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The Defence Headquarters has said Operation Positive Identification, which will begin on Friday (today), is meant to flush out “foreign combatants infiltrating borders and conducting attacks.”

The acting Director, Defence Information, Col Onyema Nwachukwu, in an interview with newsmen in Abuja on Thursday, said the exercise would focus mainly on bandits and criminal elements.

Nwachukwu said this just as a human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), sued the Nigerian Army, its Chief of Army Staff and the Attorney-General of the Federation, praying for an order stopping the Operation Positive Identification by the army.

But the Chief of Army Staff, Let-Gen Tukur Buratai, who appeared before the House of Representatives Committee on the Army, defended the operation, saying any means of identification would be accepted during the exercise.

Early in September, the Nigerian Army had said that it would embark on Operation Positive Identification. On September 25, the Nigerian Army, in a statement by the acting Director of Army Public Relations, Col Sagir Musa, said the operation would be extended nationwide to “check out for bandits, kidnappers, armed robbers, ethnic militia, cattle rustlers as well as other sundry criminals across the various regions of Nigeria.”

The acting Director, Defence Information, Col Onyema Nwachukwu, in the interview with newsmen noted that the operation was to fish out foreign attackers, bandits and fighters.

Defending the exercise, the acting director of defence information said the operation was first conducted in the North-East.

According to him, Operation Room Assessment, which the military conducted in the North-East after Operation Positive Identification, led to the arrest of top Boko Haram commanders. He said this made the military to see the need to extend the OPI to other regions.

He said, “Operation Positive Identification was first of all conducted in the North-East of Nigeria. What actually led to that operation was because there were sleeper cells of the Boko Haram and the Islamic State West African Province members that infiltrated the populace.

“For instance, during one of the combat operations with the insurgents, the military found a brand new mobile phone on a dead terrorist and also the receipt of the phone which had just been obtained from a market. This means that he had bought that phone and had been in town just days before he returned to the forests to meet the terrorist commanders. So, such instances give us the intelligence that the Boko Haram members infiltrate the towns in the North-East.

“So it was a successful operation in the North-East as several Boko Haram commanders and members were arrested and many weapons recovered. That operation was not all about the army; other services of the military and other security agencies partook in it.

“We adjudged the operation as successful in the North-East and it was decided that such operation should be extended to other theatres of operation such as the North-West and North-Central, where we have had issues of foreign combatants infiltrating our borders and encroaching on our country and conducting attacks on Nigerians who live on the fringes of these borders.

“We have had encounters with these infiltrations through forests in Zamfara, Sokoto and others being used as enclaves in the North-West. So we decided to extend the operation to other regions so as to address these cross-border criminals.

“The evaluation we did was that Operation Positive Identification would be extended to the North-West and North-Central regions because of its successes in the North-East. The operation involves all the security agencies, both those who are involved in the kinetic and non-kinetic operations.”

But a human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), asked a court to order the stoppage of the operation.

The suit marked FHC/L/CS/1939/2019 was filed before the Federal High Court in Lagos on October 25.

According to Falana, the planned nationwide operation scheduled to start from November 1 (Friday) and end on December 23, 2019, by which Nigerian citizens will be required to move about with means of identification is unconstitutional, illegal, null and void.

He argues that the planned operation violates his right and that of other Nigerian citizens to liberty, “as encapsulated in Section 35 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as Amended and Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, (Cap A10) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.”

He filed along with the suit an order seeking an interim injunction restraining the three defendants from going on with the plan pending the hearing of the substantive suit.

In a supporting affidavit filed along with the suit, Falana recalled that on October 8, 2019 the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen Tukur Buratai, disclosed that Operation Positive Identification, said to be ongoing in the North-East theatre of Boko Haram insurrection, would be extended to cover the entire nation.

He said the operation required Nigerian citizens to move about with legitimate means of identification such as the national identification card, voter registration card, driving licence and passports or other valid official identification.

Falana argued, through his lawyers, Mrs. Funmi Falana and Taiwo Olawanle, who filed the suit on his behalf, that by virtue of Section 215 (3) of the Constitution, the Nigeria Police Force “has the exclusive power to maintain law and order and secure public safety and public order in the country” and not the army.

He contended that going by section 217(1) of the constitution, the Nigerian President could only deploy the armed forces for the suppression of insurrection and acting in aid of civil authorities to restore law and order.

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