An independent research team which went on a fact-finding mission in the South East has said the Operation Python Dance II has reduced crimes.
The Independent Human Rights/Crime Monitoring Group in Nigeria [IHRCMG], has commended the Nigerian Army's initiative in launching the Operation Python Dance 11 in the South Eastern parts of the country.
The body said the Operation 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.
This was disclosed at the public presentation of the midterm report by the IHRCMG in Owerri, the Imo State capital.
The report which was presented by the Team Leader of the group Barr. Zineke Werigbelegha, opined that the achievement of the 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.
Barr. Werigbelegha noted that the exercise was in the best interest of the public as it has helped to address pressing security issues that the civil police was grappling with even though that was not its original intent.
Part of the report reads:
'The launch of Operation Python Dance II follows from the maiden edition of the drill in 2016, which was widely acclaimed for ridding the South East 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 the crime of any nature is against the law, bringing these crimes under a call for secession 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 criminal gangs and terrorist groups exploited the peaceful nature of the drill to provoke troops through surprise attacks that were professionally repelled.
From the research conducted, the Nigerian Army significantly complied with the expected rules of engagement. It was found that the exercise would need to be staged annually because of the observed benefit of its capacity to discourage crime even when that is not its original intention.
At the launch of Operation Python Dance II, the states in South-East Nigeria have again slid into a precarious situation with increasing return of insecurity in the intervening period between the completion of the first Operation Python Dance and the launch of the second edition.
In assessing the impact of Operation Python Dance II, the research team of the Independent Human Rights/Crime Monitoring Group in Nigeria visited the five states of the South East – Imo, Enugu, Ebonyi, Anambra and Abia States and also briefly toured the geographically congruous Rivers, Akwa-Ibom and Cross River States.
In these states, the researchers randomly interviewed residents using samples that made considerations for sex, age, income level, urban-rural dwellers and religious denomination.
The interviews were offset with content analysis and review of media reportage of crimes before and during Operation Python Dance II while the outcome of this was comparatively assessed with the same period of the previous year.
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 South East 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 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.
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 a series name like 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 the patronage of the political class and elites in the South East and they exploited this relationship to blackmail the army.
The accusations of human rights abuses against the military were 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 a 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 a regular basis will reduce the propensity for dismantled crime groups to re-group.'
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