The Federal Government may have finally yielded to the temptation of quelling the ongoing #EndSARS protests via military might, in the guise of Exercise Crocodile Smile 6, which the Nigerian Army, yesterday, announced will commence on Tuesday, October 20.
Also encompassed in Exercise Crocodile Smile 6, is a cyber-warfare operation, which the army said is “designed to identify, track and counter negative propaganda on the social media and across the cyberspace.”
This development came to light on a day that protesting youths in Lagos State and other locations across the country became vociferous in their demand for President Muhammadu Buhari’s resignation.
But Civil rights crusader, Senator Shehu Sani has cautioned the military to tread carefully in dealing with youths, who are protesting against the government’s poor handling of affairs.
The first indication that the government may be contemplating military action emerged when the Nigerian Army issued a warning to “subversive elements and trouble makers” to desist after a week of protests.
Army spokesman, Col. Sagir Musa, in a Facebook post said: “The NA (Nigerian army) hereby warns all subversive elements and trouble makers to desist from such acts as it remains highly committed to defend the country and her democracy at all cost.”
In the statement, which many viewed as a veiled threat, Sagir said the army would “support the civil authority in whatever capacity to maintain law and order and deal with any situation decisively.”
Early last week, the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof. Itse Sagay, equally hinted that the government may forcefully end protests, which has spread across the country.
According to him: “My observation is that hoodlums are already hijacking the protests. The IGP has already disbanded the SARS. So, it no longer exists officially as a unit. The youths refused to stop protesting, they said they wanted the President to issue an Executive Order dissolving it. Executive Orders are not used for that purpose.
“I believe the youths should be satisfied at this stage. If the youths still come out tomorrow (October 14) again, then it will look as if the whole demonstration has a hidden agenda for which #EndSARS is being used as a cover. It will seem there is an agenda to disturb the stability of the country and engage in activities that may be along the line of #RevolutionNow, which itself is the highest crime in our constitution,” he said.
The acting Director of Army Information, Musa, while announcing the military exercise said this year’s exercise will run from October 20 to December 31, 2020.
He explained that the operation would include cyber warfare exercises, which is designed to identify, track and counter negative propaganda on the social media and across the cyberspace.
“This is the first-ever Cyberwarfare exercise to be conducted in the history of African armed forces. Accordingly, the exercise will also include positive identification component aimed at identifying Boko Haram terrorists fleeing from the North East and other parts of the country as a result of the ongoing operations in the various theatres of operations, especially in the Northeast, North Central and North Western parts of Nigeria.
He added: “The Nigerian Army, once again, reassures all well-meaning Nigerians of its commitment to the sustenance of peace and security in Nigeria,” and urges the support and understanding of members of the public throughout the period of the exercise.
But despite fears that the protests may get bloody when the military operation gets underway on Tuesday, the army, in a separate release claimed that Exercise Crocodile Smile has nothing to do with #EndSARS protest.
According to him: “Exercise Crocodile Smile VI has nothing to do with the ongoing protest and the Nigerian Army (NA) has never been involved in the ongoing protest in any form whatsoever. So far, the army has acted professionally since the civil protest started over two weeks ago.
“For the records, Exercise Crocodile Smile is a yearly exercise in the NA Calendar/Forecast of Events which traditionally holds from October to December of each year.
“The army hereby enjoins all law-abiding Nigerians to go about their lawful activities unhindered as the Exercise has nothing to do with #ENDSARS protest, but a yearly event set out by the NA in its efforts to ensuring safety and security of Nigeria and her citizens.”
Senator Sani, who represented Kaduna Central at the Eighth Senate, said that Nigerians have the democratic rights to protest against the excesses of the ruling government, and the gradual reign of fascism in the country.
“The Army should not intervene to crush peaceful protesters,” he said in one of his tweets, adding that, “we have enough bandits and insurgents in our forests and deserts that need their attention.”
The human rights activist also reacted to some residents of Borno State, who took to the street to protest the disbandment of SARS describing “the pro-SARS protesters as Alsatians of the system.”
IN the same breadth, a group of civil societies in the country has warned the Federal Government against using the military to quell the ongoing nationwide protests.
In a statement released in Abuja, yesterday, the coalition consisting of 16 CSOs said the threat issued by the Military High Command concerning the protests revealed that an “unacceptable move is being made to crush the peaceful protests.”
According to them, such a threat was ill-conceived in the face of legitimate citizens’ protest, and a threat to constitutionally guaranteed rights.
The CSOs include Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD-West Africa), Enough is Enough (EIE), Partners for Electoral Reform, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), YIAGA Africa, Global Rights, among others.
The coalition noted that while the #EndSARS is focused on the immediate concern of a brutish policing system, the protesters were also inherently voicing their anger against a governance system, which has failed to reckon with them.
The coalition said: “We reject in its entirety the move to draft in the military to quell the protests, even where there has been no violent conduct on the part of protesters.
“The military should remain in their barracks and at their duty posts, defending the territorial integrity of the country, and not deployed in a dangerous anti-people and anti-democratic operation to crush a people who are exercising their right to freedom of association, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly… It is important to let the Nigerian authorities know that the entire world is watching its response to the legitimate demands of the youth…” the coalition said.
The Northern Coalition of Civil Society Groups is calling on #ENDSARS protesters to redirect attention and join them in demanding an immediate end to killings and destruction of lives in the North.
