Operation 777: Support For Military Grows Amid Public Anger Over Metele Massacre

Instead of undermining the might of the Nigerian Military and shattering the morale of Army personnel, the report of the gruesome killing of soldiers by the Boko Haram insurgents in Metele village is increasing trust and confidence in the nation’s Armed Forces among Nigerians, GEORGE AGBA reports.
Last week’s reported loss of gallant soldiers when insurgents allegedly attacked 157 Task Force Battalion in Metele village, Abadan Local Government Area of Borno State was a particularly mournful moment for the nation. But if the attackers thought Nigerians would mourn endlessly, perhaps they may have misfired. How? One may ask. Many Nigerians, groups and interests have risen in their huge number in solidarity with the Armed Forces of Nigeria and families of the fallen heroes.

Even while the authorities were still being awaited to confirm or deny the dastardly attacks by the insurgents, words went in the air saluting the courage and gallantry of the fallen officers. The Senate, on Thursday in Abuja, rising from its adjourned sitting after a minute’s silence over the matter, resolved to pay a condolence visit to the military high command as well as visit soldiers at the theatre of war in a show of solidarity to assure the troops of the nation’s total support, a development which some analysts have described as unprecedented.

Observers believe that the Metele event was probably planned by the insurgents to undermine and jeopardise the ongoing Operation 777 which the Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin, inaugurated on October 8, 2018. Defence Headquarters sources said that the CDS created the operations to be conducted and coordinated simultaneously nationwide to effectively track and hunt down terrorists and criminals attempting to evade military searchlight in the different theatres of operations.

Copious reports from the field commanders under the auspices of the Defence Headquarters, contained in the various press briefings addressed so far in Kaduna, Gusau, Jos and Makurdi penultimate week by the acting director of Defence Information, Brigadier General John Agim, indicated that since the commencement of the review operation, significant and modest operational successes have been recorded across the nation, thereby taking the sail out of the wind of the insurgents. If anything, the ‘Op 777’ preliminary exploits have overshadowed the attacks.

It was gathered that the name of the Op 777 was derived from the number of the existing seven operations including Op Whirl Punch in Abuja-Kaduna axis, Op Sharan Daji in North West of Zamfara, Kaduna, Birnin Gwari axis, Op Safe Haven in Plateau-Bauchi, Op Whirl Stroke in Makurdi, Nasarawa and Taraba, Op Awatse in Lagos and Ogun, Op Clearance in Kogi and Op Delta Safe in Niger Delta.

One of the sources who did not want his name in print because he was not officially permitted to speak on such sensitive issues said that Op 777 was designed, among other things, as practical measures to guarantee considerable security across the country in the build-up to the electioneering campaigns by mopping up illegal arms and ammunitions.

‘’It is not new going by available records from past electioneering campaigns in the country that politics and elections are usually marred by violence, banditry and brigandage. Nothing in the horizon shows that it is going to be different this time around. Our security agencies already have a full plate on their table as far as threats to security is concerned’’, the source said.

Weighing in on the issue, Mr. Emeka Nwankpa, the chief media Strategist of an advocacy group, Concerned Professionals’ Congress (CPC) disagreed, saying that the CDS as a professional who knows the clear constitutional responsibilities of the Armed Forces is bound to be very careful; so, he gave very clear directives about the philosophy, focus and direction of the ongoing Op 777.

He said, “Essentially, the primary purpose of the new creative and innovative Op 777 is to run simultaneously with the seven existing key military operations across the country to track and hunt down bandits, terrorists, kidnappers, cattle rustlers and criminals trying to escape from the areas of operation of the existing operations. From the preliminary reports on the success of the new operation, it is clear that the CDS has been vindicated.

“Weapons and ammunitions are being retrieved and recovered from unauthorised persons, while prowling bandits are being dislodged nationwide, courtesy of the strong determination of our courageous troops, some of who continue to pay the supreme price to secure our nation. We owe them a debt of gratitude”.

The group, in a statement in Abuja endorsed the fresh military initiative by the CDS, General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin, to restructure ongoing military operations and decisively tackle insecurity in the country. CPC called for increased public support to the Nigerian military, saying that the huge gains recorded so far after the fresh initiative was introduced were sufficient proof of the resilience, gallantry, competence and innovativeness of the current military leadership to adequately combat emerging threats to national security, peace and stability.

