Ohanaeze Ndigbo, a pan Igbo socio-cultural organization has said that the deployment of armed soldiers to the South-East is calculated to intimidate, harass and extort money from the people of the region. Ohanaeze, in a statement yesterday by its president general, Chief John Nia Nwodo, noted that the Operation Python Dance I, launched before now by the military in South-East, witnessed the murder of 191 innocent youths agitating for self-determination in Asaba, Aba, Nkpor and Port Harcourt.
It, therefore, called for the immediate withdrawal of troops from the South-East, describing the operation Python Dance II as an evasion in the region aimed at intimidating the people. According to Nwodo, rather than resort to the use of brute force in the resolution of the issue of self-determination, “there are more civilized and established practices to resolve our democratic and security challenges.”
He added that “Nigeria, at this moment, does not need such deliberate and proactive escalation of tensions and crisis.”
The Ohanaeze president regretted that the Nigerian Army has never embarked on Operation Python Dance in any of the other five geopolitical zones where there has been Boko Haram insurgency, kidnapping, Fulani herdsmen, secret cult killings, oil bunkering, armed resistance and killing of military personnel. He added that if the soldiers were not withdrawn immediately, Ohanaeze “would be left with no alternative than to conclude that this is a containment policy aimed at the South- East to intimidate our people from freely expressing their anger and angst at their marginalization and treatment as second class citizens.”
“In a democracy, the level of disenchantment expressed by the people of the South-East of Nigeria ought to have provoked a serious dialogue between our people and the federal executive and the legislature. “History teaches us that the continuous use of force to silence dissent and free speech will only accelerate the growth of dissent and dissatisfaction. Fundamental rights of freedom of expression are critical for a successful democracy.”
Ohanaeze noted that the claim that the program was aimed at checking increasing crime in the region has no empirical support because the first Python Dance was used to extort money from the people and has not addressed the issue of crime in the South-East.
“Our people were shamelessly intimidated and harassed at these check points. Operation Python Dance I procured no arrests of criminals that were prosecuted for any of the criminal activities that Operation Python Dance II is supposed to address,” he added.
On the attack at the country home of Nnamdi Kanu, leader of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nwodo described it as unfortunate. “We believe that it is a deliberate invasion of a quiet homestead, an act of provocation and a continuing policy of intimidation.
“Innocent civilians living in these other parts of Nigeria have not witnessed the type of invasion Umuahia witnessed Sunday night,” he said. Meanwhile, the South- East Parliamentary Caucus in the Senate yesterday decried the ongoing show of force by the military in the South-East under the Operation Python Dance 11.
The caucus also condemned the alleged invasion of the country home of the IPOB leader, Kanu, saying such action suggested a deliberate attempt to personalize the operation and provoke the further crisis in the region.
In a statement made in Abuja, the caucus said the operation, which has seen the military patrolling remote villages around Umuahia, the Abia State capital, and harassing innocent civilians, was an abuse of the fundamental rights of the people.
Chairman of the Caucus, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, who signed the statement, said it was saddening that the military chose a time when the caucus had engaged the IPOB leadership and even extracted a firm commitment from them that their agitation would be strictly nonviolent and in conformity with international best practices.
“We had hoped that our ongoing engagement with the group would be given a chance and here we are, with a hurried military action deep into a highly populated area with a high propensity for casualty, which occurrence would rather escalate the already tense situation.
“It is more worrisome that the military’s operation ‘Python Dance 2’ restricted to the South-East in a peace time, has no doubt fouled the environment and sent strong signal that the region is under siege, which should not be so in a democracy.
“We, therefore, urge extreme caution and advise the military to de-escalate the situation and choose the best operational modus that would not only guaranty the safety of Nigerians, but also enhance national unity.
“Nigeria is not at war. People are only exercising their constitutional and universally guaranteed rights. So far, they are carrying on in a manner that has never given room to violence which could warrant a wholesale military expedition,” Abaribe said.