By Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu
Military operations are guided by rules of engagement. These are military directives that explain the circumstances of a military mission. Rules of engagement are often issued by competent military authority and define when, where, how, and against whom military force may be applied.
They also define the implications that attend the actions soldiers who may take action on their own authority without recourse to that of the competent military authority. The further define the appropriate action as it regards unarmed mobs, the property of the civilians, the use of force in self-defence, and the return of hostile fire, among others.
In Nigeria, rules of engagement are always observed in the reverse, and what transpired between members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) and soldiers on Operation Python Dance 11 assignment in Abia recently is not an exception.
It will be recalled that the military operation codenamed “Operation Python Dance “ was recently rejuvenated to cover the entire states in the South East and some parts of Cross River. The operation, according to the Army, was intended within the South – East to check kidnapping, banditry, assassination, secessionist activities within the region, among other forms of criminal activities, and was scheduled to cover the period of September 15 to October 15.
If the soldiers had complied to the rules of engagement, the Sunday 10th September clash between members of IPOB and soldiers at Umuahia that degenerated into serious breakdown of law and order in Abia State, could have been averted.
The first poser that begs for urgent resolution is “was Umuahia serious security threat that necessitated the so called “show of force” five days ahead of the commencement of the real operations?” Conceding that the soldiers were pelted with sachet water and broken bottles, did the soldiers’ shots in the air correspond with the use of force in self-defence?
It may not be out of place to suggest here that security agents of upsetting peace and order in Abia State in general, and Aba in particular. In May last year, wanton loss of lives and order was averted by the swift intervention of Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu when a soldier allegedly killed a meat-seller at the Aba abattoir located at the river slope popularly known as the “Aba Waterside”.
Prior to the Aba abattoir incident, the peace of Ariaria International Market was upset when personnel National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) allegedly on an operation to raid drug hideouts within the neighbourhood of the market unleashed live ammunition on unarmed and innocent citizens in response to a threat.
It was reported that the casualty rate escalated when soldiers who were drafted to put the situation under control arrived the scene. The incident left on its trail scores of people severely injured, including a Divisional Crime Officer, (DCO) of Ariaria Police Station, who sustained a serious machete cut from miscreants, and few other civilians whose lives were cut short in the process.
These incidents have reenacted debates on the inefficiency of our security agents in the 21st century mob control techniques. The argument is why use live ammunition to demobilize while pepper spray and synthetic ammunition can serve the same purpose.
Also, the unprofessional conducts of our soldiers have reinforced calls by public affairs commentators to redesign the soldiers’ training to expose them to academic works on human psychology, human rights, and the constitution. The proponents of this arrangement also advocate a review of academic entry requirements of the soldiers. They are of the view that the proposal, if implemented, would go a long way in enhancing the soldiers’ performance and respect for the civil population.
Back to Operation Python Dance, the military operation right from its first edition which lasted between November 27 and December 27 last year has been roundly criticized by both groups and individuals, and the objectives of the operation despite how laudable it sounds, seems defeated. In the last year edition, it was argued that mounting of roads and heavy when Southeasterners were coming home for the yuletide celebrations was making the celebrations frightening. We wish the Army authorities can heed to voice of reason and back down on the operation.
Such operation is not fashionable now that ethnic distrust is rife and tensions are mounting to the high heavens .It may not also be fashionable to deploy and display heavy and sophisticated weaponry to deal with issues captured in the objectives of the operation.
We commend the efforts of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu in bringing the situation under control which manifested in the imposition of curfew, appeal to the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 82 Division of the Nigeria Army, Enugu to scale military presence, series of meeting with heads of security agencies and stakeholders in the state, proposed withdrawal of soldiers from the streets of Aba and Umuahia, restricting of movements of stranger elements who were fomenting trouble in the state.
On the other hand, borrowing from the language of John Pepper Clark in his poem “ The Casualty” where he interpreted the categories of casualties in Nigeria- Biafra Civil War, the casualties in the Abia IPOB, soldiers skirmish are not IPOB members and soldiers alone but the disgruntled elements who explored the opportunity to spread rumour and propaganda that helped in escalating the situation; they are the miscreants who threw fuel bomb; they are those who used the social media to spread unverified information that contributed in destabilizing the peace and stability; they are the fifth columnists who introduced political angle to the crisis. Indeed, the casualty is everybody that made negative inputs to the crisis.
Finally, Abians should strongly note that the state cannot thrive in the atmosphere of rancor and disharmony. We better note that Abia is our common heritage!
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