By Vincent Ujumadu & Anayo Okoli
IF the Nigerian Army had anticipated the knocks it received following the setting up of Operation Python Dance 11 in the five states of the South East, perhaps it would have shelved the idea. Its intention to mount obstacles and check points associated with the usual military activity two days before its take-off might have been responsible for the controversy generated by the exercise.
As a result of this controversy, the resultant effect was the whittling down of the scope of the operation in the five states after the initial brouhaha.
The exercise began on September 15 and is expected to end on October 14, 2017 in the five South East states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo.
Though there was an opposition, especially by pro Biafra agitators and some well meaning Igbo people when the first exercise was conducted from November 28 to December 27, 2016 in the zone, it still reached its logical conclusion as the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army conducted in a manner most people welcomed and combined it with a number of outreach programmes, including provision of free health services and road rehabilitation in many communities in the region.
However, Operation Python Dance 11 met a stiff opposition from the now proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, which applied its propaganda machinery to the fullest which, more or less, thwarted the military exercise. Indeed, the military fell into the hands of the Biafra agitators when it began its show of force days before the commencement of the exercise on the streets of Umuahia, which happens to be the domain of the IPOB leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu.
Expectedly, IPOB members, who had converted the palace of the father of its leader, the traditional ruler of Afaraukwu, Eze Kanu, to be the headquarters of IPOB, moved to the streets on sighting soldiers on patrol with their Armoured Personnel Carrier, APC, and provoked them.
In the ensuring clash, some people were wounded, which was what IPOB wanted to achieve at that point in time. How to manage the development therefore became the main concern of the military and rather than conduct the normal military exercise as originally planned, the scope changed and drastically reduced in all parts of the zone.
In the five states, the military had acquired strategic places as its base for easy coordination, but after the Abia clash between IPOB members and the military, the entire operation became an anti climax.
In Anambra State for instance, the site of the abandoned Oba Airport in Idemili South local government area near the commercial city of Onitsha, acquired by the Army to serve as its base, was not put to the expected use. Despite all the freighting warnings to the people on how to conduct themselves during the one month operation, there are hardly additional military checkpoints in the state one week after the expected commencement of the exercise.
From the entire stretch from the Enugu State border through Awka to Onitsha, there is no new military checkpoint. The only ones in place are those located at Oji River, Amansea and the Head Bridge in Onitsha, which had been there over the years. The situation is the same for the stretch from Onitsha to the Imo State border and from Oba to Okigwe. However, following the apparent failure of the field exercise of Operation Python Dance 11, the battle against IPOB shifted to the court and the presidency.
In Abia State, perhaps due to the controversial action of the Army, particularly the attack on the home of IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu and invasion of the NUJ Secretariat in Umuahia, prior to the commencement of the Egwu Eke 11, the impact of the exercise is not noticed yet in the state.
The attack on the home of IPOB leader and subsequent tension and security crisis that engulfed the state, no doubt took the shine off the exercise.
The outcry generated by the action of the soldiers and other issues which led to the proscription of the IPOB, especially appeal to President Muhammadu Buhari by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu to withdraw soldiers from the streets of Aba and Umuahia, prompted a drastic reduction of soldiers on the streets of Aba and Umuahia.
Because security crisis in the state erupted on the heels of show-of-force preparatory for the take-off the Egwu Eke 11 exercise, the impact of the exercise seemed to have been subsumed by the crisis, more so when policemen were deployed from Abuja to take over from soldiers on the streets of Aba and Umuahia.
There are however still significant presence of soldiers in the state, but they are not patrolling the streets. Recall that there is 14 Brigade in Ohafia, there is the Nigeria Army Language Institute, NILAN, Ovim, which also hosts 143 battalion, there a big army camp in Asa and other camps in Umuahia, so military presence is always there.
Although no much of the exercise is being witnessed so far, the army has set up facilities for the exercise, with the ADP office Umuahia as its command base and the Nigeria Army Language Institute, NILAN, Ovim, in Isiukwuato Council as the operational headquarters, where the Chief of Army Staff, COAS, Lt. Gen. Tukur visited on Tuesday, with the deputy governor of Abia State, Ude Oko Chukwu, to assess the facilities for the exercise.
All the old military checkpoints on the major roads in and out of the state remained, with some of them fortified. No military patrols are seen on the streets, but the soldiers at the checkpoints are very vigilant and politely monitor movements of people and motorists.
