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Reps split over army’s ‘operation positive identification’

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Representative of Chief of Army Staff, Brigadier General Peter Yayock (left); Director, Civil Military Affairs, Army Headquarters, Major General Usman Mohammed and Brigadier General Kelvin Aligbe during the public hearing on the Operation Positive Identification plan by the Nigeria Army at the National Assembly in Abuja…yesterday. PHOTO: LUCY LADIDI ATEKO

The House of Representatives was sharply divided yesterday over ongoing moves by the Nigeria Army to launch ‘Operation Positive Identification (OPI)’ across the nation.

Members of the Abdulrazak Namdas- led Committee on Army who debated the issue for over an hour failed to agree on the need to allow the soldiers to sustain the operation aimed at keeping the peace in the country.

Namdas wondered why the army was keen on going ahead with the operation even when it was trite knowledge that the police were saddled with such a responsibility.

He said: “Giving the quantum of issues at hand, we are shocked to hear that the military is adding to its authority by taking the job of the police or immigration. So we felt that it was necessary for us to sit down with the military; you have your roles to play and we expect that you cannot add for yourself especially roles not envisaged in the constitution.

“Today’s military is subservient to the civil rule and you take authority from the civil authority. As a parliament, we will not rely only on information in the newspapers and that’s why we called you to explain more.”

Ahmadu Jaha (APC, Borno) who spoke in the same vein, questioned the rationale for the operation.

“After listening to you on this issue, I can only say this is a misplacement of priority. I have been following this exercise since 2009 when this problem started. I can tell you that they don’t insist that you must present a valid identification card like what we know as a driver’s license, national identification card, international passport or voter’s card.

“All they ask you to present is just anything that identifies you, and when you don’t have you can be charged. However, even in the north-east, no military man stops you and says you should identify yourself. They carry out this operation in conjunction with the JTF (Joint Task Force). In fact, in most cases, it is the police amongst the JTF that ask people for means of identification. This takes me to the issue of national identity card, less than 50 per cent of Nigerians can boast of this identity.

“It has been so bastardised that even people from Chad and Niger just go to our local governments in Borno State and obtain certificate of indigenisation. You can imagine the level of porosity.
Nonetheless, I don’t think the army should carry out this operation.”

Chris Agibe Ngoro (PDP, Cross River) also disagreed with the army on the ground that the country was not at war to warrant the army’s presence in all corners.

“The police are trained to identify and arrest the enemy. If Nigerians are the target of this operation, then we are worried as representatives of the people. OPI is a national operation and if you go on with this operation, it then means you are declaring war on Nigeria. This particular operation contravenes the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” he argued.

But Shina Peller (APC, Oyo) disagreed, insisting that the army deserved to be applauded over their role to keep the peace in the country.

“I applaud the army for even conceiving this idea. The country is currently facing a myriad of security challenges and if the army is devising other higher technical ideas of curtailing this menace, they should be commended. However, the army should apply to decorum. It should publish an explanatory advert. Let’s not throw away this idea, rather we should consider the advantages and disadvantages.”

Ibrahim Mustapha (APC, Sokoto) said: “We have to be conscious of the fact that Nigeria is facing serious security challenges, so I have come to terms that OPI is a very good idea. I commend you (army) for a job well done.”

The chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Tukur Buratai, justified the operation, saying it was in the best interest of Nigerians.

Represented by, Major General Uman Mohammed, Chief of Civil/Military Affairs at the Army Headquarters, Buratai said that unknown to many, Nigeria was simply at war against itself and required the intervention of his outfit to restore order in the polity.

He said: “What is happening is that the military has been involved in Operation Lafiya Dole in the North East. Within the major operation, we have subsidiary operations and one of them is this operation positive identification. It came about as a result of positive information about the activities of Boko Haram in the north-east and the fact that they are making an inroad to other parts of the country. From our intelligence, they are spreading away from their traditional stronghold. Based on that, this idea came up so that when we embark on our cordon and search operations, we make some arrests and do some identification. The operation started on the 22nd of September, 2019.”

According to the army, “There will be no additional checkpoints during the operation because it is all intelligence-led. The fact that we are extending it to other parts of the country does not mean there are changes. It is strictly based on credible information and intelligence. We are going to observe our usual rules of engagement and code of conduct for troops during internal security arrangements.”

In the end, the committee resolved to constitute a sub-committee led by Tajudeen Adefisoye to consider the concern raised during the hearing and report back in a week.

Similarly, a human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), has instituted a suit against the planned operation at a Federal High Court in Lagos, claiming that it violates citizens’ right and thus it is unconstitutional.

Specifically, Falana claims that the planned operation violates his right and that of other Nigerian citizens to liberty, as stipulated in Section 35 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended and Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, (Cap A10) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

He is, therefore, praying for an order, interim injunction, restraining the defendants from going on with the plan pending the hearing of the substantive suit.

Meanwhile, the annual military exercise, Atilogwu Udo 1, which recently replaced operation “Python Dance 3” begins today in the five states of the southeast zone, with a declaration from Buratai that it was not targeted at intimidating Ndigbo but to curb crime in the zone.

Ohanaeze Ndigbo warned yesterday that personnel on the exercise should stick to their rules of engagement and avoid confrontation with innocent Igbo. Ohanaeze said the Igbo would resist the exercise if it was discovered to be targeted at intimidating or harassing innocent residents and their economic wellbeing.

The Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) dismissed the exercise as “completely meaningless”, alleging that the army under President Muhammadu Buhari had become “completely confused and unfocussed”. MASSOB said the military exercise would not deter the agitation for the realisation of Biafra.

On Wednesday, soldiers drawn from the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army, Enugu had engaged in a peaceful march in some parts of the zone as part of the effort to sensitise residents to the exercise, which they also claimed was aimed at contributing their quota to the development and wellbeing of the society.

To begin the exercise, Acting General Commanding Officer (GOC), 82 Division, Brig Gen A.O Adebayo had visited all the states in the zone covered by the division, including Cross River State to sensitise the governors to the need to support the move.

He had at various meetings with the traditional rulers in the zone informed them that the exercise would be done with the support of other security agencies to ensure a free and peaceful yuletide for residents.


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