Nigerians are worried about the growing militarisation of the country with the deployment of Army to South East, South West and South-South on various operations, and in every other crisis zone in the country, especially the medical outreach of the military which is being suspected as a move to inject virus and depopulate the affected areas
- Olu Ojewale
IT was not a war situation neither was it an armed robbery operation. It was not even a riot and there was no gun shot. Yet panic gripped everyone in Anambra State on Tuesday, October 10, as parents and guidance scampered to withdraw their children from schools over an allegation that a military mission was forcing pupils to accept inoculation that could kill them. It was even reported that some pupils who had been inoculated slumped and were rushed to medical facilities, where some of them died. It was even suggested that federal government was on diabolical mission to infest people from some parts of the country with virus of monkey pox in guise of vaccination.
Like a wildfire the rumours had reached the entire South East and Delta State, where parents and guardians acted fast to withdraw their children and wards from schools.
Apparently irked by the development, Lai Mohammed, Information and Culture minister, had issued a statement to dispel the rumours on Sunday, October 8. But Nigerians seemed not to be convinced.
They viewed the medical outreach as part of ‘Operation Python Dance,’ aimed at dealing with people in the part of the country.
Indeed, between Monday and Wednesday, October 17 and 18, the ugly incident repeated itself in many parts of the country in Akwa Ibom, Ondo, Kwara, Rivers State and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT.
In Akwa Ibom State, teachers and pupils in many parts of the state fled their schools over the fear of a forced vaccination by the Nigerian Army Medical Corps carrying out operations in the Niger Delta region.
“We heard on the radio the other day that the Nigerian Army was carrying out an operation in the Niger Delta region. We were not told there was going to be vaccination. But early today, we heard that apart from their routine security operations, their medical corps was going to offer free treatment to our children in schools.
“We don’t know what kind of vaccination they are bringing to give our children and that is why we have gone to school to withdraw our kids,” a source, who called himself Eyoabasi, said.
In any case, according to school authorities some local government areas in the state had decided not to allow their students to be vaccinated by the military medical outreach.
“We have given instruction to the gatemen to alert us as soon as the site the military coming towards our school,” Ubong Udo, a teacher in Obot Local Government said, adding: “We have also alerted everyone to run away through the back gates as soon as the compound master rings the school bell with a sense of urgency.”
The governments of the affected states also denounced the fact that the military did not inform them or their ministries of health before any medical outreach in their respective states. Interestingly, this is happening a week after Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State warned the army to stop subjecting its citizens and motorists to corporal punishments such as frog jump on the highways. This followed the heavy presence of the army at numerous check points on the roads in the South East.
Nevertheless, the allegation that the pupils were being forcefully vaccinated with the dreaded monkey pox virus currently ravaging some parts of the country made the military aghast.
In a statement by Sagir Musa, a colonel and the deputy director of Army Public Relations, the military said that the medical outreach in the South East had no sinister motive.
The statement said in part: “The Division wishes to make it clear that the free medical outreach is not a vaccine intended to infect monkey pox or any major contemporary or emerging diseases in Nigeria to the people of South East or any part of the country.
“The exercise is part of the corporate social responsibility initiatives imbued in to the overall Exercise EGWU EKE 11 package, to the people of the South Eastern Region which is the Area of Responsibility of the 82 Division NA and is also the theatre of the exercise.
“Instructively, the free medical services in the region started on the 18th of September 2017 in Nkwaagu community of Abakaliki Local Government Area, LGA, of Ebonyi State. At the event, the Deputy Governor of Ebonyi State, the Chairman of the LGA and some traditional rulers of the benefiting community were there at the flag off of the exercise by the Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General TY Buratai.”
The 32 Artillery Brigade of Nigerian Army, Akure, Ondo State, similarly debunked rumours of harmful vaccination being conducted by some people believed to be soldiers in the state.
This was consequent to pandemonium in primary and secondary schools in the state which made parents and guardians to withdraw their children and wards, when rumours filtered in that harmful vaccination was being administered on children.
