Some northerners have expressed support for the ongoing military operation in the south-east. But they cautioned against reprisal attacks on Igbo living in their region.
At a press conference in Kano yesterday where they reacted to the clash between soldiers and members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the northerners under the aegis of the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), vowed to resist any attempt by the agitators to undermine the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.
"The agitations and disturbances that have been ongoing since the coming to power of the Muhammadu Buhari and Yemi Obasanjo in 2015 are aimed at rendering the country practically ungovernable, and ushering in anarchy and instability, thereby occasioning a change of government by whatever means and tactics," CNG said.
The group said it would take the matter to the international community, including African Union, ECOWAS, United Nations Security Council and the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Urging their people to be calm, the spokesman of CNG, Abdulaziz Suleiman, said: "As a cultured people with a long history of tolerance and respect for constituted authority, we call on northerners to resist the temptation of carrying out reprisal attack and playing to the gallery.
"Northerners, in line with their disciplined nature must refuse at this point to be dragged into taking the law into their hands through unnecessary and unproductive confrontations with members of any sectional, ethnic or religious group."
Suleiman said his kinsmen must remain peacefully focused, mutually respectful, trusting and tolerant "as we repose confidence in the ability and willingness of the Nigerian security agencies to handle the situation as well as protect the lives and property of every Nigerian anywhere. "
The group said it once cautioned that the agitators for separation and the cry for Biafra would become louder and the agitators would become emboldened to act in more radical and violent manner, thereby sparking retaliation in the north with subsequent attacks to be perpetrated against northerners in the south-east.
Recalling efforts of the coalition at returning the country to democracy, the CNG doubted if the leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, is a Nigerian. "He is a half Nigerian or perhaps not even a Nigerian, who only came to destabilise our hard earned democracy. We refuse to be toyed with."
The spokesperson said: "We are optimistic that the Nigerian state is doing its best to tackle the situation. They are really doing the needful. So also the government of Abia State is doing its best along that line, so we are hopeful that the situation will be dealt with in the interest of the country as a whole."
Despite the uproar it has generated, the Operation Python Dance II in the south-east zone will go full swing tomorrow as planned, the
Nigerian Army has said.
Also, there were indications yesterday that the one month military operation would have its base in Umuahia, Abia State, even as the army
clarified that the exercise was not targeted at any particular person or group of persons.
The Guardian learnt that the choice of Umuahia as the base for the exercise may not be unconnected with the activities of the Kanu's IPOB whose tempo has increased since the return of Kanu from prison.
It was further learnt that Umuahia was chosen as the operational base for the military exercise since it is also serving as the headquarters of the IPOB and hosting the Biafra Security Service (BSS) which was recently set up by Kanu at his Afaraukwu-Ibeku country home, where hundreds of members of the group gather daily.
A source said the choice of Umuahia might also not be unconnected with the alleged affinity being enjoyed by the group with Niger Delta militants.
"It is being rumoured that since Abia became notorious for kidnapping and other criminalities before now, there is the tendency that some of the weapons used to commit these crimes are being harboured there. There is the erroneous belief that the militants, which of course include Igbo, could be the ones that supply the weapons used in these crimes," the source said.
Onitsha in Anambra State hosted the first operation last year which lasted for three months.
The Deputy Director, Army Public Relations, 82 Division, Enugu, who also serves as Information Coordinator for the Exercise Python Dance II, Col. Musa Sagir, told The Guardian on phone why the exercise was conceived.
"Exercise Egwu Eke II (Python Dance II) is not targeted at any particular person or group. It is aimed to checkmate kidnapping, cultism, armed robbery, farmers-herdsmen clashes, violent secessionist agitations and insurgency among other identified security challenges in the south-east.
"This we have repeatedly made clear and the commendable successes recorded in exercise Egwu Eke I speaks much of what the purpose of this exercise is all about.
"I wish to request the public to be wary of unnecessary and mischievous misinformation coming out from unpatriotic elements to discredit the Nigerian Army," he said.
Sagir stated that in an effort to carry members of the public along in the exercise, email addresses, facebook and twitter accounts have been created with firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/egwu.ekeii as facebook account and @egwueke2 through https//twitter.com.
"In addition to the Nigerian army information and call centre telephone number 193 (toll free) and human right desk number 081 60134303, the under-listed cell phone numbers are also hereby provided as dedicated public telephone numbers to members of the public who might have reason to pass credible information or reasonable complaints to various commanders of the exercise: Abia 070 65013133/08023445961; Imo 070 30803546; Enugu 080 23634672; Anambra 07037055354 and Ebonyi 07039833547/08180605871."
Although calm reportedly returned to Aba yesterday as residents went about their legitimate duties, most streets were still deserted by residents apparently for fear of soldiers said to be on patrol. All the markets in the city, however, opened for business. A few banks reportedly offered skeletal services as security agents also engaged motorists on stop-and-search operation at major roads, junctions and checkpoints.
It was also learnt that fearing further violence, some members of the Hausa community in Aba have started relocating their families back to the north.
Sources said that the northerners were returning home despite security protection at their settlements and worship places in the town.
The state government had on Tuesday imposed curfew in Aba, following violent protests that greeted the clashes between soldiers and IPOB
members in the area.
The south-east caucus in the House of Representatives yesterday expressed concern over the activities of soldiers involved in Operation Python Dance II at Afaraukwu village.
The Leader of the caucus, Chukwuka Onyema, in a statement, faulted the deployment of soldiers at Afaraukwu where scores of civilians were reportedly shot and wounded on Tuesday.
The lawmakers also condemned the military's invasion of the Umuahia Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) office where journalists were assaulted and their working tools seized and destroyed.
Lamenting the imposition of a dust-to-dawn curfew in the commercial town of Aba as a result of the conflict, the lawmakers described the activities of the soldiers as unlawful.
"While we appreciate the right to discharge core duties of the Nigeria armed forces as spelt out under section 217 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), there is no gainsaying that internal military operations can only be conducted without doing violence to the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental human rights of citizens.
"To conduct operations that frighten, maim or lead to loss of lives of citizens and property, are clearly unjustifiable and an offence to our democracy and the rule of law."
Also, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) expressed concerns over the invasion of parts of the south-east and south-south geopolitical zones by the military, urging them to respect their rules of engagement.
The Acting Executive Secretary of the NHRC, Mrs. Oti Ovrawah, called on civilians and security agencies, particularly the military, to desist from any acts capable of causing tension, public disturbance, fear and sense of insecurity but to rather ensure the respect of the fundamental rights of all citizens.