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By Oluwatobi Odeyinka
Last week a viral message on whatsapp, a messaging platform, alleged that the House of Representatives has approved Operation Positive Identification by the Nigerian Army. The Whatsapp broadcast warned recipients to always go around with a valid means of identification or risk being arrested by soldiers.
PLATFORM TIMES observed that the same message has been appearing on facebook since last month
The message reads,
CARRY YOUR ID CARD EVERYWHERE NOW. THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVE HAS APPROVED THE REQUEST OF THE NIGERIA ARMY TO CARRY OUT AN EXERCISE CALLED OPERATION POSITIVE IDENTIFICATION ALL OVER THE NATION. TO THIS END, YOU ARE ADVISED TO CARRY YOUR I.D CARDS ALONGSIDE WITH YOU TO AVOID EMBARRASSMENT.
I.D CARDS, VOTERS CARD, NATIONAL IDENTITY CARD ,DRIVERS LICENSE, INTERNATIONAL PASSPORT, ETC. THIS OPERATION HAS ALREADY KICK STARTED . PASS THIS MESSAGE ACROSS TO THOSE IN OTHER PLATFORM.
The message has generated numerous likes and shares on facebook
PLATFORM TIMES conducted a check on the circulated message and found that it is a false alarm. Although, the Nigerian military had planned the operation last year.
Operation positive identification was initiated by the military in September, 2019 to track fleeing Boko Haram and ISWAP members in the north-east. The operation, which would require citizens to present a means of identification when accosted by military officers, would help separate citizens from terrorists, the military explained.
The Nigerian army would later announce in the same month that it would extend the operation to other parts of the country. It argued that the operation, when extended across the country, would help intercept fleeing terrorists who were relocating from their enclaves in the North East to other parts of the country.
Following the announcement, fears aroused from various quarters as to whether the operation would not lead to harassment of citizens by military officers. This prompted the House of Representatives to summon the Chief of Army Staff, lieutenant General Tukur Burutai to appear before a panel of the house committee on army, headed by Abdulrazak Namdas (APC, Adamawa).
Mr. Burutai, represented by the Director, Civil/Military Affairs at the Army Headquarters, U.S Mohammed, appeared before the panel on October 31, 2019.
In his argument before the panel, Mr Buratai said the operation would be intelligence-led, adding that there would be no deployment of troops or mounting of roadblocks.
He argued that Operation Positive Identification was one of the military’s subsidiary operations to the Operation Lafiya Dole in the North East.
He said it was not new and urged Nigerians to embrace it.
“It came about as a result of positive information about the activities of Boko Haram in the North-east and the fact that they are making inroads to other parts of the country.
“From our intelligence, they are spreading from their traditional stronghold. Based on that, this idea came up to embark on our cordon and search operations. We will make some arrests and do some identification. The operation started on the 22nd of September, 2019.
“For this period of the year, the military has introduced some exercises aimed at tackling the security challenges in parts of the country. It is aimed at training ourselves and carrying our security operations. We use the opportunity to carry out specific and targeted activities.
“We felt that as these exercises are going on, we should carry out the Operation Positive Identification to areas where we are going to carry out these exercises. It is nothing new.
“Operation Positive Identification is intelligence-led activity. Based on credible information, we go to certain areas, make an arrest and profile those arrested by identifying them and through that, we may be able to identify some Boko Haram members and other criminals.
“There will be no additional checkpoints because it is all intelligence-led. The fact that we are extending it to other parts of the country does not mean there are changes. It is strictly based on credible information and intelligence.
“We are going to observe our usual rules of engagement and code of conduct for troops during internal security arrangements. Some of these things are being done in conjunction with other sister security agencies which is assisting us in the operation.
He said the operation would run from November 1 to December 23, 2019.
However, on November 5, 2019, a Federal High Court in Lagos ordered the suspension of the operation after a human rights lawyer, Femi Falana SAN, filed a suit against the Nigerian Army, the Chief of Army Staff, and the Attorney-General of the Federation over the exercise.
On November 14, 2019, the house of reps gave its approval to the operation, after accepting the recommendation of the panel.
Adopting the report by the panel at the plenary, the House resolved, “That the Army can continue with the OPI but in collaboration with other relevant security agencies such as the Nigeria Immigration Service and the Nigeria Police Force, who should take the lead in the identification process.
PLATFORM TIMES cannot ascertain whether the military went ahead with the operation after the approval from the Reps or it honored the court order.
However, the court later upheld Mr. Falana’s suit in July, 2020.
The court held that the Nigerian Army has no power under the Constitution to subject civilians to such identification exercise. It therefore declared the operation illegal.
Nothing has been said of the operation since the court order was issued by the military.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Army announced on Saturday that it would commence its annual exercise Crocodile Smile across the country on October 20, 2020.
In a statement signed by Colonel SAGIR MUSA, the Acting Director Army Public Relations, it was stated that the exercise would include Operation Positive Identification and other “cyber warfare exercises”
CONCLUSION: The claim is misleading. Although it was not clear whether the military went ahead with the operation despite the restraining order from the federal high court, the military had planned the operation for November 1 to December 23, 2019.
The claims appeared on facebook in September this year even before the release from the Nigeria Army on commencement of Exercise Crocodile Smile.
Oluwatobi Odeyinka is an award winning writer and journalist, with interests in community development, politics, Human Right violations and social inequalities. As a journalist, he specializes in feature writing, investigative reporting, and fact-based general news reports.
Oluwatobi reports for Platform Times and also writes as a freelancer for Nigerian Tribune and The Nation newspaper.