Ojo Adenegan, a major and the Brigade’s spokesperson, said this in a statement issued on Tuesday, October 17, in Akure. The statement categorically said there was no ongoing medical outreach in the state.
“The information is the hand work of mischief makers and should be treated as such,’’ Adenegan said as he urged the general public to provide useful information on any person or group of persons behind the malicious information against the military.
That, indeed, may be a tall order as some persons could not fathom the need for the military operations being carried out in the South East and South West in recent times. More so because a number of persons were killed during the military confrontation with members of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, led by Nnamdi Kanu.
There are a number of reported cases that make Nigerians to be suspicious of the military deployment and government’s good intentions.
For instance, the Army was on the defensive in Plateau State recently about its alleged culpability in the attack of Fulani herdsmen. Contrary to allegations, the military said that it did not aid suspected Fulani herdsmen that attacked and killed about 29 persons, including women and children in the Nkiedonwhro community of Plateau State on Monday, October 16.
The military denied the allegation of complicity in the killing but said it was overwhelmed by the numerical strength and tactics of the attackers.
Umar Adams, a captain and spokesperson of Operation Safe Haven, said that the military did its best to repel the deadly attack but could not. He said: “The attackers came en masse and they were shooting sporadically and the people in the village started running towards one of the bases where our men were deployed. That was when our men offered them safety in the classroom.
“But as those attackers were still advancing, our men had to repel them by engaging them in gunshots. But because it was dark and they were many in number, our men didn ’t know that there were others who came from another direction.
“While our people were attacking those ones, others came from a different route and fired the people in the classroom. But to our greatest disappointment, people are pushing the blame on us.”
Indeed, Sunday Abdu, the president of Rigwe Development Association, accused soldiers deployed in the area of complicity saying that “the soldiers masterminded the killing. That was what happened.”
In September, the military was again the booth of attack for its role when suspected herdsmen launched an attack in Benue State.
Appearing before the Presidential Panel set up to investigate alleged human rights violations by the Nigerian Army, sitting in Abuja, Benue indigenes narrated how soldiers helped rampaging herdsmen to attack their communities.
Represented by Mike Utsaha, their lawyer, the community told the seven-man panel headed by Justice Biobele Georgewill that while 28 persons were killed in the attack, 91 compounds and property were destroyed. According to the community, the attack was carried out by the 93 Battalion of the Nigerian Army in Takum, Taraba State. The community, through an 18-page memorandum submitted to the panel, stated how following intense and sustained attacks from 2013 to 2015, they were massacred and displaced from their ancestral land by the combined team of soldiers and herdsmen.
Jacob Kwaghkper, a retired deputy director with the National Commission for Colleges of Education, told the panel that from 2015 to June 2017, five communities that make up the Moon Valley were subjected to intense, sustained and coordinated attacks by soldiers from the 93 Battalion and herdsmen, leading to the death of 28 people. He told the panel that the herdsmen, with the active support of soldiers, were still occupying ancestral lands of the five communities.
As if that was not bad enough, the federal government on Sunday, July 2, came under attack over the swiftness with which it responded to the clash between the Fulani and the indigenes of the Sardauna Local Government Area of Taraba State.
Following the clash, the Fulani communities in the area on June 21, called on acting President Yemi Osinbajo to intervene in what they described as genocide being perpetrated against them.
The federal government, in response to their call, swiftly deployed troops in the area.
However, some leaders of the Sardauna Local Government Area, in a report on June 25, criticised the swiftness with which the federal government and the Army responded to the clash between the Fulani and the indigenes.
The leaders, who accused the troops of taking sides, said the Army and the Federal Government had not responded to killings and attacks carried out by the herdsmen in Ekiti, Delta, Enugu and Benue states.
Usman Abdul, president, the Campaign for Democracy, who lamented that the military had been polarised along ethnic lines, said such disposition was a “bad omen” for national security.
