The Nigerian military on Wednesday announced it will launch a series of tactical drills in Enugu from weekend, days after threatening the use of force in neighbouring Niger Delta where militants have attacked oil and gas installations for months.
The announcement for the drills, codenamed “Operation Crocodile Tears”, came about 48 hours after the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, warned that the military would resort to force if talks with the militants failed.
Mr. Buratai’s warning in Port Harcourt on Monday was denounced by a bloc of militant groups in the region: the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND.
Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State also deplored the threat of military action, saying it would not resolve the crisis. He urged sustained dialogue.
“The Nigerian Army will from this weekend commence another training exercise code named ‘EXERCISE CROCODILE SMILE’ in 82 Division and part of 2 Division areas of responsibility traversing the South-South geo-political region,” the army announced on Facebook and Twitter on Wednesday.
“The aim of the exercise is to practice our Special Forces and other units of the Nigerian Army in Amphibious and Internal Security Operations in riverine environment and also check criminal activities like kidnapping, militancy and piracy and other forms of criminal activities in support of the civil authority.
“The general public is please requested not to panic on the sight of unusual movement of large number of troops, heavy military weapons and equipment in these areas.”
A source in Makurdi, the Benue State capital, told PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday of massive movement of troops and equipment towards the south east and south south region.
The source, who pleaded not to be named because he was not authorized to speak on the issue, said troops and equipment were moved through Benue State to Enugu on the way to the oil-rich region.
“We have seen several trucks conveying soldiers and military hardware through Makurdi towards Enugu State and we suspect that they are being deployed to the Niger Delta region,” the source told this newspaper.
“It was not possible to count the number of truck that passed through Makurdi but we are afraid of what could happen if they are unleashed on harmless villages and settlements in the Niger Delta region.
“We don’t want what happened in Odi and Zaki Biam during President Olusegun Obasanjo to happen again because most of those who were killed were innocent people.”
The director of Defence Information, Rabe Abubarkar, and his counterpart for the army, Sani Usman, did not respond to PREMIUM TIMES’ request for comments.
President Muhammadu Buhari had last week said his administration was talking with Niger Delta militants through oil companies and law-enforcement agencies to find a lasting solution to insecurity in the region.
But while speaking through the General Officer Commanding 82 Division of the Nigerian Army Enugu, Ibrahim Atahiru, the army chief, Mr. Buratai, said the government was still committed to dialogue but could resort to other means if dialogue failed.
“Government is still committed to dialogue and whereby this cannot go on, then, there could be resort to other means. The non-kinetic (force) means has always been the source first before government can make recourse to the kinetic means.
“So, there is need for the Niger Delta Avengers to see reason and engage in dialogue with government,” he said.
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