By Vincent Ujumadu & Anayo Okoli
AWKA — THE announcement by the military hierarchy that it was organising another exercise in the South East geo political zone code named Operation Python Dance 11, which would last from September 15 to October 15, 2017, is raising a lot of dust. Coming at a time tension was already mounting following the renewed activities of the pro Biafra agitators and the threat by the federal government to revive the suit against the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, various interpretations were already being given to the latest move by the Army.
Agitators for a referendum
While some say it was part of the alleged intimidation of the people of the South East following the demand of the agitators for a referendum for the actualization of the Biafra Republic by some of the groups, others alleged that it is in line with the policy of the All Progressives Congress, APC-controlled federal government to continue to keep the South East region on edge. As a prelude to the commencement of the operation, the Army had already started positioning men and equipment at strategic positions in some of the towns in the zone. The presence of such equipment and soldiers was said to be the cause of Sunday’s clash between soldiers and IPOB members in Umuahia during, which some people sustained injuries.
Though the Nigerian Army announced that the exercise was aimed at fighting crime in the area, the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, in a statement signed by its director of media and publicity, Comrade Emma Powerful, urged the Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai to take back the armoured tanks being assembled in Biafra land to the war fronts in the North where the tanks were needed because IPOB was not fighting any war in the East.
South East Voice recalls that when the military launched the first Exercise Python Dance, it applied all the public relations in its armoury to convince the people that it was not targeted at any individual or group of people. According to the Army, it was purely a command post and field training exercise as a way of exchanging troop preparedness across spectrum of contemporary security challenges peculiar to the South East region. It also maintained that it was not targeted at MASSOB , IPOB or any other individual or group, adding that it was only a field training exercise designed to fight anti-social vices such as kidnapping, armed robbery and others. The military further argued that the participants were trained in anti kidnapping drills, patrols, raids, cordon and search, check points, road blocks and a general show of force.
But the fact that Operation Python Dance 1 lasted from November 27 to December 27, 2016, when most Igbo returned home to celebrate the Christmas, created the impression that it was targeted at the people to make their yuletide celebration period a frightening experience. But the army said it was targeted at armed robbery, banditry, kidnappings, herdsmen –farmers’ clashes, communal clashes and violent secessionist attacks in the region. “It was not a plot to kill members of IPOB or MASSOB and the assertion that pro-Biafra agitators were only mischief makers,” the army had insisted.
Indeed, the first operation came at a time when there were fears that the pro-Biafra groups were planning to wreck havoc during that year’s Christmas celebration. This time around, there is also so much tension in the country, especially with the October 1 quit notice by the Arewa youths to the Igbo in the North approaching. Also, with the threat by IPOB that it would ensure that there would be no elections in Anambra State in November; the setting up of another python dance exercise was therefore not a surprise to most people.
Expectedly, the announcement of the setting up of the latest exercise had attracted reactions from the pro-Biafra groups, especially IPOB and MASSOB, as well as from civil society organizations. To IPOB, it was a silent Jihad being unleashed on peaceful Biafran populations in order to complete the extermination of the Igbo race under the pretext of a military exercise in a peaceful civilian environment.
“This act of primitive criminal intimidation and provocation must not go unchallenged by men of good conscience,” IPOB said, reminding President Muhammadu Buhari that he was elected to preside over a transparent civilian democratic government. IPOB said: “This latest attempt to use the military in a show of force in Biafraland to deal with legitimate peaceful agitation for self determination vindicates IPOB position that Nigeria is irredeemably incapable of human development.
“Where on earth is it heard that combat ready troops are deployed within the borders of a country to deal with a non-violent civil matter? Such a thing can only happen in Nigeria. It makes a mockery of the role of the military and nonsense of the constitution that soldiers can be ordered by one army officer, without the permission of the Senate, to kill civilian populations in an area devoid of any conflict. This is one of the many reasons why IPOB cannot share the same geo-political space with people that can hardly reason like humans.
“We, the IPOB, advise Buratai not to march his army into Biafraland under the cover of Operation Python Dance because IPOB is agitating for self determination in a peaceful manner. We have no arms and will never resort to bearing arms. Buhari and Buratai should rather focus their attention on the Boko Haram-ravaged areas of Bornu, Yobe, and Adamawa. Boko Haram is a well armed army and it is the one Buratai should be facing and not market women in Aba and traders at Onitsha. We are peaceful people by nature, but will not tolerate any molestation or intimidation on our soil.”
According to IPOB, with the latest action by the APC, controlled government had once again proved that it was undemocratic, adding that its thinking was that it could intimidate Biafrans the same way it had intimidated and conquered Hausa people along with other indigenous ethnic minorities of the North. The Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, on its part, said the setting up of Operation Egwu Eke (Python Dance 11) by the Nigerian Army was another attempt by the Chief of Army Staff to intimidate the people with an Army of Occupation.
MASSOB leader, Comrade Uchenna Madu, who frowned at the development, called on President Muhammadu Buhari and his Chief of Army Staff to order the withdrawal of soldiers from the South East without further delay or be prepared to face legal action for alleged violation of human right.
