The Nigerian Army (NA) has proposed carrying out what they termed Operation Positive Identification (OPI), aka Operation Show ID Card, in every part of the country. According to NA, this exercise was initially planned to take place only in the North East so as to flush out the insurgents that have developed a stronghold over there. OPI is already operational in the North East but the NA has decided to extend the exercise to other parts of the country.
According to the Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, the exercise will be extended to other parts of the country “to checkmate bandits, kidnappers, armed robbers, ethnic militia, cattle rustlers as well as other sundry crimes across the various regions of Nigeria,” (Premium Times, Saturday, November 2, 2019). This exercise is said to be deemed necessary because the NA got some intelligence-led information that Boko Haram and other terrorists groups are spreading their stronghold to other parts of the country.
However, NA has assured the citizens that there will be no additional checkpoints and increase in the number of troops. It stated that the operation will be intelligence based since they will only make arrests and then ask the arrested people to provide means of identification.
This proposed exercise did not sit well with many Nigerians because a lot of things didn’t add up. People kicked against it because they felt uncomfortable with the idea of being stopped on the streets or roads by soldiers who will demand for their ID card. They are also uncomfortable with being arrested by soldiers and not the police. And to crown it all, the NA chief said that the exercise is to “checkmate” criminals within Nigeria. This means that OPI isn’t just for known and identified Boko Haram and other terrorist group members, but for any individual that happens to fall within their parameter of arrestees.
Nobody is trying to stop the NA from doing their job. In fact, every average Nigerian wants to see the end to insurgency and other crimes in the country. But the decision of the NA towards extending OPI to every part of the country seems to be excessive. But if they insist on carrying out this exercise, they should bear the following in mind:
- Absence of ID Cards: Most Nigerians do not have any valid means of identification. Ordinarily, the accepted means of identification in Nigeria are National Identity Card, Voter’s Registration Card, Driver’s Licence and International Passport. A lot of Nigerians don’t have any of these ID cards. So, if the NA decides to accept only these above-listed ones, then there will be a problem.
Secondly, Nigerians are not used to moving around with their ID cards. Most people have theirs stuck in their wallets and purses; so they only have them when they are carrying these accessories. This means that if they get arrested when they leave their houses without their wallets or purses, they may encounter some difficulties with the soldiers.
Thirdly, it will be impossible to expect that people will use this short notice to obtain valid ID cards. Anyone that successfully applies for National ID card right now will only be issued with a slip which is seen as a temporary ID card. The problem here is that it is not possible for people to move around with these slips because they can easily damage.
So expecting all Nigerians to provide valid means of identification may not work as expected.
- Ruthlessness of Soldiers: Nigerian soldiers easily forget that civilians do not have the same orientation they had. They easily mete out embarrassing punishments on people who question their authorities. They expect people to do whatever they were asked to do without as much as batting an eyelid. This behaviour of the Nigerian soldiers alone makes them unfit to be released into the society to conduct exercises that may throw them into several face-offs with Nigerian citizens.
- Disparity in Dress-Code: Ordinarily, soldiers keep their hairs short and neat. This makes it difficult for them to accommodate Nigerian young men that leave theirs long, wavy, in dreads or coloured. News about Nigerian soldiers arresting young men with the above-described hairstyles has been filtering into the internet. A lot of these young men were publicly given embarrassing hair cut by their arresters, and nobody questioned the authority of these soldiers over such inhuman act.
As this OPI exercise is about to be extended to other parts of the country, young men are already wondering if the soldiers will come after them as a result of their hair and dressing styles. Rumours have already started circulating that those with dreads will be the major targets of the officers. There is, therefore, need to state clearly, the parameters that will warrant the search and arrest of any civilian.
- Spreading Anxiety: It is not necessary for the NA to tell every Nigerian to obtain valid means of identification so that they don’t get into trouble. If they actually want to carry out this exercise as they claimed (that is, intelligence-based, no extra roadblocks and no additional troops), they need not announce it because the announcement only ended up spreading more anxiety among citizens living in other parts of the country. Now, people are becoming suspicious of their neighbours.
Besides, it may not really be possible that ID card can show someone’s criminal history, at least not in Nigeria. A kidnapper will not put that in his ID card, and any of those insurgents that migrated will definitely change his name. If this is thoroughly weighed, it will be discovered that people are right to be anxious about the motive behind the OPI.
5. Managing the Rural Areas: The people in the rural area may find it harder to adapt to being questioned in their ‘homestead’. These people may not know what to do when accosted by military officers for their ID. The NA may face more challenges in rural areas than in urban ones. If they truly want to carry out this exercise successfully, they should start now to enlighten the people living in rural areas.