Python Dance 3: Anxiety in South East

The IPOB did not hide its feelings on the plan for another Python Dance in the Southeast as the group has already declared a total strike on September 14

■ As Ndigbo reject new military exercise

■ Fear stems from previous operations, closeness to 2019 elections

■ Army gives reasons, says no going back on exercise

Enyeribe Ejiogu (Lagos), Molly Kilete (Abuja), David Onwuchekwa (Nnewi) and Raphael Ede (Enugu)

The dust raised laced with fear when the Nigeria Army High Command recently announced that it would soon launch Operation Python Dance 3 on the Southeast zone has refused to settle.

The people of the zone are still living with the fears of the last python dance codenamed Egwu Eke 2, which culminated in the invasion of the Afara-Ukwu, Abia State home of the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, which left at its trail many dead with Kanu and his parents disappearing up till date.

READ ALSO: IPOB declares sit-at-home for Nnamdi Kanu

Therefore, when the army hinted that the python was coming to dance again in the region, hinging the resolve on the successes it claimed it achieved during the previous exercises in the zone, most Igbo, including the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, shouted in rejection of the exercise.

The IPOB did not hide its feelings on the plan for another Python Dance in the Southeast as the group has already declared a total strike on September 14, to remember their members who were killed during the invasion of Kanu’s home, as well as others killed while the Python Dance 2 lasted.

They are not alone in the cry as many key voices from the zone have condemned the new army declaration for Python Dance 3, saying that it is ill-timed as a large number of families in the zone are still mourning the death of their sons and daughters ‘swallowed’ by the pythons between 2016 and 2017.

Hear the Archbishop of Enugu Ecclesiastical Province, Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), Archbishop Emmanuel Chukwuma: “Holding the Python Dance again would be an ill-conceived move that could spin out of control,” as he further warned that the consequences would be too grievous as Igbo would be driven to defend themselves in the event of such atrocity being carried out again.

“There is no war in Nigeria, so the soldiers should go back to the barracks,” he said.

He urged the Federal Government to rethink the move, which he said appears to be an attempt to cripple and destroy the economy of the Southeast.

“Moreover, the government is yet to address the horrendous fallouts from the previous deployment of soldiers in the region, particularly in 2017.

“The government is showing selective negligence. The areas where the army should go and hold this kind of operation is where Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen are holding sway, but unfortunately they have not concentrated on those places. Igbo land is not a place of violence. “Whatever you had with the youths and members of IPOB, was an agitation for rights and it is unfortunate that our people played into the hands of the Federal Government by making and allowing the IPOB to be labeled as a terrorist group and for them to be banned which I feel very bad about because nobody has banned Arewa Youths Consultative Forum, Miyetti Allah, Afenifere and other pressure groups.

“So, if you had a pressure group in the East that was not violent and not a threat to security and you banned it, then that is not acceptable. IPOB members were not a threat to security, they were only asking for their right, equity and justice for the Igbo, but the Federal Government misunderstood that and thought that it could silence the pressure group because our elderly people have gone into oblivion, they are not talking and many of them are compromising. So, the government felt that the only way to silence the Igbo youths that were speaking for the Igbo was to apply much aggressive force,” the bishop said.

He alleged that the intensified extrajudicial killings in the Southeast through Python Dance is an agenda to subdue Igbo to submission.

“This cannot be acceptable and we are only keeping quiet, but a time shall come when the people may be driven to return violence for violence if care is not taken because they have to defend ourselves. If the rule of law is not taken into consideration and you want to think that Igbo people are evil and you want now to bring force on them then force will meet with force. I am disturbed that the government wants to use Python Dance to turn Igbo land into a theatre of war like Boko Haram territory. They should leave Igbo land alone because this is not the place for anybody to bring a military operation like Python Dance,” he said.

Sounding the same tune, the Federal Commissioner, Public Complaints Commission in Anambra State, Prince Sam Ben Nwosu and former Chairman of Police Service Commission, Chief Simon Okeke, agreed with Chukwuma that the Southeast does not need a military operation such as Python Dance 3, stressing that “the zone has not recovered from the previous exercises.”

READ ALSO: Biafra agitators raise the alarm over Operation Python Dance 3

Prince Nwosu who addressed the issue at his Otolo Nnewi residence said that in the previous exercise, everybody saw how extrajudicial killings took place during the period.

He said that the army should direct its attention to the Northeast, Northwest and the Middle-Belt zones where, he said, the worst crime and offences against the nation were being perpetrated by Boko Haram insurgents and the Fulani killer herdsmen.

“In the Southeast, we have no problem. We are good to go, we are okay. It falls within my jurisdiction to speak out because of some injustices being perceived. Recently, I had a discussion with the Commander of 302 Regiment of the Nigerian Army in Anambra State. He told me that they would work with us to ensure that peace continues to reign in the Southeast geopolitical zone.

“What is the cause of this Python Dance? Maybe people are trying to take laws into their hands. But there are better ways of achieving sanity. I cannot afford to allow my brother die because he demonstrated for his right,” he said.

The Ombudsman called for caution and wisdom as he advised the youths that if they saw that there was an intimidation coming as Python Dance, they should steer clear and avoid any manner of confrontation “and let us see how the python can dance without agitation or protest.”

Nwosu recalled that the late Biafra leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu had told the Igbo that he thought he would achieve Biafra with guns and machetes, but later realized that it would be better achieved with pen and wisdom.

He said those were the basic areas the Igbo would be discussing, to have a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction.

He insisted that the people of the Southeast needed no Python Dance for any reason, noting that the Southeast zone was the most peaceful area in Nigeria and wondered why the area should always be targeted for such military exercises.

