Independent Human Rights Group in Nigeria, IHRGN, has commended the Nigerian Army over the success of its military drill in the South East tagged, “Operation Python Dance II.”
The body said the military drill was able to stop members of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, from using their relationship with the “political class and elites in the southeast” to “blackmail the Army.”
IHRGN stated that the military drill “has thwarted the growing spate of crimes like kidnapping, assassination, ritual Killings, armed robbery and other life threatening evil across the South-East geopolitical zone of Nigeria. “
Speaking in Owerri, the Imo State capital, the leader of the group, Barr Zineke Werigbelegha, opined that the achievement of this particular operation should catalyze strong consideration for retaining it as an annual drill to not only hone troops’ skills but to help make the country safer for citizens.
According to Werigbelegha, “The launch of Operation Python Dance II follows from the maiden edition of the drill in 2016, which was widely acclaimed for ridding the southeast of Nigeria of crimes like kidnapping, banditry and other violent crimes ahead of the Yuletide season.
“To revive these crimes, perpetrators brought them under a political cover which manifested as agitations for the re-creation of the erstwhile republic of Biafra. While crime if any nature is against the law, bringing these crimes under a call for succession went on to create a volatile mix.
“Since the objective of Operation Python Dance II was to build troops’ capacity it went ahead irrespective of the mutations that the crimes in the region are undergoing. There were instances where the crime gangs and terrorist group exploited the peaceful nature of the drill to provoke troops through surprise attacks that were professionally repelled.
“It was found that Operation Python Dance II was widely but erroneously perceived as a full scale military operation against the terrorist activities of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPoB) even when the Army sufficiently communicated its intention as a training drill for troops familiarize with the operating environment of the country. This perception was not helped by the propaganda launched by IPoB, which was noted as desperate to keep the military out of the southeast while its activities gain further grounds.
“The decision by IPoB terrorists to deny troops right of way in the course of the operation led to potentially volatile incidents that IPoB publicized as attacks on its operational base in Abia state. It was however confirmed that troops professionally managed the situation with several arrests made of the terrorists that had launched attacks on troops.
“The propaganda infrastructure of IPoB far exceeds that of Boko Haram and possibly rivals the ones by Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) as the terror group was able to flood the public discourse space with manipulated pictures and videos that created the impression of rights abuses. The research however found that Operation Python Dance II operated within acceptable rules of engagement for the period under review.
“No one came forward to identify themselves as the people in the videos that made the round alleging abuses by the military. Some residents suggested that the footages may have input of the film industry to attain the level of manipulation exhibited.
“Residents wanted an extension of the one month duration of the operation with several of them noting that they only began to feel safe with its launch. They also requested that the operation should be instituted and designated with a year name as opposed to series name (Operation Python Dance 2017 compared to Operation Python Dance II)
“There was an immediate scale down of crimes – robbery, kidnapping, assassination, ritual killings, extortion and criminal groups. The research revealed that these crimes were not random acts but were centrally coordinated as sources of funding for IPoB. A determination to protect these sources of its funding was in part responsible for its decision to obstruct and attack troops on the exercise.
“IPOB enjoys patronage of the political class and elites in the southeast and they exploited this relationship to blackmail the Army.
“Operation Python Dance II (with its predecessor) was in the best interest of the public as it helped addressed pressing security issues that the civil police was grappling with even though that was not its original intent.
“The accusations of human rights abuses against the military was the product of propaganda since those who made the allegations failed to step forward in the course of this research. The allegations of human rights abuses were therefore found to be unfounded and without evidence.
“The conduct of Operation Python Dance II met the expected standards for acceptable rules of engagement during military operations in a civilian area.
“Those arrested for obstructing and attacking troops should be put on trial as deterrence for recurrence of such.
“Those found to be supporting IPoB as a terror group should be isolated from the political space to send a clear message that people cannot precipitate crisis to get political leverage. Such persons should be put on trial where there is strong enough evidence to arraign them.
“Operation Python Dance should be institutionalized as an annual exercise. The knowledge that the operation would hold on regular basis will reduce the propensity for dismantled crime groups to re-group.”