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Villagers boycott Reps hearing over fear of arrest

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Members of the House of Representatives Committee on Defence were in Warri, Delta State, on Wednesday for an investigative hearing into the deaths of 17 military soldiers in Okuama town, Ughelli South Local Government Area, Delta State.

The investigative hearing was held in accordance with the House’s resolution passed on March 19 to explore the remote causes of the tragedy.

Chronicle NG reports that 17 military personnel, including a lieutenant colonel, two majors, and a captain, were ambushed and killed by yet-to-be-identified gunmen while they were in Okuama on a peacekeeping mission.

Following the incident, military soldiers damaged and razed buildings in the Okuama riverine settlement as a form of retaliation, forcing inhabitants to seek safety in the nearby bushes of Ewu Kingdom.

The House committee members, led by Babajimi Benson, arrived at the sitting location at the Government House Annex, Edjeba, in the state’s Warri South Local Government Area, around 10.45 a.m., but had to wait for indigenes from the troubled Okuama community to make their presentations.

However, during the waiting period, sources stated that the locals did not show up due to “fear of arrest or intimidation by the military.”

However, when addressing journalists, the committee chairman stated that the committee has received useful memoranda about the incident from many parties.

Benson also assuaged Okuama indigenes who were concerned about their safety by stating that “there would be no witch hunt whatsoever.”

He asked members of the public who wish to submit a memorandum to do so in ten copies and submit them to the committee within one week.

He stated that they could submit such memoranda to the committee’s clerk, Musa Aliyu, at the National Assembly in Abuja or at the public investigative hearing.

He said, “The House of Representatives Committee on Defence looks forward to a robust engagement and meaningful contributions from all stakeholders.

“We came in yesterday (Tuesday). We met Governor Oborevwori, and we told him our mission. We’re here today (Wednesday) to see members of the community on camera and by way of memoranda.

“We’ve received a lot of memoranda from them, but they’ve not turned out physically. The window is extended for a week. So we’re still expecting a lot more memoranda from the people of the Okuama community.

“We’ve assured the governor and the people that we have the full backing of the House of Representatives to ensure that this matter is reviewed from both sides and followed to a logical conclusion.”

Benson promised the locals protection and urged them to come forward.

He said, “The community people are scared to come out vis-à-vis another list of wanted people being released. They have sent in a memorandum, and we’re still giving them a week to turn in a further memorandum in the next week.

“The clerk of the house is receiving the memory. We’ve dedicated our time to ensuring justice is done and people return to their community, perhaps better than it was before. We need to be fully armed with enough information before we visit Okuama. We will visit the place after hearing from the victims themselves,” he said.

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