The take-off of the army’s Operation Crocodile Smile amid the #EndSARS protests and the shooting of unarmed protesters in the Lekki area of Lagos, have attracted public outcry, OLALEYE ALUKO reports
Barely five days after the Nigerian Army commenced its Operation Crocodile Smile across the country, the impact has been felt everywhere, albeit negatively.
The military’s alleged use of brute force to quell youth protests against police brutality (tagged #EndSARS) has been condemned by many.
As early as Tuesday morning, a video emerged from Ado Ekiti, Ekiti State where soldiers barricaded the Fajuyi Bridge, seeking to stop the procession of #EndSARS protesters.
In the evening of same day, the country was shocked when video clips of army personnel allegedly opening fire on peaceful #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki Toll Plaza in Lagos emerged on the social media.
The shooting allegedly led to the death of seven protesters.
Expectedly, this led to public outcries against the activities of the military and its intervention in the #EndSARS protests.
On October 18, the army said Operation Crocodile Smile would hold between October 20 and December 31, adding that it was meant tackle cyber warfare and insurgency in the country, particularly in the North-East, where Boko Haram insurgents had caused massive destruction.
The acting Director, Army Public Relations, Col Sagir Musa, had explained that the “exercise is deliberately intended to be all-encompassing and will include cyber warfare exercises designed to identify, track and counter negative propaganda on social media and across cyberspace. This is the first-ever cyber warfare exercise to be conducted in the history of the armed forces.”
Based on the antecedents of the military, this explanation did not go down well with many Nigerians and socio-cultural groups including the Pan Niger Delta Forum, which described the deployment of soldiers as “the most provocative at a time Nigerian youths were agitating for an end to police brutality.”
The PANDEF National Chairman/former military governor of Akwa Ibom State, Air Commodore Nkanga (retd.), said the group, “deems the nationwide Operation Crocodile Smile exercise announced by the army as most provocative, and another unnecessary misadventure.”
Meanwhile, violence had erupted amid EndSARS protests in Abuja and Benin, Edo State.
But the army clarified a day later that the operation was not targeted at #EndSARS protesters, with the army spokesman, Musa, noting that “to now insinuate that it is an exercise meant to stifle the ongoing #EndSARS protest is to say the least highly misinformed.”
“It has nothing to do with the ongoing protest and the Nigerian Army has never been involved in the ongoing protest in any form whatsoever,” he added.
However, the incidents – caught on videos in at least two places, Ado Ekiti and Lekki areas, where soldiers were seen playing negative roles – have proven otherwise the army’s stance.
Since the deployments, there have also been anger and violence in several cities, following the numbers of reported deaths, injuries and vandalised public property.
These happened in places like Aba, Abia State; Benin, Edo State; Ibadan, Oyo State; Osogbo, Osun State; Akure, Ondo State; Port Harcourt, Rivers State; and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Speaking with our correspondent, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Yusuf Ali, said the army had no business with cybercrimes or civil protests, noting that the involvement of the police was sufficient.
He said, “You must make a distinction between civil crimes (which cover cybercrime) and military-related crimes. The military cannot look into anything civil. The police also cannot look at offences domiciled with the military.
“The constitution is clear about this and that is why the constitution created a court-martial. Whereas for all civil crimes, we have the regular courts; so, cybercrimes and others fall under the civil authorities. They are committed by civilians.
“So, it cannot be a valid reason to say the military is coming out for cybercrimes. This is the overlapping problem of security agencies which doesn’t make room for efficiency. As a matter of national issues, the military are not supposed to take part in matters of civil unrest. It is only in cases of insurrection – the law is very clear.
He added, “All those protests are civil unrests – it is because of the long military rule in Nigeria that we think it is normal. It should not be so. We only deploy military when there is insurrection – not when there are issues of civil disturbances.”
Despite video evidences, the Nigerian Army has continued to deny the involvements of its personnel in the notorious shootings and alleged killings of #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki Toll Plaza in Lagos.
This has subsequently aggravated public outcries against the military.
In the heat of the Tuesday shooting in the Lekki areas Lagos, the Nigerian Army on its Twitter handle branded as fake the videos that its soldiers allegedly shot at protesters, saying it did not deploy any soldier in the area.
But the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, admitted during a live broadcast on Wednesday that the army indeed deployed troops in the Lekki Toll Plaza on Tuesday night.
“For clarity, it is imperative to explain that no sitting governor controls the rules of engagement of the military. I have, nonetheless, ordered an investigation into the rules of engagement adopted by men of the Nigerian Army that were deployed to the Lekki tollgate last night.
“This is with a view to take this up with higher commands of the Nigerian Army and to seek the intervention of Mr President in his capacity as the Commander-In-Chief to unravel the sequence of events that happened,” the governor explained.
A security expert and former Director of the Department of State Services, Mike Ejiofor, called for an investigation into the alleged excesses of the military, describing the development a misplaced priority for the army.