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Tears, Lamentations as slain soldiers are buried; Tinubu in attendance, awards MON, OFR posthumously, offers scholarships to their children
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Tears, Lamentations as slain soldiers are buried; Tinubu in attendance, awards MON, OFR posthumously, offers scholarships to their children

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Okuoma soldiers
Coffins of the slain soldiers

Tears, lamentations, gloom was the order of the day at the military cemetery in Abuja yesterday as the 17 soldiers killed at Okuama in Ughelli North Local Government Area of Delta State were laid to rest.

Out to assuage the pains of the family members of the deceased soldiers, President Bola Tinubu, who attended the solemn ceremony, urged the chiefs and elders of Okuama to help the military fish out those behind the barbaric murder of the personnel on a peace mission to the community, saying the culprits will not go unpunished.

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Expressing the pains of his family, retired Warrant Officer Zakari Aliu, father of late Captain Usman Zakari, said: “He was a very obedient son. As a father, anytime I spoke to him, he looked down. He didn’t raise his head to look at me. He was my first son.

“Since the time he joined the military, no accusing fingers were pointed at him by his colleagues. He stayed with me all through his school days. It was after he graduated from the university that he joined the Army through the Short Service Combatant Commission.

“Since he joined, I never heard any bad thing against him. He joined the service in 2015. He is married with no child yet. He was expecting one because his wife was pregnant.

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“Nigerians should keep praying for us. It hurt me as a father when I heard it but it is something you cannot prevent. I am a soldier who spent 35 years in service.

“I will allow any other of my sons to still join the military. What happened is an accident. I joined it and I finished successfully. I was untouched throughout my service years. This can happen to anyone at any time. It is an accident.

“For the killers, I leave them in the hands of the federal government which is already handling that.”

Mrs Theresa Obi, mother of Major Daniel Obi from Cross River State, wept profusely, saying “Major Obi was a nice son to me, a very good man. In everything, he was good. I miss him, I miss Obi. I don’t know how I’ll survive.

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“Who will take care of me as a widow? Obi is my son. Who will help me? Obi had four children, three from the housewife and one from outside.

“I only thank the government for all they have done for us. Most importantly, they brought our son to me, I even buried him. I say thank you. God will reward all of you for what you have done for us.

“I leave his killers with God. It is God that will fight the battle, I cannot fight it. It is Nigeria that will fight the battle. As for me, I leave them with God.’’

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Similarly, the elder brother of one of the slain soldiers, Lance Corporal Abdul Ibrahim, said despite the promises made by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to assuage the pain of the family, “there is nothing that will compensate the life of a man who died fighting for this country.’’

Ahmed Abutu, who hails from Kogi State, said: “Our happiness is that he died fighting for this country. That is our happiness. We appreciate what the President said the government will do for the family.

“But the perpetrators must not be allowed to go free. A criminal is not supposed to live in the society. So, anywhere they (killers) are, they should fish them out. A life that nobody can give, a life that can not be given, why must you take it? What are you taking it for?

“Our security agencies should go out day and night to get these people and bring them. book. Then we will be grateful.

“It is a sad event, we have lost a brother who is the breadwinner of the family. He is a man of peace, he is a Muslim to the core. He is a man that if you don’t say go, he won’t go.

“He respected everybody in the family. He was caring. We received the news with great shock because it was unexpected. He was not troublesome.

“He was not somebody you will find where he is not supposed to be found, so when the news came, it was so sad. It’s a great loss to the family”.

On her part, sobbing Mrs Hanatu Hamman, mother of Late Lance Corporal Peter Hamman, said: “My son was planning to get married before his death.

“This my son listens to me and does not disrespect me. Since he joined the Army, he has been the one who gives me money to feed and even takes care of my health when I’m down.

“When anything happens to me and I call him, at once he will send me money to solve my problem. Now that he is no more, I still give God the glory. I’m in God’s hands now, I don’t have anyone to run to for help.’’

Meanwhile, President Bola Tinubu, who attended the solemn ceremony, directed the chiefs and elders of Okuoma community to help the military fish out those behind the barbaric murder of the personnel on a peace mission to the community, saying the culprits would not go unpunished.

He also warned the military against reprisal attacks that would lead to innocent people bearing the brunt of the wicked ones among them.

