Okuama Killings: What Are the Real Issues?

Okuama Killings: What Are the Real Issues?

With Nigeria already struggling with enormous nationwide security challenges, the bloodbath that took place at Okuama in Delta State recently, in which 17 soldiers were murdered in a most gruesome manner, was seen by many as not only dastardly, but needless, particularly at a time like this in the nation’s history, where there’s so much violence and threat in the land. The alleged reprisal attacks by military men (which has been denied), has further complicated an already bad situation. Many questions have agitated the minds of Nigerians, including whether the incident was a mere communal clash and the soldiers who were killed in Okuama were really there on a ‘peace mission’, or if there were some other reasons for the soldiers’ visit. Chief Anthony Aikhunegbe Malik, SAN; Dr Akpor Mudiaga Odje; Seun Lari-Williams; Bolu Ojewole and Gbenga Okunniga, discuss issues in the imbroglio over which the Army has denied complicity, and proffer solutions on the way forward      Okuama Crisis and Ineffective Rules of Engagement of Military Intervention in Conflict Situations

Chief Anthony Aikhunegbe Malik, SAN

When the news broke of the killings of 17 soldiers of the Nigerian Army in Okuama community in Bomadi Local Government Area of Delta State, and who, at the time of the unfortunate incident, were allegedly on a ‘peace mission’ to the community, no one needed any foretelling as to what to expect in response from the Nigerian Army. The Response, indeed, came in predictable chilling and blood cuddling torrents of military operations ostensibly to fish out the killers of the soldiers within the community. As at the last situation reports in the public media, there is hardly any building in the Okuama Community that is yet spared in the wake of the untold infernal reprisal unleashed on the community. There has been little report, albeit unconfirmed, of human causalities following the operation as the inhabitants of the community had all virtually deserted the space for what was predictably in the offing in the wake of the killing of the officers. Except for a Presidential counter-directive, the end of the current military occupation of Okuama may not come soon. 

As condemnable and utterly despicable as the killing of the army officers are, one cannot but wonder what manner of ‘peace mission’ the soldiers were on in Okuama, that even statements from the military authority in this regard have been largely taciturn. While it does appear that the said peace mission embarked on by the soldiers was consistent with the military policy of civil-military relations, such relations can only be appropriately exercised within the framework of statutory mandate, delimiting the extent of duties and responsibilities of the armed forces to which the Nigerian Army is a significant component. 

Now Section 217 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) provides as follows:

217(1) There shall be an armed forces for the Federation which shall consist of an army, a navy, an Air Force and such other branches of the armed forces of the Federation as may be established by an Act of the National Assembly.

 (2) The Federation shall, subject to an Act of the National Assembly made in that behalf, equip and maintain the armed forces as may be considered adequate and effective for the purpose of – 

(a) defending Nigeria from external aggression; 

(b) maintaining its territorial integrity and securing its borders from violation on land, sea, or air; 

(c) suppressing insurrection and acting in aid of civil authorities to restore order when called upon to do so by the President, but subject to such conditions as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly; and 

(d) performance such other functions as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.

A calm digest of the afore-quoted provision of the Constitution, may appear to suggest the accommodation of military intervention in civil insurrections. However, the facts on ground do not appear to support the satisfaction of the condition precedent for such intervention, thus, leaving one in a quandary as to the real reason for Okuama’s “peace mission” which,  sadly, culminated in the gruesome murder of the personnel of the Nigerian Army, 

Alleged Incident leading to the Current Crisis 

The incident leading to the current crisis was said to have started as an unrest in January 2024, following an age-long land dispute between the people of Okoloba and the abutting community of Okuama, leading to an internecine and deadly conflict with loss of lives on both sides. In consequence thereof, the military command unit of the JTF at Bomadi was invited to the scene. It was however, said that the invitation of the military was at the behest of an influential member of one of the feuding communities who had used his influence to skew the intended military intervention in favour of his community, thus, eliciting great suspicion from the other adversarial community. In consequence whereof, the attempt by the soldiers to invite the Chief and other stalwarts of the other community was greatly resisted, as it was believed that same was but merely a stratagem to unduly victimise the Okuama community. Accordingly, therefore, except the military high command is able to do a better job of explaining away the exact nature of the ‘peace mission’ warranting the soldiers’ presence in the community, the street narrative of the military intervention may become attractive and thus, snowball into a nation wide narrative. 

