By Obi Nwakanma
In a badly worded press release announced last week, the Nigerian Army declared what it called “Operation Python Dance,” aimed, the Army says, at anticipating and curtailing violence in the South East through the Christmas period. The language of that press statement signed by Colonel Sagir Musa was only slightly better than the extremely poor and bombastic English of an earlier statement by the Army’s Public Relations Office signed by Colonel Sani Kukasheka Usman, Army Director of Public Affairs, that challenged Amnesty International’s damning report about the Nigerian Army’s extrajudicial killings of unarmed Biafran activists and protesters.
The Army’s response and denial of Amnesty’s report was not only incompetent, in that it lied about the Biafrans, but it also seemed not to take into account that in this age of ubiquitous eyes, including the Eyes in the sky recording and capturing everything, the evidence of the killing of the Biafran protesters exist; the faces of the soldiers who took part in these killings exist, recorded and digitally preserved in real time, and are now public record.
Did President Buhari order the killing of these unarmed Biafrans? This is a question that is now slowly gathering momentum internationally, and it is not going to go away. Colonel Usman’s statement claimed: “The evidence of MASSOB/IPOB violent secessionist agitations is widely known across the national and international domains. Their modus operandi has continued to relish violence that threatens national security.
Indeed, between August 2015 and August 2016, the groups’ violent protests have manifested unimaginable atrocities to unhinge the reign of peace, security and stability in several parts of the South East Nigeria.
A number of persons from the settler communities that hailed from other parts of the country were selected for attack, killed and burnt. Such reign of hate, terror and ethno-religious controversies that portend grave consequences for national security have been averted severally through the responsiveness of the Nigerian Army and members of the security agencies.” Aside from the ineloquent bombast of this statement, I beg to note that MASSOB and IPOB are not known internationally as violent groups, and have consistently maintained their non-violent philosophy and methods, and have never armed themselves, unless Colonel Usman suggests that singing and praying and “signifying” constitute lethal ammunition.
The Nigerian National Assembly which should investigate the uses or misuses of Nigeria’s National Security apparatus, and keep the use or misuse of executive power within bounds, have maintained a very stony silence on this matter even with the international release of this damning video of soldiers killing unarmed Igbo civilians whose only crime is public gathering to campaign for self-determination.
The National Assembly must do its constitutional duty by investigating these claims against the Nigerian military and getting down to the roots of who may or may not have issued orders to kill innocent civilians. These alleged crimes by the Nigerian military have potential international consequence, and as the primary trustees of Nigeria’s sovereignty, the Nigerian legislature who pays the bills must (a) enact new laws setting down the ground rules for the deployment of the military within Nigeria.; (b) given the potentially internationally explosive nature of these allegations, the National Assembly must investigate the military leadership, and ascertain the truth of the pre-emptive use of deadly force against unarmed civilians; the source and circumstance of that order, and if there is any truth in it, force the resignation of the Chief of Army to face trial for human rights violations of the genocidal kind, and failing which defund parts of the Nigerian Defence budget which provides funding to the Army.
The Igbo have constantly called on the Federal Government to secure their lives and property. But they did not bargain for a military siege. This is how many are now interpreting the military operations that Colonel Sagir Musa announced on behalf of the Army, given on the orders, clearly of the Commander-in-chief, the president. Many now say President Muhammadu Buhari has finally removed the gloves and all pretenses and has declared direct military war on Igbo land by sending in an expeditionary force, or what many of the critics of this move suggest amounts to be an Army of occupation into Igbo land. “Operation Python Dance” is the biggest military exercise in the Eastern Nigerian heartland since Biafra.
Those who hold this view ask how come the South East of Nigeria which is a peaceful region should be the target of such a wide-ranging military operation; this “Operation Python Dance.” The stated objective of this military exercise is frankly unconvincing. But first, let me advocate for the devil a bit, and look at this operation from the Federal government’s perspective: to all intents and purposes, for as long as there is still the federation of Nigeria, the Igbo heartland is still part of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and so, the Army of the federation cannot be seen as an “Army of occupation” in any part of the federation.
The Army can conduct military exercises using any part of Nigeria as template to prep the forces for combat readiness. In Nigeria’s military doctrine, the 82 Division with Command headquarters in Enugu is the strategic forward combat force that defends the Gulf of Guinea, and this internal security operations, which frankly ought to be routine, falls within the national security objective and the mandate of the Armed Forces as established by the constitution. “Operation Python Dance,” the Army has repeatedly said is not designed to disrupt civil life; it is aimed at securing the peace at Christmas.
But there are three very visible chinks in the armor of the military’s stated objectives and claims: the first is that the press statement clearly suggests “Operation Python Dance” as a strategic deployment to anticipate and quell disturbances, and thus the military are on law enforcement duties. In the first place, the military are not trained for law enforcement, they are trained for demolition; they are not equipped to control crowds; they are trained to fight wars.
That part of the constitution that allows the use of the Nigerian Armed Forces to be called to law enforcement duties during emergencies must be revisited and expunged from the constitution. It is one of those weird insertions by the military rulers when they “edited” the current “constitution.” The Nigerian Mobile Police unit was specifically formed for the purpose of crowd control and domestic emergencies.
If need be, this police unit must be modernised, updated, and its emergency functions expanded to include anti-terrorist task force, hostage negotiation and kidnap rescue response task force, and its personnel trained to handle domestic insurgencies and crowd control situations that shouldn’t end in fatalities.
The Mobile Police was conceived as that Special police unit – the equivalent of the Military’s “Special Forces” – which could be quickly deployed by the Nigerian Police Force where boots are needed quickly on the ground. Deployment of the military to domestic emergencies has frequently usurped the role of the police and led to needless fatalities. Rather than create civil peace, it has led to a sense of siege and siege-fever can lead to nervous conditions and mass psychosis.
The second chink in the armor of this military claim is the timing of the operation: a massive deployment of troops to the South East specifically during the Christmas season when a surge people typically return to the East in great numbers is bound to further complicate the lives of the people. With troops on the roads and streets mounting roadblocks, the normally congested roads would be doubly congested; travelers harassed; bribes taken, and worse, returnees killed by gun-toting soldiers, who may deny, cover-up, or as it is often with these things, frame the dead as IPOB/MASSOB “insurgents.” It is a huge accident primed to happen.
It has led to many conspiracy theories. But as I’ve always said of “conspiracy theories,” it is like smoke, and there is never a smoke without a fire. Somewhere in-between all these is the problem of distrust. There is deep distrust of President Buhari in the South East, and the president continues to fuel it. There is nobody within President Buhari’s inner circle, and within Nigeria’s current National Security Administration who can provide the president with clean eyes into the real situation in the East, and therefore the administration continues to bumble along on security policies concerning the South East.
What the president has effectively done is to defy the constitution and the National Assembly by declaring an emergency in the South East and deploying troops with neither the consent of the states of the South East nor the authority and scrutiny of the National Assembly as is required by law. These are pretty serious issue. And the third chink in the armor of this operation is the code for it: pythons do not dance. They slither. And of course, the African rock python is non-venomous and hardly attacks humans. But they squeeze, asphyxiate and swallow their victims.