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The pythons’ macabre dance

From the moment Major General D. D. Ahmadu, Chief of Training and Operations of the Nigerian Army, announced in a press briefing on September 7, 2017 that the Army was embarking on Exercise EGWU EKE II (PYTHON DANCE II) in the South-East states of the country, keen observers knew the operation had the potential to degenerate into violent clashes.

Although Ahmadu, who issued a press statement on behalf of the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Yusufu Buratai, had said the exercise became “expedient due to the mindless assassinations (even in religious places), attack on security personnel, theft of weapons, armed banditry, kidnapping, cultism and violent agitations, as well as other security challenges that have recently become prevalent in the South-Eastern part of the country”, not a few Nigerians saw it as ill-conceived and ill-timed.

The exercise was to be “conducted in 82 Division Area of Responsibility, covering Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo States from 15 September to 14 October, 2017”, Ahmadu had said in the statement.

And though the Army had urged “members of the public especially the residents of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo States…not to panic as their safety and well-being is guaranteed at all times”, misgivings regarding the exercise were freely expressed, online and offline.

As many had feared, the military exercise escalated tensions in Abia State and resulted in violent clashes between members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and men of the Nigerian Army last Sunday, even earlier than the stated date of commencement of the operation. As they say, so much water has passed under the bridge since then.

Many well-meaning Nigerians rose in unison to condemn the exercise, saying it was totally uncalled for. Some also queried why the same kind of operation had not been declared against Fulani herdsmen who had been raping women and murdering innocent citizens in their homes and farms across the country.

“Kanu has been charged to court. He is out on bail. The FG has applied to the court to revoke his bail. The court has not done so. The court will sit next month. Why not simply wait for the court to sit and decide whether to revoke the bail or not?

“In spite of Kanu’s utterances, the simple truth is that he and his group have not used arms or violence. Sane countries keep such people on the watch list.

“Between IPOB and Fulani herdsmen, which group is a bigger threat and has caused thousands of deaths? What has been done against the herdsmen? Who has been arrested or charged for all the killings?” Agunze Azuka Onwuka, a public affairs commentator, said in a Facebook comment.

Also commenting, Victor Mba Agbai said on Facebook, “I still cannot think out how a government and its army that has found it difficult to defeat Boko Haram and has continued to BOMB Sambisa forest when it said it had cleared the ‘forest’ of the TERRORISTS can and has sent a big army unit with ten armoured carriers to kill unarmed, defenceless Igbo people, laying siege on Igboland, leaving the hot north-east war zone. The order to ‘fish out’ Shekau whom they have killed three times could not be executed. But they can go to Igboland and kill people recklessly.”

All through the week, several tension-heightening messages circulated on social media. Some claimed the DSS and security chiefs were in a secret meeting with network operators to cut off the internet and phone calls/services in the South-East so that people would not be able to know what is going on those areas.

Some claimed the exercise was meant to provoke IPOB to violence as an excuse to massacre the Igbo race since there was no way to differentiate between IPOB and non-IPOB members, while others said it was to besiege the Igbo people against reprisal attack by October 1 should youths in the North begin to massacre the Igbo people in the North on that date. Recall that a coalition of Northern youths had earlier given all Igbo resident in the North until October 1 to vacate the region or face the consequences. The youths, however, later withdrew the threat.

There was even a certain guide on how to stay safe in the South-East during the Exercise Egwu Eke II.

The guides, 15 items in all, included, among others, (1) Always carry your ID card with you, so that you can always identify yourself whenever called upon to do so; (2) Never stay out late for whatever reason; (3) If you must drive, make sure your driver’s licence and all your car particulars are complete and valid; (4) If possible do not use car with tinted glass even if you have permit; (5) If you are stopped at the checkpoint, answer only the questions that you are asked. Do not volunteer any information nor ask questions, and (6) Do not for any reason argue with any military personnel, they are all battle ready.

Fortunately, the issue seemed to have been contained as at Friday.

On Thursday, Okezie Ikpeazu, Abia State governor, announced to a press conference that the Army had agreed to withdraw soldiers from Aba and Umuahia.

The governor also warned members of IPOB to desist from perpetrating violence, spreading falsehood and also to abstain from carrying out street protests.

“After several interventions, I want to inform you that by tomorrow morning, there will be a withdrawal of soldiers from the streets of Aba and Umuaihia, apart from the pre-existing military checkpoints at various location in the state.

“With the expected exit of soldiers from the streets, we must warn that we will not tolerate agitators and protesters taking over the streets for any reasons,” Ikpeazu said.

He warned mischief makers “who want to use Abia as their base” to desist, promising that the state would be too hot for them to carry out their wicked acts “as the government will work with security agents to ensure the protection of lives and property in the state without fear or favour”.

Just on Friday, Southeast governors, arising from an emergency meeting held at the Enugu State Government House, pronounced a ban IPOB. The meeting was attended by Governors Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu), Dave Umahi (Ebonyi), Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia), and Willie Obiano (Anambra). Imo State was represented by Deputy Governor Eze Madumere.

The meeting also had in attendance Nnia Nwodo, president general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Ike Ekweremadu, deputy senate president, and Gen. Adamu Abubakar, the general officer commanding, 82 Division, Enugu.

Reading a communiqué after the two-hour meeting, Governor Umahi said, “All activities of IPOB are hereby proscribed. IPOB and all other aggrieved groups are advised to articulate their position on all national issues and submit to the Committee of Governors, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and National Assembly members from South-East Zone, through the chairman, Southeast Governors’ Forum.”

The Nigerian military also said it has categorized the IPOB as a terrorist group, with the Defence Headquarters saying it followed analysis by the military on the various activities of the group.

Whatever happens, we can only hope that these initiatives would douse the tension in the South-East so that law-abiding citizens in those states can go about their normal businesses without fear of molestation.

Meanwhile, on the cause of the sudden upsurge in self-determination agitations, some analysts blame the government of the day for its divisive tendencies.

“I believe the obvious and apparent inclination towards regional preferences in appointments and policies has led to an escalation of ethnic and regional grievances in Nigeria. The security forces have dealt in a harsh and repressive manner with peaceful demonstrators, whether they be Shia Muslims in Zaria or pro-Biafra activists in Onitsha. In both cases, it appears unarmed protesters have been mowed down in a manner that may rise to the standard required for characterization as crimes against humanity,” wrote Opeyemi Agbaje, a Lagos-based public affairs analyst.

“The only group the administration has dealt with in a sober and considered manner, after an initial attempt to apply force, has been the Niger-Delta Avengers who have their own apparatus of violence and ability to inflict damage on the nation’s oil economy. The other group the government has treated with kid’s gloves has been the so-called Fulani herdsmen, the AK47-wielding terrorists who have killed, murdered and pillaged across the country, while government argued for grazing reserves on their behalf. Again the ’97 percent-5 percent’ principle appears to explain government’s curious restraint in this regard,” he added.



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