By Ochereome Nnanna
THE Christmas season is here. In no other part of the country is the Yuletide celebrated as much as it is in the South East and South-South (the heart of Nigeria’s Christendom). It is a time when a chunk of the Igbo Diaspora returns home for the annual communal and family reunions.
Even though it has long been predicted that this year’s Christmas is going to be hard on all Nigerians because of the economic recession (depression, some economists now say), something special is in the offing. President Muhammadu Buhari, through the Nigerian Army, has a special Christmas gift for the people of the South East: a military operation code-named: “Operation Python Dance”.
According to a statement signed by Colonel Sagir Musa, the Deputy Director, Army Public Relations, 82 Division of the Nigerian Army Enugu, this operation has already started on 27th November to end on 27th December, 2016. According to Musa: “the prevalent security issues such as armed robbery, kidnapping, abduction, herdsmen-farmers clashes, communal clashes and violent secessionist attacks among others will be targeted”.
The statement went on: “Above all, an elaborate Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC) Line of Operation has been planned during the Exercise. Interestingly, Nigerian Army Corps and Services would conduct activities such as medical outreach, repairs of roads, schools and other infrastructure across the South East Region”.
Before we examine the meaning and implications of this exercise, let us reflect briefly on the army’s current operational engagements nationwide, particularly the language in which they are coded. This will offer insight into the psychological mindset of our nation’s elite fighting forces: the Nigerian Army.
Have you noticed that the motto of our Army is written in Arabic, then translated into English as: “Victory is from God alone”? I keep wondering how and when Arabic became part of our official lingua franca, such that it is boldly used to write the motto of an Army that supposedly belongs to all Nigerians.
I thought English was our sole, official language? For that matter, how did Arabic get mixed up with our national currency, the Naira? What was the rationale for it, and when did we sit down to agree to do it? Could it have been inserted there with the impunity of some vested interests which has been growing wild of late?
Indeed, the Army has conducted a series of operations in parts of the country. For instance, the anti-Boko Haram terrorism campaign was code named: “Operation Zaman Lafiya”. It was later changed to: “Operation Lafiya Dole”.
Another one was named: “Operation Shirin Harbi”, to “curtail insurgency and sundry crimes such as cattle rustling” in the North East, while “Operation Harbin Kunama” was staged in the North West to tackle “banditry, insurgency, cattle rustling, among others”. All the “operations” carried out in the North were code-named in the Hausa language which is widely spoken by the people of these areas.
But down South, we have: “Operation Crocodile Smile”, launched in the creeks of the Niger Delta, to “reduce incidences of illegal bunkering, oil thefts, piracy and other peculiar criminalities across the entire region”; while the newbie, “Operation Python Dance” crafted for the South East, is to eradicate crimes already aforementioned. They were all code-named in English, our sole national lingua franca.
Why weren’t the operations in the South given local code-names too? Doesn’t the Nigerian Army know enough Igbo, for instance, to code-name its “Operation Python Dance”? I can’t understand this discriminatory attitude here to our local languages by the nation’s foremost uniting force. We are talking about a country that belongs to all of us equally, “where no man is oppressed” as our inspirational former National Anthem nobly put it.
Now let us look at this “Operation Python Dance”. If you examine what the military says about it you will be confused as to what they really have in mind. Is it true, as some Biafra separatist groups have alleged, that it is being put together for a sinister purpose? Or is the Army making special arrangements, out of its newfound love for the people of the South East, to ensure their maximum protection during this period, including even repairing roads and schools!?
Let us take the second part first: that the intentions are noble. It is being speculated in some quarters that the Federal Government might release the Director of Radio Biafra and leader of the Independent Peoples of Biafra, Mr Nnamdi Kanu, after one year of holding him in detention against court orders. This school of thought reasons that the army is being put on standby to ensure that crowds do not come out to welcome him and possibly cause a disturbance of public peace this Yuletide.
The truth, however, is that no army can stop people who believe in Kanu from jubilating when he is released. No army can stop the Shiites from jubilating when their leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El Zakzaky is released.
Others agree with the Army that the Operation is to keep citizens safe from criminals. That is highly subject to debate. Why should the army be mobilised against robbers, kidnappers and abductors? Is that not the job of the Police, including their aggressive Mobile arm? What are the local vigilantes, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps ,NSCDC, State Security Services, SSS, and other agencies doing? Must we throw the Army at every problem we have in this country? Is the South East such a hotbed of crime that it requires the Army to conquer it? The army is not trained to fight crime; it is trained to kill.
Those who smell sinister motives say that the inclusion of “herdsmen-farmers clashes” is a mere red herring. What we have is not “herdsmen-farmers clashes” in the South East and other parts of the Middle Belt and South of Nigeria. It is a series of invasions by armed herdsmen killing, burning and displacing local communities for their cattle to feed on their victims’ farms.
The Army should have been mobilised long ago against these invaders to protect the defenceless indigenous peoples as the constitution binds them to do, if the Police has been found wanting. The Federal Government is more interested in cattle rustlers than murderous herdsmen!
The fear now is that the Army is now on standby to sack any community that decides to defend itself against these armed invaders in the South East.
The second fear is that in spite of the recent reports by the Amnesty International (AI) that the Nigerian Army killed 150 unarmed Biafra agitators (which the Army has stridently denied) this “Operation Python Dance” is meant to continue this alleged systematic decimation of unarmed Igbo youth in the name of fighting “violent terrorists”, as the Army put it.
The SSS said it discovered over 50 dead bodies in a mass grave in Abia State earlier this year. It was quick in identifying five of those bodies as those of Fulani men allegedly killed by “Biafra agitators”, without telling the world the identities of the rest and who murdered them.
The armed forces and our Federal agencies of state security have given the people of the South East reason to doubt the sincerity of their intentions towards them in the past eighteen months, by targeting unarmed agitators for extermination while refusing to protect local communities from invading armed herdsmen. Let us all keep our eyes open and see what will be the outcome of “Operation Python Dance”.
If this Operation results in a peaceful Christmas season devoid of kidnapping and armed robberies; if it marks the end of the herdsmen attacks in the South East, and if indeed the Army repairs the bad roads and dilapidated schools, then the Army would have put its critics to shame. In fact, it would be a rare special treatment for the people of the zone which must be extended to all other sections of Nigeria.
We are watching how this python will dance.