Whilst the afore-stated street narrative may yet remain the unverified version of the facts of the incident, the existing official narrative of a ‘peace mission’ does not appear sufficient to counter the pre-existing public perception of the Nigerian security force, which is that, the military, nay, the Nigerian Government, lacks the will to tackle or confront insecurity.


While it remains a puzzle how the soldiers on a ‘peace mission’ in a highly volatile Niger-Delta were not adequately prepared for such an emergency, as to have been so easily taken out by a ragtag army of disgruntled youths of the community, all in one fell swoop, it does appear, from the many instances of incidents of internecine conflicts in Nigeria, that the operational mechanism of the military in the performance of its constitutional mandate of suppression of internal insurrection in civilian space can no longer effectively tackle the intended objectives, having regard to the existing rules of engagement of the military. Cases in point in  Plateau, Kaduna and Benue State, lend enough credence to this conclusion. 

It is thus, the writer’s opinion, besides the takeaway from the conspiracy theory of collusion, that the existing rules of engagement governing military intervention in internal conflict situations in civilian space have become ineffective and grossly inadequate in our present situation of internal insecurity bedevilled by the novelty of guerilla warfare, and made worse by negative public perception of the Government in the management of the insecurity. There is, therefore, a dire need for a review of the modus operandi. 

May the souls of the fallen soldiers rest in peace. 

Chief Aikhunegbe Anthony Malik, SAN

Okuama Crisis: Urgent Need for Clear Boundary Demarcation of All Communities in Nigeria

Dr Akpor Mudiaga Odje

Demographic Description of Okuama Community in Delta State Act

Okuama Community is an Urhobo Community, in Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta State. It is situated along the historic Forcados River, and shares boundaries with Akugbene and Okoloba Communities, located in Bomadi Local Government Area of Delta State, and both communities have lived together peacefully for centuries now. Okuama Community is in Ewu-urphie clan of the Urhobo tribe of Delta State.

Their major occupation of Okuama, is farming and fishing. There are other Urhobo Communities along the Forcados River, who all share boundaries with the Izon speaking Communities. Some include, Gbaregolo, Okuama, Olota, Alagbabiri communities etc. These Communities have lived with their Izon speaking Communities, for several centuries. In other words, the Okuama and Okoloba Communities have intermingled, in nearly all aspects of human life.

Put succinctly, they are all related one way or the other as it were.

Succinct Background Facts of the Matter

The story as distilled from the trending literature is that the military were on a peace mission to resolve issues between the two Communities, and it is shown that these frictions have had a historical background relating to ownership claims and/or boundaries disputes between these contending Communities.

Indeed, in February this Year, the Delta State Government had had cause to again hold meetings with representatives and leaders of these Communities on these disputes raging. Another version of the story is from the side of the Okuama Community, and that there wasn’t a peace mission, but, rather the military instead were accusing them of causing the conflict.

Killing of the Soldiers is Most Unfortunate

It is severely disheartening for anyone to be killed in communal clashes, how much more almost battalion of our own trained soldiers. Our soldiers have sacrificed their lives for this country, both during and after our fratricidal war of the 60s/70s, in search of peace and the in defence of our unification.

It is therefore, most important for things of this nature not to happen, as we join well-meaning Nigerians to collectively condemn this callous killing in all ramifications, as we thus, respectfully beseech the Uncreated Creator to rest their gallant souls in peace, Selah.

Independent Investigation Necessary

In this connection, the most imperative thing to do now is damage control.

The Federal Government itself, should investigate these claims through an independent body, side by side with any other military investigation, to get to the root of this heist. Every Community in Nigeria should maintain peace, for it to be also assured of peace by the Government at all levels.

