May 29, 2024

Delta and the Needless Politicization of Okuama

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Gov Oborevwori and top officers of the Delta State Government on an assessment visit of Okuama Community

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By Fred Edoreh

Unarguably, Rt Hon Sheriff Oborevwori started very strongly in the governance of Delta State, promptly completing a good number of inherited projects, initiating new ones and pursuing them all vigorously, across the three senatorial districts of the state.

The N78b contract for flyover bridges and road expansions in the ongoing infrastructural and urban renewal of Warri metropolis, the intensity of work on the Ughelli-Asaba Road Dualisation project, the completion of Beneku Bridge in Ndokwa, Bedeseigha Bridge in Bomadi, and the ongoing construction of Okpanam-Ibusa Bypass, to mention just a few, confounded and dazed pathological cynics and unrestrained naysayers.

Oborevwori cautions traditional rulers against shielding Okuoma suspects

Many of them had been vainly looking for any glitch to distract and curtail the Governor’s rising rating and dampen the escalating joy of the people.

So, it was no surprise that many of these sceptics felt the incident of Okuama presented an opportunity to feed their puerile passion.

Albeit unintelligently, they latched on it with their usual mindless propaganda, even spinning falsehood on the release of the king of Okuama, HRM Clement Ikolo, from detention.

King and Queen Ikolo flanked by Senator Ned Nwoko

But they totally missed the point because governance is not a show and Oborevwori does not do shows in his mission for the advancement of the state.

He sees governance as a calling of high and solemn responsibility, requiring a sane depth of concentration which defines him.

Thus, he went about handling all the issues with due process, calculation and quiet action.

Gov Oborevwori addressing members of the Military Investigation Panel on Okuama Killings

It was with such sobriety that he had successfully negotiated a peace agreement between the Okuama and Okoloba communities, before the military went in on the said peace mission.

Perhaps, had the military subjected their actions on the foundation, terms and sequence of the peace agreement already laid by the Governor, possibly, what happened would not have happened.

Gov Oborevwori cautions traditional rulers against shielding suspects

But they are a federal agency whose command is not subject to the control of the Governor.

Still, the brutal killing of 17 soldiers and the mutilation of their bodies, even if it was one soldier, is not a joke.

Nigerians, indeed all humanity, were outraged, and
the military was bound to react in some ways.

The people of Okuama knew that what happened was a real invitation of trouble and their fleeing from the community was also reasonably survivalist.

On the part of the state government, handling such a situation needed deep wisdom, masterful diplomacy and tactical engagement, and those were exactly the qualities Oborevwori displayed.

Even as he cared for the innocent, fleeing and displaced villagers, he could not have, by any manner of action or utterance, given the impression that the killing of the 17 soldiers and the need to take full measures to bring the culprits to book, were of less importance to him and the state.

He needed to achieve a balance of response in good judgment.

He thus first had to quickly and quietly engage the President and Commander-in-Chief, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the military high command, especially the Minister of Defence, the Chief of Army Staff, and the heads of the various military commands in Delta State, for them and the state to be on the same page on how best to proceed and to bring down the tension, and as well relate with the families of the slain soldiers, to provide healing.

This he achieved excellently with the unanimous understanding that the culprits must be sought and the assurances of the Commander-in-Chief and the military high command that the innocent citizens of Okuama would not be made to suffer for the action of the criminals.

While at that, he had sent the State Emergency Relief Agency to support the displaced community people, but the soldiers did not allow them access.

Even the State Police Command and the Commissioner of Police, being sister federal agencies, were not allowed access, on the grounds of the ongoing military action in searching for the murderers.

Such a situation did not require arguments and hard postures as the naysayers recommended.

Rather, it was right of Oborevwori to have not only taken time to assure the federal government and the military of the full cooperation of the state, but also practically working with them towards bringing the criminals to book.

That the military declared some people wanted for questioning on the incident is also normal.

While we may argue that the process of investigation is a police affair, that does not entirely foreclose the military from carrying out its own investigation in such a matter as the gruesome killing of 17 of its officers and men on duty.

It can also be reasonably argued that when such a thing happens in any community, the leadership of the community, including the king, the President of the community union and some of his executives, would be called for questioning.

