Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, has explained why the operation ‘show your identity’ proposed by the Nigerian Army must commence despite public concerns. He said the operation is targeted at identifying fleeing Boko Haram members and other criminals.
The army chief stated this on Thursday while facing a panel of the house committee on the army, headed by Abdulrazak Namdas (APC, Adamawa).
The House of Representatives had called on President Muhammadu Buhari to order the military to stop the planned Operation Positive Identification (OPI) by the military. The decision followed a motion of Urgent Public Importance moved by the minority leader, Ndudi Elumelu, at the plenary on Tuesday.
The Nigerian military had planned a nationwide operation to demand identity cards from citizens across the country. ‘Operation Positive Identification’ would see soldiers accosting citizens on the streets or highways and asking them to produce means of identification on the spot.
Soldiers had been taking similar measures to separate citizens from terrorists in the Boko Haram-ravaged northeastern part of Nigeria. The military claimed last month that citizens in the North-east had been cooperating with troops to make the exercise successful by carrying with them valid identity documents.
But the military announced on September 25 that the exercise will be extended nationwide to “checkmate bandits, kidnappers, armed robbers, ethnic militia, cattle rustlers as well as other sundry crimes across the various regions of Nigeria.”
Sabre-rattling: Mr Buratai, represented by the Director, Civil/Military Affairs at the Army Headquarters, U.S Mohammed, told the committee the operation would be intelligence-led, adding that there would be no deployment of troops or mounting of roadblocks.
He said, “the public may not even notice his men in the course of the exercise”.
He added that Nigerians would not notice any significant changes from the ongoing military operations in the country. He gave a lengthy explanation on why Nigerians need to support the initiative.
“What is happening is that the military has been involved in Operation Lafiya Dole in the North-east. Within the major operation, we have subsidiary operations and one of them is this Operation Positive Identification.
“It came about as a result of positive information about the activities of Boko Haram in the North-east the fact that they are making inroads to other parts of the country.
“From our intelligence, they are spreading from their traditional stronghold. Based on that, this idea came up to embark on our cordon and search operations. We will make some arrest and do some identification. The operation started on the 22nd of September, 2019.
“For this period of the year, the military has introduced some exercises aimed at tackling the security challenges in parts of the country. It is aimed at training ourselves and carrying our security operations. We use the opportunity to carry out specific and targeted activities.
“We felt that as these exercises are going on, we should carry out the Operation Positive Identification to areas where we are going to carry out these exercises. It is nothing new.
“Operation Positive Identification is intelligence-led activity. Based on credible information, we go to certain areas, make an arrest and profile those arrested by identifying them and through that, we may be able to identify some Boko Haram members and other criminals.”
Mr Mohammed said there would not be an increase in the number of troops.
“There will be no additional checkpoints because it is all intelligence-led. The fact that we are extending it to other parts of the country does not mean there are changes. It is strictly based on credible information and intelligence.
“We are going to observe our usual rules of engagement and code of conduct for troops during internal security arrangements. Some of these things are being done in conjunction with other sister security agencies which is assisting us in the operation.
He said the fact that the army is spreading it across the country does not mean they are making changes to it. “You will not even notice anything. The exercise is nothing different, but will assist us and add value to whatever we are already doing.”
Operations: The official said the army is undertaking three major exercises “beginning from 1st of November to 23rd of December.”
“We’re going to conduct raids within those areas. It is essentially aimed at ensuring that some of those security challenges are curtailed to the barest minimum as we approach the yuletide.”
“I want to assure the House and law-abiding Nigerians to go about their lawful duties. It is not going to involve additional troops on the road. Anywhere we get credible information about the gathering of these bad guys, we conduct raids or cordon and search and if in the process, we make an arrest, you will be asked to identify yourself.”
He also said the major focus is on the Boko Haram and terrorist groups and criminals from the North-east and North-west. “We have information that they are trickling down to other parts of the country.”
“During the operations, if individuals are arrested, they will be asked to identify themselves and to know who they are. But we are not going to base it on any particular means of identification. We are just trying to ensure that we apprehend some of these criminals that may have escaped from the North-east.”
The army chief said President Muhammadu Buhari, the Minister of Defence and the Chief of Defence Staff “were aware of the operation”.
Concerns: The lawmakers, however, expressed their concerns that the military, by its training, may engage in excesses. They wondered whether the army has the constitutional right to carry out the proposed exercise.
The committee’s members were divided on whether the army should be allowed to go ahead with the exercise. Some were not convinced that rights will not be violated.
A member of the committee, Christopher Ngoro (PDP, Cross River), said it is not the duty of the army to subject Nigerians to that exercise; he described it as unconstitutional.
“According to the Constitution, the military are supposed to support the Police in internal security operations,” he said. “The military should not lead an operation like this. If any other organisation was leading this operation, the planning will emanate from that organisation.”
“But the operational planning for this operation is emanating from the Army. Therefore, we cannot be swayed by your persuasiveness to think that you are just cooperating with other organisations. No, you are not in any way,” he said.
Also speaking, the committee chairman, Abdulrazak Namdas, said the House learnt that the operation would require Nigerians carrying some form of identification when they leave home. Mr Namdas noted that the major role of the army is to safeguard the country’s territorial integrity, “soldiers could be invited to assist other security agencies”.
He stated that although there were serious security threats in the country, “the army cannot usurp the role of the police”.
“Given the number of issues at hand, we are shocked to hear that the military is adding to its authority by taking the job of the Police or Immigration,” the chairman said. Premium Times
Pix: Tukur Buratai