The Middle-Belt Conscience Guard has reacted to the proposed nationwide exercise tagged Operation Python Dance III by the Nigerian Army.
Recall that Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Tukur Buratai, had announced that the military exercise would commence from January 1, 2019 and last till February 28.
He said the exercise was in preparation against security challenges anticipated before, during and after the 2019 general election.
However, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, kicked against planned nationwide military exercise, claiming that it was another plot to rig the 2019 general elections.
Speaking on the development, the middle belt group said the exercise would rather boost voters’ confidence rather before, during and after the election.
Sunday Onoja, the BoT chairman of the group, while addressing a press conference in Abuja, expressed optimism that the exercise would address areas in the Middle-Belt where the terrorists were once known to have sleeper cells.
His words, “Our geo-political zone, the North-Central sits between the north (North East and North West geo-political zones) and the South (South-West, South-South and South-East geo-political zones). Whatever happens in any of these other geo-political zones therefore automatically affects the Middle-Belt. This makes us default stakeholders in whatever happens in these sister geo-political zones.
“We can validly assert that a resurgence of Boko Haram will affect us because under the previous administration, Niger, Kogi, Plateau and Nasarawa states with the FCT were hotbeds of terrorists’ activities until the present administration came into office and appointed military service chiefs that secured the geo-political zone from terrorists. With the desperate push that Boko Haram is making to prove that it remains relevant, the Middle-Belt has no interest in seeing the group move southwards again as this will place them in our geo-political zone to the detriment of our people.
“Our geo-political zone has had its share of ethno-religious crises. Plateau is a case we can refer to at any time, while Benue state has also had more than its fair share of ethnic strife that have been given different colouration that made tracking such conflicts difficult. Kogi state is not spared as well. Experience have shown that such crises have the tendency to flare up whenever there are elections or in their immediate aftermath. This credible threat must be taken in consonance with the threats from some politicians to make the polls do or die affairs.
“We further take cognizance of cases on kidnap for ransom in neighbouring geo-political zones coupled with crimes like banditry in the northwest. Efforts are being made to rid that region of the bandit, which makes it likely that the criminals being displaced could relocate to the north-central through Niger state. This makes it imperative that they are stopped from migrating into our land.
“Still on migration, the farmers/herders’ clashes is of concern to us given the number of gory deaths that have been attributed to this situation. While incidences of killings, especially in Benue state, have declined, concerns remain that nefarious elements may again use the election as a trigger for the killings to resume or use the farmers/herders’ clashes as a cover to exact vengeance on political enemies.
“Our concerns extend to extremist and separatist groups to the north and south of our geo-political zone. A separatist group had in the past earmarked part of the Middle Belt as territory to be excised to form part of the illegal country they are dreaming up. On their part, extremists in the last quarter of last year invaded the FCT with a view to cause mayhem. The North-Central is in need of protection from these elements.
“It is in view of these peculiar challenges that the Middle-Belt Conscience Guard welcomes the Operation Python Dance that the Nigerian Army has launched across the country and meant to last until the end of February. We see the operation as being able to address the security concerns and challenges that we have identified. For us, it is a confirmation that the Federal Government is committed to tackling violence and criminal activities such as banditry, politically aided killers and other criminalities that worsen during general elections.
“We are hopeful that the Operation would be able to identify and apprehend any Boko Haram suspect that escaped southwards. The exercise should equally address areas in the Middle-Belt where the terrorists were once known to have sleeper cells. We would like the last vestige of Boko Haram to be removed from our geo-political zone.
“We equally desire for the banditry in the north-west to be contained by Operation Python Dance within that geo-political zone so that they do not ever have the chance to trouble the people of the Middle Belt. We believe this is a unique chance to decimate the criminals that have kept people across Nigeria agitated over the wanton killings that trail them everywhere.”