Reprisal Attacks Should be Avoided at this Time

It is our plea to the wounded Military, to temper justice with  recycle and mercy with justice in these circumstances. Two wrongs, as the cliché accentuates, cannot make a right! And, as such, any reprisal attack should be discountenanced.

The people who will suffer the severe pains of a reprisal attack are the innocent children, the sick, old and vulnerable members of that Community.

For every orphan we create from this tragedy, the Government will have to build more prisons to accommodate them in future, when they turn their vengeance against the society.

 Delta State Governor Oborevwori’s Objective Position, Disposition and Actions on this Crisis is Commendable

As a father of all tribes in Delta State, the Governor must be seen to be very neutral in handling cases of this nature, as this will make the warring Communities freely surrender to him their disputes for adjudication and mediation.

Truly, it is a difficult one, but, it has to be so, to ensure that the entire tribes belong to the Governor of the State and command their trust on this issue.

We therefore, join him in his courageous admonition to our Traditional Rulers, not to shield any murderer in their Communities.

The boundary dispute therefore, has to be urgently looked into by the State and the Federal Government, to search for a compromise of both claims and interests to forestall future violent conflicts of this nature.

And, we strongly believe also, that both Governments should also use this opportunity to address similar agitations within the State to foster collective integration.

Equitable Demarcation and/or Accurate Boundary  Adjustments through Negotiable Settlements, Will Forestall Future Communal Crises in Nigeria

This is the gravamen of this discourse, our collective quest and aspiration to forestall the future recurrence of this kind of avoidable trajectory of tragedy.

Indeed, most communal crises are as a result of land and boundary claims. Contending communities lay claim to each other’s enclaves, most especially where there is a mineral and/or natural resource of economic value on the land. And, as such, these contending Communities, in a bid to outwit each other, usually draw up shylock boundaries that go beyond their real territorial boundaries.

The National Boundary Commission is a body established by law, and vested with the exclusive authority to demarcate territories or communities within Nigeria. Accordingly, we now expect a more proactive approach from it to establish with even arithmetic certainty, all lands and boundaries of every community in Nigeria. And, thereafter, come out with a map and survey plans, which should be gazetted by the Federal Government, reflecting such well cut-out and negotiated boundaries of all our communities in Nigeria.

This will go a very long way in avert future community clashes, as in the present Okuama/Okoloba debacle.

Quo Vadis

We once again, express our deep condolences and prayers to the military and all others who were killed as well as injured, and those whose homes and farms were destroyed in this Torrential Mayhem, as we Quo Vadis with the apposite literary masterpiece of the celebrant Author, Ngugi wa Thiong’o titled: “Weep Not Child”!!!

Dr Akpor Mudiaga Odje, LLM (Merit) London, LLD, BL; Constitutional Lawyer, Facilitator of the Niger Delta Democratic Union (NDDU)

Strategies for Reconciliation in Delta State

Seun Lari-Williams

“The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.”

We all know the meaning of this proverb, so there is no need to say it with “all our mouth”. Nevertheless, what must be said expressly is that, the scars of violence run deep in the heart of Delta State where the recent killings in Okuama have unleashed a wave of reprisal attacks, threatening to plunge the region into further turmoil. As communities reel from the devastation, a call for a nuanced and constructive response from the Government echoes through the embattled landscape.

Speculation About Root Cause of the Violence 

There is much speculation, about the root cause of the violence. Some have said it was not an ethnic or communal dispute, but rather, a land dispute between two families. However, one thing is clear: The tragedy in Okuama is not an isolated incident, but rather part of a broader pattern of violence that has plagued Nigeria for years. In Nigeria’s Middle Belt, particularly in Plateau State, the scars of inter-communal strife run deep. For decades, this region has been ensnared in a cycle of violence, with tensions often depicted as clashes between Muslim herders and predominantly Christian farmers.

 Nonetheless, before we chart the path forward in Delta (and indeed, other afflicted places in Nigeria), it is imperative to confront the ghosts of the past. While the spotlight often falls on identifying and punishing the perpetrators, there is a glaring need to hold those entrusted with designing and implementing conflict management strategies accountable. As Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Few are guilty, but all are responsible”. The recurrence of these tragedies should make us ask: who is responsible for preventing bloodshed and resolving existing tensions?

