BY IDOKO AINOKO
When President Muhammadu Buhari approved the conduct of the Exercise Ayem Akpatema, an operational name derived from Tiv vernacular, meaning ‘Cat Race,’ by the Nigerian Army, it was a huge relief to many families who found themselves in the web of conspiracy between Nigerian politicians and ethnic jingoists out to exploit the sour state of herdsmen/farmers’ relationship in the county.
Prior to this period, several and sublime criminal acts had threatened the peace and security in most states around the Middle Belt, to test the determination of President Buhari to secure every part of Nigeria from the grip and stranglehold of armed militants, criminals and bandits.
And in the last two years, the Nigerian Army has proved its mettle as the last resort in quelling budding or entrenched acts of armed insurrection in different parts of the country. They have earned loud accolades from Nigerians for this selfless service to the Nigerian people, as they restore hope of secured survival and peaceful co-existence, from very hopeless situations.
Therefore, the commissioning of Ex-Ayem Akpatema was a rescue mission to free communities and villages in the affected states from vitriolic clashes between herdsmen and farmers, attacks from armed militias, kidnappings, cattle rustling and other forms of armed banditry which had suffocated the areas. It palpably made life quite hellish for inhabitants.
But it is the Nigerian Army’s constitutional response to defend the territorial integrity of Nigeria and assistance to the civil authority in maintaining peace and security, where civil security is overwhelmed. These special assignments have been professionally discharged by the Nigerian Army at all times.
In essence, the Army’s Cat Race exercise commenced on February 15th and designed to end March 31st, 2018. At the launch of Exercise Ayem Akpatema in Guma local government area of Benue State on February 20th 2018, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lieutenant General Tukur Yusufu Buratai was lucid that it was to flush the communities of criminals; disarm armed militias and bandits terrorizing law abiding citizens to enforce permanent relief to afflicted states.
And truly, for the 40 days the exercise lasted in these states, it had been a great relief, recording resounding successes on many fronts. The Army halted the hitherto unabated and unchallenged ingress or incursions of armed criminals into virgin, remote areas in the affected states.
The troops during the exercise arrested scores of suspected herdsmen militia, ethnic militia, cultists, gun runners and cattle rustlers. It has also recovered large cache of arms and ammunitions and rescued rustled cattles in Benue, Taraba, Nassarawa and Plateau states among others.
However, despite the impressive success recorded by Exercise Ayem Akpatema, it is foolhardy to think that these communities and states have been completely cleansed and purged of criminal elements to enthrone durable peace. In fact, there are indications that the armed criminal bandits have resolved and devised strategies to challenge the resolve of the government of Nigeria to secure the lives of innocent citizens.
Although, Exercise Cat Race has been officially terminated in most of the states, with the only extension of two months in Taraba state, it is not unwise to say that it is too early for the army personnel to quit the stage, in the areas they have been withdrawn. Clearly, the time allocated for the Exercise Ayem Akpatema is too short to completely fish out criminal elements in these communities who have devised various methods to escape the searchlight of an Army determined to humble them in their tracks and criminal exploits against the people of Nigeria. Unarguably, there is still some work pending to finally deliver these states from the choking grip of armed criminals. It explains why quitting the stage by soldiers now is unpalatable.
Much as inhabitants appreciate the good and unquantifiable work done by the Nigerian Army within the 40 days, the Exercise Cat Race lasted, it was to the joy and great relief of these armed criminals when the Exercise was officially pronounced ended. There is no gain repeating the obvious that many of them have been arrested by our gallant troops whilst others were neutralized but we must not go to bed with our eyes closed since those who armed these trouble makers are still business and not ready to let go of their merchants.
Therefore, there is need for Mr. President to attune with his promise of completely ridding these states of militants, armed criminals and bandits by uniformly extending the Exercise Ayem Kpatema in all the areas it initially covered to sustain and consolidate on the gains it has so far recorded. It is the unstated desire and unuttered request from the lips of people from the affected states.
It is to be noted that the call for this extension is premised on the performance of troops.
Consequently, there have been trenchant calls by the people for Mr. President to review the decision of the abrupt withdrawal of Army personnel from the field. Only an extension can afford the Army enough time to completely chase out and disarm these criminals for IDPs to return back their villages and communities.
While the Nigerian Army is ever willing to sacrifice itself to ensure the comfort of the citizenry, it must be given the official nod to act in circumstances of this nature. It is therefore, worthwhile and imperative for President Buhari to extend the Exercise Ayem Akpatema to other states for the same duration it has extended in Taraba state to berth enduring peace. For the total sanity of our country, not until a time that the civil police can give assurances that they can sustain the feat recorded by the Nigerian Army, let the race go on and the rats continue to run.
Ainoko is a public affairs commentator and contributed this piece from Kaduna.