Positive Identification: Stop Army operation, Reps, NBA, CDHR tell Buhari

Friday Olokor, Ade Adesomoju, Leke Baiyewu and  Olaleye Aluko

 The House of Representatives on Tuesday called on President Muhammadu Buhari to suspend Operation Positive Identification being planned by the Nigerian Army.

 Several members of the House, who spoke on a motion by the Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu, condemned the operation as anti-people which allegedly posed threats to human rights.

 Besides the lawmakers, Nigerian Bar Associations and other groups including Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, faulted the exercise.

The Army had last month said it planned Operation Positive Identification in the North-East to flush out Boko Haram insurgents

But later on September 25, it said the exercise would be extended to other parts of the country. It stated the exercise would enable soldiers to accost citizens on the streets or roads and ask them to produce a means of identification.

It said the exercise would check bandits, kidnappers, armed robbers, ethnic militia, cattle rustlers, as well as other sundry criminals across the various regions of the country.

But in the House of Representatives on Tuesday,   lawmakers unanimously resolved that that the Nigerian Army should develop “a pro-people strategy in confronting our security challenges instead of measures that would further victimise the people.”

They also urged the President, being the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, to “review the situation and stop the Army from commencing the planned operation scheduled to begin on November 1, 2019, to make way for further consultations.”

The House also directed the Committee on Army to liaise with the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen Tukur Buratai, to develop “a pro-people strategy in combating crimes before commencing same.”

Moving the motion, Elumelu said the OPI would “downgrade Nigerians to suspects and in fact conquered persons in their country, thereby stripping them of their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of movement.”

According to the Minority Leader, the operation is a recipe for possible militarisation of Nigeria.

He warned that the nationwide operation would also amount to an “indirect imposition of a state of emergency across the country by the Army.

Elumelu said military operations that had direct contact and regulation of civilians could result in “abuses and serious safety issues, especially at this time the nation is battling with the scourge of victimisation and extrajudicial killings.”

He said the planned implementation of OPI across the nation would rather worsen the security situation in the country.

Quit if you lack ideas, lawmaker urges security chiefs

A member, Ahmadu Jaha, criticised the security chiefs for the multiple code-named military operations across the country.

Jaha said, “I will like to emphasise that if our security chiefs are out of ideas, they should let Nigerians know about that so that they can voluntarily give way for other people who have new ideas on how to fight insecurity in this country.

“Travelling from Abuja to Maiduguri (Borno State capital), before linking the various local government areas, it takes not less 14 hours.  That is under normal circumstances. In the event whereby you (military) have to ask them (commuters) to identify themselves at different military checkpoints before they proceed, for God’s sake, how many days will take them to move from Abuja to Maiduguri or from Maiduguri to Chibok or from Maiduguri to Damboa or Maiduguri to Gwoza?

“So, this is basically not the work of the military but the work of the Nigeria Immigration Service. How do you tell a common man from my village that he must have an identity card before he moves around? This is a violation of fundamental human rights.”

Besides members of the House of Representatives, prominent lawyers and human rights groups condemned the exercise.

It is the height of insanity – SAN

A  Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Mike Ozekhome, in an interview with The PUNCH, said the entire National Assembly should throw its weight behind the call to suspend the Operation Positive Identification, which he described as “the height of insanity and madness”.

“They should withdraw that policy as urgently as possible,” Ozekhome told one of our correspondents on the telephone.

He said, “It should not just be the House of Representatives, it should be the entire National Assembly that should descend on this policy heavily, to show that it’s not a rubber-stamp National Assembly people were saying it would be.

“They should not just shout it, they should put it in their votes and proceedings, pass the resolutions, pass motions, and stop this maddening government from going madder and madder.

“It is the height of insanity for citizens to be told to produce their identity card or driving licence, or passport when they are on the streets of their country.

“I have never heard of that. Even the United States of America does not tell foreigners to produce their passports or driving licences when they go about their normal duties. That is why I said this policy is the height of insanity and madness.

“What it simply means is that on the day you forget your identity card or other means of recognition, at home, it means you are an illegal immigrant and will be deported immediately. The more we tend to excuse this government, the more it delves more and more into infamy.”

He called on the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to “remind itself that we are not in despotism, we are not in military dictatorship, we are not in absolutism, we are not in fascism; this is supposed to be a democracy not government for the few by the cabal and by the dictators.”

It is unlawful, ex-NBA 2nd VP

Also, a former Second Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Monday Ubani, said the plan by the army was unlawful.

