If you live near a military formation you may probably have become used to the booming voice of the soldier at the sentry, with rifle cocked, commanding a rather wayward fellow who might have strayed from his foot path into the forbidden territory of the men in uniform, probably armed to the teeth and ready to shoot.
You would probably be startled by the barking command: “Who are you go there! Advance to be recognised.” And may God help you if you did not respond with alacrity that betrayed no sign of clumsiness.
Faced with what looks to you like a clear and present danger, you must report yourself promptly and smartly – you bloody civilian – and politely explain your mission in that forbidden, even if unhallowed ground. You would be lucky to escape without the help of a “koboko” cane on your scaly back. And escape with your skin intact. But run, you fool.
This is one possible scenario you may be confronted with if the Army goes ahead with “Operation Positive Identification”, as originally conceived or as it was allegedly planned by the Army before the public uproar forced an amendment to the plan, thus introducing a twist in the tale as told by the Army last week after a session with the members of the House of Representatives Committee on the Army.
Before the Army appeared before the committee last week, the story had gone viral on social media, and elaborated in the mainstream media for confirmation and validation, that the Nigerian military had planned a nationwide operation that would require every Nigerian on the streets and the high ways to show any form of identification to prove his bona fide ; that he is neither a member of the Boko Haram that has fled from the North East, nor a kidnapper or a bandit, or for that matter, herdsman or even possibly a farmer with the potential of clashing with the herdsman.
In this difficult time, you must also prove you are not a child trafficker, worse for you if you are a mother with your child on your back. In which case you need more than mere identification form to prove the baby on your back is yours, and if the baby is truly yours, that you don’t nurse the ghoulish idea of flinging it for some cool two hundred thousand naira.
This operation which commenced in the North East as Operation Lafia Dole is being expanded, with all its alliances and appurtenances, to other parts of the country. It will change from Ayem Akpatuma in the North-Central to Egwu Eke in South East and metamorphose into Crocodile Smile and Atilogwu Dance in South South to present a veneer of friendliness.
Not to be underrated, these almighty identification cards, especially the national voters card, the driver’s licence and the international passport, have all, without exception, been canonised with the potency of the leaves the type which rioters in Lagos and elsewhere carried when they embarked on their sporadic “operation show force” against dictatorial governments of yore. Nostalgically, and this is by way of digression, we miss the leaves and the rioters because all our governments since 1999 and the second incarnation of Olusegun Obasanjo as a democratically elected president, have become democratic and civil and they have morphed into a government of the people by the people and for the people. And we like them.
The democratic governments with all their potentates now wearing the humane toga of men of the people, obey us and they dispense dividends of democracy to us whether we ask or we don’t ask. They know our feelings, our yearnings and our aspirations.
Unlike the military regimes that lacked legitimacy, the new leaders don’t fear us, we the people. And we have no reason to go wild on the streets because they love us to death. And that is why they don’t want any harm to come knocking at our doors as in form of armed robbers or kidnappers or in the form of herdsmen or armed bandits or Boko Haram and other assorted trans-border criminals like those who smuggle Thai rice into our markets.
To avoid all this mishap, the soldiers have instead taken to the streets, or they intend to do so, to deal ruthlessly with our enemies, known and unknown, or confirmed as in political opponents or suspected grumblers and wailers or simply members of the frustrated clan, frustrated because they lacked the capacity to rig elections, one of the interesting features of democracy. Come to think of it, if you lack the capacity and the capability to rig election and stay in power, then you have no capacity to survive – democracy is a grim game of the survival of the fittest and the smartest.
But the House of Representatives and many other clear-eyed citizens see the matter of Operation Lafia Dole or of the various Egungun dance differently. Human rights activists believe that it is unconstitutional to ask citizens to carry ID cards like during apartheid regime in South Africa where the blacks were forced to carry IDs and passes on the pain of death.
One valid point of contention is that more than half of the country’s population have no form of identification. Even tribal marks, hitherto unmistakeable cultural identity, are fast disappearing. Fed largely on indomie, sardine omelette and Uncle Bens rice, many of the children born outside their cultural environs cannot speak their native tongues. What is Igala equivalent of sardine omelette and indomie noodles for example?
Plus you have to attain the age of voting to have a voter’s card. And not being drivers, the farmers and the market women who cannot drive and who have elected not to register to vote would also not have voter’s card or driver’s licence.
You can trust Femi Falana, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who is ably carrying on the iconoclastic judicial warfare where the late but highly celebrated Gani Fawehimi left off, has gone to challenge in court what one Moses Yabrade from Warri calls a “military siege on our collective psyche.” The human rights lawyer said the operation, with all its garish appellations, is unconstitutional, illegal, null and void.
However from last week’s friendly conversation which House members had with representatives of the Chief of Army Staff, led by General Usman Mohammed, some clarifications have come out. What came out of the interrogation would seem to be a clear misunderstanding of the motives and the methods of the Army.
Contrary to the notion that the exercise is nationwide and targeted at virtually everybody with roadblocks, sandbags and guns pointed, the Army said the targets are members of the dreaded terrorist group, the Boko Haram. And since they have their base in North East, it stands to reason that the operation will be concentrated, as it has always been, on the North East. If the soldiers have any reason to move down to the south, Lagos in particular, they will only do so to capture or seize the fleeing members of Boko Haram as they claimed to have done in Lagos and Kogi recently.
Chasing members of the Boko Haram to the south, is like the Customs personnel chasing smugglers who have sneaked thorough the effectively policed borders into Onitsha market far away from the borders. It may not prove the inefficiency of the border patrol men, but says something about sleekness, and as they say, the smart ways of their targets who seem to be more than one step ahead.
In any case, for those who never believe in any good move, the Army said the Operation Positive Identification is based on intelligence. “We decided to come up with the initiative because we got intelligence that Boko Haram terrorists were infiltrating the civilian population, not only North East, but other parts of the country. As it is, we may have little to quarrel with the revised edition of the Operation Positive Identification.
But we must continue to keep our eyes wide open for the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.