The military operation – codenamed Operation Python Dance – in Nigeria’s South-east has been criticised as ill-conceived and anti-rights by the senators representing the region.
In a statement on Tuesday, the chairman of the South-east Senate caucus, said the Igbo senators viewed the military operation as one that could jeopardise their ongoing engagement with the Nnamdi Kanu-led separatist movement, IPOB, which the lawmakers suggested were exercising their constitutionally-backed rights.
The commencement of the Operation Python Dance 2 in Umuahia, Abia State capital, on Sunday, came with tension, as citizens, presumed to be members of IPOB, confronted with sticks and stones the soldiers parading the streets in what the Army called “show of force”.
Although IPOB’s lawyer, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, claimed the soldiers invaded the compound of Mr. Kanu and killed several persons, there was no evidence to back the claim. But a video footage showing a young man who sustained injury from gunshot and another one showing IPOB members confront soldiers with sticks and stones did emerge online.
The ongoing operation was intended to check kidnapping, banditry, assassination, secessionist activities within the region, amongst other forms of criminal activities, the Army said in official position ahead of the commencement.
But the deployment of the soldiers provoked the violent confrontation that happened on Sunday, the Senate caucus said, and called for the des-escalation of the operation.
Their statement read: “We had hoped that our ongoing engagement with the group would be given a chance but here we are with a hurried military action deep into a highly populated area with high propensity for casualty, which occurrence would rather escalate the already tense situation.
“It is more worrisome that military operation, ‘Python Dance 2,’ restricted to the South-east in a peace time, has no doubt fouled the environment and sent strong signal that the region is under siege, which should not be so in a democracy.
“We, therefore, urge extreme caution and advise the military to de-escalate the situation and choose the best operational modus that will not only guaranty the safety of Nigerians but also enhance national unity.
“Nigeria is not at war, people are only exercising their constitutional and universally guaranteed rights, so far they are carrying on in a manner that has never given room to violence which could warrant a wholesale military expedition.”
The senators spoke about same time Abia State Government declared a three day-curfew in some parts of the state and expressed readiness to cooperate with the Army, while also stressing “unequivocally” that “Abia is a component State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and subscribes to the supremacy of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and all other extant laws.”
The state however said: “While the Government of Abia State recognizes the right of the Nigerian Army and other security agencies, to perform their statutory duty of protection of lives and property of Nigerian citizens, such duties must be carried out within acclaimed Nigerian and international standards of engagement with the civil populace, with due respect to the human rights of citizens and sanctity of human lives.”