Operation Python Dance And The Throes Of A Failed State – By Lawrence Nwobu

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Just as tempers were boiling over an Amnesty International report that detailed the atrocious extrajudicial execution of hundreds of peaceful IPOB/pro-Biafra protesters by the Nigerian army, another bad news filtered in: this time it was the launch of “Operation Python Dance” in the Southeast by the same notorious army. In an unimpressive press release by Colonel Sagir Musa,  deputy director Army public relations, he indicated the operation was planned to last from 27th November to 27th December; in a bid to  curtail  crime, Herdsmen-farmers clashes, communal clashes and what he termed “violent secessionist attacks” ostensibly in reference to IPOB.

Not surprisingly, the statement only succeeded in heightening the already existing distrust and suspicion for understandable reasons. Firstly; there is neither an upsurge in crime nor any unusual crime that the regular police force cannot deal with. Secondly, Fulani herdsmen have been known to be backed and protected by the Buhari administration and the security services as they massacre people across the country. No one has forgotten how the army and other security services deliberately refused to intervene even though they were notified and given logistical support in advance of an impending Fulani attack in Uzo Uwani Enugu state. The attack went on to claim hundreds of lives and not a single army commander has been punished for that egregious breach of responsibility to protect lives and property.

This is ostensibly because the army high command is in cahoots with Buhari to aid, abet and protect   Fulani herdsmen. It’s preposterous that the same army is giving as one of its reasons for the vexatious Operation Python Dance the curtailment of herdsmen-farmers clashes when it is known to have aided and abetted such attacks in the past. Indeed some media commentators are already suggesting the operation is part of a smokescreen to aid further penetration and violence by Fulani herdsmen in the area. Thirdly, the reference to communal clashes and violent secessionist attacks is as curious as it’s patently laughable. Not only are communal clashes rarely heard of in the southeast—all the secessionist groups from IPOB, to MASSOB, BIM, Lower Niger Congress and others are non-violent groups that have remained so in spite of repeated mass killings, incarceration of its members and other such provocations.

The more the real intent of the army is probed, the more it’s obvious the reasons advanced for launching operation python dance are bogus. For all intents and purposes, those reasons are designed to mask a more insidious plot to further kill innocent people, intimidate civilians, extort commuters particularly those coming home for the yuletide and more importantly protect Fulani herdsmen as they continue their killing spree in the area.  An army that is famous for running away from armed groups as is the case in its conflict with Boko Haram but that cowardly relishes the killing of unarmed citizens merely for holding peaceful protests cannot be trusted by anyone, least of all people in the South east, South south and other regions were the brunt of such human rights violations have been borne.

Yet more fundamental to the launch of Operation Python Dance in the South east, Operation Crocodile Smile in the South south and other such operations across the country are issues of state failure; and this is an aspect of the issue no one is talking about. Without admitting it, Buhari and his army is inadvertently engaged in a civil war. This is the inescapable implication of launching military operations across the country. Whether we admit it or not, the reality is that we are once again a nation at war with itself and this is evidently more so since the inception of Buhari’s administration. While there existed theatres of conflicts before now, at no time has the scale and scope been as widespread as it is now. The widening spectres of conflict are no doubt a consequence of Buhari’s failure to seek broad based political solutions which his historic emergence on a campaign of change afforded him to issues that are all decidedly constitutional/political.

Buhari opted for an antagonistic and militaristic approach to political issues and ended up creating a civil war scenario where the army deployed across the nation does what it knows best and what it has done all through its infamous history: killing fellow citizens and committing atrocious human rights violations in the process. This is no doubt further evidence of the intensification of state failure. From the time of the Roman Empire—nations project power overseas and rarely ever use the army internally. The United States has over 380,000 troops in Asia pacific and thousands more in other parts of the world. In spite of such massive global presence it’s almost taboo to see an American soldier or uniformed soldiers on the streets of the United States. France, Britain, Russia and other powers have massive military presence abroad, but hardly any military presence on the streets in their home soil. It’s unimaginable for the military in any of these countries to intimidate or kill their own citizens.

This is undoubtedly the reason; military institutions and personnel are revered in these countries. By contrast Nigeria has an army that projects power only internally, killing fellow citizens in the process. This is the same army that spearheaded a pogrom in the 60’s,pushed the nation into an unnecessary civil war, institutionalised marginalisation/discrimination and presided over decades of misrule and wanton human rights violations. 17 years into the nation’s longest democracy, the army is even more present on the streets killing and maiming its own citizens. A nation that is paraded as the most populous black nation on earth is so shamefully reduced to fratricidal killings and a perpetual war against itself by an army that relishes doing just that.

The increasing reality of a civil war and an army that is seen an army of occupation is the greatest evidence yet the nation is afflicted with the throes of a failed state. It’s not an accident that Nigeria is listed  the 13th most failed state in the world and 7th most failed state in Africa by the 2016 failed states index report. This is a precipitous and steady decline. The widening embers of group grievance and in some cases conflict  across  the geo-political  zones  has been mishandled by successive leaders who have chosen the military approach rather than dialogue and constitutional reforms.

Paradoxically; while Buhari came to power through a campaign premised on change, he has been more guilty of stoking ethnic divisions, antagonism and the adoption of a militaristic approach to group grievances and protests resulting in human rights violations which in turn aggravates the situation and entrenches existing divisions.  Yet the more the military is engaged in fratricidal battles in grievances and conflicts that should be resolved through dialogue/democratic means the more state failure intensifies. The end result: conflicts and grievances will continue to widen until the unpopular military already on its last leg will be overwhelmed while state failure would deepen to state collapse. Given the trajectory the nation is already on, the inescapable conclusion is that the nation is heading for collapse if the militaristic approach is not reversed. The military has no place in the resolution of group grievances, internal political squabbles, militancy and agitations for self determination. Their presence on the streets has only further compounded the situation particularly in light of their penchant to commit mass atrocities.

Group grievances, the right to self determination/militancy and other forms of dissent can only be resolved through constitutional reforms, dialogue and nation building. That after all is what democracy is supposed to be all about. Force will only lead to intensified state failure and eventual collapse.  Operation Python Dance, Operation Crocodile Smile and other such brazen manifestations of internal colonialism, intimidation and war should be immediately dissolved. Constitutional reforms and dialogue not force  is the only realistic route to peace.

Lawrence Nwobu




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