By Philip Agbese *
The Nigerian Army must have discovered by now that its recently launched Operation Python Dance II, in the south-east, would be to a different tune from the Operation Dance (first edition), which earned it accolades for taming the criminality that usually spike in the area ahead of Yuletide. The first operation in 2016 reduced crime to a level where some sons and daughters of that geo-political zone were able to visit their ancestral home for the first time in a long time.
But the concept of “different strokes for different folks” means that the beneficiaries of the crime suppressed by the Army, who did not like the disruption of their activities, have prepared for the military’s return to their “turf”. This time, the Python is dancing under a different scenario to a beat composed by a vocal and vicious minority, whose capacity for evil was possibly underestimated by all. This much the Army must have learnt within the first few hours of launching the present exercise.
On Sunday September 10, cudgel-bearing youths – the militant wing of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), approached an army convoy in a menacing manner while hurling projectiles at its trucks and armoured personnel carrier. The convoy beat a retreat. In other clips, IPOB members were seen accusing troops of invading their land while one of their members, allegedly shot by troops, was being evacuated to hospital. IPOP leader, Nnamdi Kanu was to later, in his fashion, hurl invectives against the military for invading his abode.
The situation highlights potential mistakes the Army must avoid in executing Operation Python Dance II for it not to lose the war on the public opinion battleground. With a horde of youths (and some disappointing elders) that have been brainwashed beyond redemption, communicating the value of its exercise in the south-east has automatically become an uphill task.
The first mistake the Army must avoid making is to perceive its current operation from the success of the first one. That success set back the secessionists who rely on robberies, kidnapping and extortion to raise money to finance their groups’ activities. A few days before the start of the current operation the Police in Anambra arrested an alleged army deserter, Ebeje Nnamdi, suspected to be the trainer of IPOB members; his crime reportedly included robbery and kidnapping. If Operation Python Dance II will reduce robberies and kidnappings like the first operation did then the army should not expect a rousing welcome from those that are banking on these crimes to finance a rebellion that has shifted to higher gear.
Secondly, the Army must avoid falling into the trap of focusing on field work without making efforts to counter IPOB’s propaganda machine. It is all about perspective. It must be prepared to tell its story since it is not beyond IPOB to commit some heinous crimes and blame it on troops just to ensure the military gets a bad rap. Countering IPOB’s propaganda should include bringing opinion leaders from the region, who have remained indifferent up till this moment, on board. They must be made to realize at this point that there is nothing golden about their silence, which separatist militants take as acquiescence.
Furthermore, much as the Army has ownership of Operation Python Dance II, it should bring in the other services of the military, the intelligence community – like the Department of State Services (DSS) and the Police Force in whatever capacity they are needed. It must avoid going it alone since there are areas where these other agencies have the needed assets. There should be intelligence sharing, cooperation and collaboration to deal with the evolving situation in the south-east once and for all.
Once such cooperation is initiated, another pitfall to avoid is working from the core of the circle to its outer part. The concept of cutting off the head off the monster to achieve victory may not work in this case as Sunday’s incidence has shown. Had troops gained access into Kanu’s abode and hauled him out with incriminating evidence his brainwashed followers would have only grown more feral and that would create a new problem. The suggestion is rather for authorities to work from the outer fringe of the circle to get at the core – Operation Python Dance II must therefore focus on starving the insurrection of members to render Kanu into a rebel leader without followers. A starting point would be to get other security agencies to join in mopping up the existing caches of weapons that the group’s members have repeatedly boasted about having in their homes. This should sanitize large swathes of the area while leaving the core – Kanu’s abode and other strategic locations as final places to clean up.
The financing of separatist groups must not be left intact as it would render the entire Operation Python Dance II and the one before it pointless. This is apparently not in the jurisdiction of the Army; but since the government is collective the army must impress on the Federal Government the need to activate the relevant agencies that would track financing of IPOB and other groups while initiating measures to starve them of funding. The CSO and NGO arms of the secessionists’ movement must be similarly starved of funding since they do as much damage as the militant wing.
From the lessons learnt from the first Operation Python Dance, the current exercise must not close without achieving its objectives. There is no point giving us Operation Python Dance III. If the Army leaves halfway into this mission the separatists would simply regroup and rebuild whatever terror architectures are dismantled by the current efforts. That breathing space must not be left for the monster of hate being grown by IPOB to survive.
Another mistake to avoid is failing to urge the Federal Government to activate the political and diplomatic facets of containing the threats from Biafra separatists. Let’s face it: IPOB (and a host of other pro-Biafra groups) is a terror organization waiting to launch and the earlier it is designated as a terror organization the better for the well-being of the country. Its members already carry arms to rob and kidnap, are we waiting until they start bombing places before they get the appropriate label? We have also seen the secessionists mentioning certain countries as being in support of the crimes they are committing. The military should send an advisory to the Presidency to activate the necessary diplomatic mechanisms that will pressure such nations into distancing themselves from a movement that is bent on derailing Nigeria.
Similar to the political and diplomatic moves is the need for the army to take media organizations, their owners and managers into its confidence. The online comment sections of some outfits have become recruiting, brainwashing and radicalization platforms for IPOB in addition to being their perfect channel for spewing out hate speech.
Failure to get this crucial buy-in could doom the ongoing operation since history would be recorded with other biases these media outfit allowed in the reportage.
Additionally, the Army must impress on troops the need for adherence to the rules of engagement. The operation must be conducted in a manner that the international NGOs that are stoking these secessionists groups are not handed the excuse to claim there has been human rights violations.
For Nigerians, the appeal is for us to avail ourselves of facts before making interventions in this IPOB issue.
The manifestations from the group’s members and leadership so far has proven them not to be any different from the psychopathic-sociopaths of the Islamic State, who initially pretended to be fighting for the interest of their people only to turn around to start killing and torturing same people the moment they have successfully declared their dysfunctional caliphate. In the matter of IPOB outrageous behavior and the Army’s Operation Python Dance II, one is either for the lawlessness typified by IPOB or one is for the return to orderliness and rule of law depicted by the state – the army. There is no middle-ground here.
*Agbese, a nationalist writes from the United Kingdom.