By Emma Amaize
WARRI – PAN- Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, the umbrella body of the monarchs, leaders and stakeholders of the coastal states of Niger Delta, has appealed to the authorities of the Nigerian Army to reconsider launching Operation Crocodile Smile II in the oil region, saying there was no basis for it.
The group in a statement by the Coordinating Secretary, Dr. Alfred Mulade, noted that the planned deployment was wrong especially at a time that efforts were being made by the federal government and leaders of the region, as represented by PANDEF, to consolidate the much needed sustainable peace and development in the region.
It asserted: “It is no longer news that there have been relative peace in the Niger Delta region following the understanding reached with the aggrieved agitators by the Pan Niger Delta Forum PANDEF, which has consistently demonstrated the primacy of dialogue and peaceful resolution of conflicts rather than destruction of oil and gas assets in the region.”
“It is on record that the federal government has made some indications of its readiness in ensuring the fast-tracking of the development efforts in the region by the adoption of the 16 -point agenda as working tool for this purpose as well as the positive pronouncements on some of the 16 -point items for immediate implementation.
“PANDEF, therefore, is of the strong opinion that whatever actions on the part of government that will undermine this much desired hard earned peace process should be discouraged.
“It is on this premise that PANDEF was taken aback by the announcement of the Director of Army Public Relations, Brig- General Sani Usman of the readiness of the Nigerian Army to Launch ‘Operation Crocodile Smile 11’ in the oil-rich South-South region, just as ‘Operation Python Dance’ was being deployed in the South-East zone of Nigeria, which has elicited mixed reactions from wide range stakeholders,” the group said.
It added: “ Whilst it is not the position of PANDEF to challenge operational deployments of Nigerian soldiers in any part of the Nigeria in accordance with best practices and rules of engagement, and without prejudice to the constitutional role of the military in a democratic setting, we, however observe that, this contemplated deployment of the ‘Operation Crocodile Smile 11’ is certainly misconceived, especially at this time when the region is gradually coming to terms with the urgent need for sustaining the relative peace in the region.”
PANDEF stated: “It is on record that the previous launch of the ‘Operation Crocodile Smile’ in the Niger Delta, last year, left in its trail bitter tales of woes, including harassment, destruction of helpless communities and killings of innocent persons. There is palpable fear that the second coming of this Operation Crocodile Smile’ will not be any better, as it is fraught with the tendencies for heating up the fragile peace in the Niger Delta region.”
It pointed out: “This fear and concern is being expressed by cross section of the people of the helpless communities and stakeholders in the region, including the Delta Ijaw Women Initiative (DIWI), a body of concerned women, which had also lend its voice to the call for restraint on the part the Nigerian Military in the planned deployment of ‘Operation Crocodile Smile’ in the region.
PANDEF further argued: “The basis for the second coming of ‘Operation Crocodile Smile’ in the Niger Delta region does not arise at this moment. The reasons canvassed by the military to justify the launch of ‘Operation Python Dance’ in the South-East, which included kidnappings, robbery and other vices prevalent in the South-East, have very low occurrence level in the South-South, and so do not require the deployment of any special ‘crocodile’.”
“Militarization of the region is certainly not the way out. What is needed now is to consolidate on the existing peace to fast-track peace and development in the Niger Delta region. At the just concluded 2nd National Council on the Niger Delta, which was held at Akure, Ondo State, from 7th to 14th September, 2017, and declared open by the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, the governments and all stakeholders are unanimous that there is the urgent need to sustain the prevailing peace and fast-track development in the region. No provision was made for militarization of the region, under any guise,” PANDEF said.