, except this shirt, and shorts I am wearing.

My appeal to the government is that they should allow us to go back home as we do not even know when we will go back. The soldiers are occupying our community now.

The govt. should remove soldiers from our village – 15-year-old Master Oghenekobiruo Lucky, JSS 3 student of Okuama Secondary School.

I have three sisters and three brothers. I am here in the bush because they are fighting in our community. We have not been going to school since then, we eat guava in the bush.

I came with my parents; all my family members were in the bush. We did not write exams in my school, it would affect us since we did not write exams. I want the government to remove the soldiers so I can get back to school; I miss my school and teachers.

It is incorrect that we stockpiled arms, and ammunition- Okuama leader
What the Chief of Defence Staff, CDS, said is not true, all Okuama people are farmers, and they are not into oil bunkering.

Therefore, saying Okuama is an oil community, and gathered money to buy arms and ammunition from bunkering is a false allegation against Okuama, there is nothing like that.

The rickety structures you see in the community tell you that the people are peasant farmers. A Reverend Father owns the only good house in the community, which they burnt down.

The Okauma population is about 2,000, but they are peasant farmers, anglers, and traders. Okuama youths do not own or carry arms. That name Amagbein is alien to us in Okuama.

Surprisingly in Okuama, there is a little animal called Agbein that we forbid, so we cannot even name a child after such an animal. There is no correlation to that name in any way in our community.

The whole thing is a gang up against our people because the Okoloba leader promised that he would set up Okuama, and they would wipe us out. Therefore, when that incident happened that day, we knew it was a real gang up with the Army and him.

Okoloba people cannot deny attacking and killing our four youths. When they were attacking them, we got the video of how they carried them in their boat away and killed them. Okuama had two jetties, on the day of the attack when the boats were coming; some of the boys who escaped from the soldiers’ attack at the town hall captured the boat on video recording.

They did not capture the boat; they only recorded it on video. They burnt down the whole community; they used graders to pull down all the community buildings, except the Anglican Church, Primary, and Secondary school buildings.

It is a pure lie that the Okuama people killed the soldiers, and removed their hearts for rituals, the army knows the person who is doing the sacrifice in that river; none of our people is involved.

The soldiers killed our people that day, and others ran away. We do not do rituals in Okuama. When the boundary issue started, the Okoloba leader said he did not have a boundary with Okuama, but with Akugbene.

Akugbene people told him they do not have a boundary with him, but Okuama and Okoloba have a boundary, so, he should not extend the problem to them.

The Army said they know the killers, so they should trace them, they will see that Okuama has no connection to bunkering but we are farmers and traders. We do not have any oil in our community. Linking Okuama and Amagbein is a gang-up; a false allegation against Okuama. We do not have any connection to Amagbein.

We insist that there is a gang up because of the boasting, and threats by the Okoloba leader that he would cause problems for Okuama.

Really, since that day, we now see the gang-up because they have sacked Okuama, and they did everything on the head of the Okuama community.

The military has taken over the community, so, whatever they say is not correct. We cannot explain the timing of the arrival of the killers’ boats because they followed from the river, through the same route the soldiers came from
It could be an orchestration, but we do not know how they came. However, based on the threats from the man to wipe out Okuama, we believe that this is the plan, and the gang-up because they killed both soldiers and some Okuama people at the jetty.

View more exclusive photos of Okuama residents living in the forest HERE.


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