A faith based group in the Niger-Delta, the Niger Delta Young Christian Forum (NDYCF), has warned that failure to conduct the Operation Python Dance in the area would imply that elections will not hold there.
Spokesperson of NDYCF, Evangelist Celestine Paul Akokari, gave the warning in Warri on Wednesday and further explained that the operation will also address the issue of voter apathy since the electorate will feel safer to come out and vote.
Akokari said the Niger-Delta region has been tensed on account of those that have been threatening voters with violence if they failed to support certain candidates. The group expressed the opinion that the military exercise will go a long way to build voters’ confidence to take part in the election without fear of intimidation from miscreant hired by politicians.
According to him, “Parts of the Niger-Delta are included in the jurisdiction where the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPoB) is threatening there would be no elections if there is no referendum for self-determination. IPoB has threatened violence against prospective voters so it is important that there is military presence to reassure the people that they will not be attacked when they exercise their civic rights.
“Militant groups in our region that had earlier observed a ceasefire have suddenly called off the same, which is a credible threat to the conduct of the elections in the event that they resume hostilities. We recognize the need to address the needs of our region but it is also glaring that some of the demands tabled by the militants cannot be met in the weeks before the elections.
“The presence of troops on a military exercise would be greatly welcome by the larger population that does not support violence as a means of extracting the needed government actions to meet the demands of the region.
“Many of our people have equally received all manners of text messages that threatened them. Groups have threatened each other that they cannot vote candidate of their choices without harm coming their way. An operation that will put all trouble makers on notice in this regard will do much or peace in our land,” the statement explained.
The group urged the Nigerian Army not to be deterred by the seeming opposition to the exercise noting that previous military operations in the region were similarly demonized until it became evident that the exercises were conducted with the least infractions on the rights of civilians.
It said these series of operations, even though limited to the riverine areas in most cases, were able to yield results like drastically reducing attacks on oil installations in the area while incidents of kidnapping were also reduced.
Akokari pointed out that “When military operations were announced for the Niger-Delta in the past the natural reaction was for leaders in the region to be apprehensive about the likelihood of clashes between soldiers and troops. But the way the Nigerian Army has conducted these exercises in recent times has built a level of trust.
“Our people even benefited from the free healthcare that is usually bundled with the operation. That of course was in spite of the disinformation campaign that lied about people being injected with infections. Traditional leaders in the region have hailed the conduct of the exercises.
“Unlike when the previous military operations were restricted to the Niger-Delta, this Operation Python Dance is all over the country, which means we shall consider it a form of marginalization should the Federal Government side with those opposing it and refuse to allow it hold in the Niger-Delta. Not only shall it be considered marginalization if shall be further considered as a ploy to disenfranchise our people who might be too scared to come out to vote if they do not feel secured.
“This is going to make us resort to No Operation Python Dance, No Election in Niger-Delta since we cannot allow the elections to hold under conditions in which we cannot fully and freely participate. If the Niger-Delta does not get its share of Python Dance by the Nigerian Army and other security agencies there will be voter apathy in the region so it will not be acceptable,” Akokari declared.