Despite opposition from Civil Society Organisations [CSOs] and harsh criticisms from the House of Representatives and the Senate, the Nigerian military kicked off its nationwide ‘Operation Positive Identification’ (OPI) exercise last Friday, November 1. It will last till December 23, 2019. Last Tuesday, the House urged President Muhammadu Buhari to review and stop the Army from commencing the operation to make way for further consultations. The House also directed its Committee on Army to liaise with the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, to develop “a pro-people strategy in combating crimes.” The Senate backed the House’s position.
The Army’s Theatre Command Operation Lafiya Dole (OPLD) had previously commenced OPI on Sunday, September 22 in the Northeast region in order to apprehend run-away terrorists. Army Spokesperson Colonel Sagir Musa said in a statement on September 25 that OPI would be extended across Nigeria to help checkmate bandits, kidnappers, armed robbers, ethnic militia, cattle rustlers as well as other criminals. Nationwide implementation of OPI coincides with the simultaneous ongoing training exercises which kicked off October 7 and will last till December 24, 2019. They include Exercise AYEM AKPATUMA II [North Central states of Benue, Nasarawa, Kogi and Niger as well as Taraba and Kaduna States]; Exercise ATILOGWU UDO 1 [South East States of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo]; and Exercise CROCODILE SMILE IV [South South states of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo and Rivers as well as South West States of Lagos and Ogun].
On Wednesday, the Army in a social media post described as “Fake Alert” a viral post on the operation released by a private company. The post had advised Nigerians to obey all directives of the military and to move around with valid means of identification including voter’s card, national identity card, driver’s licence, international passport or other valid official identification. The Army, in another statement last Friday, quoted the private company as saying: “Residents shall witness large numbers of uniformed Nigerian Army personnel parading the roads.” The Army spokesperson said “NA has never issued press release through private companies or third parties because it has a full-fledged Directorate that coordinates its public relations and information.”
Despite this information confusion, Army Chief Buratai told the House Committee on Army last Thursday that the operation was proceeding as scheduled but will not hinder the day-to-day activities of Nigerians. Represented by Army Chief of Civil-Military Affairs Major General Usman Muhammed, Buratai said “it is a training exercise and at the same time, it is a true operation whereby we use the opportunity to carry out activities to checkmate criminality and crime within those areas. This time around, we feel that we can extend the OPI to some of these areas where we are going to conduct some of these exercises. The exercise is nothing too different. It is something that is going to assist us add value to what we are doing in the Northeast.” Buratai assured that the rules of engagement would thoroughly be observed as there would neither be extra check points nor additional troops on the streets or highways.
Critics point out that it is only when a state of emergency is declared that an Army-led operation such as OPI is understandable. Yes, under Section 217 (1) of the Constitution, the President can deploy the military for suppression of insurrection or acting in aid of civil authorities to restore law and order, but OPI gives the impression that the Police and other security agencies have failed. This is not yet the situation. OPI must not limit the right of Nigerians to move freely as only a state of emergency can suspend that right. There should not be long lines at military checkpoints that adorn the nation’s highways. Also, there must be understanding for the peculiar nature of Nigerians especially the aged, the rural and urban poor who most likely don’t have any of these valid IDs.