• Begs govt to address root cause

From Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa

The Bishop of Catholic Diocese of Bomadi, Most Rev Hyacinth Oroko Egbebo has defended Ijaw youths over alleged complicity in the killings of the 16 personnel of the Nigerian Army at Okuama community.

Egbebo has also called on the Delta state government to urgently address the root cause of the crisis which is land dispute to forestall another round of crisis in the area.

The clergyman who spoke at a press conference in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State capital stated that first hand reports from those who went with the soldiers to Okuama indicated that the military personnel were there on a peace mission before they were brutally attacked.

According to him, the killing of a young man by suspected youths of Okuama and dumping of his body at the river prompted the soldiers to visit Okuama from Bomadi to invite the community head for a peace meeting.

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Egbebo who commiserated with the families of those who have lost their loved ones in the last few days to the crisis noted that the (Ijaws) have been at the receiving end of the injustices perpetrated in the area in terms of land acquisition and deprivation of social amnesties.

‘’Before the killing of this young man, there had been the issue of land acquisition by the Okuama community over which the Okoloba people had reacted. It was when they realised that he had disappeared that they went to the military in Bomadi for a rescue mission to fetch. On their way, they found his body floating. They went with the body to the mortuary. The military realising that there was going to be further crisis as a result of the death of the boy went to fetch the Okuama community leader. The community leader refused and the youths also supported him. When the soldiers made an attempt to enforce their orders for the community leader to go with them to resolve the issue, someone came with a sledge hammer and brought down the commander. And in the ensuing fracas, youths ready with guns mowed down the soldiers. That was how the soldiers died. The soldiers were not there to fight. They were on a peace mission because they wanted peace,’’ he said.

Egbebo, who insisted that the government knows the root cause of the crisis, appealed that it should address it on time.

“There is an obvious need for everyone to know the root cause of this crisis. The crisis was caused by the attempt by Okuama people to take more land for their use. This community has taken the best portion of land and still wants to take more. I am appealing that the government should intervene and resolve this crisis. The event of killing happened in Okuama and not in any other place. It is very disheartening to hear people say Ijaw youths are the ones who killed soldiers . I am putting my integrity on the line. I am Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Bomadi, I cannot be telling you lies’.”