Who is afraid of Crocodile Smile 4?

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Southsouth Bureau Chief BISI OLANIYI writes on the Nigerian Army Exercise Crocodile Smile 4 and those who think there is more to the military exercise.

The outgoing General Officer Commanding (GOC) 6 Division of the Nigerian Army, Maj.-Gen. Jamil Sarham, who assumed office at the Division’s headquarters in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital in August 2018, was on October 29 this year transferred to the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), Kaduna as the Commandant.

The 6 division’s incoming GOC, according to the Army headquarters in Abuja, is Maj.-Gen. Felix Agugo, the erstwhile Chief of Army Transformation and Innovation.

Maj.-Gen. Sarham is eager to resume at NDA, Kaduna, but the retiring Commandant of the Academy, Maj.-Gen. Adeniyi Oyebade, only bowed out of service on November 14, while the handing over is yet to be done, thereby making the outgoing GOC of 6 division to still stay back in Port Harcourt.

6 division covers Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa and Delta States in the hitherto volatile crude oil and gas-rich Niger Delta region, which is still notorious for militancy, sea piracy, pipeline vandalism, illegal bunkering, kidnapping, illegal refining of stolen crude oil, cultism and other criminal activities, despite the determined efforts by security agencies.

The GOC, who is also the Land Component Commander of Operation Delta Safe (ODS), on October 25, 2019, while kicking off Exercise Crocodile Smile 4 and medical outreach at Rumuokoro-Port Harcourt in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area and later at Bolo in Ogu/Bolo LGA, both of Rivers State, declared that criminal activities would not be allowed in the Niger Delta, while assuring that soldiers would not molest or inconvenience law-abiding citizens.

The GOC, who was accompanied by heads of sister security agencies, said: “The exercise is meant to combat emerging threats in the Niger Delta region. Emphasis during the exercise will be on military operations and familiarising troops with the peculiar contemporary security terrain and logistic challenges.

“Since the inception of the exercise about three years ago, it has achieved significant successes in protection of oil and gas infrastructure, and checkmating crimes. This is as a result of very good synergy involving the Nigerian Army,  Navy, Air Force and other security agencies, in carrying out these onerous tasks of ensuring peace and stability in the 6 Division’s Area of Responsibility (Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa and Delta States).

“This year’s exercise also witnessed collaboration and joint efforts between the Nigerian Army and other sister security agencies. The exercise will be a precursor to the real operation meant to checkmate multifarious security challenges prevalent in the Niger Delta region, which include militancy, pipeline vandalism, illegal bunkering and refining, cultism and kidnapping, among others.

“The Nigerian Army, being a professionally-responsive organisation, will not molest or inconvenience any law-abiding citizen. Consequently, all are enjoined to go about their legitimate affairs, without any fear. At the same time, all criminal activities must be reported and prevented in the Niger Delta, in order to forestall threat to economic activities in the region.”

Maj.-Gen. Sarham acknowledged the support of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, and other eminent personalities in ensuring the success of the exercise.

The GOC promised to leverage on the support of the stakeholders to ensure peace and tranquillity in the Niger Delta, in order to improve the economy and wellbeing of the citizenry.

The exercise crocodile smile 4 was also kicked off in the three other states (Bayelsa, Delta and Akwa Ibom) of 6 division’s area of responsibility.

Exercise crocodile smile 4 was kicked off by the 16 Brigade in Bayelsa State at Otuokpoti in Ogbia LGA on October 25, 2019 by the state’s Commissioner for Health, who was represented by the ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Dr. Inodu Akpoku Nathaniel.

The Commander of 16 Brigade, Yenagoa, Brig.-Gen. Valentine Okoro, had earlier communicated the commencement of the exercise and medical outreach to Bayelsa Governor, Henry Seriake Dickson, while the kick off was well attended by eminent personalities, including the Chairman of Ogbia local government council, Ebinyo Turner, and the paramount ruler of Otuokpoti, King A.C.T. Wongo.

The government officials, who attended the kick-off, were full of praises for 16 brigade and the Nigerian army for conducting the timely exercise and impactful medical outreach, while urging the residents to cooperate with the brigade and army.

The kick-off of exercise crocodile smile 4 in Bayelsa state was followed on October 30 by army’s educational support and donation of educational materials to select schools in the state, which was also attended by monarchs and government officials, including the Chairman of Kolokuma/Opokuma local government council, Dengiye Ubarugu, and the representative of Ogbia constituency 3 in the Bayelsa House of Assembly, Mrs. Naomi Igoli, who hailed the 16 brigade for the initiative and kind gesture.

Surprisingly, a top official of Bayelsa State government (name withheld), some days ago, fired a strongly-worded petition to the Chief of Army Staff, alleging that the outgoing GOC of 6 division decided to stay back in Port Harcourt, to support the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief David Lyon, to emerge victorious at the poll, thereby working against the standard bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Douye Diri.

The top Bayelsa government official, who is a chieftain  of the PDP, alleged resentment from various quarters about the ongoing exercise crocodile smile 4 and requested that the exercise be temporarily halted, until after the November 16 governorship poll, with the petition specifically mentioning Nembe, Brass and Southern Ijaw LGAs, the strongholds of APC, the most populated and likely battlegrounds during the poll, as areas where the army’s exercise intended to compromise the crucial election, but a top army officer of 6 division, who spoke in confidence, described the petition as politically motivated and it should be ignored.

The senior army officer also stated that no kinetic operation had so far been conducted in the three mentioned LGAs (Nembe, Brass and Southern Ijaw) of Bayelsa state, under the exercise crocodile smile 4, while declaring that, according to credible intelligence, unscrupulous politicians were actually stockpiling weapons in the areas, for use during the election, with information gathering efforts being intensified to raid the areas to recover the arms and ammunition.

The top officer of 6 division said: “The purported resentment (as alleged by Bayelsa State Government’s senior official) is likely part of efforts to stop the raid to recover the illegal arms, ammunition and allow the weapons to be in the hands of politicians to intimidate the electorate during the election.

“The petition is also most likely an attempt to prevent troops from responding in aid of civil authority during the governorship election in Bayelsa State, should the need arises.”

Bayelsa Chairman of the PDP, Moses Cleopas, also alleged that he had uncovered plan by the leadership of APC to use the Nigerian army to undermine the governorship election in the state.

Cleopas further alleged that the plan had been perfected and  confirmed in secret meetings between APC leaders in Bayelsa state and the outgoing GOC, which sources at 6 division insisted was a tissue of lies, with Maj.-Gen. Sarham described as professional military officer, who would not dabble in political activities.

With the exercise crocodile smile 4 being described as successful by the stakeholders, politicians should avoid heating up the polity and to give peace a chance before, during and after Saturday’s election in Bayelsa State.

 

The exercise will be a precursor to the real operation meant to checkmate multifarious security challenges prevalent in the Niger Delta region, which include militancy, pipeline vandalism, illegal bunkering and refining, cultism and kidnapping, among others

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