19 October 2017

Nigeria: How Govt, Governors, Averted October 1 Crisis

Perhaps, nothing has threatened the corporate existence of Nigeria in the last two decades like the recent secession threat by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) from the South-east and the issuance of quit notice by some youth groups in the Northern part of the country.

The last time Nigeria had a major crises that nearly led to its breakup since the 1967-1970 Civil War, was between 1993 and 1994, when a near state of anarchy and unrest trailed the annulment of the historic June 12, 1993 Presidential election won by the late M.K.O. Abiola, by the then Gen. Ibrahim Babangida-led military regime.

The quit notice issued by the Arewa Youths in June this year was for all Igbo living in the North to vacate the region before 1st October or risk any misfortune that may befall them should they fail to leave.

Without being told, every right thinking Nigerian knew that war was gathering momentum and peace must be achieved at all cost in to ensure the peaceful co-existence of the nation was maintained.

Calls and threats were made from various quarters for the arrest of the Arewa Youths for 'hate speech' and for fanning the ember of war but its leaders maintained they made the call in the interest of the nation and particularly in the interest of the IPOB members who for sometime now have been agitating for an exit from the Nigerian map.

Determined to avert Nigeria's breakup or any form of insurrection, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who was then standing in for President Muhammadu Buhari engaged service chiefs and leaders of thought, including traditional rulers from across the country, insisting that 'to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done'.

After some persuasion, Arewa youths softened its earlier stand on the quit notice, announcing it's suspension but this was greeted with disdain from IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, who continued with his agitation, with growing tension across the country.

As the October 1st deadline approached, there was uncertainty in the land, fear gripped everyone, including foreigners living in the country, because if war broke out, it would affect all and sundry.

Hence, on the return of President Muhammadu Buhari from his medical vacation overseas, he addressed the nation on the need to ensure the unity and peaceful co-existence of Nigeria, and by early last month, the military moved to the South East to curtail any threat to national insecurity.

To begin with, the military started with the movement of its hardware and sophisticated weaponry to the South East.

Army Chief of Training and Operations, Major General David Ahmadu, told journalists in Abuja, at the commence of the operation that the operation was in continuation of previous military exercise in the zone, geared towards national security and provision of security in the region.

According to him, the operation code named "Exercise Egwu Eke II, (Python Dance II) was to be conducted in 82 Division Area of Responsibility, covering Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo states. The exercise was scheduled to take place from Friday 15 September to Saturday 14 October 2017.

"As you are all aware, a similar Exercise nicknamed Egwu Eke I, (Python Dance I) was conducted from 27 Nov - 27 Dec 16 within the five South Eastern States of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo."

Continuing, he added that "the objective was to effectively contain the reported cases of kidnapping and other vices prevalent in the South East region every Yuletide season.

"The effect of the exercise yielded tremendous results as law abiding citizens in the area celebrated the Christmas festivities of 2016 in safer environment than what it used to be."

"Building on this achievement, Exercise Egwu Eke II has become more expedient due to the mindless assassinations (even in religious places), attacks on security personnel and theft of weapons, kidnappings, armed banditry and violent agitations by secessionist groups, amongst other crimes that have recently bedeviled the region.

"The need for troops to be exercised, refreshed and imbibe the requisite skills to cope with these emerging security challenges within the 82 Division Area of Responsibility in aid of civil authority necessitates this exercise.

"Furthermore, in actualising the COAS vision, of having a Professionally Responsive NA in the Discharge of its Constitutional Roles, Exercise Egwu Eke II becomes highly desirable in conjunction with Sister Services and other security agencies to ensure success."

Ahmadu stressed that "during the exercise, emphasis will be placed on raids, cordon and search operations, anti-kidnapping drills, road blocks, check points, patrols, humanitarian relief activities such as medical outreach and show of force to curb the rising threat to national security in the South Eastern part of the country.

"It is pertinent to mention that the security, safety and well-being of innocent and law abiding citizens of the states mentioned above have been adequately factored into the planning of the exercise.

"Thus, the rights of individuals as enshrined in the constitution would be respected and safeguarded"

To fortify military establishment against possible threats, Ahmadu told journalists that the exercise would expand the Nigerian Army reach within the South East zone.

He said: "Additionally, Exercise Egwu Eke II is also conceptualised to transit into real time operations thereby fulfilling both training and operational objectives of sharpening operational skills of personnel as well as providing an avenue to conduct operations against violent criminals and agitators when called upon.