When he visited the Nigeria Army Language Institute, NILAN, Ovim, which serves as the operational headquarters of the Egwu Eke 11 exercise, the Chief of Army Staff, after being conducted round the operational headquarters, with the deputy governor of Abia State, Chief Udo Oko Chukwu, expressed satisfaction with preparation of his troops and the facilities available for the exercise.
The deputy governor, in his remarks, approved the exercise and urged Abia people to cooperate with the troops, saying the exercise was “a routine security exercise” which would benefit the State in fighting crimes and criminality, especially for Abia with many inter-state boundaries. He said that It was not targeted at attacking anybody or members of the IPOB.
The deputy director, Army public relations, 82 Division, Col. Sagir Musa, however disclosed that the exercise would involve medical outreaches to be held in Abia communities soon which he said would be very beneficial to rural people who would receive free medical care.
However, although troops are not patrolling the streets, a military fighter jet has continued to fly over the state, especially Umuahia and Aba axis and from every indication normalcy has since fully returned to the state with the curfew imposed on Aba now relaxed to last between 10pm to 6am.
On Wednesday, however, a surprise came when a Federal High Court in Abuja granted an order declaring the activities of IPOB as “acts of terrorism and illegality. Following an ex-parte motion filed by Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, in suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/871?2017, the Court in Abuja granted an order declaring the activities of IPOB as “acts of terrorism and illegality” and also proscribed the existence of IPOB throughout Nigeria, with particular attention paid to the South-East and South-South regions. The order was granted by the Acting Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Abdul Kafarati.
Just before the order was granted, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed had told State House correspondents that President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the process for proscription of IPOB which, he said, was a contraption against the administration of President Buhari, alleging that it was being sponsored by some foreign countries.
The Minister said: “President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the process of proscribing IPOB, and the procedure is on.” Continuing he said, “If the President had been overly concerned with legality, where would Nigeria have been today? If attacks in the South-East had attracted reprisals elsewhere in the country, what would have happened?
“But for the quick action of state governors in the South-East and the North, there would have been a conflagration of immense proportions. The activities of IPOB, if not for the timely intervention of some leaders from the North, especially governors from the zone and their counterparts from the South-East, the country would have been engulfed in serious crisis. By its action, the Governors have cut off the oxygen that IPOB needs to survive. If the elected Governors of all the states in the South-East have banned the activities of IPOB, who then is the organization fighting for?
“IPOB is a contraption against the Buhari Administration, and is being sponsored by those I call the Coalition of the Politically-Disgruntled and the Treasury Looters. I stand by that statement despite the noise emanating from the usual suspects. IPOB has decided to externalize its campaign. It has written to governments and parliaments in the West, alleging genocide in the South-East.”
Despite what seems to be an impending end of IPOB, the organization was still determined to remain relevant. Though its leader, Kanu had remained incommunicado since the encounter between members of his group and soldiers in Umuahia, some of his foot soldiers have been speaking from their hideouts.
Media and Publicity Secretary of IPOB, Comrade Emma Powerful has already given the federal government and South East governors seven days to produce its leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, or be prepared to face consequences that would come from the group. Powerful said in a statement that the whereabouts of Mazi Kanu had remained unknown several days after the attack on his house in Umuahia by the military, adding that IPOB members had been searching to locate Kanu and his parents, to no avail.
“We are giving the federal government and South East governors seven days to produce or tell us the condition of our leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu. If he is still alive, they should charge him to court because if anything happens to him, the South East governors should bear the consequences after the expiration of this notice, otherwise they should hasten to build more prisons and acquire more weapons which they will use to kill more Biafrans,” Powerful said.
He said further that after going through the record of IPOB members in Kanu’s compound on the day of the attack, it was discovered that about 38 members were arrested, adding that all of them had also not been seen to date.
His statement read: “We are once again raising alarm for the United Nation and the relevant bodies across the globe to ask Nigerian government and her security operatives to give details of the whereabouts of IPOB leader Mazi Nnamdi Kanu and his parents, including those dead bodies and those picked up alive during the attack and invasion of our leader’s compound in Isiama Afaraukwu Ibeku Umuahia.
“It is important for the Nigerian government and South East governors to produce our leader Mazi Nnamdi Kanu before the situation gets out of hand. Let the world also ask the Nigerian government and South East governors why and how they sent military to invade Nnamdi Kanu’s compound, which led to the loss of lives within five days of the operation.”
There were also reports that Kanu went into hiding before the military invaded his house in search of trouble makers.