 Different administrations have come and gone, yet, the spectre of violence persists. It is time for a deeper examination of the policies, strategies, and interventions that have failed to stem the tide of conflict. Governance, resource allocation, and communal representation all play pivotal roles in perpetuating this cycle of violence, demanding a reckoning with the systemic failures that have fuelled the unrest.

Accountability & Transparency 

In the quest for accountability, transparency emerges as a guiding principle. Citizens must be empowered with access to information and platforms, for discussion and oversight. Accountability demands consequences for those who shirk their responsibilities, even extending to legal action against officials whose inaction contributes to the escalation of conflicts. In deserving cases, legal action or prosecution might occur against officials or leaders, for neglecting their duties in preventing conflicts. This could involve charges of negligence, misconduct, or even crimes against humanity, in instances where their inaction directly led to severe consequences. Leaders and officials have faced legal actions for failing to prevent conflicts, such as in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda, the Central African Republic, and Myanmar. There are no good reasons why this should not happen in Nigeria, in light of all the violence going on unchecked.

 Looking ahead, the need for a nuanced and constructive response from the Government cannot be overstated. The cycle of reprisal attacks threatens to deepen divisions and entrench animosity, posing a grave risk to the region’s stability. In this volatile climate, effective intervention is paramount to break the cycle of violence and pave the way for reconciliation.

Establishment of Public Office of Intervenors

One promising avenue lies in establishing public offices of “Intervenors” that mediate conflicts, and foster dialogue between opposing factions. These Intervenors would serve as impartial mediators, providing a platform for communities to voice grievances and seek consensus-driven solutions. By institutionalising mediation processes, officials can empower communities to address root causes and chart peace paths.

 Such intervention must complement law enforcement efforts, extending beyond enforcement to foster understanding and reconciliation among polarised communities. Effective dispute-resolution processes serve as vital tools in defusing tensions and preventing further violence, underscoring the need for proactive measures from the Government. The critical point here, is trust. Building trust among the affected communities is foundational, for effective intervention and reconciliation. Trust is the cornerstone, upon which meaningful engagement and cooperation can be established. Without trust, efforts to address the root causes of violence and promote dialogue are likely to falter. Therefore, investing in trust-building measures is essential, for laying the groundwork for sustainable regional peace and harmony.

 In times of crisis, leadership must transcend rhetoric, paving the way for a future characterised by unity and cooperation. By embracing interventionism and investing in establishing public offices of Intervenors, officials can rewrite the narrative of conflict in Delta State and lay the groundwork for lasting peace. As we navigate the complexities of conflict and reconciliation, let us heed the wisdom of our ancestors who said: ‘When brothers fight to the death, a stranger inherits their father’s estate’. This collective responsibility, lies in the power to forge a path towards healing and harmony.

Seun Lari-Williams, Legal Practitioner, Ph. D Researcher at the University of Antwerp, Belgium

Militarisation of Internal Policing: Okuama Tragedy and the Way forward

Bolu Ojewole


The recent events in the Okuama Delta community of Delta State, involving the killing of officers and soldiers of the Nigerian Army, is a complex and contested issue. Initial reports suggest the soldiers were there to mediate a land dispute between Okuama and a neighbouring community. The number of officers and soldiers killed is 17, and the Nigerian Army accuses the Okuama community of a planned attack and resorting to “propaganda” by claiming civilian casualties.

The Okuama community denies responsibility for the attack, and claims that the soldiers fired on them, resulting in civilian casualties. Some commentary has also suggested that, a local militia leader is responsible for the ambush and attacks.

 There appears to be a cacophony of voices and various versions of the events leading to the death of the officers and soldiers, and with reports that the Okuama community and its environs have been a flashpoint for years. It’s crucial to rely on credible sources of information, but, the low level of trust between the Nigerian Government and Military on one hand, and the populace (particularly in the Niger Delta) on the other hand, undermines the credibility of the various accounts of the incident. A thorough and independent investigation into the incident is essential, to establish the truth and to arrest the perpetrators of the deadly assault on Nigerian soldiers.