"As precursor to a peaceful 'ember' period and yuletide, provision has already been made for the smooth conduct of the exercise."

He maintained that "Exercise Egwu Eke II will be unique with the establishment of Brigade Headquarters in each of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo States.

"It is noteworthy to mention that Exercise Egwu Eke II is set to be another epoch making activity that would make the nation proud of the Nigerian Army's determination at sustaining its constitutional role of defending the territorial integrity of the nation as well as its commitment to aid the civil authority to bring about peace and security in the south eastern part of our dear country in particular, and the entire nation in general.

"In this regard, members of the public especially the residents of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo States are enjoined not to panic as their safety and well-being is guaranteed at all times.

"The general public is requested to remain vigilant and be security conscious, as suspected criminals may be fleeing from military operations in these areas and finding safe haven amidst our communities.

"The public are also reminded to report any suspicious activity or movement to the nearest military formation or other security agencies for prompt action.

"In order to ensure cordial civil-military relations, we shall make contact telephone numbers of all Brigade Commanders public in addition to the Nigerian Army short code Information and Call Centre 193," Ahmadu stated.

The activities of the soldiers were initially met with resistance from youths and other Biafran supporters in the zone leading to unrest and an alleged shooting to death of two of the supporters by soldiers, although the Army was quick to deny the allegation.

The Assistant Director, Army Public Relations, 14 Brigade, Maj. Oyegoke Gbadamosi, said the army did not shoot any IPOB member dead, as being circulated.

While the altercation between IPOB members and the Army continued, and tension continued to rise in Umuaha and some other parts of the East, Abia State governor,

Okezie Ikpeazu imposed a three-day curfew on the state.

Soon after that, civil unrest became the order of the day in some parts of Plateau State, forcing Governor Lalong to also impose curfew in the state.

As the crisis began to escalate, the Army authority proscribed IPOB and branded it a terrorist group, even as some governors form the Northern part of the country embarked on a peace mission to their counterparts in the South East.

Ebony State governor, David Umahi, described the proscription of the group as a welcome development, stating that South East governors have no regret proscribing the IPOB.

"The group's activities had endangered the lives of over 12 million Igbos leaving in the north and other parts of the country. Their activities were also threatening the lives of people from other parts of the country leaving in the South East. So we had to take the action we took and I have no regret about it," he said.

During the visits to Port Harcourt, Umuahia and Owerri, the Borno governor who is also Chairman, Northern Governors Forum, Kashim Shettima, commended the host governors for the resolute manner they handled the IPOB crisis.

The governors in Shettima's delegation were Aminu Masari (Katsina State), Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto State), Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi State) and Simon Lalong (Plateau State).

Shettima noted that: "We want to thank you for the leadership you have shown in difficult times. As leaders, we all have critical roles to play in enhancing peace and unity of this nation.

"We have visited all these states to show solidarity and to encourage you our brothers. You rose to the occasion when faced with difficulties. You actions, collectively and individually, have given hope that Nigeria will rise above any challenge to its unity.

"We all owe it a duty to the black race to make Nigeria work," he said.

Addressing members of the Northern community in Abia, Shettima urged them to continue to be law-abiding and respect the norms and traditions of their host communities.

He added that adequate arrangements had been made by the government and security agencies for their safety.

In their various remarks, Governors Nyesom Wike of Rivers, Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia and Rochas Okorocha of Imo commended the northern governors for the visit.

They urged the federal government to promote unity by ensuring all parts of the country have a sense of belonging.

They said when issues of security are on the table, political and other interests should take the back seat.

They all commended the Northern Governors for ensuring that the crisis did not spill over to other parts of the country, saying their visit would go a long way to reassure citizens that their leaders have not abandoned them.

"Your visit here has increased my faith in the unity of Nigeria.

By coming here, it has shown that the string that bind us is still holding firm," Governor Ikpeazu said.

The Northern governors also used the occasion to invite their counterparts from the South-east to visit their states to interact with Igbo communities as a means of promoting peace and communal harmony among various groups in the country.

"The visit will afford them the opportunity to assess first hand, efforts made by their colleagues in the North to prevent escalation of the recent crisis in Abia.

"It will also reaffirm the need for all Nigerians to feel safe in all parts of the country, irrespective of their ethnic or religious inclination," Shettima said.

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