O N Saturday, November 2, the Nigerian Army called on Nigerians to assist the ongoing Operation Positive Identification by giving information that would assist in the identification and arrest of the fleeing Boko Haram terrorists in any part of the country. The operation, which it said would last from November 1 to December 23, “is integral and complementary to Operation Lafiya Dole in the North-East.” According to the acting Director, Army Public Relations, Colonel Sagir Musa, the ongoing operation “is an intelligence-driven, deliberate, targeted operation and not an independent operation.” He enjoined the public to discountenance “the hitherto faceless and mischievous alert by one Bricks Company,” adding that the army wanted all Nigerians “to cooperate with it and indeed all other security agencies by giving credible information that would assist in the identification and eventual arrest of the fleeing criminals and terrorists in any part of our beloved country.”
According to Sagir, the claim that “residents shall witness large numbers of uniformed Nigerian Army personnel parading the roads in an exercise,” as alleged by the Bricks Company, is false. Last week, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-General Tukur Buratai, had indicated that President Muhammadu Buhari approved the operation. Buratai, who was represented by the Chief of Civil-Military Affairs, Major-General Usman Muhammed, said this while addressing the House of Representatives committee investigating the operation. He said that the exercise, first launched in the North-East in September, was being extended nationwide to intercept Boko Haram insurgents who had relocated from their enclaves to other parts of the country. However, following the outrage generated by the operation, the House of Representatives passed a resolution asking the military to put it on hold and directed its committee on the army to investigate it. The green chamber’s invitation to the leadership of the Nigerian Army followed the deluge of complaints and fears expressed by the civil populace over the exercise. Indeed, in a suit filed before a Federal High Court In Lagos in which he joined the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, as a co-defendant, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Femi Falana, sought an order stopping the army from proceeding with the operation. He argued that the operation was “unconstitutional, illegal, null and void” and asked the court to declare that the army was not empowered to take over police duties.
As is customary with the military exercises in the country, there was initial poor public communication around ‘Operation Positive Identification’, sparking fears about the military’s real intention and its recent penchant to become overly involved in civilian activities. Unfortunately, the felons who are the targets of the exercise have the resources to procure identity cards and so may not be easily apprehended on the streets, except the notorious ones who had already been profiled by the security agencies. On the other hand, how many ordinary Nigerians have identity cards? The statistics are appalling. According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), there were 84,004,084 registered voters before the 2019 general election. But about 29 per cent of this figure are yet to collect their cards and so cannot use the voter card as a means of identification. Again, the Nigerian Identity Management Commission (NIMC) has reportedly registered less than 35 million Nigerians for the national identity card and they have not even been given the cards. This figure is unlikely to improve in the immediate period because of the official tardiness in communicating to the public the controversial N5,000 renewal and replacement cost of the yet-to-be-issued cards. Also, based on the National Bureau of Statistics’ (NBS) figure of 29.3 per cent unemployed Nigerians, about 60 million out of the estimated population of 200 million are not employed and so have no access to a formal means of identification. For instance, who issues farmers struggling to survive with ID cards? The sad implication of all this is that it is the innocent Nigerians who have no access to any means of identification that will bear the brunt of the military exercise by way of harassment and deprivation of freedom judging by the antecedents of the military. Nigerians do not deserve further inconveniences and hardship at a time when insecurity and the parlous state of the economy are already taking a toll.
It would indeed be unfortunate for the Nigerian Army to rely on such crude methods as ID card when civilised societies are deploying technologies such as facial identification to track down outlaws. In any case, there is no fire-sure guarantee that the insurgents who have been so organised and smart to keep their supply line running for a decade to receive food, medicaments and sophisticated weapons will not be able to circumvent being arrested on the streets. Or who says these criminals have not procured their own specious means of identification to hoodwink security agents? Truth be told, the army under the present administration has been acting ultra vires consistently as it engages time and again in controversial exercises that tend to suggest that the country is under a quasi-military regime. It is also unsettling but really not unexpected that ulterior motives are already being ascribed to the contentious military exercises. For instance, not a few discerning Nigerians are already interrogating the curious coincidences in the timing of the controversial military exercises and the imminence of elections in recent times. Many see the exercises as a ploy to intimidate and harass the electorate.
And the current exercise, in particular, is capable of casting doubt on the credibility of the imminent governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states. Ordinarily, if the real objective is to isolate criminals from innocent nationals and residents, it is within the precincts of Nigeria Police/Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) duties. And if the government considers the police/NIS ill-equipped and unfit to carry out civil responsibilities, it is a serious indictment on it. That it has not fixed inadequacies to enable critical national institutions to perform their constitutional duty more than four years in the saddle is unfortunate. Notwithstanding the claim of the Army to the contrary, ‘Operation Positive Identification’ is another clear evidence of the burgeoning but loathsome, dangerous and unwarranted military incursions into civil duties for which it was not trained. And it is a perilous trend with grave implications as it distracts the military from concentrating on its core mandate of protecting the territorial integrity of the country against external aggression. It may engender, even if silently for now, disaffection between the military and the services whose constitutional mandate is being flagrantly usurped. More importantly it will foist needless inconveniences and hardship on the citizenry.