MASSOB said: “President Buhari should understand that Nigeria, as a signatory and member of United Nations and African nations on human and people’s rights which is enshrined in human and people rights charter, should stop violating peoples right in the name of giving security where there is no threat to security. The operation python dance or Egwu-eke in Biafra land is an act of frustration from the Nigerian government and the Chief of Army Staff, who failed to capture the Boko-Haram leader, Shekaau on the stipulated date given to him.
“General Tukur Burutai has never deemed it fit to launch operation ‘machiji’ or ‘kunama’, meaning operation snake bite or scorpion sting respectively against the Hausa/Fulani h erdsmen who went about killing people, raping women and young girls and setting people’s houses ablaze. Instead, he is coming to Biafra land to launch an unnecessary security operation that is needless because there is no threat to security. This APC- led government is full of dictators and human rights violators. We cannot run away from our fathers’ land and no amount of military and police deployment will deter us from pursuing our legitimate right for self determination, which is Biafra actualization.
“It is unfortunate that Chief of Army Staff and his troops have failed to restore peace in the North-East where Boko-Haram has been in control for many years now. Nigerian security agents have failed to arrest Alhaji Yerima Shetima of Arewa youth and their sponsors for the quit notice they issued to Ndigbo, yet they are busy hunting those that are not hunting them.”
Also reacting on the issue, the Southeast Coalition of Human Rights Organizations condemned the planned launch of Operation Python Dance II by the Nigerian Army in the South East geopolitical zone, arguing that the claim by the military that the operation was aimed at cracking down on violent agitators, kidnappers, and other bandits in the zone of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo states was untrue.
In a statement, the groups described the military exercise as bastardization of the security of the people of the region and urged the military to put the exercise on hold. Chairman of International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, INTERSOCIETY, Mr. Emeka Umeagbalasi; chairman of Civil Liberties Organization, CLO, Comrade Aloysius Attah; and others who signed the statement said the operation was nothing short of an open confrontation and a daring affront on the will and psyche of the people of the region.
Describing the operation as an army of occupation, the groups also said the composition of the personnel of those to carry out the exercise was lopsided. The statement said: “Nigerian Army’s commencement of the so called “Operation Python Dance II” in the Southeast part of Nigeria; starting from September 15 to October 14, 2017 is nothing short of radicalization and bastardization of civil security in the Southeast or Igbo heartland of Nigeria, as well as deliberate traumatizing of the law abiding and peaceful people of the zone.
“It is also a clear case of declaration of unprovoked and unwarranted war on the Igbo population right inside their ancestral citadel. This act of mindless militarization and militarism in a supposedly democratic dispensation has a lot of intractable consequences. When a peaceful people are pushed too far or to the wall and subjugated to the extreme over issues concerning their rights of existence and ethnic identities, the response in many, if not in most cases, results in far reaching consequences and complications; if not in short run, then in long run. We had warned on these before.
“World history is full of several instances where the same radicalization and bastardization of civil security and ethno-religious sentiments and disquiets of sub-national entities dangerously escalated and transformed; pushing the referenced sub-nationals to reprisal radicalization by way of insurgency or street crimes’ war lordship and turning such sub-national entities and the entire national entity into a socio-political toxemia or failed and balkanized state.
“Those who are the repositories of state coercion or force of arms have always been warned by modern theorists of violence not to make a suicidal mistake of seeing themselves as ‘sole holders of monopoly of violence’ and always see and treat violence and its controllers as ‘double-edged swords.’ This is more when there are hundreds of forms of modern violence; with insurgency and its intractability as one of them.
“That is to say that the decision of the present Buhari administration at no tangible national or regional security provocation to flood the Igbo heartland with battalions of soldiers and armaments; dominated and manned by commanding and foot soldiers of Mr. President ethnic group and religion, is a clear case of declaration of ethno-religious “fatwa” on the Igbo race. It is a further case of unwarranted and abominable punishment of the people of the zone for being the most nonviolent sub-nationality and a core bread winner of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“We are, therefore, shocked and alarmed as before over the infantile and sinister reasons given by the lopsidedly composed Nigerian Army for its latest declaration of war on this most peaceful sub-nationality. We make bold say again that the present Nigerian Army has since June 2015 been divisively peopled or foot-soldiered, commanded and controlled by Mr. President and people of his own ethnicity and religion; in gross contravention of Section 14 (3) of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution; which unambiguously provides for geopolitical spread and balance.
“Having critically and expertly studied the reasons given for the latest militarization and its fatwa operation in the Southeast, we found them gravely and grossly inexcusable, undemocratic, unconstitutional and incoherent with the globalised roles of the military under democratic dispensation.
Unending tension in Umuahia
For residence of Afara-Ukwa community of Umuahia North Council of Abia State, siren blaring is not strange to them. Indeed they are used to it because both the Assistant Inspector General of Police, AIG, Zone 9 and the State Commissioner of Police live near their neighbourhood. Both of them often use siren while going or returning from work. Again, they are used to crowd especially since their son and leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, whose father is their traditional ruler, relocated to the community after he was released from Kuje Prisons, Abuja. Since then they are used to seeing organized crowds because on regular basis huge crowds of sympathizers and members of IPOB from various states come to visit him.
Even at the gate of his father’s palace where he resides, a number of big canopies were mounted which on daily basis accommodate visitors who come to see the IPOB leader and scores of members of the group who keep vigil there.