Nwamkpa continued: “It is indeed delightful to observe that barely one month after Op777 was quietly launched without fanfare in line with what has become part of the trademark winning style of the CDS, our military has started to record so much huge gains across the country such that many Nigerians feel so safe going about their regular socio-economic activities daily without panic, fear or hindrance.

“We are blessed with a military with the heart, spirit and soul to defend the country. What appears lacking now is the critical civilian support to the military which is a component of the security architecture’’, he said.

Expressing confidence in the military leadership under the CDS to guarantee national security, peace and stability, the group noted that the Nigerian Armed Forces is globally reputed for innovative gallantry and professionalism”.

The group praised all the commanders and troops, either serving or had served at the various military operations across the country, for exhibiting rare commitment and devotion to the critical objective of keeping the nation safe, stable and secure. It urged Nigerians from all walks of life, irrespective of race, region, religion or political leaning, to close ranks and fully support the military and other security forces to confront Boko Haram and other non-state actors in the interest of the peace, unity, stability, health and sovereignty of the nation.

Brig Gen Agim told journalists in Kaduna last week that Op WHIRL PUNCH under the troops of 1 Division Nigerian Army had secured and restored normalcy along Kaduna–Abuja Expressway, Birnin Gwari and environs including Niger State hitherto devastated by bandits, kidnappers, armed robbers and cattle rustlers operating from the thick forests of Kamuku, Kuduru, Birnin Gwari and Alawa.

He disclosed that the troops of 1 Division NA, Nigerian Air Force aircrafts, Police and other security agencies had conducted series of raids, ambushes, patrols, road blocks and air strikes against identified camps and hideouts of the criminal elements. Consequently, 14 notorious bandits, cattle rustlers and kidnappers were neutralised while several arms, ammunition and large herds of cattle were recovered.

Also, 18 AK47 rifles, 2 pistols, 3 mobile phones, 1 motorola, large cache’ of ammunition and 32 Motorcycles were recovered including over 331 cows in Birnin Gwari area and 132 cows in Birnin Yero areas respectively. Along the Kaduna–Abuja Expressway, 49 cows and 42 sheep were recovered. All the recovered animals were handed over to their screened and profiled owners.

31 persons (made up of 18 Children and 13 Adults) were rescued from kidnappers within the Area of Operation while 5 bandits and 2 informants were arrested and are currently assisting the security agencies in ongoing investigation. Unfortunately, two soldiers were wounded and are currently receiving treatment at a military hospital in Kaduna. Two civilian vigilante assisting troops in the operation were also killed in action.

In Gusau, Zamfara State, the Defence spokesman disclosed that troops recovered 1,444 Cows, 478 Sheep, 11 Camels, 14 donkeys, 56 rams and 293 goats all of which he said had been handed over to the States Committees on Recovery of Rustled Cattle. Household gadgets and electronic items recovered included 1 deep freezer, 1 generator set and 14 cell phones, 2 military desert camouflages, 1 camo T-shirt and jungle hat, 55 motorcycles and the sum of Twenty Seven Thousand Four Hundred and Thirty Naira (#27,430.00) as well as food item.

Also, recovered and displayed at the venue of the briefing were 24 AK47 Riffles,2 pump action guns, 1 double barrel gun, 40magazines with quantity 1,798 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition, 1 locally made pistol, 8 locally made guns and 2 cartridges including 7 Dane guns, 1FN Bayonet, 7 axes, 2 bows and arrows, 1 handcuff, 30 machetes, 6 short knives, wraps of Indian hemp and charms.

Noting that a soldier paid the supreme price and six wounded in the troops’ deadly encounters with bandits in the area, he said that the troops rescued hostages and victims of abductions. For example, on October 30, 2018, one kidnapped Bala Usman, a 26 year old man from Funtua was freed from his abductors in Dumburum Forest. Similarly, 40-year old Alhaji Rabbo Yahaya, from Bako Gebie, Zurmi LGA who was kidnapped on 29 October 2018 was rescued in Dumburum.

He praised the Zamfara State Government, contiguous States and their people for the success of the operation especially the recent decision of the state government to 8500 civilian JTF to improve community watch and intelligence gathering.

‘’It is an indication of the willingness on the part of the good citizens to live in a society devoid of crime. I want to applaud specially the tremendous support from Zamfara State Government especially the recent efforts to recruit 8500 civilian JTF to improve community watch and intelligence gathering,’’ he said.

