Members of the House of Representatives Committee on Army yesterday expressed reservations about the Operation Positive Identification which the military begins nationwide today.
The lawmakers had earlier called on President Muhammadu Buhari to prevail on the army not to embark on the exercise by which Nigerians are required to move about with means of identification.
But the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-General Tukur Buratai, yesterday told the lawmakers that Buhari and the Minister of Defence, Bashir Magashi, were in support of the operation. He said first launched in the northeast in September, would be conducted nationwide to intercept Boko Haram insurgents who had relocated from their enclaves to other parts of the country.
Buratai, represented by the Head of Civil-Military Affairs, Army Headquarters, Major-General U.S Usman, noted that the exercise would not involve movement of troops or their presence in communities.
Rather, he emphasised, it is a special operation fused into ongoing operations. He repeated that the operation did not involve mounting of checkpoints or military incursions into communities.
According to him, it is an intelligence-based operation to intercept insurgents and other criminal elements relocating from the army’s theatres of operations to other parts of the country. He said the precarious situation of the nation prompted the army to initiate various operations to tackle the security challenges facing the country.
He said soldiers had been deployed to 34 states of the federation owing to the spate of insurgency, banditry, kidnapping and other crimes. He noted that the army does not operate in isolation, but always works with other security agencies in its operations. According to him, if the army arrests criminals, it hands them over to the police except for insurgents detained and profiled by the army depending on the situation.
The committee chairman, Abdulrazak Namdaz, said the House was concerned with the issue of identification during the operations which, he said, was not in the purview of the army but should have been left for the police, the Nigerian Immigration Service and other security agencies. “It cannot take effect from tomorrow (today). We have actually told them that this thing requires sensitisation, will require a lot of media work, press conferences and Nigerians need to be fully informed; we will talk to relevant authorities to see that this thing is shifted in terms of identification,” he said.
A member of the committee, Ahmed Jaha, said though the need for the operation was understandable, its concept and approach should be adjusted since it was being extended to other areas outside the main theatres of operations. Meanwhile, human rights lawyer Femi Falana (SAN) has sued the army and the Attorney-General of the Federation over the army’s planned Operation Positive Identification (OPI) across the nation. In the suit, which also joined the Chief of Army Staff as respondent and filed before the Federal High Court in Lagos on October 25, Falana prayed for an order of the court stopping the army from going ahead with the OPI.
He told the court that the planned nationwide operation scheduled for November 1 to December 23, 2019, “is unconstitutional, illegal, null and void.” He argued that going by Section 217(1) of the Constitution, the Nigerian President could only deploy the armed forces for the suppression of insurrection and acting in aid of civil authorities to restore law and order. But that “There is no insurrection in every part of the country which the Nigeria police cannot contain to warrant the deployment of armed troops all over the country from November 1, 2019 to December 23, 2019.” Falana therefore urged the court to declare that the army is not empowered to take over police duties. Also reacting yesterday, a former Deputy Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Olabode George, described the operation as “totally wrong footed, dangerous, unprecedented, a flagrant assault upon constitutional democracy.”