OPINION | Buratai Achieving Peace without Military Fire in Niger Delta

*Nigeria's Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen TY Buratai




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It has been peace in the Niger Delta without much of military fire since Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai was appointed Chief of Army Staff (COAS), by President Muhammadu Buhari in July 2015.
The incessant clashes between  military and communities  in the region that hitherto dominated media space  has  disappeared with his emergence as  COAS. Though there were  few occasions when some  persons , not comfortable with military presence in their areas had  tried to  cook up lies   against the soldiers but  interestingly within the same communities arose  those  who spoke in glowingly  of military conduct  in the communities.
In time past when  soldiers stormed communities in the region virtually  all residents, natives fled the area.  But this has not been the case in the last three years. “ There is hardly any community in the Niger Delta you will say that soldiers came into and residents  fled  ,  relocating in mass to other areas for fear of their lives. The military has been very decent in the last three years. Where they had need to go for targets they went smoothly for it without turning the entire community upside down”, an Ijaw activist, Fred Inefa said.
Enefa  recalled that there was no tension in Brass local government area, Bayelsa state  when four soldiers  drowned in the Atlantic fringes of the Brass river at the launch of Operation Crocodile Smile 1  in September, 2016. He said  two of their riffles  got missing in the water, adding that in the past  there would have been panic in the town. “ You would have  heard natives fleeing to other  communities for fear that soldiers would harass the entire community, residents for the missing riffles. Rather what we saw were local divers recruited by the army  to join the search for the riffles. It speaks of a friendly  military in the region.
I give it to the new culture of  peaceful, military relations in the region “, he said An Ogoni youth, Kpabare Charles  also said when the army had need to go for an  ex militant declared wanted in Yeghe community, Khana local government area, Mr Ndigbara  Solomon, aka Osama Bin Ladin in January 2016, Brigadier General Stephen Olabanji who was then Brigade Commander 2 Brigade went straight for his target even if the soldiers missed him at  the end of the exercise. “ In the past the entire community would have paid dearly, probably the whole place would have been pulled down like the case of Odi in Bayelsa state. But all Commanders under Lieutenant General Buratai have kept to the new tradition of not using a sledge hammer to kill a fly since the nation is not at war with her citizens in the Niger Delta region.
And this has enhanced military/community relationship  across the region”, he said Intelligence gathering has heightened to an appreciable level in the military. The era when the army tumbled a community for the sake one target is far gone.  When soldiers went for Don Wani, an alleged kidnap kingpin and cult leader, in Omoku, Ogba Egbema Ndoni local government area, the community was not not reduced to rumbles.  Where they had to allow sister  security agencies to contribute to achieve maximum result it was encouraged and at the end of the day the remains of the dreaded Wani was displayed in Omoku  with  residents jubilating to high heavens. The last general elections was another case where the army displayed its new tradition of peace  with no  reckless military might.
When the  media reported alleged presidential  directives that  ballot box snatchers should be gun down there was initial fears, some electorates said they would rather remain indoors on the election days to avoid any ugly incident. But those who came out on the election day in Delta and several other states in the Niger Delta region  came back with  heat warming  news that the soldiers  were extremely professional in their conduct , they  kept their distance from polling units. “ We  saw them on the roads.
They were not in any way near ballot boxes in Delta state”, a resident of Jakpa area of Warri said. Deputy governor of Delta state, Mr Kingsley Otuaro hailed conduct of the army during the  general elections when the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Buratai paid a courtesy visit on him in Government House, Asaba  before the funeral of former first indigenous Commandant of Nigeria Defence Academy and Chief of Army Staff, General David Ejoor.
In Rivers state most residents were  firm  in their stand that they would not have  participated in the election if soldiers had not been on ground to provide security. “We all saw how charged the atmosphere was in the state before the elections with all political divides talking so tough. Some of my family members had to  travel out of the state for fear of their lives before the elections. “ a youth who did not want his name in print said. There were killings in several parts of the state, some attributed to cult related differences. “ The state was really unsafe. And even after the elections  we still read reports of the insecurity , killings in several parts of the state.
The media is awash of the killings “, the youth added. A  native of Emohua who also spoke under condition of anonymity said the  killings before the  general elections in several  parts of the state generated so much fears , stressing that it  sent panic down the spine of many to the extent that  many concluded that Police alone will not be able to secure lives during the elections.
“There may have been some  bad eggs among the soldiers  during the election in some parts of the state .but we must be honest that without the soldiers there would have been no election in the state. Who would have come out with the way the politicians were sounding. There were fears in several quarters that  politicians had armed thugs to secure victory “, Mary  who lives in Mile 2 said.
 ‘There have been allegations of  involvement of some soldiers in  electoral related offences, I think this should be thoroughly investigated to get  to the root of the matter for the good of our democracy”, she added. The army has also intensified its war against oil thieves in the region without pulling down  entire communities. In Ughelli  in Delta state , a long stretch of illegal oil bunkering site was destroyed  in a military operation  led by Sector I, recently . And at  the end of the exercise which lasted about two weeks, a major  illegal refinery point was pulled down completely with no loss of lives. The operation enjoyed support from communities.
In Delta several communities have had reasons to protest against activities of oil companies in their areas, they marched to flow stations   with no shots fired by military men protecting the facilities. “ We were only told to be peaceful  while our protest lasted”, Secretary, Kokodiagbene community, Warri  South West  local government area , Mr Timiyan Jackson said. The community had marched to the Chevron flow station in the area and even shut  it down, demanding for development attention from the oil giant. The new resolve to achieve peace in the region with little or no gun fire under Lieutenant General Buratai has also saved the  army unnecessary friction, clashes with communities in the region. The army Chief also won the heart of the civil populace in the Niger Delta region with his introduction of civil , military relations in the Operation Crocodile smile launched in the area.
There were initial fears that the operation would result to another round of crisis in the area  between the army and communities. Some youths in the region had even alerted of their battle readiness to engage the military .  But contrary to expectations the military Operation further endeared the army to the people as the army went round primary schools donating note books, chairs . They even embarked on environmental exercise, cleaning  up markets and streets.
At the popular Effurun market in Uvwie local government area traders who spoke said they had not seen the army doing such in the area. “ “When we saw army on the streets of Uwvie before now, the  wisest thing to do for the day was to pack your wares and go home. Because the calculation was that they had come out for war with  some bad boys.  But we were surprise to see the army coming out to help clean our markets. “, Madam Agnes, a trader at Effurun market said. The army also carried out medical outreach program in Umuaji community, Asaba that was flagged off by the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Buratai. Excited community folks came out in their large numbers  for free medi care while the program lasted. The army boss is not new to the Niger Delta region.
He was former Commander 2 Brigade, Port Harcourt barracks before it was relocated to Akwa Ibom state. The region is like his second home. And to  ensure security of lives and properties in the area he  established additional two Brigades, one in Bayelsa and the other in Asaba Delta state.  He also created 6 Division  in Port Harcourt to directly   oversee activities of the various Brigades in the region. Lieutenant General Buratai as Chief of Army Staff is achieving  peace,  reduction in  oil theft and  crimes in the  Niger Delta  region with little or no military might ,  kinetic force,gun shots, leveling of communities.
A resident in Bayelsa,  who gave her name as Preye said with the way things are going, militancy was gradually becoming oil fashion in the region. The army is building bridges of friendship , confidence and healthy relationship across communities in the region as it goes about securing lives and properties.
*Culled from Vanguard newspaper,  June 19, 2019
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