Various groups and notable persons yesterday rose against bid by the Nigerian Army to get all citizens identify themselves in a planned exercise tagged Operation Positive Identification, OPI, just as the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, yesterday told the House of Representatives that the Army's insistence on the exercise was targeted at members of the terrorist group, Boko Haram.
Besides, he stressed that the operation was in line with the Army's constitutional mandate, and that it would curtail operations of the menacing terrorist group.
The Army chief's statement came days after the Army had denied it had any such plan, describing earlier report on the issue as fake news.
Recall that the House last Tuesday adopted a motion brought before it by Minority Leader, Godwin Ndudi Elumelu (PDP-DELTA), who condemned the OPI and sought the summons of the COAS to explain its rationale before a relevant committee.
But testifying his before the House Committee on Army which is conducting an investigative hearing on the issue yesterday, Buratai, who was represented Army's Chief of Civil/Military Affairs, Maj.Gen Usman Mohammed, said the Operation Positive Identification, OPI, was one of several operations aimed at smoking out and eliminating terrorists across the country, noting that it is primarily directed at the North East zone.
'Army in numerous operations'
He said: "Besides the OPI, the military is involved in Operation Lafiya Dole in the North East, Operation Ayem Akpatuma in the North Central, Operation Crocodile Smile and Atilogu Dance, in the South South and South East.
"However, the OPI, is based on intelligence. We decided to come up with the initiative, because we got the intelligence that Boko Haram terrorists, were infiltrating the civilian population, not only in North East, but other parts of the country.
"But the exercise is not new, I'm surprised that we are getting the alert now. We actually started it on September 22 this year. We are using it to checkmate criminality. It's not new. The OPI is an intelligence-led operation."
Countering opinions from the committee which doubted the propriety and legality of the OPI, Buratai added: "We are covered by the Constitution. The exercise is constitutional. What we are doing is in line with the 1999 Constitution.
"So far, two arrests were made in Kogi and Lagos states and several other arrests would be made in the course of the operation.
"We have details of arrests being made through the operation, but it won't amount to additional roadblocks. It's still based on credible intelligence. We're actually getting intelligence from outside sources.
"We're surprised when we got this alert from you that it's fake news. It's not fake. It is going on and it will assist us in conducting our operations."
He, however, admitted that the Boko Haram war was not an easy war to win, but stressed the fact that the military would win the war.
"Insurgency has never succeeded any where in the world," Buratai declared.
'OPI holds Nov 1-Dec 24'
He also told the committee that the exercise would be launched nationwide from November 1 to December 24, with the full backing of other security agencies and the federal government.
The Army chief, however, assured Nigerians across zones not to be jittery as, according to him, the target is not law-abiding civilians but insurgents.
Though he agreed that the military was not the lead agency for identification, Buratai insisted that the military was involved because of the "peculiar circumstances" the country was in at the moment.
In his remarks, Chairman of the Committee on Army, Abdulrazaq Namdas, however warned that considering the weight of battling insurgency in the country, the Army might be biting more than its statutory share by extending it's operations to identification of Nigerians.
"Given the quantum of your responsibilities, we are shocked that the military is still adding to the responsibilities by taking up the role of other authorities," he said.
He closed the session by mandating a subcommittee to liaise with the Army on the details of the operation. The committee submits its report to plenary next Tuesday.
We're finally in a military dictatorship--Afenifere
Reacting to the development last night, the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, flayed the action, saying the country was in a military dictatorship.
Speaking with Vanguard, Afenifere leader, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, said: "We are finally in a military dictatorship; we are no longer in a democracy. There is no word for it. We have really degenerated completely.
"There is nothing anybody can say other than Buhari is imposing the military with impunity. When a Police headquarters was attacked, he had nothing to say about it; it shows that we are in (a state of) anarchy; law and order have broken down.
"Buhari should resign from office, he has no right to be there, and he has shown complete incompetence and inefficiency. When the Commander- in-Chief of the armed forces cannot control an arm of government under him, which is now dictating how he should rule the country and he is keeping quiet, then we are in trouble. It is a shame."
OPI, plot to intimidate Nigerians -- MBF
Also reacting, the Middle Belt Forum, MBF, called on the military to jettison its proposed operation positive identification, saying the exercise was aimed at intimidating Nigerians.
National President of MBF, Dr. Bitrus Porgu, said the military doesn't have powers to subject people to self identification.
Dr. Porgu, while arguing that the military could not conduct such exercise on the citizens, said such operation was purely an issue of internal security which is the duty of the police.