 What is not in doubt is that, the details surrounding the incident remain unclear, and investigations are ongoing by the Nigerian Military and the National Assembly. However, the Nigeria Police Force and Journalists were denied access to the community, during a recent visit by the Governor of Delta State. The Nigerian Army has reportedly launched an operation in the community and even communities in neighbouring Bayelsa State to apprehend those responsible for the attack, with the major concern expressed by rights activist on collective punishment through reprisal on the community by the military and displacement of residents.

 The Nigeria Police Force faces numerous challenges, including lack of manpower, training, and equipment, and the proponents of military involvement argue that the military offers superior firepower and training for dealing with violent crime or large-scale unrest. This unfortunate incident clearly signposts the vital role that the Nigerian military now plays in national security, combating threats like Boko Haram and internal security. Military tactics designed for war may not be suitable for civilian populations, leading to increased casualties and alienation, and the militarisation of policing can fuel a cycle of violence. It is important to note from an institutional perspective, extensive use of the military in internal security will continue to weaken democratic institutions and norms in Nigeria. Finding the right balance between national security needs and respect for human rights is crucial for building trust between the military and civilian population, strengthening democratic institutions, and ensuring a more secure future for Nigeria. There is an urgent need to re-align the rules of engagement around the deployment of the Nigerian military for internal security operations, and the military itself must be clear at each time about its operational objectives for its mission, and must be firm in holding accountable those who violate protocols.

 It is hoped that outpouring of support for the military and condemnation of the ambush leading to the death of patriotic officers and soldiers of the Nigerian Military, should usher in a new era in military-civilian relations through regular interaction with community leaders, holding town halls, and fostering open communication channels are crucial. Security agencies in Nigeria must demonstrate a strong interest in strengthening collaboration with local communities, particularly in relation to intelligence gathering.

 If the involvement of the military in internal policing operations in Nigeria will remain in place for the nearest future, then soldiers should be trained in protecting civilians during operations, including distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants. Clear and well-understood rules of engagement that prioritise minimising civilian harm are essential, and the military’s response must be proportionate to the threat, with a focus on de-escalation whenever possible. By following best practices, the military can build trust with the civilian population, minimise harm, and contribute to a more secure and stable security situation in flashpoints and across the country.

 In conclusion, finding a peaceful resolution to the Okuama tragedy requires addressing the underlying issues, such as land disputes and grievances within the community. Open communication, dialogue, and a commitment to justice by the communities, traditional institutions and the Delta State Government, are critical steps towards lasting peace.

Bolu Ojewole, Lawyer and Public Policy Expert

The Okuama Massacre: Rethinking the Role of Soldiers in Law Enforcement 

Gboyega Okunniga

“The same thing that happened in Odi, is happening in Okuama today. When people take laws into their own hands because of the mischief of a few, it becomes a problem. When miscreants go to an area and cause mayhem, and the military is taking that to wipe out an entire community, that is a bad omen.”- A community leader from Okuama.  

 Law enforcement is not a task usually undertaken by military forces, at least within domestic legal contexts. Rather, Police Forces are usually entrusted with enforcing domestic criminal law, under highly prescribed legislative regimes that ensure appropriate ‘due process’. Conversely, maintaining or restoring security within dysfunctional or ‘post-conflict’ areas of operation, is a role commonly undertaken by the military. Within these latter operations, the skill sets and highly calibrated application of force that are commonly associated with Police Forces in their law enforcement role, are in fact manifested in a decisively military context. This article reviews the experiences and legal frameworks associated with military law enforcement activities in the Niger Delta region, that culminated in the gruesome and unfortunate murder of 17 military personnel in Okuama, Bomadi Local Government Area of Delta State on 14 March, 2024 whilst they were carrying out their law enforcement duties and the subsequent, unilateral effort of the military command to apprehend the suspects which led to unnecessary civilian casualties and loss of properties.