Abdul said: “Unless our military harps on its professionalism, we will continue to be in this situation. Our military has now been divided and polarised along ethnic and regional lines. And it is not a good omen in the fight against internal threats, not to talk of external aggressions.”
No doubt, all these reports of partiality, has in no small way contributed to people’s apprehension about any good intension of the military. Nigerians are also worried that the government has been deploying the military to sort out civil conflicts which constitutionally should be handled by the Nigeria Police Force.
Nevertheless, the military medical outreach gesture succeeded in some places. For instance, the headquarters 4 Brigade Nigerian Army, Benin, Edo State on Wednesday, October 11, conducted a medical outreach to its neighbouring communities. The exercise was in support of the ongoing operation Crocodile Smile II.
A statement by Mohammed Maidawa, a captain and the assistant director Army Public Relations at the command, said the medical outreach was conducted simultaneously in Warri, Sapele and Burutu local government areas of Delta State by battalions under the 4 Brigade. He said the exercise, which witnessed large turnout was targeted at about 10,000 beneficiaries.
Maidawa said medical personnel carried out treatment for various ailments including malaria, typhoid and checks for blood pressure, blood sugar, as well as de-worming of children.
Ibrahim Garba, a brigadier general and commander, 4 Brigade, who visited the venues for the medical outreach commended the commanding officers of the respective battalions for the humanitarian gesture.
That notwithstanding, Sa’ad Abubakar III, the Sultan of Sokoto, has dismissed speculations that vaccines for polio and other communicable diseases cause the death of infants.
The paramount traditional ruler said this during a courtesy visit to Governor Umaru Al-Makura of Nasarawa State on Tuesday, October 17, in Lafia, the state capital.
He advised politicians to stop politicising issues relating to health care for selfish reasons.
Abubakar III, who is also the president general of Jamaatul Nasril Islam and the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, was in Lafia for the Third Quarter Meeting on Polio Eradication Routine Immunisation.
He expressed displeasure at reports that vaccines for immunisation had been contaminated to poison certain groups of people and followers of certain religion in the country. He described the reports as false and warned those spreading the rumours to stop discouraging innocent Nigerians from participating in the immunisation exercise to protect them against polio and other communicable diseases.
“There are two things we must never politicise and they are health and security issues because they affect everybody irrespective of religious or tribal background. I was so saddened when we heard that the vaccines contain poison to eliminate certain races. We must never play politics with people’s lives. The vaccines are not meant to kill anybody but to protect Nigerians from these communicable diseases.
“We will never support anything that will hurt anybody. So I urge our politicians and others to stop playing politics with the lives of anybody,” the Sultan appealed.
He also urged traditional rulers, religious leaders and other well-meaning Nigerians to help enlighten others on the vital importance of immunisation to end the endemic status of some communicable diseases in the country.
Be that as it may and mercifully, the Operation Python Dance II in the South-East formally ended on Saturday, October 14.
Adamu Baba Abubakar, a major-general and the General Officer Commanding, GOC, 82 Division of the Nigerian Army, representing Tukur Buratai, a lieutenant general and the chief of Army Staff, formally declared the end of operation.
A statement by Musa, the spokesman of 82 Division, said on Sunday, October 15, that the ceremony took place in Sector 1 Tactical Headquarters at Umuahia, Abia State, at about 1900 to 2000 hours on Saturday, October 14, with the traditional activation of a campfire to formally signify the successful completion of the exercise.
Abubakar commended all the officers, soldiers and personnel of paramilitary organisations that collaborated and synergised, worked tirelessly and commendably throughout the one-month period during the exercise.
He remarked further that the achievements recorded during the exercise in the areas of attainment of the mission specific training objectives, improvement in peace and security, curtailing the menace of violent irredentist groups in the theatre of the exercise – South-Eastern part of Nigeria – was remarkable.
On the part of Abia State, Emmanuel Nwabuko the representative of the governor, expressed the appreciation of the government and people of the state for the numerous achievements of the exercise in terms of improvement of peace, security and stability in the state.