He said, “I am in support of the suspension of the plan by the army. When I read about the plan in the media, I was wondering which law permitted the army to do such.

“Since the call for suspension of the plan is coming from the House of Representatives, it means no law has been made to give the army the power to embark on such a plan. It means it would have been an unlawful act by the army.”

It is a big blunder – Group

Also,  the Chairman of the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law, Emeka Umeagbalasi,  said the exercise would be an avenue for extortion.

He stated, “Apart from being elitist and clear grounds for extortion or roadway bribery, indiscriminate arrests, abductions, torture, extra-judicial and unlawful killings and disappearances; it also expressly means that Nigerians or citizens without such elitist documents including the aging and the underage, automatically become kidnappers, armed robbers,  bandits,  arsonists, cultists and rapists.

“Coupled with the fact that over 70 per cent of federal roads in old Eastern Nigeria are in acute deplorable state, the so-called Operation Positive Identification is a deliberately designed punishment or roadway torture package meant to further keep road users or travellers for several hours.

“On the other hand, it is also in the wisdom of the Nigerian Army that kidnappers, armed robbers, bandits, arsonists and cultists do not possess voter card, driving licence’ or passport,  or other valid official identification.”

“Violent criminals are like every other citizen with easy access to the named identification items. This is, therefore, the blunder of the highest order on the part of the Nigerian Army.”

The NBA said the military should leave identification of persons to agencies like the police and immigration service, which it said were better equipped to handle it.

The National Publicity Secretary of the body of Nigerian lawyers, Kunle Edun, in an interview with The PUNCH, said, “Rather than the military being engaged in identification issues within the country, the Nigeria Immigration Service and the Nigeria Police that are better equipped for such tasks, should be allowed to perform their constitutional functions,” the NBA said.

Edun also said the military must act according to the law in embarking on the planned Operation Positive Identification.

He said, “Government is established to cater for the welfare and security of its citizens, not to cage them.

“In as much as the Nigerian military has the onerous responsibility of protecting the nation from external aggression and other serious conflict situations, the military is still a product of the law and must act in accordance with the known laws of the country.”

“The planned Operation Positive Identification by the Nigerian military has to be properly explained to Nigerians before it can commence.

 “There has been no enlightenment of the limit, extent and circumstances under which a citizen might be asked by military personnel to produce evidence of identification.

“Is it an offence for one to fail to identify himself when there is no evidence of him having committed any offence? Would the military not use this exercise to go into private residences or offices of Nigerians and thereby intrude into their privacy? There are many questions yet unanswered.”

Army taking over other agencies’ duties, says CD

On its part, a civil society organisation, Campaign for Democracy, kicked against the army’s planned Operation Positive Identification. The CD added that such a development was not good for the country.

The CD National President, Usman Abdul, said, “When you come to millions of our citizens who are artisans, farmers and the like, you agree with me that a lot of them don’t have a means of identification and they have suffered over time even to be able to get the National Identity Card.

“Such steps by the army to begin to demand ID cards nationwide would amount to stepping out of its responsibilities. Absolutely the army has to reconsider such operation. It is not their responsibility to stop people and ask for ID cards. If at all, it is the duty of the police. The army should not take over the duties of the police and other agencies.”

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Army Headquarters, Abuja, could not be reached for comment as of press time on Tuesday.

CDHR writes Buhari

The CDHR in a letter to the President dated October 28 and signed by its National President, Dr Osagie Obayuwana, said, “Nigeria has outgrown the crudity of the military issuing warnings to the nation as a whole for a population of about 200 million persons to carry valid means of identification whenever they are going out to avoid being seen as criminally minded by soldiers.

“We urge Mr President to rather pursue economic and social policies that will address the root cause of crime and win the confidence and cooperation of the majority of our people, as a way of reducing deviant behaviour to the barest minimum.

“The programme portends usurpation of police duties by soldiers who cannot be said to be well trained for civic duties.

“The operation will seriously infringe on the freedom of movement of the people of Nigeria, a right constitutionally protected by Section 41 of the 1999 constitution, which entitles every citizen to move freely throughout Nigeria.

 “To our knowledge, no state of emergency has been declared to warrant this wholesale interference with the rights of the people.”

It is being misinterpreted, says army source

But an authoritative army source, which asked not to be named, said the planned operation would go on, as all the misconceptions and issues about it had been resolved by the army authorities.

e said, “You know the army has several exercises which are ongoing or about to start, including the Positive Identification. Thereafter, the army has also called for a conference where these issues were explained over and over.