A coalition of 30 Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) has urged the Nigerian Army to suspend its annual military exercise tagged Operation Crocodile Smile VI, saying it amounted to a veiled threat against democracy and the Constitution.
The coalition at a press conference on Sunday in Abuja also said that not less than 13 persons had been killed since protesters took to the street to protest against police brutality and extra-judicial killings 11 days ago across the country.
The Nigerian Army had in a statement by the Acting Director Army Public Relations, Col. Sagir Musa, said the exercise which is traditionally conducted in the last quarter of the year, will hold from October 20 to December 31.
Musa said that this year’s exercise, Crocodile Smile VI, will include cyber warfare exercises designed to identify, track and counter negative propaganda in the social media and across the cyberspace.
But the CSOs said that launching such exercise at a time the youths are protesting against police brutality is ill timed and would exacerbate the distrust of citizens and worsen the situation.
The CSOs are Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD-West Africa), Enough is Enough (EIE), Partners for Electoral Reform (PER), Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Centre for Information, Technology and Development (CITAD), Yiaga Africa, Global Rights, Project Alert, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC) and Paradigm Initiative.
Others are Rule of Law and Accountability Centre (RULAAC), HEDA Resource Centre, African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), Community Life Project (CLP), Protest to Power (P2P), Social Action (SA), Take Back Nigeria Movement (TBN), Right to Know (R2K), Lawyers Alert, and Private and Public Development Centre (PPDC).
The rest are South Saharan Social Development Organisation (SSSDO), Partners West Africa-Nigeria (PWA-Nigeria), Centre-LSD, Connected Development (CODE), Stakeholders Development Network (SDN), BUDGiT, CWCW Africa, Peering Advocacy and Advancement Centre in Africa (PAACA), Invictus Africa and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA).
The leaders of the coalition, including Idayat Hassan, CDD; Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, CISLAC; Ezenwa Nwagwu, PER; Cynthia Mabamalu, Yiaga Africa, Jaye Gaskia (TBN); Bukky Shonibare, and Abiodun Bayewu, Global Action spoke at the event.
According to them, the cyber operations were simply an attempt to explain what is unexplainable, and that the Army cannot launch an operation in the context of the ongoing street protest and claimed it is going to be on a cyber space.
“The military already said they are loyal to the President, not to the nation and what they were simply saying is that they are prepared if the president is also prepared to crush the protesters. That is unconstitutional. The military has no role in intervening in civilian matters because the state has not been overwhelmed. There is no formal invitation from the civil authority to the military that they are overwhelmed.
“The military is playing a dangerous game because we all know that anytime the military had made this kind of statement in the past, it always result to a Coup d’état so the government should also watch what the military is doing,” Gaskia said.
On her part, Hassan said, “So far, we can confirm at least 13 persons have been extra judicially killed in the course of the peaceful protest; Oyo, four; Edo, two; Ondo, one; Osun, two; and Lagos, four).
“In addition is the attack on peaceful assembly in eight states of Oyo, Lagos, Edo, Plateau, Anambra, FCT, Kano and Osun.”
She also said that the threats issued by the Military High Command concerning the protests revealed that an unacceptable move is being made to crush the peaceful protests.
She said, “Such a threat is ill-conceived in the face of legitimate citizens’ protest and a threat to constitutionally guaranteed rights. We call on the military to immediately withdraw its ill-advised attempt to undermine the constitutional freedom of citizens to voice their displeasure about the state of the country.
“We reject in its entirety the move to draft in the military to quell the protests, even where there has been no violent conduct on the part of protesters. The Military should remain in their barracks and at their duty posts, defending the territorial integrity of the country, and not deployed in a dangerous anti-people and anti-democratic operation to crush a people who are exercising their right to freedom of association, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly.”