He remarked further that the collaborative relationship with the Nigerian Army could be traced to the time when in 2010-2011 kidnappers, armed robbers and other hoodlums paralysed economic and social activities in the state, “it was the army that rescued us”.
“So we are ready to always leverage on this relationship whenever the need arises,” he added.
Instructively, there was no mention of how many arrests were made and number of criminals gunned down in the course of the operation.
That notwithstanding, the Nigerian Army currently on Operation crocodile Smile 2, on Tuesday, October 17, beat its chest saying it had arrested more than 40 suspects for various offences within Lagos and Ogun states after the launch of the exercise by Buratai.
The army made this known through a statement by Olaolu Daudu, a lieutenant colonel and spokesman of the 81 Division, Lagos.
According to him, so far, the troops have been carrying out routine activities associated with the exercise seamlessly along with other sister services, security and paramilitary agencies.
“Some suspected criminals have been arrested; drug peddlers, cultists, car snatchers and other criminal elements have been denied freedom of action through patrols, raids, road blocks and checkpoints.
“On October 4, based on credible information on activities of pipeline vandals at Ronik Hotel Abule Egba area of Lagos State, troops of 149 Battalion, 81 Division Nigerian Army were immediately dispatched for a Cordon and search Operation.
“The troops arrested the suspected pipeline vandals and items found within the hotel premises include 16 loaded kegs of premium motor spirit (PMS), 5 cars and 2 tankers loaded with PMS,” he said.
He said the suspects had been interrogated, profiled and handed over to the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC.
“In a related development, on October 11, troops of 174 Battalion, 81 Division Nigerian Army while on a stop and search operation arrested a car robber who snatched a Toyota Venza with reg. no. FST 762 CV along Ikorodu – Sagamu road.
“The suspect who was fleeing with the stolen vehicle rammed into other vehicles and pedestrians in a bid to escape and was arrested by troops.
“The suspect and the recovered vehicle have been handed over to Owutu Divisional police Headquarters,” he said.
He also said that five drug peddlers were apprehended with gallons of unidentified chemical substances and Indian hemp on October 14, by troops of Sector 5, 243 Battalion at Agbara area of Lagos State in conjunction with men of National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA.
“Arrested suspects and items have been handed over to the NDLEA for further investigation.
“Similarly, raid and clearance operations were carried out on October 14, by troops of 65 Battalion Sector 1 of Exercise CROCODILE SMILE 2 at Ajah general area.
“Nine suspects were arrested with bags containing Indian hemp,” he said.
The spokesman also said another raid was carried out by troops of 9 Brigade Garrison Sector 4 at Ipodo, Ikeja, general area where five suspects were arrested.
Daudu added that four suspected cult members were arrested around Badagry area on October 15.
“At about 11.59 pm, gunmen suspected to be cultists attacked Rolex Hotel in Ajara area of Badagry.
The spokesperson reassured the public that the Division was poised to maintain peace and security in the entire Lagos and Ogun states.
Daudu did not mention any medical outreach activity.
Nevertheless, what has been the concern of the Nigerian public is whether the military men have taken over the civil responsibility of the Police and are now being used to intimidate members of the public.
Ishaq Akintola, president, Muslim Rights Concern, MURIC, said the government’s action was necessitated by the allegedly high crime rate in the South East. He said the various exercises launched by the military were necessary once in a while in view of the proliferation of criminal activities in the country
Apart from the increase in cases of armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, among others, Akintola pointed out that the general state of insecurity caused by the threat of secession made by the proscribed IPOB was too strong to ignore.
He said the seizure of several weapons actually raised the alert level to red. “This year alone, 661 pump action guns were confiscated by the Nigerian Customs on January 30, 2017; 440 guns illegally imported from Turkey were discovered by Customs on May 24, while another 1,100 were recovered on September 11, while 470 pump action guns were seized on September 21. More powerful weapons like machine guns and RPGs were also seized at the border.
