The Nigerian military has planned a nationwide operation to demand identity cards from citizens across the country.
‘Operation Positive Identification’ would see soldiers accosting citizens on the streets or highways and asking them to produce means of identification on the spot. Soldiers had been taking similar measures to separate citizens from terrorists in the Boko Haram-ravaged northeastern part of Nigeria. The military claimed last month that citizens in the North-east had been cooperating with troops to make the exercise successful by carrying with them valid identity documents.
But the military announced on September 25 that the exercise will be extended nationwide to “checkmate bandits, kidnappers, armed robbers, ethnic militia, cattle rustlers as well as other sundry crimes across the various regions of Nigeria.”
The announcement came simultaneously with the awareness about the 2019 edition of the military ‘s anti-crime operations such as ‘Ayem Akpatuma’ in the North-central; ‘Egwu Eke’ in the South-east and ‘Crocodile Smile’ in the South-south and South-west.
Although ‘Operation Positive Identification’ was initially billed to commence alongside the anti-crime patrols on October 7, it was held for additional preparation. Military sources told PREMIUM TIMES on Sunday that the exercise will now commence early next November.
Citizens have been warned to carry a valid means of identification, especially voter’s card, national identity card, driver’s licence, international passport, whenever they are going out to avoid being seen as criminally-minded by soldiers.
Already, some firms have started issuing advisory to their staff members ahead of the planned military operation.
“It is unconstitutional to ask citizens to carry ID cards or be treated as suspects,” Kennedy Angbo, a human rights activist in Abuja, told PREMIUM TIMES on Sunday. “If law enforcement agencies have a reason to suspect a citizen, they should go after that citizen and not subject the whole country to fear.”
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“More than half of Nigerians do not have identity cards, so what do you expect them to carry around,’’ the activist said.
Nigeria has long faced challenges in compiling a unified database of its citizens. In 2007, a commission was created to register and issue ID cards to all citizens above 16. But over a decade later, only a few million people have enrolled and even fewer number of people had been issued the plastic identity cards.
Millions of citizens do not have voting credentials, driver’s licence or international passport. Millions are unemployed and do not have work-issued ID cards.
“This seems to me like an attempt to victimise, intimidate and extort Nigerians,” another rights activist, Moses Yabrade, said from Warri. “Nigeria is a democracy and we should not be waking up to the fear of a military siege on our collective psyche.”
Mr Angbo said the military, security and law enforcement agencies should all work together to evolve a modern policing technique rather than sticking to crude and dictatorial tactics.
“They should evolve a twentieth-century strategy for securing the nation rather than threatening citizens to carry ID cards or face harsh consequences,” he said.
Nigerian Army spokesperson, Sagir Musa, and Defence Headquarters spokesperson, Onyema Nwachukwu, declined PREMIUM TIMES’ calls and text messages seeking comments about the planned exercise on Sunday.
But in the September 25 announcement he signed, Mr Musa, urged citizens “not to panic on seeing an increased presence of military personnel.”
He said the military would continue to secure the country, protect lives and properties of all Nigerians through multiple exercises, including the ‘Operation Positive Identification.’