The decision of the military high command to deploy troops to six states plagued by farmers-herders savage internecine warfare is spot on and brings a measure of relief to Nigerians. The Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, declared last Wednesday that troops will be deployed in Benue, Taraba, Kogi, Nasarawa, Kaduna and Niger States to curb the glut of violence and criminality in these states. Apart from the uncontrollable farmers-herders conflict, some of these states are infested with kidnapping, armed robbery, cattle rustling and thuggery.
With the code-name “Exercise Ayem Akpatuma” (cat race), this special operation, if successfully carried out, could give victims of the menace in the affected areas a sense of belonging in Nigeria. Since the last two years when the crises became highly pronounced, peasants have felt abandoned to their fate, and have resorted to self-help in order to defend themselves and their lands. These desperate measures have led to the proliferation of arms and the rise of ethnic militia who assume a sense of patriotism when they take the laws into their hands. In this way, death tolls from farmers-herders conflicts have continued to mount to an embarrassing height, while thousands of peasants have had to relocate to Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camps in order to save their skins.
The Army has carried out many operations across the country in their quest to tackle wanton destruction of lives and property, so ‘Operation Ayem Akpatuma’ is a familiar exercise. However, it will be too simplistic of them to assume that the exercise that led to the decimation of Boko Haram in the North East can be replicated in North-Central States. The first step that could lead to success in this new operation, therefore, will be for the troops to establish a rapport with the law abiding and often victims of the conflicts.
The Army would need the support of the people in order to gather necessary intelligence to deal with criminal elements in the North-Central states. It will be difficult for troops to enter into rural communities and identify the hideouts of kidnappers, armed robbers and dangerous gangs without tip-off from the people. Therefore, the troops should discountenance prejudices and (wrong) perceptions about the peasants in the communities. Rather, they should aim to win the hearts of the people who would facilitate their work in these states.
Furthermore, the troops should not dismiss intelligence reports. Instead, they should use them as hypotheses which should be validated or discarded after being tested. From their past operations, there have been complaints that troops had ignored intelligence information provided by the peasants and failed to protect the people when their assailants invaded their communities and killed them in their numbers. If troops handle their assignments with similar carelessness, they will lose the confidence of the people.
We call on government to fund this operation so that the troops are not abandoned without food, necessary kits and their deserved allowances. As the troops show commitment to the protection of lives and property in the states where they will carry out ‘Exercise Ayem Akpatuma,’ the governments and people in these states should cooperate with the military as they carry out this assignment. Unless the people work together with the army, this operation will end in disaster and further frustration.