Again, as it is customary with Nigerians, some online media platforms were recently awash with the disgusting news that Nigerian Army’s special yuletide security vigilance in the Southeast region, code named Operation Python Dance (OPD) has sniffed life out of over 2000 Igbo youths in just one month of its operation.
The press statement purportedly issued in Onitsha, Anambra state, January 4, 2017, credited to Campaign For Democracy’s (CD) national publicity secretary, Dede Uzor claimed the massacre of over 2, 000 Igbo youths by Nigerian soldiers. Never has a serious news item been as vague as the statement said to have been issued by the CD.
The media platforms globally accord news items of tragic nature or mass deaths prominence, by furnishing readers with convincing details of the publicized tragedies. But CD’s claims or the online media reportage of the purported deaths of thousands of Igbos was barren of any clue as to how it happened and what caused it.
It has once been expressed publicly that the multiplicity of online media platforms in Nigeria would soon become a problem in information dissemination. And the hour is just in the backyard. The news item which negatively projected Nigerian soldiers as murderers and human rights abusers of Nigerians they stake their lives to protect is extremely malicious and slanderous. It failed every test of authenticity or factuality, yet, the online media platforms found it potent enough to make the list of the news pages on their websites. What a shameful raping of the nobility of journalism?
The media blight of the Nigerian Army is spurred by nothing else rather than the desire of some crooks in the Southeast to farther the interests of secessionists groups like IPOB and MASSOB, armed robbers and kidnappers whose planned criminal activities during the Yuletide period were truncated by the troops Training Exercise codenamed Exercise Python Dance. It is well known fact that these groups have over the time constitute a nuisance to law abiding Nigerians in the region. It is indisputable that while these groups camouflage under the banner of self-determination, their members also commit heinous crimes against their own people.
And no part of Nigeria suffers heightened insecurity at festive periods like Easter, Christmas or New Year festivities as the Southeast has proven over the years. Travellers have recounted gory tales of encounters with robbers, kidnappers, abductees and arsonists in the past. No responsible government would allow it fester.
And acting in consonance with his oath of office, President Muhammedu Buhari (PMB) approved the deployment of troops to the Southeast region to enable inhabitants and travellers traversing the region to have a blissful yuletide season. And through the wisdom of Nigeria’s security czar, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai, the Nigerian Army launched a month of field training exercises in the region tagged “Operation Python Dance.”
Those opposed to the military operation in the area more were “bedroom” human rights organisations and the outlawed secessionist groups, who sensed a deprivation of their dubious activities at the prime time of yuletide. So, they kicked and protested, with the feeling that falsely labelling Nigerian soldiers as murderous would attract the attention of the international community.
But Campaign for Democracy, a respected NGO founded by venerated Nigerians like, Dr. Beko Ransom Kuti and others as well as the fusion of disparate organizations of the human rights community in Nigeria blindly and cheaply played into the hands of dubious secessionist interests in the Southeast.
Issuing a statement without any factual or pretended semblance of truth defeats the essence of the formation of the CD, which was driven by the desire of Nigerians to pursue the cause of entrenching democratic values in Nigeria.
Therefore, apart from loudly, but fruitlessly opposing the operation of OPD in the Southeast, the criminal elements opted for the media as last weapon of vengeance against the Nigerian Army for frustrating their dubious intentions in the festive seasons. But citizens enjoyed respite from insecurity offered by the soldiers.
But these dubious and devilish elements can only deceive themselves, as Nigerians are too wise to fall for their cheap tricks. General Buratai is a hundred times wiser than their crooked senses. By code naming the exercise as “Operation Python Dance” alone heralds the peaceful and noble intentions of the Army in the region.
For those who do not know, Late Professor Chinua Achebe, a south-easterner, world acclaimed literalist and pen artiste of uncommon talents intimated the world about the snake called python and it significance in Igbo mythology. It is simply an animal of peace, which co-habitates with human beings even in living rooms. And no one dares to attack or kill it, much as humanity has inherent phobia for snakes.
So, Buratai’s choice of the word python for the operation is carefully thought-out and a reflection of the essence of Igbo culture. Soldiers under this banner could not have in any rage or under any influence mass- murder 2,000 Igbo youths as claimed by Dede Uzor, who probably used the platform of CD to promote the dubious intents of some elements in his region. That is what happens in a country where dignity is thrown into the high sea as food for sharks and ordinarily, men who should proudly defend their self-worth in words and actions tend to misuse it.
It was therefore not unusual that the criminal gangs sponsored vile propaganda against the Nigerian Army. They vainly claimed OPD was targeted at secessionists groups. When it failed to appeal to even their kith and kin in the Southeast, who enjoyed a blissful festive period, this season, free from all manner of molestations because of the presence of soldiers, they shamefully decided to disingenuously label the Nigerian Army as murderous.
But Operation Python Dance, which has been withdrawn from the Southeast having completed its assignment, is not peculiar to the region. The Deputy Director of Army Public Relations at the 82 Division, Col. Sagir Musa, in a statement in Awka described the tensions and unfounded fears occasioned by the presence of soldiers under OPD as extremely misplaced.
Musa explained its mission thus; “It is designed to, where necessary, dovetail into real time activities such as anti- kidnap drills,patrols, raids, cordon and search, checkpoints, road blocks and show of force. This is with the aim of checkmating anticipated rising wave of crimes usually prevalent during the yuletide.”
The campaign of calumny against Nigerian soldiers is unnecessary. As far as records reveal, OPD is not peculiar to the Southeast region in recent times. The Nigerian Army has conducted similar exercises in other regions of the country troubled by unique crimes.
Nigerians have seen Nigerian Army conduct the Operation Shirin Harbi for insurgency, cattle rustling and other sundry crimes in the Northeast region; there was Exercise Harbin Kunama in the Northwest region also for banditry, insurgency and cattle rustling, among other menaces and soldiers also engaged in Exercise Crocodile Smile in the Niger Delta region targeted at the rampant incidences of illegal oil bunkering, oil theft, sea piracy and other peculiar crimes.
Yet, in these other regions the military conducted its field training exercises before the one in the Southeast, they were not maligned with incidents of mass murders or is the CD saying, it lost its sight and voice at the commission of such crimes in other sections of the country?
The artificial fuss created by pro-Biafran elements would not deter the determination of PMB and the Nigerian Army under Buratai from securing the lives of law-abiding Nigerians in any part of the country. Late Odumegwu Ojukwu had nobler aims for a Biafran state, but he failed to succeed.
So, the present crops of crooks masking as Biafran agitators would never be allowed to destabilize Nigeria and blackmailing government to high heavens would not change this disposition. But Campaign for democracy should be mindful of itself, before greedy, power-drunk and dubious elements in the Southeast rubbishes its years of hard-earned reputation and good image.
Abiodun PhD writes from University of Ibadan, Oyo State.