By Owie Lakemfa
THE Nigerian Army on November 1, flagged off “Operation Crocodile Smile Three 2018’’ in Bayelsa State while that of Delta State was launched the next day. The ‘Operation’ is in the Niger Delta which has experienced decades of repression, abandonment, neglect, pollution and deepening poverty despite producing oil, the country’s mono-culture.
The General Officer Commanding, GOC, 6 Division Nigerian Army, P ort Harcourt, Maj.-Gen. Jamil Sarham, who launched the operation on behalf of the Chief of Army Staff (CAS), Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai claimed that: “It is aimed at riding communities from (sic) crimes and basically to safeguard lives and properties.”
This is the third “Operation Crocodile Smile” in the Niger Delta and nothing in the last two operations has taught the army that rather than intimidate, it needs the support of the people. First, the code name of the operation is offensive and connotes negativity and unfriendly intentions.
The people are riverine, so they fully understand the nature of crocodiles. In the over 7,000 years some of them have lived in those ancestral lands, they know that the crocodile is not a comedian; so it does not smile. A true smile conveys warmth, friendliness and good intentions. But the smile of the crocodile is deceptive; it masks evil intentions and thoughts. The smile of the croc is sinister; it is more of a smirk, a sneer. The people know that the smile of a croc, hides a dark secret. They are aware that when the croc smiles, it is thinking of its next meal; how to kill its next victim. It is very much like crocodile tears which is exaggerated sorrow to mask its true feelings. Croc tears are fake or tears of joy because the crocodile sheds tears when it is eating and enjoying its victims.
As we know amongst humans, crocodile smile, is the smile of crooks, phony friends and cunning politicians who fake their real intentions and are deceitful and untrustworthy.
So why would the Nigerian Army code name its operations amongst the long suffering people of the Niger Delta, ‘Crocodile Smile’? Is this its true intention or the army leadership suffers from lack of understanding the English language and expressions?
Secondly, the stated objectives of the army are normal police duties, not military. We have the Nigeria Police Force, NPF, whose primary duty and responsibility is to fight crime and keep our communities safe, while that of the army is to protect our territorial integrity. So why should we continue the negative tradition which started with the December 1983 coup when the military began performing civilians duties including community policing? Why should we allow soldiers to run through our communities when they are not trained to maintain law and order amongst the civil populace? The army, after days of gunning down Shitte protesters in Abuja, cockily pronounced that it does not have rubber bullets to control a riotous situation, it has only live bullets. So why should our political and military leaders send out soldiers armed only with live bullets to contain public protests, which by the way, is the constitutional and fundamental right of all Nigerians?
The Nigerian Army simply launches so called operations, like Crocodile Smile, without reporting back to the public the outcome. So it is difficult to assess the success or failure of such naked display and use of fire power. However, we have the report of the victims of Operation Crocodile Smile I and II.
The Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, the umbrella organisation of Ijaw youths in the Niger Delta in opposing “Operation Crocodile Smile Three 2018’’ stated that: “The only success stories it can boast of in the previous exercises was the human rights abuses occasioned by the criminal invasion and destruction of Ijaw communities without provocation.”
The IYC in its Report signed by its National President, Pereotubo Oweilaemi claimed that: “When it first launched the exercise in 2016, the military used the peaceful Gbaramatu Kingdom in Warri South West LGA of Delta State as its theatre of war, thereby maiming and harassing innocent citizens which culminated in the sacrilegious invasion and looting of the sacred Gbaraun Egbesu Shrine…while innocent Oporoza youths numbering about twenty, were arrested and dumped in its dungeon without trial for more than a year before they were released courtesy of public outcry”.
The IYC also reported that in that 2016 Operation, the military terrorised other Niger Delta communities adding: “Ajapa, Safarogbo and Igangbo in Ondo State were completely burnt down by the marauding Joint Task Force.”
The youths association further reported that: “Its second coming in 2017 was another horrible experience for the Ijaw people in the Niger Delta. In the name of carrying out mop-up operations, the said trigger-happy and gun-wielding military Joint Task Force invaded and destroyed Ajakurama Community in Egbema Kingdom in Edo State, while some innocent communities were terrorised in Nembe Kingdom and environs in Bayelsa State in the name of searching for pipeline vandals. In Bennet Island in Ogbe-IIjoh Warri Kingdom, the experience was the same.”
While I cannot verify that the IYC Report is entirely true, most of the incidents it referred to were covered by the mass media. Secondly, the army has neither refuted the Report nor released its to the public.
Also, the Army Command displays a high sense of insensitivity by its choice of personnel to run such an operation; none of the officers publicly identified with ‘Operation Crocodile Smile Three 2018’ is from the Niger Delta or its environs. The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) report identified the top military brass connected as the said Maj.-Gen. Sarham, and the Commander, Sector 1, Operation Delta Safe (OPDS), Col. Alhassan Grema, and Commanding Officer 3 Battalion, Effurun, Maj. Salim Hassan. Of course, there is Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai (CAS) who sent them to the Niger Delta. So how can the Niger Delta people feel safe or comfortable? Indeed, how can Nigerians feel safe or comfortable with an army which evokes fear rather than radiate love?
The military had displayed a similar lack of tact when it unleased ‘Operation Python Dance’ (Egwu Eke) on the Eastern part of the country. The people know that the python is not a disco dancer; that it neither dances the Blues nor tango. Rather, they know the python as a deadly snake which while not venomous, kills its prey by slowly squeezing it to death. Today ‘Operation Python Dance’ is in its Third Season. In Season II, it carried out a quite bloody repression of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB. To-date, Nigerians have not been told the number of people killed or injured in that operation. It is time to streamline the role of our armed forces and security agencies with democratic principles.