Notwithstanding the fact that law enforcement has not been a traditional core skill of military training, military forces on deployment are nonetheless undertaking such duties in Nigeria pursuant to Section 217 (2) (c) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution that empowers the military to act in aid of civil authorities to suppress insurrection and restore order when called upon to do so by the President, but subject to such conditions as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly. However, in liberal democracies, there has been a general political reluctance to utilise military means for law enforcement, especially in domestic context – this is a reflection of the principle of the primacy of the civil government. For example, in the United States, in particular, the Army or Air Force involvement in internal law enforcement is generally prohibited under the Posse Comitatus Act. Similar legislation also prohibits the US Navy and Maritime Corps, from directly participating in civilian law enforcement activities.

Even in those situations such as counter-terrorism, employing the military to supplement civil law enforcement can be risky and should be discouraged, because law enforcement and the armed forces are distinct security organs with different roles, rules, and training. It is apparent that the military do not have the same training and experience as the Police, therefore, their role should only be limited to support and logistical works in aid of law enforcement officers, not to supplant them. This secondary role will allow the military to contribute to overall internal security capabilities, while minimising the risk of the likelihood of friction between civilians and soldiers.

Military operatives operate in a different environment, with a different purpose. Theirs is not necessarily to protect individuals around them, but to accomplish the mission. While a Police officer is obliged to begin with an attempt at a constitutional arrest and escalate to force as necessary, whereas, a soldier may strike an enemy first and resort to lesser measures, like arrest, as the situation requires. Consider a hypothetical hostage situation in which a terror group has taken over a woman’s apartment and are using her as a hostage. Police officers are obliged to attempt to ensure her safety. However, where the military are in charge of the situation, it is considered as an armed conflict and the decision to destroy the whole room, with the woman inside, is permissible.

The Odi & Zari-Biam Massacres 

The example above has a real-world analogue in the case of the Odi massacre of 20 November, 1999, when the military destroyed the Ijaw town of Odi in Bayelsa State leading to the loss of over 900 civilian lives; in retaliation for the massacre of twelve members of the Nigeria Police murdered by a gang near Odi,  on 4 November, 1999. Every building in the town except the Bank, the Anglican Church and the Health Centre, was burned to the ground. 

The same scenario played out in the Zaki-Biam Massacre (also known as The Zaki-Biam Invasion or Operation No Living Thing). This was a mass execution of hundreds of unarmed Tiv civilians by the Nigerian military between 20 and 24 October, 2001. The massacre was said to be a surreptitious operation of the Nigerian Army to avenge the killing of 19 soldiers, whose mutilated bodies were found on 12 October, 2001, near some Tiv villages in Benue State.

 It is not disputed that, the law of armed conflict generally takes a ‘Cartesian’ approach to regulating warfare. It separates combatants from civilians, and permits force to be applied only against the former. An exception to the use of indiscriminate force can only be made, with regard to those civilians who take a direct or active part in hostilities. However, in the case of Okuama and other cases mentioned above, the Nigerian military demonstrated their preference for blunt and somewhat indeterminate rights under the law of armed conflict, instead of an approach modelled on law enforcement, in terms of calibrated application and anticipated effect. The military’s struggle to follow the Cartesian approach in conflict situations, raises serious concern regarding their capacity to carry out their duty under Section 217(2)(c) of the 1999 Constitution. The transfer of their “blunt mindset” to domestic policing will, therefore, continue to exacerbate distrust between the military and the communities they serve.


By continuing the militarisation of Police work in the country, particularly in the Niger-Delta region, we move law enforcement from a service role to that of an agent of control. Nigerian do not want to live in a militarised State, when we are under a democratically elected government. Notwithstanding the challenges in the communities with guns/gangs, the solution is not to supplant the role of Police  – but, rather, to use all available tools, if and only when necessary, to ensure order in the community within the ambit of the rule of law.

Should we remove the military totally from Police work? I don’t think so, given the volatility of the Niger-Delta region, and insurgent activities in other areas of the country. However, it is imperative to subject the military personnel engaged in Police work to civilian control, to ensure that the objective of their engagement outside of the barracks is not lost on both the soldiers and the communities they serve.

 Gboyega Okunniga, United Kingdom-based Lawyer; Public Affairs Analyst 

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