The military’s ‘show of force’ in South-East

Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt.-Gen. Tukur Burutai
Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt.-Gen. Tukur Burutai

IN the wake of the separatist agitations by the Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) which rose to a high decibel recently, the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant-General Yusuff Buratai, deployed a military contingent to the South-East zone under the code name, Operation Python Dance. The outfit, which began officially throughout the five states of the zone on September 15, was billed to end on October 15. Being the second of such deployment in 10 months, the first exercise of the operation took place from November 26, 2016 to December 27, 2017. According to the Army, it was forced to deploy its men to the zone as a result of a number of social vices ranging from kidnapping, armed robbery and cultism to herdsmen’s attacks. Specifically, the Army Public Relations department said that the exercise was aimed at checkmating criminal activities that had become prevalent in the geopolitical zone and, in particular, the threats to the security and peaceful coexistence of the country.

However, the gruff of the deployment was felt more in Umuahia, the capital of Abia State which incidentally is the home of IPOB leader, Mr. Nnamdi Kanu. Operation Python Dance has since harvested anguish and gnashing of teeth, especially in Abia where there were reported cases of military brutality against innocent residents and agitators. The secretariat of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Abia council, also suffered an invasion by soldiers who reportedly claimed that it was being used to film its fearful display of brute force. Further bloody skirmishes were also recorded in Oyigbo, Rivers State, last week where the death of a police sergeant was said to have been recorded. The Rivers Police command also stated that it had arrested some 32 IPOB agitators. In the case of Abia State where the notoriety of the invading military detachment was felt most, in a bid to forestall further breakdown of law and order, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu announced a dusk-to-dawn curfew on the city of Umuahia and its environs. He thereafter extended the curfew from Tuesday to Friday last week.

The activities of the military operational outfit have been subjected to different interpretations since they were unleashed on the South-East. Many found extremely untenable, the military’s claim that it had deployed the outfit to curb the incessant waves of crime in the region. The response from across divides was that the police, rather than the military, is the organisation constitutionally empowered to deal with the infractions which the Army claimed led it to embark on the operation. Many legal analysts have also averred that since the IPOB agitation had not reached a level of insurrection or armed attack on the sovereignty of the country, the military incursion in the South-East was uncalled for, and had breached a major tenet of the constitutional provisions.

We consider the military operation in the South-East an unnecessary show of force which should have been avoided in the first instance. Granted that Kanu and his IPOB have stood up to the Nigerian state and deepened the fissures of ethnic relations in Nigeria, the way to stem their agitation was not to inflict force on the Igbo people as a collective. What Operation Python Dance has inflicted on the psyche of the people would remain painfully indelible for a long time to come. There is no doubt that it would constitute a psychological trauma reminiscent of the 30-month Civil War which the region suffered. Since the judiciary had set an October date to hear the government’s motion to revoke the bail granted Kanu, it would have been more desirable to allow this judicial time to pan out and obtain the court’s verdict. Inflicting such a harrowing force on innocent people who apparently do not share IPOB’s separatist advocacy is unfair and unjustifiable. The military show of force is abhorrent. Under the democracy that Nigeria claims to be practising, it is even wrong to speak of a military show of force because it conveys brute force rather than democratic resolution of disagreements. What kind of government criminalises its own citizens and unleashes the military on them?

The military, by its training, is essentially programmed to fight a country’s enemies. Unleashing on your own people, a contingent schooled on inflicting brute force on your enemies is tantamount to declaring your citizens as enemies. A combination of diplomatic shuttles and judicial settlement of the issues at stake would have done the magic of bringing sanity to the polity, faster and more effectively than the deployment of soldiers. Visits by leaders of thought to the regions of the country have the potential of dousing tension. The diplomatic shuttle embarked upon recently by the five governors of the North to their counterparts in the East and Rivers State, for example, must have shown that Kanu and his IPOB are not necessarily greater friends of the Igbo nation than others who want the country to remain one.

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