Okuama: Army lacks powers to deny Oborevwori, journalists access — Delta stakeholders, Falana

By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Jimitota Onoyume, Henry Ojelu & Ochuko Akuopha

WARRI — Stakeholders in Delta State and human rights activist, Femi Falana, SAN, said yesterday the Nigerian Army lacks powers to deprive Governor Sheriff Oborevwori and journalists access to Okuama community in Ughelli South Local Government Area, where gunmen killed 17 military personnel and an unspecified number of residents on March 14.

They pointed out the Army applied the “rule of force”, instead of the “rule of law,” and prejudiced standards when the military Board of Inquiry constituted by the Defence Headquarters entered Okuama last week.

Recall that the Army had prevented the governor, the state’s chief security officer, and journalists from entering the community since the incident.

The stakeholders stated that the cordon-and-search operation by the military on Okuama had no permissible foundation in Nigerian law, while Falana declared as unacceptable the Army’s occupation of the community.

Okuama, an Urhobo community in Ewu Kingdom, is embroiled in land disputes with Okoloba, an Ijaw town, in the Bomadi Local Government Area of the state.

The Army went to Okuama on March 14. reportedly on a “peace mission”, but the spot-on circumstances in which gunmen, alleged to be oil bunkers and militants, killed a Lieutenant Colonel, two Majors, one Captain, and 13 other military personnel, and an unconfirmed number of villagers remain imprecise to date.

Consequently, the governor, journalists and residents of the community have not had access to the community since March 15.
Mothers who fled with their children to the forests on March 14 have not received relief materials from relevant government agencies because of a lack of access.

Therefore, former commissioner and opinion leader in Delta State, Prof Patrick Muoboghare, Executive Director of Warri-based Center for the Vulnerable and Underprivileged, Oghenejabor Ikimi Esq., facilitator of the Niger Delta Democratic Union, NDDU, and constitutional lawyer, Dr. Akpo Mudiaga-Odje, and others who spoke to Vanguard on the issue, said yesterday the Army is over-reaching itself in denying people’s access into Okuama over a month after the incident.

It’s subversive to hinder Oborevwori from any part of Delta—Muoboghare

Reacting to the development yesterday, Prof Patrick Muoboghare, said: “Delta State is a unit in the federation of Nigeria. In other words, it is a federating unit in Nigeria. Delta State, with its land and water mass, is thus a part of the territory of Nigeria. The governor governs this sub-territory of Nigeria.

“Whoever operates in Delta State is answerable to the owner of that sub-territory. The people of Delta State, the true owners of the sub-territory, put him there. Preventing the governor from accessing any part of the state amounts to denying Delta State its territory, which is treason.

“Allowing the military panel access to Okuama, while denying the governor access, confirms our earlier assertions that there was something sinister in the entire matter.

“Denying the press entry is a pointer to this. Or is it possible that the Army, having taken over the functions of the National Boundary Commission, is mapping out the boundary between Okuama and Okoloba?

It’s unbecoming to deny gov access — Ikimi, CENTREP

Be rating the Army, CENTREP boss, Oghenejabor Ikimi, said: “Let me pay tribute to the soldiers and civilians that lost their lives in the entire saga. Let their souls rest in peace.

“The above episode began as a mere land dispute between Okuama and Okoloba last year, which later snowballed into the unfortunate incident of March 14.

‘’The state government should have nipped the issue in the bud, but owing to her lack of pro-activeness, it persists today.
“So, why did the governor or any other government official not visit the two warring communities before the March 14 event?
“However, denying the governor access to Okuama is wrong. What would such a visit have achieved if not medicine after death?

“What the Army is doing now in Okuama community is an aberration. The Army does not have constitutional powers to investigate a crime under our constitution. Furthermore, the Army, being an interested party, cannot investigate her case.
“Barring journalists and residents from entering the community tells you the wanton destruction going on there now. It is all a cover-up.

“The reasons given by the CDS are nothing but a cock-and-bull story. It is all about collective punishment, and as you know, in international law, it is a war crime. The vulnerable children, women, and elderly are dying daily of hunger.

“Abuja, I guess, allowed all these just to please the Army. Declaring invited suspects wanted is nothing but martial law. It is all a mad motive. This motive needs to end abruptly.

“My vantage position as a lawyer tells me that our law courts will soon set aside the work of the army investigating panel.’’

No power to constrain gov’s movement — Mudiaga-Odje

Reacting in a similar manner, constitutional lawyer, Dr. Akpo Mudiaga-Odge, said: “It is, indeed, very laughable that in a constitutional democracy like Nigeria, the Army is restricting a serving governor from movement within his state to assess the sad situation on the ground that severely impacts his state and her people.

“Lucidly pontificating, therefore, under our constitution, the Army has no power whatsoever, whether in crisis or in the aftermath, to restrict the movement of any Nigerian, how much more a serving governor for that matter.