The President equally bestowed on the deceased officers and soldiers post-humous honours and granted scholarships to children of gallant soldiers at the university level.

Speaking in his address at the funeral of the fallen soldiers, the President commended the Armed Forces for their restraint in choosing not to carry out any reprisal attacks on Okuama or its neighbouring communities.

He said: “It is worth restating the debt of gratitude we owe these valiant soldiers and their families. As Commander-In-Chief, I do not take the contributions of members of our armed forces for granted. I recognise your valour and bravery.

“I honour your unflinching commitment to making our country safe from criminals, bandits, kidnappers and insurrectionists.
“While we continue to grieve for the courageous men we lost that day, let us also, on this solemn occasion, be reminded of the unfinished business of working for peace and harmony in our communities.

“We must begin to rebuild our communities and make them into places where love, tolerance and harmony will reign. Leaders at all levels, especially community leaders and traditional rulers, must work to strengthen the bonds that unite us. We must end the cycle of violence and bloodletting.

“I want to make it clear, once more, that those who committed this heinous crime will not go unpunished. We will find them and our departed heroes will get justice.

“The elders and chiefs of Okuama also must help the military fish out the gunmen who committed the barbaric crime against our men.

“I wish to also commend our Armed Forces for their restraint in choosing not to carry out any reprisal attacks in Okuoma or its neighbouring communities.

“We must all ensure that the innocent people of Okuama are not made to bear the punishment of the guilty and wicked among them.

“To the entire armed forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I have a message for you: Do not let the death of your compatriots discourage you. There is no higher honour than the vocation you have chosen to pursue.

“We cherish you. We cherish your labour of love. We salute your daily sacrifice in protecting your fellow citizens from danger. We acknowledge your sacrifices to defend our nation.

“Within our continent, our sub-region and across the world, the Nigerian military has remained a force for good, embodying a great example and keeping our democracy safe.

“We now must protect the families of our departed heroes. The federal government will provide a house in any part of our country to each of the families of the four officers and 13 soldiers.

“The federal government has also approved scholarships to all the children of the deceased up to the university level.

“The military must, within the next ninety days, ensure that all the benefits of the departed are paid to their families.

May the families of the departed and all their loved ones find the strength to bear the pain of this loss.”

He said that the officers and soldiers who lost their lives were patriots, brave and noble men who gave their lives to defend and protect our nation against internal and external threats. Their sacrifice will be remembered and honoured for generations to come.

President Tinubu said before the dastardly attack, Lt. Colonel Ali, as the Chief of Army Staff briefed him, enjoyed great operational exploits, fighting terrorists and insurgents in the North East and North-West before his deployment to the Niger Delta.

He said the late Ali kept faith in his military calling till the end.
“On behalf of a grateful nation, we honour the sacrifice of Ali and the other gallant patriots who died that day. They will forever be remembered as heroes who answered the call of duty and paid the ultimate price.

“They have all been awarded posthumous national honours. The four gallant officers have been accorded the award of Member of the Order of Niger, MON. The thirteen courageous soldiers who also lost their lives have been awarded the Officer of the Federal Republic, OFR, medal,’’ the President said.

According to him, the Okuama killing has added to the care of the Nigerian army and, by extension, the Nigerian state, with 10 widows, three of whom are four, five, and eight months pregnant, 21 orphans, and many other dependents, including parents.

“We shall do all within our powers to provide succour to them and preserve the memories of their departed loved ones,” he said.

Lagbaja said he considered his toughest job to be putting fine men and women in harm’s way, sometimes knowing that they might not return to their families and loved ones.

The 17 officers and soldiers gruesomely murdered include Lieutenant Colonel Ali, Major D.E Obi, Major S.D. Ashafa, Captain U. Zakari, Staff Sergeant Yahaya Saidu, Corporal Danbaba Yahaya, Corporal Kabir Bashir, Lance Corporal Abdullahi Ibrahim, Lance Corporal Bulus Haruna, Lance Corporal Sole Opeyemi, Lance Corporal Bello Anas; Private Alhaji Isah, Private Clement Francis, Private Abubakar Ali, Private Adamu Ibrahim, Private Hamman Peter, and Private Ibrahim Adamu.

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