The Illegality and Questionable Rationality of Operation Positive Identification

Laden with gross illegality and questionable rationality is the planned operation by the Nigerian military, which will warrant the unusual invasion of civil space within the country by army personnel and hardware, from the 1st day of November, 2019.

Code-named “Operation Positive Identification”, this exercise, according to the military, is aimed at checkmating bandits, kidnappers, armed robbers, ethnic militia, cattle rustlers, cultists, etc, across the various regions of Nigeria.

The modus operandi with which the Army intends to prosecute this exercise is baffling, not just because of the ambiguity surrounding it as far as it is known at the moment, but also on account of the likelihood of a breakdown of law and order, as well as the violation of fundamental human rights, in the event that the operation is carried out as planned.

It is said that military personnel (in uniform, and especially in plain clothes) will move around Nigerian streets, highways, etc, demanding “positive identification” from people going about their normal business, requiring them to show valid means of identification.

In Nigeria, “valid means of identification” refers to either Voter’s Card, National Identity Card, Driver’s Licence, or International Passport.

Global best security practices require deliberate acquisition and directed use of intelligence, and not the adoption of crude methods and sweeping approaches that end in wild goose chases.

Technically speaking, the military, and by extension executive arm of government, regard all Nigerians as criminal suspects; and so, everyone has to prove his/her innocence by providing valid means of identification.

It is as difficult to understand how exactly this will help fish out criminals in the general sense proposed, as it is preposterous to assume that criminals are incapable of possessing any of the acceptable identity cards, or that the lack of same is an element of criminality.

It is essential to ask pertinent questions at this point, to ascertain whether the government has the moral justification, or right standing to carry out such an exercise at this point in time.

To back up this operation, and for proper verification purposes, is there an accurate database of all Nigerians, detailing births, addresses, deaths and other information?

If that is too much to ask, how diligently has the government pursued its national identification schemes that ought to ensure proper documentation, and culminate in the availability of means of identification for Nigerians?

More often than not, getting a “valid” identity card requires either exertions on an excruciating level, connections or parting with one’s hard earned money.

Under such circumstances, without setting proper modalities in place, to turn around and require that (all) Nigerians possess “valid” identity cards is overly draconian, to say the least.

The ambiguity surrounding this operation also raises further questions regarding what happens to folks who fail to present such valid means of identification. Does it mean they automatically get arrested on suspicion of being involved in banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery, ethnic militancy, cattle rustling, cultism, etc?

Besides, those identity cards regarded as “valid” in Nigeria (except the elusive National Identity Card) ought to be required for special purposes, and under normal circumstances, should not be in the possession of an individual at all times. For instance, the Permanent Voters Card ought to be used specifically during elections. Having it in one’s possession all the time makes it susceptible to loss or damage. If you possess one, you will affirm the effects of the use of substandard materials to produce our PVCs. These effects are bound to multiply, if one has a PVC in his/her possession at all times.

How does one carry an International Passport everywhere? What happens to a person who does not drive, how does he/she possess a Driver’s Licence?

Getting a National Identity Card after over five years (or more) of application is story for another day.

It is expedient to ascertain the exact functions of the military under a democratic setting. The functions of the Nigerian military are expressly stated in section 217(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as follows:

The Federation shall, subject to an Act of the National Assembly made in that behalf, equip and maintain the armed forces as may be considered adequate and effective for the purpose of –

(a) defending Nigeria from external aggression;

(b) maintaining its territorial integrity and securing its borders from violation on land, sea, or air;

(c) Suppress insurrection and act in aid of civil authorities to restore order when called upon to do so by the President but subject to such conditions as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.

(d) Perform such other functions as may be prescribed by an act of the National Assembly.

From the foregoing, it is obvious that the major functions of the military are centered on defending the territorial boundaries of the country, and suppressing insurrections (when called upon by the President to do so).

Save under exceptional circumstances, the military has no business in civil spaces within Nigerian streets. When the need arises (to suppress insurrection, etc), their presence ought to be restricted to specific areas under threat, and not the nooks and crannies of the entire country. This is not the case with OPI, which is targeted at both troubled and peaceful parts of the country.

Such presence ought to serve a specific purpose; and as stated by the constitution, military operations along this line ought to be governed by law and necessity.

Having the military roam the streets in the manner contemplated by OPI is a recipe for panic, and resultant breakdown of law and order.

It is a highway to the violation of the fundamental human rights of Nigerians, especially the rights to freedom of movement, personal liberty, and dignity of human persons, as contained in sections 41, 35 and 34 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, respectively.

This operation will definitely lead to a disruption of normal businesses, and a concretization of the notion that the Buhari led government is dictatorial, rather than democratic.

The argument by the military that OPI has been successful in the Northeastern part of the country (if factual) only buttresses the point that such operations should be streamlined to serve specific purposes in specific areas, as and when the need arises. It will utterly fail, if applied to the entire country at once, in the war-like manner contemplated by Operation Positive Identification.

The call on the Nigerian military, by a good number of well-meaning Nigerians, the House of Representatives, as well as the Senate – to halt Operation Positive Identification – is the right call at such a time as this.

It is in the interest of Nigerians that the military, and by extension the executive arm of government, halts this operation now.

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