He said: "The military really doesn't have any business to do with checking, that is police duty. You see, the military in this country is delving into police affairs. Many of the things they are doing are supposed to have been done by the police.
"Internal security is police work. And identification of what? And we don't have national identity card data bank for example. And there are a lot of identity cards that are recognized by the government -- drivers licence, national Identity card, ministry identity cards, schools identity cards.
"There are a lot of identity cards all over the place, and you don't even know which one is authentic because there is no data bank where you can check for reference.
"It is just going to be intimidation of Nigerians, making Nigeria a military state and that is unacceptable. It should be discontinued. I praise both the Senate and House of Representatives for actually saying this thing should be discontinued, if at all it is real.
"Although we are hearing that the military itself is saying they are not responsible for the information. True or false, that is up to them but that thing should be discontinued."
Not Army's job-- Junaid Muhammed
In his reaction, second republic lawmaker, Dr. Junaid Muhammed, said it was not the responsibility of the military to carry out such an exercise.
"First and foremost, when somebody is failing in his primary task and such a person is engaging in other areas, he thinks he can be relevant. The irresponsibility of the military is just the beginning.
"It is a misplaced priority. In this government, it is part of a trend, where a minister would comment on issues that are not under his ministry.
"The longer we allow this kind of system, the more they (military) turn their responsibility to a money making machine. We have to be very careful as the military has vested interest in prolonging the Boko Haram war".
It's ill-conceived -- CAN
On its part, the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, said the proposed exercise was not well-thought out.
CAN's National Director, Legal and Public Affairs, Evang. Samuel Kwamkur, questioned the involvement of the military in purely civilian matters such as personal identity.
He expressed fears that the exercise could be mishandled since the parameters for the operation were not well defined and known to the public.
He said: "We wonder what informed that operation. Military exercises have lots of implications, because seemingly 'soft' military operations tend to be 'tough' on civilians. They may end up harassing and intimidating Nigerians. Soldiers can sometimes become overzealous and beat up civilians, even over personal issues.
"So, we ask: What parameters will the Army use to identify the civilian population? What identity does the military think every Nigerian has obtained? Has the National Identity Card been made available to every Nigerian?
"Most Nigerians are not even working, so which criteria of identity is the Army going to examine? Do they have the power to qualify civilians on just any matter?
"We don't think the operation is well-thought out. Even if there is need for such an exercise, the Police is legally empowered to have it executed. You can't drag the military into purely civilian matters such as personal identity.
"Let the Federal Government equip the police to perform their constitutional roles. We are yet to be convinced as to the importance of the operation.
"How many stakeholders have been educated on the reasons behind the operation? Traditional rulers, religious leaders, those in government at the grassroots ought to be carried along, if at all the exercise must be done."
It's unnecessary, says PANDEF
Similarly, the PAN Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, the mouthpiece of stakeholders of the coastal states of Niger Delta, described the OPI by the Nigerian Army as unnecessary.
National Secretary of PANDEF, Dr Alfred Mulade, said: "We will surely mobilize against it if it is true, but we understand that the Nigerian Army has denied the operation, so we will watch the developments on the matter.
"But be sure that PANDEF will speak out if they go ahead to implement the design because people are already complaining and we do not know how they expect villagers to produce identification.
"We are aware that the Senate summoned the Chief of Army Staff over the operation, so we are waiting for further information on the matter."
It will be recalled that human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, had on October 25, 2019, sued the Nigerian Army, it's Chief of Army Staff and the Attorney-General of the Federation, before a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, praying for an order or court, stopping the planned Operation Positive Identification by the army.
Falana is contending in the suit that the planned nationwide operation scheduled for November 1, to December 23, 2019, by which Nigerian citizens would be required to move about with means of identification is unconstitutional, illegal, null and void.
He is further contending that the planned operation violates his right and that of other Nigerian citizens to liberty, "as encapsulated in Section 35 respectively of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as Amended and Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, (Cap A10) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004."
He is consequently asking the court to restrain the three defendants from going on with the plan pending the hearing of the substantive suit.
In an affidavit in support of the suit, Falana recalled that on October 8, 2019 the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai disclosed that the Operation Positive Identification, said to be ongoing in the North East theatre of Boko Haram insurgency would be extended to cover the entire nation.
He said the operation required Nigerian citizens to move about with legitimate means of identification such as the National Identification Card, Voters Registration Card, Drivers' Licence and passports or other valid official identification.