Excessive use of the military in internal security operations
It is saddening to read and hear some of the comments that have come in the wake of Operation Python Dance II, which amongst other goals is meant to eradicate the “terrorist organization” known as IPOB. Some persons have gleefully said that deployment of armed soldiers in armoured cars and tanks is a good way of “crushing” dissent and agitation by unarmed persons who are their fellow citizens and who so far from the videos seen on the internet, have never actually fired a firearm at the military.
People wax lyrical about how bottles, stones and sticks are all dangerous weapons. Yes, they are all dangerous weapons found in the homes of every Nigerian, unlike high calibre rifles carried by the armed forces. By this logic even children throwing stones at each other may be shot at by the military if they deem the stone throwing as dangerous. Is this not why the Israeli Army is condemned for sometimes firing live bullets at Palestinian stone throwers.
The military is not meant to be deployed against unarmed civilians or conduct military exercises and manoeuvres in highly populated places during peacetime. The insidious effect of all these troop deployments is the banalisation of the military. Civilians ought not to be used to the sound of heavy gunfire or the sight of armoured cars and tanks. In one of the videos circulating on the internet, a barrage of shots were being fired at what seemed to be the residence of the IPOB leader, but the person filming from inside the house and some others inside the compound seemed not to be fazed by the gunfire implying that they were used to being shot at.
Even though some persons have allegedly been killed during the python dance, those civilians who survive being fired upon by high calibre military weapons become inured to gunfire and are no longer in awe of military hardware as they have undergone live fire training. This situation is not good for military training and discipline as some of the troops deployed have never been under live enemy fire themselves apart from during military training. Such soldiers may think that their training has inured them to gunfire, but it is not the same as being shot at with deadly intent. Thus if Nigeria is invaded by a foreign army, many Nigerian soldiers will be used to shooting at targets that do not fire back and may not quickly overcome battle shock when they are now fired at. This is why countries like the United States of America and the United Kingdom with some of the most highly trained Armed Forces in the world do not usually deploy their military to suppress riots. Instead they covertly or overtly participate in wars (not peacekeeping missions) around the world, in order to battle harden their troops.
The military should only be deployed against organised forces who are armed with guns and not against riotous assemblies. On a final note, the paranoid knee jerk reaction to IPOB eccentricities is unfortunate. IPOB is an offshoot of MASSOB that has been around for at least ten years. Yet in all that time and even at present the Igbos as a race have not declared that they want to leave Nigeria, every Christmas they return to Igboland and by January they return to other parts of Nigeria. Igbo people have not left their occupations or closed their businesses to go home to wait for the declaration of Biafra. It is the schizophrenic approach to the mention of the word Biafra and the sight of the flag that engenders the elevation of a pressure group that employs foul language into a terrorist organization. The situation that made Biafra inevitable in 1967 does not presently exist, all efforts must be made to ensure that it remains that way.
Biafra is a historical fact and the flag will always exist as memorabilia. Waving a flag should not be a death sentence. In fact, since the flag does not connote odious ideas such as slavery, unlike the confederate flag, or racial hatred like the Reich Nazi flag it should actually be taken as the flag of the old eastern region and shown for historical and educational purposes. If possible the flag should be incorporated to form a sort of Union Jack for Nigeria as the Union Jack of the United Kingdom is actually a combination of the Scottish flag, the English flag and the Irish flag of St Patrick.
This will be a visual affirmation that the region formerly known as Biafra is part and parcel of Nigeria.The military should stop incorporating civilians in their target practice. Please save the bullets for our external enemies.
Dennis Obi writes from Abuja.