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Apprehension as military begins Operation Positive Identification

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Soldiers sit in trucks as the patrol. PHOTO: AUDU MARTE / AFP

As the military insisted on commencing its Operation Positive Identification (OPI), yesterday, there was palpable apprehension across the country, as most Nigerians remain unclear about its scope and how it would ultimately affect them and their daily activities.

But the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) yesterday said the operation is meant to flush out escapee Boko Haram terrorists and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) members who may have infiltrated the Nigerian populace.

The Acting Director, Defence Information (DDI), Col. Onyema Nwachukwu, in an interview with The Guardian in Abuja, assured that in carrying out the operation, the military would imbibe the best possible global best practices.

According to him: “The operation is not targeting law- abiding citizens of Nigeria, it is rather to protect the people. You heard the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) say that there are escapees from the Northeast.

“The Nigerian military is an evolving military and we are doing everything possible to ensure that our troops imbibe the best possible global best practices. The respect for fundamental human rights is part and parcel of our responsibility, because we must protect the civilians as we protect our nation.

“We cannot be harassing civilians in the name of trying to conduct an operation or carry out our mandate, as entrenched in the constitution of Nigeria.”

Nwachukwu explained that the operation is not being conducted solely by the Nigerian Army, but in conjunction with other sister agencies.

Defending the exercise, the acting DDI chief reiterated that the operation was first conducted in the Northeast, where it was adjudged successful, adding: “The Operation Positive Identification actually took place in the Northeast and the reasons for it was that Boko Haram terrorists and Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP) had infiltrated the populace. You know these are people that have no known identity; they could melt into society without anybody noticing them and begin to live among the people with their evil intentions of harming them.

“We realised that they (Boko Haram/ ISWAP) have infiltrated the public; hence Operation Positive Identification. The idea is to sieve out the terrorists and insurgents who have infiltrated our population

“I will give you an instance, our troops had an encounter with Boko Haram terrorists and, after annihilating them, we conducted a search on them to find outfits for anything that could give us information on them and we found one of them with a brand new phone in his pocket and he had a receipt.

“It means that he had just interacted with the public where he had purchased the phone a few days back before his encounter with our troops. Several Boko Haram commanders and arms were picked up in the course of that exercise.”

He said stated further: “We found out that the operation has uncovered so many terrorists that had infiltrated the populace and it has given us a lead to where they keep their armouries. It also helps us to identify some of the sleeper cells that are within the populace.

“The evaluations we carried out after that successful operation prompted the decision to extend the operation to other theatres of operation across the country where we have security challenges.

“For instance, in the North Central, we have issues of farmers/herders and we have insinuations and allegations of some other foreigners infiltrating our country and carrying out these dastardly acts against our people. In the Northwest, we are fighting banditry, kidnapping and cattle rustling and other emerging security challenges.

“Some of them are perpetrated by foreigners who are not citizens of this country and who have no legitimate stay.”

But a lawyer and a human rights activist, Emmanuel Akhaire, condemned the decision to make civilians identify themselves, saying it is a violation of their human rights, as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

Although the operation was yet to commence in Ibadan and environs in Oyo State, yesterday, the General Secretary of the National Association of Public Affairs Analysts (NAPAA), Jare Ajayi, said: “In the light of the security situation in the country, any means to tackle the challenge is a welcome development.

“But the human rights of Nigerians must not be trampled upon. For the fact that we are in a critical situation doesn’t mean we are in a war zone. How can they identify criminally-minded people through identity cards? How much of that can be done?

“The security agents need to be innovative in finding solutions to security challenges in the country.”

Yomi Ogunlola, a legal practitioner, stated: “We are under a democracy and we are not at war. Why the siege? Soldiers on the streets in peace time will most likely create undue apprehension in the people.

Furthermore, bringing the soldiers out to do essentially Police duty is an indictment on the Nigeria Police Force.

“I think government has, by the operation, increased the volume on its ineptitude. For over a decade, the government has been unable to complete the National Identity Card project, with millions still out of the radar. I support the call to shelve the operation until the government has performed its side of the contract by making the national ID available to every qualified Nigerian.”

Omololu Ejidiran, speaking on behalf of the Committee for Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), said among others that the operation would be an infringement on the fundamental human rights of Nigerians, such as freedom of movement.

Omololu urged the President Muhammadu Buhari to pursue economic and social policies that would address the root cause of criminalities in the country, have a rethink and announce the cancellation of the operation.

In Calabar, Cross Rivers State, the military was not really visible, though there has been a huge presence of about five military patrol vehicles with armed personnel patrolling the streets on Thursday and yesterday, there were no check-points in Calabar and environs, except for the existing one at PAMOL in the outskirts.

An activist, Lawrence Mpama, said the operation is a welcome development, as kidnap cases, cultism and other vices are common and on the increase in the state capital.

“If the criminals sight the military, they would be scared, unlike the Police, whom they believe can be easily bribed. The military should make their presence felt in strategic places in town. For now, I have not seen them.”

In Taraba State, there is no sign of the operation, but the level of awareness among the people seems to be high, as majority of them have gone as far as dusting out their national identity cards, voters registration cards and other means of identification in order not to be embarrassed when the operation finally commences.

Even though the people seem not to be perturbed about it, some activists and lawyers are, however, not comfortable with the decision, which they believed would infringe on the rights of the citizens.

Citing the various form of “violations so far” perpetrated by the military, especially during the stop and search exercise necessitated by the recent Tiv/Jukun crisis, they said the operation would lead to the maltreatment and harassment of some innocent citizens in the state and the country at large.

In Imo State, soldiers were yet to be noticed on the streets, including Wethdral, Douglas, Okigwe, Mbaise, Egbu Amakohia, Orlu, Orji, Port Harcourt and Onitsha Roads, all in Owerri, the state capital, except the regular policemen at checkpoints and some soldiers at designated spots on the outskirts of the city.

Senior Special Assistant to Governor Emeka Ihedioha on Public Enlightenment, Prince Eze Ugochukwu, said nothing of such was on ground, wondering if the operation was still ongoing.

“The thing is not on ground here. I thought they had cancelled it. I thought the Senate did not approve of it. But it is not on ground here.”

Virtually all the persons who spoke to The Guardian advised the authorities of the Nigeria Army to jettison the operation, saying the effect could turn against the purpose.

Fidelis Igwe, a vendor, said: “We do not need that now. This will cause more harm than good. We know the previous checks they did and what they resulted to.”

Joe Obu, an artisan, also said there was no need for the operation, as it could result to punishment in the Southeast.

“This will not be done well. So, there is no point. Last time when they were in Owerri and other places, they punished people so much, shaving their hair, forcing them to enter into bad water, roll on dirty floor and others. Please, we do not want to suffer such again,” he decried.


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