Also Chief Simon Okeke said that one would have thought that those who conceived the idea of first and second Operation Python Dance exercises should have known that the third one was not needed since the negative effects of the previous exercises were still reverberating.

His words: “I think to engage in another Operation Python Dance exercise now that we are getting close to general elections by February, 2019 makes it look as they have something else in their minds against the electorate here in the Southeast. I hope they don’t tend to frighten people away from the elections, which are on the way.

“Why should the python dance again? Have they gone round the geopolitical zone to conclude that there is crisis there? It is a bit suspect and care must be taken not to overheat the polity. That exercise as far as I’m concerned is unhealthy to this geopolitical zone. I don’t see anything that warrants all those dances in the geopolitical zone. They had better carry out the exercise in the Northeast where you have problem of Boko Haram insurgents; not here in the Southeast.”

How Python Dance started

Back in 2016, as the agitation for the restoration of Biafra championed by the leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu grew more vociferous by the day, the Muhammadu Buhari administration became rattled.

About the same time too, it was contending with the renewal of hostilities in the Niger Delta region by Niger Delta Avengers, which began a bombing campaign against oil and gas pipelines, which resulted in the destruction of vital gas pipelines that supply gas to the electric turbines. To contain the situation, the Federal Government launched Operation Crocodile Smile in the Niger Delta.

Then as Igbo youths fired up by Nnamdi Kanu’s leadership raised the demand for self-determination, the Federal Government decided to begin the Operation Python Dance, OPD, which in Igbo means, Egwu Eke, in the weeks just before Christmas. It started on November 27, 2016 and ended December 27, 2016.

The Python Dance came with it obstructive check-points, which suddenly appeared all over Igbo land with soldiers searching vehicles in ways that caused crippling traffic snarls and palpable tension.

For the people, the dance was not pleasant at all as it marred the Yuletide and took away the joy. Many Igbo families stayed away and did not return home during the Christmas that hitherto was period of annual exodus to the East.

Then in 2017, a group of northern youths under the aegis of the Arewa Youths Consultative Forum issued an order that all Igbo people in the North must leave the zone by October 1. Tension rose again in the country, but the quick intervention of key northern elders and the visit of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo leadership to major northern cities and other behind-the-scenes brinkmanship helped to resolve the issue.

But by then, IPOB’s strident demand for Biafra brought the situation to a head resulting in the government re-enacting Operation Python Dance the second time, but in a more aggressive manner with massive deployment of soldiers with armoured personnel carriers and heavy artillery as if a war was imminent.

And one clear month before Nnamdi Kanu was due to return to court in Abuja for continuation of his trial, soldiers stormed the home of his parents and allegedly killed more than 22 people, believed to be members and followers of the IPOB leader. Till today, no one for sure knows what happened to Kanu and his royal parents.

For many Igbo, the python dance may well be government’s way of punishing and oppressing their people for not voting for Buhari in the 2015 general elections.

While the people abhorred the name chosen for the military exercise as a python usually attacks, constricts and swallows the prey whole, the military authorities felt no qualms about the name.

Sunday Sun gathered from a source that military exercises usually go with code names so as not to forget a particular one.

In choosing a code name, due consideration is given to an animal relevant to the environment where the exercise would hold, the source explained.

He said the name Egwu Eke (Python Dance) was carefully chosen because the python is associated with the Southeast just as crocodile has relevance in the South-South zone.

READ ALSO: 2019: South-East/South-South youths endorse Saraki for President

To a large extent, another military source explained, the specialized military operations, helped to curb security challenges in the Southeast and the South-South which could have degenerated if they were not dealt with in appropriate military fashion.

His words: “For instance, you know we have a lot of banditry activities and cattle rustling in the North. The same thing applies to the Southeast. If Python Dance had not been held, the Anambra governorship election would not have taken place. And also there were a lot of issues of kidnapping that were going on in those areas, but because of that exercise it took care of that situation.

“So, to some extent the crime rate has drastically reduced because in the real time operations that were going on, the criminals couldn’t operate and some of them were arrested. As a matter of fact, some of them were arrested in the very act.”

In an interview, the Assistant Director in-charge of Public Relations at the 82, Division, Colonel Sagir Musa, who is responsible for inquiries concerning Python Dance, dismissed insinuations that the timing of Python Dance 3 has political undertones cleverly disguised to aid the All Progressives Congress (APC) “capture” the Southeast in 2019 general elections for President Buhari.

“For the purpose of clarity, the Nigerian Army, under the present leadership of Lt. General TY Buratai, from its professional formation and disposition is apolitical. Many times the COAS and other formations and unit commanders have re-emphasised and warned that Nigerian Army is apolitical, non-partisan and totally insulated from politics, politicians and any form of ‘political inquisitiveness.’ And you know-all actions or inactions must have consequences in the military,” he said.

Sagir also explained why the python would dance again in the Southeast: “Nigerian Army exercises and operations are being conducted across the entire regions of Nigeria. The Chief of Army Staff in his wisdom, professional astuteness and dynamism, consistently appraises the security challenges across the nation. To combat the threats, exercises which dovetailed into real military operations were conceived and successfully executed to address the identified and targeted security challenges. Consequently, we had exercises Harbin Kunama, Exercise Shirin Harbi, Exercise Sharan Daji and Exercise Crocodile Smile in the Northeast, Northwest, South-South and Southwest respectively, with the objectives of troops’ training, checkmating identified security threats in the regions where they were conducted. Because of the obvious achievements of these exercises, most of them, if not all, are now scheduled Nigerian Army exercises which are being conducted annually to continuously combat remaining, existing and emerging security challenges in the various parts of Nigeria.”