In Jos, Brig Gen Agim said that the task ahead lay with dislodgement of identified threats in the southern boundary with Taraba State at Wase, Langtang North, Langtang South and Shendam LGAs where armed banditry and other militia groups were terrorising the local inhabitants, adding that the focus of Op Safe Haven regarding successes attained was the total restoration of law and order that would provide an environment of peaceful co-existence in line with the thinking and directives of the CDS.

“Another preventable development that shaped the security environment was the unfortunate killing of Maj Gen IM Alkali in Du District of Jos South LGA in Plateau State by suspected Berom militia which has further deepened the animosity between some affected communities. This mutual suspicion has further heightened the level of antagonism between the 2 communities bearing the livelihood to snowball into violent conflict at the slightest spark’’, he observed.

Ten suspected criminals and 55 others allegedly involved in crimes ranging from Armed Robbery, Kidnapping, Cattle Rustling, Armed Banditry, Child Trafficking, Drug Peddling, Murder, Gun runners, Impersonation, Sara Suka to cult-related activities were arrested, profiled, interrogated and handed over to relevant prosecuting agencies for further actions while some others are still being interrogated.

Arms and ammunition recovered included 3 AK 47 rifles, 11 locally fabricated pistols, 7 locally fabricated rifles, 3 dane guns, 1 locally fabricated Sub-machine gun, 3 Baretta pistols, 1,025 rounds of assorted ammunitions, 17 cartridges, 3 magazines, 2 Bajaj motorcycles, 2 axes, 3 knives, working tools accessories for arms fabrication, military camouflage, Pullover and 2 boots, 2 cell phones and a pair of military woodland camouflage.

In Markurdi, Brig Gen Agim described Op WHIRL STROKE as a special operation made up of Special Forces which he said had made significant success owing to the involvement of Op 777 in destroying remnants of armed militia camps in the area, mopping up illegal arms and creating the conducive atmosphere for the remaining IDPs to return to their ancestral homes in all the 4 Sectors in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba States through aggressive fighting patrols, clearance operations, raids, cordon and search as well as confidence building patrols.

According to him, ten out of 49 offensive operations conducted by the troops in Benue were against Gana, a notorious criminal and militia men aligned to Him in parts of Ukum, Katsina-Ala and Vandeikya LGAs in October/November 2018.

“Gana’s armed group has been subdued to a large extent though some of his men are currently at large. The result is the remarkable improvement in security along the Sankara axis. The remnants are being tracked and would be apprehended in the course of this operation’’, he said, adding that the intensity of offensive operations in the areas has led to significant improvement in security in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba States.

The national coordinator of Citizens Initiative for Security Awareness (NISA), Mr Chidi Omeje, believes that the military had never been so engaged in so many sundry internal security operations as we have now, saying it is assailed by armed conflicts of different scope ranging from insurgency, terrorism, kidnapping, armed robbery, cattle rustlers, farmers-herdsmen clashes, pipeline vandalism, electricity cable vandalism, oil theft, illegal bunkering, ritual killing, electoral violence, cultism which he said are threats to national stability.

Corroborating, Dr Emmanuel Onoja, a defence scholar whose thesis was on the ‘Imperative of Military Operations in Combating Civil Disorder in Nigeria’, observed that the Nigerian military has done very well in effectively quelling civil disorder and other forms of armed conflicts in the country thereby moving from the last line of defence to the first line of defence.

He emphasised that he has absolute confidence in the ability of the Nigerian military to effectively combat criminal gangs who pose threats to national security and stability in any part of the country, pointing out that it has the sufficient will, ability and capacity to protect law-abiding citizens against criminality in any part of the country.

He said that the president deserved praise for carefully selecting a crop of focused, highly committed and hardcore service chiefs whose sacrifice, focus, courage, commitment and patriotism anchored on discipline, probity, fresh tactical and strategic approach have added immense value to national unity, peace, growth and development.

A Warri-based defence analyst, Dr. Fynecountry Baribote noted that the emphasis on inter-agency synergy by the CDS as a strategy has helped the military and other security agencies to successfully fight insurgency, terrorism, militancy and other forms of crime and criminality that pose grave threat to national unity, peace and stability in the country.
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