Legislative restraint and furore over positive identification
However, at the tail end of the month of September, the military high command disclosed that it was extending OPI to cover the entire country, stressing that the exercise would enable soldiers to accost citizens everywhere, including streets and roads and request from them a means of identification.
The leadership of the Nigeria Army assured that OPI would help troops to check the activities of bandits, kidnappers, armed robbers, ethnic militia, cattle rustlers, as well as other sundry criminals across the various regions of the country.
But, despite assurances from the Army that the planned Operation Positive Identification would address the challenges of rampart kidnapping for ransom and senseless killings, Nigerians from all walks of life rose in anger to condemn what most public intellectuals described as a subtle declaration of a state of emergency in the country.
Irked by the encroachment on civil liberties, the Nigeria Senate said it was rejecting the controversial exercise, maintaining, “We will not support any action or policy that could either cause inconveniences for citizens or tamper with their fundamental rights, especially the freedom of movement.”
Baring his mind on the matter to journalists last Wednesday, the Chairman of Senate Committee on Army, Senator Ali Ndume, declared being the true representatives of Nigeria people, such an exercise as OPI was not acceptable to the lawmakers.
Ndume noted that although the Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai, denied that the exercise was being extended to the cover the entire, the Senate summoned him to come make the clarifications to Nigerians.
The Senator, however, recalled that when a similar exercise was carried out in the Northeast, the people did not complain simply because the region was troubled by the insurgency.
Also, while rejecting the nationwide launching of OPI, the House of Representatives urged President Muhammadu Buhari, who is out of the country on a private visit to the United Kingdom, to stop the military from the planned operation.
Following the adoption of a motion moved by the Minority Leader, Mr. Ndudi Elumelu, the lower legislative chamber resolved to focus its oversight faculties on the plan by the Army to embark on nationwide implementation of OPI.
The legislators mandated its committee on Army, led by Abdulrazak Namdas, to liaise with the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lt. Gen, Buratai on the issue and report to the plenary.
Leading the debate on the general principles of the motion at the plenary session presided over by the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, Elumelu contended that if the Army goes ahead with the exercise, it would lead to possible militarization of Nigeria.
He further argued that the exercise, if not blocked, could lead to infringement on fundamental rights of Nigerians as enshrined in the Constitution.
Elumelu insisted that if allowed to take place, the exercise would downgrade innocent Nigerians to suspects and conquered people, as well as lead to abuses and serious security crisis.
Supporting the motion, the Deputy Minority leader, Mr. Tobi Okechukwu, argued that the exercise does not form part of the mandate of the Army, stressing that other security agencies such as the Police, Department of State Services (DSS), among others.
Foretaste of siege, genocide
Meanwhile, in its reaction to the attempt to unleash the unconstitutional clampdown on the free movement of citizens, some Igbo groups in the United States of America (USA), including Ekwe-Nche Research Institute, Biafra Genocide Survivors International and Persecuted Christians Alliance USA, described the plot as unprovoked war.
The groups declared that in the light of the proliferation of checkpoints in the area, the exercise would translate to military and police siege on the defenseless peoples in the Southeast and the South-south zones
In a statement signed by Prof Justin Akujieze (President, Ekwe-Nche Research Institute, USA), Dr. Moses Nwaigwe (President, Biafra Genocide Survivors Int’l, USA) and Rev Chukwuemeka Nwachukwu, (Chairman Persecuted Christian Alliance, USA), the groups called the Nigerian Army to order, particularly its ‘operation positive identification’, scheduled to start tomorrow, November 1, 2019.
The US-based groups further called for an end to military and police siege or occupation and associated gross human rights abuses and roadblock-related corrupt practices in Igbo Land.
While urging for total dismantling of all Military, Police and Paramilitary roadblocks in Igbo Land and its environs and in the South-south geopolitical region, the groups commended the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (Intersociety) for its painstaking field research that documented gross human rights abuses and violations in old Eastern Nigeria.
The US groups enjoined the governors of Southeast states to rise to the occasion and resist the temptation of complicity, either directly or indirectly aiding the perpetration of another round of genocide in Igbo Land.
As negative reactions continued to trail the planned OPI, a concerned Nigerian, Dr. Bolaji Akinyemi, in an open letter to President Buhari, which has been trending on social media, lamented that a privately registered company by the name BRICKS, has been circulating information on behalf of the Nigerian Army, with regard to the commencement of “Operation Positive Identification” (OPI).
Akinyemi recalled that the “yet to be resolved role of ‘unknown soldiers’ during the last election is a huge embarrassment to the global village.”
He therefore, condemned the planned OPI at a time gubernatorial polls would be taking place in two states. Akinyemi stated: “A militarised electoral processes to be devised during Kogi and Bayelsa elections as a result of this planned army take over of duties fitting for the police is left to the imagination of the International Community and the Nigerian public.
He added that coming at a time when the President would be on a private visit to the United Kingdom, it would not be proper to continue with the operation in the absence of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
It would be recalled that the Nigeria army, in a statement released by the Media Coordinator, Army Operations, Colonel Aminu Iliyasu, disclosed that it was engaging in a nationwide “Operation Positive Identification” to combat crimes and threats.
Iliyasu said the operation is part of efforts aimed at combating threats of criminal insurgency and terrorism, armed banditry, kidnapping, herdsmen-farmers clashes, cultism, and communal crises, amongst others.
The statement pleaded with Nigerians not “to panic on seeing an increased presence of military personnel and other security agencies as well as the movement of military vehicles and hardware.”
But speaking to journalists after meeting with the House of Representatives Committee on Army, in Abuja, yesterday, the COAS, Lt. Gen. Buratai, explained that the operation would not encumber the social and commercial activities.
Buratai, who spoke through the Chief of Civil-Military Affairs, Maj.-Gen. Usman Muhammed, said the army had already submitted a detailed report on the OPI to the committee, stressing that his men are involved in ‘Operation Lafia Dole’ in the Northeast, as well as other auxiliary operations within the major operation.
He added that OPI, which is one of the subsidiary operations which is ongoing in the Northeast zone. started on September 22 in the zone was based on accurate intelligence that some Boko Haram insurgents were no longer in their enclaves, but advancing towards the Niger border.
The COAS stated: “The military has a tradition of initiating operations towards the end of the year to reduce crime during the Yuletide. We have exercise Ayama Kpatuma in the North Central, Atilogwu Udor in the South East and Crocodile Smile in the South-South are aimed at addressing the security challenges in those zones.
“It is a training exercise and at the same time, it is a true operation whereby we use the opportunity to carry out activities to checkmate criminality and crime within those areas. This time around, we feel that we can extend the OPI to some of these areas where we are going to conduct some of these exercises.”
While stressing that that the operation was in collaboration with other security agencies, including National Intelligence Agency (NIA), the Department of State Service (DSS) among others, he said the exercise is nothing too different, but “something that is going to assist us to add value to what we are doing in the north east.”
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