• Yoruba will resist army of occupation — Afenifere
• It is suspect, military should avoid partisan activities — PDP
• They are plotting to rig election for Buhari — Junaid Mohammed
Opposition groups raised the alarm on Friday as the Nigerian Army announced that it would conduct exercise “Egwu Eke III” – Python Dance – nationwide, to tackle “observed upsurge” in security challenges as the 2019 general elections draw near.
However, pan-Yoruba organisation, Afenifere, vowed that the Yoruba would resist any army of occupation, while the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) described the move as suspect and urged the military to avoid partisan activities regarding the next elections.
In the same vein, a Second Republic federal lawmaker and a renowned government critic, Dr Junaid Mohammed, accused the military of using the proposed exercise as a ploy to rig the coming election for the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant-General Tukur Buratai, announced at a news conference on Friday in Maiduguri, Borno State, that the exercise would be conducted from January 1 to February 28, 2019 in all states, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported.
The 2019 general elections are due to commence with the presidential and National Assembly elections slated for February 16.
Represented by Major-General Lamidi Adeosun, the Chief of Training and Operations, Buratai announced the operation across all the 36 states to combat such threats as stockpiling of arms by criminal groups, formation of ethnic militias and violence induced by political activities.
The army had in 2016 and 2017 conducted exercise Egwu Eke I and II in the South- East geo-political zone.
“These challenges coupled with other security threats across the country such as terrorism, militancy, kidnapping and banditry portend that dissident groups and criminal elements could cash in on the situation to perpetrate large-scale violence before, during and after the 2019 general elections,” Buratai said.
According to the army chief, the Nigerian army troops needed to be prepared and equipped with requisite skills in order to professionally and effectively respond to these challenges and security threats in collaboration with the Nigerian Police and other para-military oganisations.
Responding to a question on why Egwu Eke III is being conducted nationwide and not restricted to the South-East in line with its code name, Buratai said there is python everywhere.
“Even in the desert of Borno, don’t forget, the Lake Chad basin is there, python can also dance within the desert.
“In fact, we have desert python, so python will dance all over the country this time around,” he said.
The army chief explained that the success of the exercise Egwu Eke I and II in checkmating security threats in the South- East informed its simultaneous implementation across the country now.
Buratai called on Nigerians to provide the army and other security agencies with useful and timely information to enable them to deliver on the mandate of exercise Egwu Eke III.
It is suspect, military should avoid partisan activities — PDP
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in its reaction, asked the military to resist being used for partisan purposes, as the spokesman of the party, Kola Ologbodiyan, told Saturday Tribune that the military must insulate itself from politics.
“We urge the military to carry out its responsibilities within permissible rules of engagement.
The Operation Python Dance must not be partisan and should be carried out within the provisions of our laws and due respect to the rights and privileges of Nigerians.
“However, if this operation is to aid the rigging plans of President Muhammadu Buhari, we charge the security apparatchik to insulate the military from politics. Limiting the operation to between January and February is suspect because the governorship election is scheduled for March,” PDP said.
It’s meant to intimidate people —Afenifere
It its own reaction, pan-Yoruba organisation, Afenifere, warned that an army of occupation would be not welcomed in Yorubaland.
“Our attention has been drawn to the announcement by the Nigerian Army to launch Operation Python Dance nationwide. Our take is that this exercise is meant to intimidate the people as we prepare towards the 2019 elections.
“We advise the Army to go and face Boko Haram in the North East which is daily showing its capacity to degrade the Nigerian government as against the claim of Lai Mohammed and other megaphones of government.
“Let us specifically say that the Yoruba People will resist any army of occupation in our space as we will not surrender to acts of intimidation,” Afenifere said.
It’s a diabolical ruse to sustain Buhari beyond 2019 — Junaid Muhammed
Also reacting to the plan by the Nigerian Army to carry out Python Dance across the country, a prominent northern leader, Dr Junaid Muhammed, described it as a diabolical ruse aimed at helping to retain President Buhari in office.
Speaking with Tribune in a telephone interview, the Second Republic federal lawmaker also said the January 1- February 28, 2019 timeline was suspect, noting that it clearly demonstrated that the military was obviously out to protect the interest of Buhari whose election would hold on February 16, leaving out the governorship and state House of Assembly elections, slated for March 2.
Querying the essence of the military exercise, Dr Muhammed said, “First and foremost, the Nigerian Army is trying to take a diabolical liberty of the Nigerian people. They also think that our democracy, which was hard earned, is not worth it.
“Let me tell you this: they have something sinister at the back of their mind. They don’t care a hoot about the people and our democracy. They want to stage-manage and rig the 2019 election and hand over to candidates of their choice who may be coming from within or outside the military circle. The plot does not exclude either serving or retired military generals.
“But let me remind you that, in our national history, the Nigerian Army has never had or carried out such an exercise since the attainment of independence in 1960. They have never held such a martial operation before any election.
“The Army did not create Nigeria. They should be careful and Nigerians should be extra watchful of them. These characters have failed to rein in the Boko Haram insurgents. Their carelessness and nepotism have opened up another front in the war against insurgency.
“Let me warn here that any attempt by Buhari or anybody in any of the political parties, INEC and the security agencies to rig the election or to fail to give us a credible election would usher in a dangerous chaos,” he said.
Dr Muhammed also faulted the dates fixed for the military exercise as he said it was aimed at sustaining hegemony, noting that “The military believed that they can now govern this country directly. They did not believe in our democracy.
“You asked me why January 1-February 28 and not March 31, 2019? The dates were not brought out from the heart of sincerity. The military are only concerned about one election and that is that of their person, Buhari and that is very obvious.
“That is why the president has refused to ease out the dead woods in the military, in spite of all cries to that effect. The concerned military officers have been bribing some influential people and traditional rulers in order to retain their jobs. They are only interested in retaining and sustaining Buhari in office beyond 2019, even if Nigerians like it or not,” he added.
The United States had recently expressed concern over the 2019 elections in Nigeria and emphasised misuse of security forces as one of the greatest threats to the polls.
The Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs at the US Department of State, Ambassador Tibor Nagy, expressed the uneasy feelings of his country regarding the upcoming elections at a recent hearing on Nigeria by the US congress sub-committee on Africa, Global Health and Global Human Rights.
Ambassador Nagy had been asked by the committee to identify his greatest concerns as regards next year’s elections in Nigeria and he declared: “The greatest concern is violence, number one. Number two, is the use of security forces for one side or the other… Not allowing voters to express their desire.”