“The military in our democracy, is to protect our internal sovereignty against external aggression, period. The Army must subject itself to constitutional order, allowing all Nigerians, including our serving governor, their unmitigated right of freedom of movement in Nigeria.

“That is why the very learned Nsofor JCA, in Buhari V Obasanjo, declared that any election in Nigeria, ‘where there is military presence is unconstitutional.’ And that is the law, as the military has no role in the administration of our constitutional democracy. except in cases of war.

“Indeed, it is the Police, under Section 214 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and Section 4 of the Police Act, that should investigate this unfortunate incident in Okuama community, not the Army.

“The cordon-and-search exercise by the army, as it were, has no legal basis or foundation, and as such, runs the obvious risk of being set aside by a court of law if challenged.

“Allowing the Board of Inquiry access to the community, while disallowing the governor and journalists from entering same is discriminatory under Section 42 of the said Constitution, and thus unconstitutional.

“It is our fervent hope, belief, and conviction that the military and allied forces will subject their activities and actions to our constitutional democracy to safeguard same from vicious infractions, which will eventually damage the rule of law.

“In Ojukwu v. Gov of Lagos State, the Supreme Court denounced in strong terms the application of the rule of force rather than the rule of law in Nigeria, even under military rule!’’

No rational reason to stop gov — Unagha, Urhobo leader

A legal practitioner and Urhobo ethnic nationality leader, Alhaji Mumakai Unagha, told Vanguard: “I do not see any reason or reasons the military should deny the governor of the state access to Okuama community. If what was reported is true, there is more to it.

“The governor is the chief security officer of the state, not the military, except the military is telling Nigerians that it has an agenda or is being sponsored by a third party to exterminate Okuama community, as speculated.
“To me and many other persons thinking aloud, what happened in Okuama, which led to the death of 17 military personnel, was beyond peace-making.

“The military should not treat Okuama as scapegoats, or vendetta, but carry out a discrete and deep investigation to unravel the circumstances that culminated in the unforeseen situation.

“I am shocked that up till now, Okuama people are still in the bush, suffering without means of survival, while some are wandering about in the cities with nowhere to lay their heads, which should not be.

“I have said it before now and I will still repeat it here again that, yes, we condemn the killing, nobody, particularly Okuama, should be treated as scapegoats. Therefore, Mr. President should intervene urgently to save the situation.
“Similarly, let me call on the international community and organizations to step into the matter before it gets out of hand.’’

Take army to court — Akpovrene, activist

Similarly, rights activist, Charles Akpovrene, said: “To put an end to this rubbish, the people of Okuama should drag the Army to court to allow them access to the community. The Army is acting in breach of the law.

“The state government and people in Okuama community should no longer tolerate it. I know the governor, as a politician, may be reluctant to go to court with the military but the community should not delay any further.

“Let the court compel the Army to leave the place. The displaced hundreds of citizens of Okuama are dying of hunger and deprivation, but the military and the Federal Government are carrying on like their lives do not matter.’’
Contempt for constitutional democracy — Adima, political activist

Also, a political activist, Mr. Blessing Adima, said: “The military, denying the governor access to the community, is an assault and desecration of our constitutional democracy that has been in existence for the past 25 years.
“We are in a constitutional democracy; the governor is the chief secretary officer of the state and has the right to go anywhere. Even in a military regime, we do not expect this to happen.’’

Army’s occupation of Okuama unacceptable —Falana

Reacting, human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, said: “It is unacceptable that Okuama has become an occupied territory because of the criminal action of the gang that killed the 17 soldiers. ‘’While no one can justify the gruesome murder of the soldiers, the entire people of Okuama cannot be held vicariously liable for the dastardly conduct of a handful of murder suspects.

“Nigeria has ratified and domesticated the Geneva Convention. To that extent, the collective punishment to which the Okuama people are subjected is illegal.

‘’My colleagues in our Abuja office have been denied access to the detained traditional ruler, contrary to the provisions of the Constitution and the Administration of Criminal Justice Act.”

Prohibiting Oborevwori is treasonable — Ogbodo, Urhobo leader

Former Editor of Guardian Newspaper, Abraham Ogbodo, stated: “First, let me say and for the umpteenth time that the killing of those officers and men of the Nigerian Army was most barbaric. Nothing justifies it and I join calls for the appropriate security agencies to fish them out to face the full weight of the law.”

“However, what we are saying is that life and living for others should not stop because the Army is looking for the killers of its 17 men and officers.

“Specifically, the only way to describe the action of the Army in denying the governor and chief security officer of Delta State, Sheriff Oborevwori, access to the alleged crime scene is treason.

“They practically stopped the governor from doing his work by sheer force of arms. Nothing should explain that because the claim that the place was an operation area, unsafe for the governor to move in, is hogwash.’’

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