The recently launched military drill by the Nigerian Army tagged “Operation Python Dance 11 “has thwarted the growing spate of crimes like kidnapping, assassination, ritual Killings, armed robbery and other life threatening evil across the South-East geopolitical zone of Nigeria.
This was disclosed at the public presentation of midterm report by the Independent Human Rights/Crime Monitoring Group in Nigeria on Tuesday morning at Owerri, the Imo State capital.
The report opined that the achievement of this particular operation should catalyze strong consideration for retaining it as an annual drill to not only hone troops’ skills but to help make the country safer for citizens.
Presenting the report on behalf of the group on Tuesday, Barr.Zineke Werigbelegha, Team Leader, IHRCMG, noted that the exercise was in the best interest of the public as it helped addressed pressing security issues that the civil police was grappling with even though that was not its original intention.
The report reads in full.
The launch of Operation Python Dance II follows from the maiden edition of the drill in 2016, which was widely acclaimed for ridding the southeast of Nigeria of crimes like kidnapping, banditry and other violent crimes ahead of the Yuletide season.
To revive these crimes, perpetrators brought them under a political cover which manifested as agitations for the re-creation of the erstwhile republic of Biafra. While crime if any nature is against the law, bringing these crimes under a call for succession went on to create a volatile mix.
Since the objective of Operation Python Dance II was to build troops’ capacity it went ahead irrespective of the mutations that the crimes in the region are undergoing. There were instances where the crime gangs and terrorist group exploited the peaceful nature of the drill to provoke troops through surprise attacks that were professionally repelled.
Resources deployed by such groups procured propaganda that at some point almost undermine the good intentions of the operation. It therefore became relevant to carry out independent assessment of how the operation was conducted.
From the research conducted the Nigerian Army significantly complied with the expected rules of engagement. It was found that the exercise would need to be staged annually because of the observed benefit of its capacity to discourage crime even when that is not its original intention.
At the launch of Operation Python Dance II, the states in South-East Nigeria have again slid into precarious situation with increasing return of insecurity in the intervening period between the completion of the first Operation Python Dance and the launch of the second edition. The key issues in this regard are:
Robbery: there were increasing cases of robbery incidents in the region. In some instances robbers that unleash terror in other jurisdictions fled back to the southeast.
Kidnapping: abduction for ransom has again gained ground in the south east and in many cases the victims were killed even when ransom has been paid. Some days before the start of Operation Python Dance II, the nation was shocked by the kidnap and eventual murder of Rev. Fr. Cyriacus Onunkwo in Imo state.
Assassination: In the preceding month (August 2017) an attack on St Philips Catholic Church, Ozubulu Anambra state left at least 13 people dead and more than 25 others injured. One week after that gunmen attack an Assemblies of God Church in Onitsha, Anambra State, killing one policeman and a civilian.
Ritual Killings: Even when troops have deployed for the operation, a teenage girl, Chidinma Iheoma was apprehended with a human head she was on the way to dispose of somewhere in the southeast. Similar arrests abound in the area.
Extortion: The populations of the five states were under the burden of extortion by persons that indentify as members of groups like the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPoB that has now been classified as a terror group. Besides monetary extortion that is labeled as taxes to Biafra, such terrorist also confiscate goods from traders including stealing food stock from vendors without paying.
Treasonable groups: the south east was awash with several militia groups in violation of Section 227 of the Constitution, which prohibits such. Among such aberrations were Biafra Secret Service, Biafra National Guard etc.
In assessing the impact of Operation Python Dance II the research team of the INDEPENDENT HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP IN NIGERIA visited the five states of the southeast – Imo, Enugu, Ebonyi, Anambra and Abia state and also briefly toured the geographically congruous Rivers, Akwa-Ibom and Cross River states. In these states the researchers randomly interviewed residents using samples that made considerations for sex, age, income level, urban-rural dwellers and religious denomination.
The interviews were offset with content analysis and review of media reportage of crimes before and during Operation Python Dance II while the outcome of this was comparatively assessed with the same period of the previous year.
It was found that Operation Python Dance II was widely but erroneously perceived as a full scale military operation against the terrorist activities of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPoB) even when the Army sufficiently communicated its intention as a training drill for troops familiarize with the operating environment of the country. This perception was not helped by the propaganda launched by IPoB, which was noted as desperate to keep the military out of the southeast while its activities gain further grounds.
The decision by IPoB terrorists to deny troops right of way in the course of the operation led to potentially volatile incidents that IPoB publicized as attacks on its operational base in Abia state. It was however confirmed that troops professionally managed the situation with several arrests made of the terrorists that had launched attacks on troops.
The propaganda infrastructure of IPoB far exceeds that of Boko Haram and possibly rivals the ones by Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) as the terror group was able to flood the public discourse space with manipulated pictures and videos that created the impression of rights abuses. The research however found that Operation Python Dance II operated within acceptable rules of engagement for the period under review.
No one came forward to identify themselves as the people in the videos that made the round alleging abuses by the military. Some residents suggested that the footages may have input of the film industry to attain the level of manipulation exhibited.
Residents wanted an extension of the one month duration of the operation with several of them noting that they only began to feel safe with its launch. They also requested that the operation should be instituted and designated with a year name as opposed to series name (Operation Python Dance 2017 compared to Operation Python Dance II)
There was an immediate scale down of crimes – robbery, kidnapping, assassination, ritual killings, extortion and criminal groups. The research revealed that these crimes were not random acts but were centrally coordinated as sources of funding for IPoB. A determination to protect these sources of its funding was in part responsible for its decision to obstruct and attack troops on the exercise.
IPoB enjoys patronage of the political class and elites in the southeast and they exploited this relationship to blackmail the Army.
Operation Python Dance II (with its predecessor) was in the best interest of the public as it helped addressed pressing security issues that the civil police was grappling with even though that was not its original intent.
The accusations of human rights abuses against the military was the product of propaganda since those who made the allegations failed to step forward in the course of this research. The allegations of human rights abuses were therefore found to be unfounded and without evidence.
The conduct of Operation Python Dance II met the expected standards for acceptable rules of engagement during military operations in a civilian area.
Those arrested for obstructing and attacking troops should be put on trial as deterrence for recurrence of such.
Those found to be supporting IPoB as a terror group should be isolated from the political space to send a clear message that people cannot precipitate crisis to get political leverage. Such persons should be put on trial where there is strong enough evidence to arraign them.
Operation Python Dance should be institutionalized as an annual exercise. The knowledge that the operation would hold on regular basis will reduce the propensity for dismantled crime groups to re-group.
Present at the event were leaders of the 12 human rights group that make up the Situation Room