The Nigerian Army has promptly separated themselves from the #EndSARS lekki shooting amidst their operation crocodile smile.
The military’s alleged use of brute force to quell youth protests against police brutality (tagged #EndSARS) has been condemned by many.
As early as Tuesday morning, a video emerged from Ado Ekiti, Ekiti State where soldiers barricaded the Fajuyi Bridge, seeking to stop the procession of #EndSARS protesters.
In the evening of same day, the country was shocked when video clips of army personnel allegedly opening fire on peaceful #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki Toll Plaza in Lagos emerged on the social media.
The shooting allegedly led to the death of seven protesters.
Expectedly, this led to public outcries against the activities of the military and its intervention in the #EndSARS protests.
On October 18, the army said Operation Crocodile Smile would hold between October 20 and December 31, adding that it was meant tackle cyber warfare and insurgency in the country, particularly in the North-East, where Boko Haram insurgents had caused massive destruction.
The acting Director, Army Public Relations, Col Sagir Musa, had explained that the “exercise is deliberately intended to be all-encompassing and will include cyber warfare exercises designed to identify, track and counter negative propaganda on social media and across cyberspace. This is the first-ever cyber warfare exercise to be conducted in the history of the armed forces.”
Based on the antecedents of the military, this explanation did not go down well with many Nigerians and socio-cultural groups including the Pan Niger Delta Forum, which described the deployment of soldiers as “the most provocative at a time Nigerian youths were agitating for an end to police brutality.”
The PANDEF National Chairman/former military governor of Akwa Ibom State, Air Commodore Nkanga (retd.), said the group, “deems the nationwide Operation Crocodile Smile exercise announced by the army as most provocative, and another unnecessary misadventure.”
But the army clarified a day later that the operation was not targeted at #EndSARS protesters, with the army spokesman, Musa, noting that “to now insinuate that it is an exercise meant to stifle the ongoing #EndSARS protest is to say the least highly misinformed.”
“It has nothing to do with the ongoing protest and the Nigerian Army has never been involved in the ongoing protest in any form whatsoever,” he added.
However, the incidents – caught on videos in at least two places, Ado Ekiti and Lekki areas, where soldiers were seen playing negative roles – have proven otherwise the army’s position.
Since the deployments, there have also been anger and violence in several cities,
These happened in places like Aba, Abia State; Benin, Edo State; Ibadan, Oyo State; Osogbo, Osun State; Akure, Ondo State; Port Harcourt, Rivers State; and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Yusuf Ali, said the army had no business with cybercrimes or civil protests, noting that the involvement of the police was sufficient.
He said, “You must make a distinction between civil crimes (which cover cybercrime) and military-related crimes. The military cannot look into anything civil. The police also cannot look at offences domiciled with the military.
“The constitution is clear about this and that is why the constitution created a court-martial. Whereas for all civil crimes, we have the regular courts; so, cybercrimes and others fall under the civil authorities. They are committed by civilians.
He added, “All these protests are civil unrests – it is because of the long military rule in Nigeria that we think it is normal. It should not be so. We only deploy military when there is insurrection – not when there are issues of civil disturbances.”
Despite video evidences, the Nigerian Army has continued to deny the involvements of its personnel in the notorious shootings and alleged killings of #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki Toll Plaza in Lagos.
In the heat of the Tuesday shooting in the Lekki areas Lagos, the Nigerian Army on its Twitter handle branded as fake the videos that its soldiers allegedly shot at protesters, saying it did not deploy any soldier in the area.
But the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, admitted during a live broadcast that the army indeed deployed troops in the Lekki Toll Plaza.
“For clarity, it is imperative to explain that no sitting governor controls the rules of engagement of the military. I have, nonetheless, ordered an investigation into the rules of engagement adopted by men of the Nigerian Army that were deployed to the Lekki tollgate last night. with a view to take this up with the President in his capacity as the Commander-In-Chief to unravel the sequence of events that happened,” the governor explained.
A security expert and former Director of the Department of State Services, Mike Ejiofor, called for an investigation into the lekki shooting.
He said, “It is most unfortunate that the military would get involved in purely civil matters. When people were protesting, the military went and started shooting into the air. Now, everybody is shifting responsibility. The military is saying it was not involved but we saw soldiers in the video clips. These clips are there for everyone to see.
“The Chief Security Officer of the state who is the governor also confirmed that he was not aware – maybe the orders came from a higher authority. So it must be investigated to enable us to get to the root of the problem. This action by the military has only aggravated an already bad situation. It is most unfortunate and Nigeria has now been portrayed in the international community in a very bad light he added that he would suggest that the military gets less involved in civil matters.
Mr Ben Okezie, a security expert, said the failure of the President Muhammadu Buhari to promptly address the country worsened the protest and this subsequently led to the Tuesday killings in Lekki and other places.
He said, “It is unfortunate that despite the public outcries, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the country did not deem it fit to promptly address the country. There have been several disruptions of Federal Government and Lagos State Government infrastructures; and the President for days said nothing. The Vice President also came on Twitter – what if there was no Twitter?
“The thing is that the President should have said something, and early too…”
“It would have helped in dousing the tension if the President had spoken on time. Then, when the curfew came, there was escalation. The military personnel who came for the Lekki Toll Plaza operation and the commanders who approved the operation must be made to answer for their action. The government must name them to the public.
“In the first place, the military operation was not needed. Riot policemen should have be enough to take care of the demonstrations. They are a part of the society and they understand the language of civilians – not the military.
The Coordinator of the Defence Headquarters Abuja and Media Operations, Maj Gen John Enenche, noted that the military also believed that some of the videos being circulating were doctored and Nigerians should wait for the outcome of ongoing investigation.
Meanwhile, some international bodies and countries have called on the Federal Government to investigate the shootings and killings, reportedly committed by the military and other security agencies.
The United States of America, the United Kingdom, European Union, United Nations, Amnesty International, among others have also called on the Federal Government to investigate the reported killings by security agencies.
Despite the public outcries and international condemnation, Experts say only the President has the constitutional powers to order or stop military deployments if the heads of the military appear not to be willing to accede to such requests.