It would not only have amounted to obstruction of justice but also evil-minded support of murder, disregard for the dignity of life and disservice to the nation, for the state to have shielded or prevented the arrest of any suspect, not matter how high placed, as some people had suggested, that the state should have done.

To be clear about that, Governor Oborevwori, at a meeting with the Delta State Council of Traditional Rulers, was emphatic that no suspect of the murder should be harboured or covered in any domain or community of the state, else there would be consequences.

While the voluntary submission by King Clement Ikolo speaks to his sense of responsibility, good conscience and respect for the rule of law, no one can be in doubt that before he submitted himself to the police which subsequently handed him over to the military, that he would have had some communications with certain or several officers of the state who also would have encouraged him to step up.

Those engaged in the infantile propaganda of fault-finding and the drawing of lines between the contributions of various top personalities in government, state or federal, on Okuama and indeed the release of the king, are merely the enemies of state whose wish and pleasure is not only to see Delta disunited but also to be at loggerheads with the Federal Government and in hostility with the Nigerian military establishment.

We “jump am pass” because, unfortunately for them, in his understanding of government as a single corporate entity, and leading from the front, Oborevwori has been able to build a sense of unity and common purpose among Delta political leaders, irrespective of party affiliations, level or sphere of service.

It was in that spirit that, Delta State members of the National Assembly, cutting across party lines, paid him a solidarity visit, sometime in February.

Oborevwori’s words on that occasion were golden: “We must be united. We will continue to collaborate. We will continue to work together whether in the National Assembly or here in the State House of Assembly.”

Therefore, after he had secured the understanding of the Presidency and the Military high command through high level diplomacy, it was a beauty to see the mutuality with which Senators Ned Nwoko of Delta North, Joel Onowakpor of Delta South and Ede Dafinone of Delta Central, being representatives of the state at the federal level, followed up to discuss the particular terms and conditions for the release of King Ikolo.

It was also understandable that he was handed over to Senator Dafinone, being the Senator representing Delta Central Senatorial District to which his Okuama belongs, and because a surety is particularly required to guarantee the production of the subject, should he be required for further questioning.

The unity of response by various leaders of the state was testified to by King Ikolo himself as he especially thanked Governor Oborevwori, the three Senators representing Delta State, the Secretary to the State Government, Dr Kingsley Emu, the Chief of Staff to the Governor, Prince Johnson Erijo and Oborevwori’s former Chief of Staff while as Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, Olorogun (Dr) Ebenezer Okorodudu, for their love, commitment and contributions towards his release.

It is also noteworthy to have heard from the king that he was placed in a decent facility and was well treated during the period of questioning, and to have also heard the military say that, so far from the questioning, there is no evidence about his culpability. That is quite assuring and feels better than having to have been shielded.

Even on the plight of the innocent villagers, Governor Oborevwori repeatedly assured that no harm will go their way beyond the immediate reactions by military after the incident occurred.

“We want to assure everybody that there would be no more attack on the villages. Even if that may have happened in the past.

“We know that those who are culpable would be brought to book, but the innocent citizens would not be attacked,” he assured while speaking with State House correspondents after his meeting with Mr President.

With tensions now simmered and with his recent visit to Okuama, he has also indicated that the next phase of the process is the return and resettlement of the people.

“We have followed due process in the whole incident. The people have been buried, the king that was detained has been released yesterday and today I am here to see what happened in Okuama community.

“Let me again reiterate Mr President’s promise that no innocent person would be victimised and you can see that, from that time till now, there has been no harassment of citizens of this community.

“I have come to see how the innocent people of this community can be reintegrated back with the cooperation of the military.

We know it’s a big loss to them but we have to follow due process. They have been very supportive and they have kept to their promise that innocent people will not be victimised.

“I want to assure the people of Okuama, there is no point running away from your community. We are going to bring you back to your community. It’s only those that are involved that the military are looking for.”

Oborevwori’s sequence of engagements in handling the Okuama matter assuredly describes a Governor with a great sense of diplomacy, strategic thinking and huge skill in problem solving.

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Fred Edoreh, a Senior Special Assistant to the Delta State Governor, writes from Asaba, Delta State

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