The coalition, which addressed a press conference at Arewa House, Kaduna at the weekend, also asked the Federal Government to deploy same energy used in the disbandment of SARS to end insecurity in the North.
The Coalition led by Yusuf Amoke said, “we have witnessed a huge protest and demonstration for citizens right all across the country, notable is the #EndSARS protest that has not only attracted the physical participation of notable personalities in the sporting and entertainment and other industries but has witnessed virtual participation of notable international personalities and organisations.
“This unison, in-demand and mobilisation strength, coupled with the listening tendencies of the government, has resulted in the scrapping of the unit of the police force. The brutality of SARS in some parts of the country with horrid details was too much to bear, and therefore condemnable in strong terms.
“We wish to use this opportunity to lend our voices of support and encouragement to the young men and women of our generation who rose up against SARS brutality, which led to the government’s quick response to the demands,” the coalition stated, adding, “the reality in the protest to end SARS is obviously real. But those protests coming afterwards is calling for serious concerns. As a result, we have itemised some of our demands to the Federal Government and to the protesters as well. The Government should use similar energy and responsiveness as used in ending SARS to end insecurity in the North.
“Government should redeploy members of the defunct SARS to some volitile northern states to help contain the insecurity as requested by the governor of Borno State and other Northern leaders.
“On a permanent basis, the government should deploy security personnel on the Kaduna – Abuja highway to ensure the safety of citizens.
Meanwhile, a group, the All Progressives Congress (APC) Young Stakeholders, has canvassed the understanding of #EndSARS protesters across the country and called on them to leave the streets.
The spokesperson of the group, Nuhu Shehu, at a press conference in Abuja, argued that the call was aimed at alleviating the suffering of Nigerians affected by the activities of the protesters.
The group applauded the protesters on the feat so far achieved, especially with the dissolution of SARS and the acceptance of the five-point demands that came with it.
Promising to liaise with the APC-led administration to ensure the implementation of the demands, it stated: “It is time to give the government a chance to work on these promises. Any further discomfort or even loss of life cannot be justified. We ask our fellow youths, to please leave the streets for their houses and places of work or businesses.
“We ask them to stop putting themselves and others at risk. We want no further deaths. There is no need for any more bloodshed. As young stakeholders of the governing party, we promise to put enough pressure on the government to ensure that these reforms are speedy, complete and comprehensive,” the group added.
Conversely, the World Igbo Congress (WIC) has thrown its weight behind the ongoing protests, saying the current agitation for police reform is long overdue.
The group, in a statement signed by its Executive Board Chairman, Prof. Anthony Ejiofor, said: “The World Igbo Congress has expressed solidarity with Nigerians for demonstrating that power truly belongs to the electorate, not the elected, the agitation for police reform is overdue because a better policing system would serve all Nigerians, including the politicians, and we support any plan that will stop unnecessary killings of our youths.
“World Igbo Congress expects all the groups involved in the protests to maintain a peaceful action, and we call on the government security apparatus to ensure that life and property are protected in the interest of the country.
“The protest is not an illegal action; it is a civic responsibility, and the government must treat it as such, and must avoid any counter-measure that will escalate it. We expect only genuine measure that will address all the issues.”
Igbo socio-cultural group, Ohanaeze Youth Council (OYC), on Saturday, demanded the unconditional release of Igbo youths wrongly detained by SARS across the country.
National President of OYC, Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro, in a statement in Abakaliki, called for the establishment of judicial panels to probe police brutality and killings adding that those involved should be brought to book.
“We want to thank all Nigeria youths that came out to protest against the police brutality and extrajudicial killings in the country. OYC applauds IGP Mohammad Adamu for the timely dissolution of the SARS, which has caused excessive harm to the Nigeria populace. The disbanded SARS with their hirelings, trumped-up false criminal allegations against citizens and exploited them in the process.
“We have forwarded five pages of the petition on the detention of Igbo sons that were wrongfully accused of perpetrating criminal activities and are currently languishing in various police cells in the country, particularly in Lagos State.
“We call on IGP to investigate and discharge innocent Igbo sons and Biafra agitators, because, OYC embarked on thorough and comprehensive investigations and discovered that about 2000 youths of Igbo extraction and Biafra agitators are lauguishing in police formations in most parts of Nigeria.
“OYC appeals to President Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government and IGP to either charge them to a court or unconditionally release them from detention to reintegrate with their families.”
The National Democratic Front (NDF) has warned individuals and groups hiding under the guise of the #EndSARS protest to demand President Buhari’s resignation to desist from doing that.
According to the NDF, the agenda of the Organisation for Global Youth Peace Empowerment and Development Initiative (OGYPEDI), and others is unacceptable and politically motivated.
The NDF alleged that the peaceful protests have been hijacked by “crisis entrepreneur” aiming to trigger the second phalanx of the attack on the Federal Government, by creating the impression of widespread discontent.
In a statement signed by its Secretary-General, Dr. Abdulkadir Bolaji, the group rubbished OGYPEDI, adding that President Buhari has impacted a huge number of Nigerian youth with the National Social Investment Programmes.
It, therefore, implored innocent Nigerians joining the protest and demanding for President Buhari’s resignation to take a deeper look at what they are taking part in and ask critical questions. (The Guardian)