Military invasion of Okoma community

THE Okoma community in Ahoada East Local Government Area of Rivers State was  thrown into panic last week when some errant members of the Nigerian military visited the place, leaving in their trail the well-known trademarks of sorrow, tears and blood. Houses in the community were razed and residents ran for their life. At the end of the encounter, the death toll stood at three people, with many injured.

When reporters visited the place, the paramount ruler of the community, Chief Felix Ogubie, said inter alia: “We were here in our houses when soldiers came and started shooting and destroying houses. They said they were after oil thieves. They beat up women and men. They are the same people that eat with those oil thieves. They came and burnt my house without any reason. I’m not involved in what they are doing, and neither are others. They burnt many houses and our people have all left the community.” This horrid account of the events in Okoma community is reminiscent of similar destruction orchestrated by the military years ago when the Odi community in neighbouring Bayelsa State was almost obliterated and the people vanquished. The military also trained their weapons on the people of Zaki Biam, Benue State, and the horrors of that gory expedition remain in the memories of the victims till date.

In a liberal democracy, military invasion of any defenceless civilian community is a complete absurdity. Sadly, in this tragic instance, the invaders even categorised an entire community as oil thieves. For far too long, members of the Nigerian military have behaved as if the weapons bought for them from taxpayers’ funds are meant to be used against the same taxpayers. They have acted like brutal lords over the civil populace, wielding the power of life and death over populations with impunity. In civilised climes, the activities of oil thieves are supposed to be within the purview of the police. If calling in the military to handle oil thieves is totally unacceptable, the murders committed by the troops are much more intolerable.

The hapless people who have been traumatized by the unsavoury experience have called on the various civilian authorities for help. It is yet unclear how long it will take them to recover from the unwarranted maximal force deployed during the expedition by the military. This is an unjustifiable development and it is against the basic fundamental human rights of the people of Okoma community. The military acted as the accuser, judge and executioner over the people of Okoma community, making a total mockery of the country’s democracy. The situation is worsened by the fact that neither arson nor the death sentence is prescribed for oil theft in the country’s statute books.  In evidence, therefore, is a military devoid of civility, discipline and respect for fundamental human rights. It is totally abhorrent and disheartening that those paid to protect the civilian populace take delight in shedding their blood at the slightest provocation, and without any recompense by the government. We will repeat what we have always said on this page, and without any apology: the power to prescribe punishment for crime lies with the courts, not any security agency.

The propensity to brutalise and exterminate the civilian population is condemnable. And quite unfortunately, the military is yet to explain this horrible and sadistic invasion of Okoma community to Nigerians. This is an abnormality of epic proportions and we roundly condemn it. It should ordinarily be possible for the government to rein in the military. For how long will Nigerians suffer from brute force and violence by the military? The government must arrest the trend. It must also ensure that the perpetrators of this particular incident are treated in accordance with the laws of the land.

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