“It is normal for these seizures to give the authorities and the discerning public cause for serious concern and the volatile situation altogether constituted the raison d’etre for military exercises like Operations Python Dance and Crocodile Smile,” Akintola said.
The scholar expressed worry by the recent call by the Yoruba leaders to boycott the medical outreach in Operation Crocodile Smile. “It is not only infantile but also irresponsible. This request is sadistic and anti-people in view of the situation of medical facilities in the country as well as the poverty level among the populace. Anyone who asks the poor masses to boycott a medical outreach where they can have access to free medicare is out of touch with reality. It is only criminals and anarchists who will object to a military exercise designed to keep kidnappers and armed robbers at bay,” he said.
Similarly, Abubakar Tsav, a retired Police commissioner, said militarising some parts of the country, especially to restore peace and security should be supported by everyone. Tsav argued: “I agree with the deployment of troops to the South-Eastern part of the country. Let us be clear, it is not only about the Indigenous People of Biafra, we also have cases of kidnapping and clashes between farmers and herdsmen in the region. We have clashes between IPOB and some Hausa/Fulani people as well. These are security challenges that you cannot overlook.
“In one of the latest incidents, we saw that the agitators burnt down a police station in Abia, where a policeman was also killed. There was so much violence that the army had to intervene. That tells you that the army needed to move in to restore order.
“However, what I am against is the brutality against the people of the South-East. The army must conduct itself in line with international best practice and in strict accordance to its rules of engagement. The army must respect human rights while carrying out its constitutional responsibilities in the region. That is the way it is supposed to be.”
To the likes of Uche Nwabukwu, national coordinator, Nigeria First, a non-governmental organisation, the deployment of troops to the South-East was very timely and that it went a long way to checkmate the activities of the IPOB as well as prevent a breakdown of law and order in the region. “The proscription of the group by governors of the states in the region also sent a clear message to the secessionist group that the governors, who were duly elected by the people like most Nigerians, stand for a strong, united and peaceful Nigeria. Troops are there to maintain peace. I believe when their task is completed, they will return to barracks. It is a bit too hasty to begin to call for their withdrawal at this point,” Nwabukwu said.
Nevertheless, Ukoh NsikakAbasi, a public commentator, on his part said it was unfortunately that Nigerians would react to the way they did by rejecting the medical outreach was a clear message that the military is no longer held in high esteem. He said: “This is the new low that citizens hold down the Nigerian military due to its over politicisation. It is something to ponder about when citizens lose sense of security upon sighting military personnel ostensibly deployed to give social services.”
Also, leaders across Southern and Middle Belt parts of Nigeria were also against the military deployment and unanimous in their call on President Muhammadu Buhari to put an end to it.
The leaders, who met in Abuja on Thursday, September 28, also said that the president was too hasty to proscribe the IPOB. The forum which comprises delegates from the South West, South East, South-South and Middle Belt states after an extensive meeting also condemned in totality the military’s Operation Python Dance in the South East geo-political zone. They said in a communiqué issued after their meeting: “We call on the federal government to always exercise restraint in the deployment of troops in quelling civil agitations, which is the responsibility of the police in any democracy. Consequently, we call on the federal government to reconsider similar operations that the Army is embarking on in the South West and South-South zones, which are peaceful areas.
“We do not need these exercises, which are seen largely as sheer intimidation and barring of fangs. Under federalism, you do not deploy troops to the federating units without the invitation of the affected local authorities. The federal government must also employ dialogue above raw force in engaging dissension.”
With the recent development, it is not clear whether the forum would still maintain its stance. But from the stand point of some Nigerians, attaching medical outreach to care for the populace raises a new fear about the real motive of the federal government about security in the South, even when there has been no evidence to show any culpability.
Perhaps, what is at play here is that the good intention has been misread as a sinister exercise. Nigerians certainly need more explanation to clear the air on the perceived militarisation or act of depopulation in certain areas being fed to the public.
– Oct 20, 2017 @ 19:00 GMT |