True to the sneaky suspicions of several groups, an operation by the military demanding that Nigerians must produce their identity cards at all times has degenerated into extortion, human rights abuse and discontent. The indication that Operation Positive Identificationnow embodies anarchy and oppression became apparent at the turn of the year in Maiduguri, Borno State after the Governor, Babagana Zulum, accused the military of bribery and extortion in the conduct of the operation. Consequently, the military high command should quickly terminate it.
Zulum’s accusations are contrary to the assurances by the military that the operation would be carried out without human rights violations. Given their antecedents, it is obvious that the military cannot keep their word. According to the governor, soldiers were caught at a checkpoint near the state capital openly demanding bribes and extorting money from travellers on the Maiduguri-Damaturu Highway. Publicly, the soldiers – and other security officers there – demanded bribes from travellers who did not have the National Identity Card. The travellers were thus stranded at the checkpoint and subjected to pointless delay, hardship and losses. This is shameful in that soldiers are not ordinary Nigerians; they are supposed to be a cut above the rest in terms of training, discipline, ethics and demonstration of professional integrity.
OPI was birthed in storm last September. For the military, the aim is to identify and arrest Boko Haram terrorists who have escaped from their strongholds in the forests and have mingled with the local people. To achieve this, the military stated that travellers on the highways in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, the epicentre of the deadly 10-year-long Islamism, would be asked to show their ID cards on demand. Without considering the sheer logistics of the operation and the implications on democratic institutions, the military later stated that the operation would cover all parts of the country. This elicited protests, making the military to confine it to the North-East.
As expected, OPI has become an out-and-out means of extortion of the citizens. “How can you subject people to this kind of torture all in the name of National ID Card?” a furious Zulum queried. “The Federal Government has not created an enabling environment for our people to get their National ID cards and you (soldiers) are here collecting N500 and N1,000 as a fine for not having what the Federal Government has not provided for all.” This is proof that OPI is a knee-jerk project.
As of October 2019, the National Identity Management Commission stated that only 19 per cent of Nigerians had registered for the ID card. Nigerians go through hell in the process of getting other documents like the driving licence, passport, voter card and yellow fever card. It is insensitive that the military did not factor this in before it commenced OPI.
Although the military are fighting a war against the Islamists, OPI is still unacceptable for the fact that there is no subsisting state of emergency in those three states. It is against Section 41 of the 1999 Constitution that prescribes that Nigerians can move freely in their own country without fear or favour. The military have no legal authority to abridge this right by demanding ID cards from them.
Long before the Borno State governor exposed the OPI saga, soldiers had been cited repeatedly in cases of extortion and human rights violations around the country. In traffic, they bully and oppress road users, deploying unusual brute force. The ID card is just a pretext to perpetrate more abuse.
Just last year, a soldier was charged to court for allegedly raping a 300-level student of the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, at a checkpoint in the Ondo State community. Outrageously, soldiers slaughtered three police officers and a civilian shortly after they (police) arrested Hamisu “Wadume” Bala, a suspected kidnap kingpin at a checkpoint in Taraba State, allowing the suspect to escape. In Abia, soldiers flogged and detained young men for wearing dreadlocks, while a soldier tragically shot a motorcyclist there for refusing to part with a bribe.
Nigeria has exited the era of military jackboot. So, the extortionist racket and abuses associated with OPI are a veritable alibi for Tukur Buratai, the Chief of Army Staff, to consign it swiftly to the dustbin. In its place, the OPI and others like Operation Egwu Eke, Crocodile Smile and Ayem Akpatuma should be reviewed comprehensively, bringing them up to best available global democratic practice.
To accomplish their goals, the military need the support of the local populace. OPI antagonises them because it subjects them to a double dose of pain and insecurity. To get the people on their side, the military should entrench the use of technology, as this is mainly an asymmetric war, in which the enemy is mutating. This, certainly, is not an adversary to fight with a divided front. It does not work that way, at least, for countries battling with Islamism.
To eliminate al-Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden in 2011; the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2019 and a host of other terrorist commanders, the United States and its Western allies relied on information from the locals, before deploying drones, technology and security operatives.
Thus, the military should stop throwing its weight around and get on with the task of defeating Boko Haram with the aid of intelligence and technology. OPI should be limited to the borders, which criminals are exploiting to infiltrate the country. It should surrender internal security operations to the police, who are constitutionally empowered for these duties.