By Chukwudi Nweje

In this interview with Hon Francis Ejiroghene Waive, member representing Ughelli North/Ughelli South/Udu federal constituency of Delta State, who also doubles as the Chairman of House Committee on Rules and Business, speaks about the killing of  17 soldiers including a civilian in Okuama community of Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta State.

On Tuesday, you sought clemency for the displaced people of Okuama after the killing of 17 soldiers and a civilian, can you expatiate on this?

First, my plea was not an admission of guilt, I must state that very clearly. My people of Okuama in Ughelli South didn’t kill any soldier as far as I know and we don’t want anybody to insinuate that for any reason. Those people living there; about two to three hundred of them are peasant farmers, they can’t kill a human being, not to mention 17 military officers.

So who do you think might have done this kind of dastardly act?

I cannot say precisely that I know anyone regarding this but I think this must be the

handiwork of fifth columnists who have separate agenda but unfortunately took advantage of the problem Okuama is having with Okoloba across the river. In the meetings of the settlements held, the soldiers were welcomed in the Urhobo tradition; kola wage and all the money and drinks were accepted and discussions were held. Where they had a difference was that they wanted some people to follow them but the community said the people cannot follow for the simple reason that they felt that they were going to the headquarters of the enemy. They said the land in dispute was in Ugheli South, so if we are going somewhere, then it should be Ugheli South and not the enemy territory because it is not fair to them. So, there was a little argument and the soldiers left peacefully.

Are you saying a peaceful meeting had been held with your people before this incident?

Oh yes. Let me explain this to you clearly, the meeting ended peacefully and at the end of the meeting the army now asked the Secretary, the Chairman, they named some leaders to join them and these soldiers came from the headquarters of a local government that is not of our tribe so the people are not comfortable with it. They didn’t want to go there. To them it was the camp of the enemies so they said they were not going and there was a little bit of arguments. After that, the army left. So one or two days after they came back with more force obviously to take these people with them by force.

Since there was a peaceful resolution before, how come the whole thing now turned upside down?

We don’t know those who came with the soldiers and we don’t know their aims but I believe as an individual that there are some fifth columnists trying to achieve another agenda. Unfortunately, they have taken advantage of the problems we are having in our place to achieve it.

What is the cause of the conflict between the Okuama and Okoloba people?

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In the history of this crisis, everything has happened in Okuama. Here is the reason, our neighbors on the other side of the river are saying that the Okuama land belongs to them. They said that from the very beginning, our people only came there to farm because it was a very fertile land and then they gradually started settling there. Now they are asking for tenements and our people are saying no because we have great grandparents who are buried and have never paid rent to anyone so why now in the 21st century. So our people say they are not paying. Every time there is a problem it’s always from their side because they always come to try to force people to pay the rent. They will come, fight and kill our people and then go, but in the last fight that happened it appeared that one of their men didn’t return home safely that’s why they invited the army. Otherwise, this is a recurrent fight that has been going on for years. So if the killings have been going their own ways as usual; they come, kill our people and go away, then there wouldn’t have been any noise.

Do you know who was lost in the battle?

Remember, I told you they claimed to have lost somebody so I wouldn’t know who, because it was a claim. They now brought soldiers claiming that the person must be hidden somewhere in the community and if he is dead, the soldiers should bring the killers that were the root of the whole matter.

You said earlier that your call for clemency was not an admission of guilt…

(Cuts) See what was done to the soldiers is very bad, barbaric and condemnable.

My people and I condemn it in its entirety because we have our children in the army too and we don’t want anybody to do that to them. We are very touched by the gory pictures that we have seen. It is very inhumane. It is sad and it is not something to experience in life. We condole with the family, the Nigeria Army and the entire humanity. This is sad and it pisses everybody off.

What is the situation now in Okuama?

In the provocation that is largely inhumane, the army has come out and burnt the entire community down and killed so many people. Many people have also ran into the bush to avoid the soldiers’ vengeance. You know the place is an island, those who ran into the bush are now suffering from hunger and starvation while the soldiers are still hunting for them. They can’t cross the river around them. So I think it is now time for the soldiers to pull out and allow independent investigation. We believe that an independent investigation will unearth the real perpetrators of this deed and their motives. That is why I raised the amendment on the motion that it should not be the army doing the investigation but the House Committee on Defense so that all the parties involved could come and testify.

You also asked the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to send relief to the displaced Okuama people, do you think the government will agree with that?

Since people have been in the bush for up to three or five days without food or water I think there is a need to send relief to them in the spirit of our common humanity. NEMA can go there with food, water, blankets, drugs and mosquito nets because mosquitoes and other things are dealing with them in the bush. Their lives need to be rescued. The number of the people who have died as a result of the death of the soldiers is huge. We can’t wipe out the entire village so that only those inhabitants of the village who are in cities would be the ones alive. That would amount to genocide and this is not part of the assignment of our gallant officers.

As provocative as what has happened, we must go after the killers of these soldiers and bring them to justice. I am a hundred percent for that. Whoever the man is, wherever they come from and whoever they might be, they must come to justice. However, my people who are currently trapped in the bush must be shown some mercy. Let me ask you, what can a woman who goes to the farm with her cutlasses and hoes know about killing soldiers or a child who follows his parents to the farm? That is why I am asking for clemency for them and I am glad my plea for that amendment was passed by the House.