From Scorpion Sting to Snake Bite
Reports from Zamfara State have it that the military Operation Harbin Kunama [that is, sting of a scorpion in Hausa] is making progress because the bandits that have laid siege on rural and semi-urban communities all over the state are fleeing in all directions. Previous efforts by policemen and local vigilantes to protect communities from these bandits only invited dreadful reprisal attacks from them. In some cases, bandits would enter a village at night and while everyone is cowering in his house, they will pinpoint the homes of vigilantes and important persons, drag them out and hack them to death.
A military operation to rout the bandits became possible because after many years of successful operations, they expanded from hit and run tactics and began to capture and hold territory. In many communities in Zamfara State the bandits hold territory from just outside the town to deep into the bush. People could not go to the farms, rivers or quarries. Though the bandits have some firearms, they are mostly armed with traditional weapons such as clubs, spears, daggers, swords and dane guns. These were enough to subdue most rural communities but as the Army moved in, the bandits fled. They will not go very far; they will simply migrate to nearby states and try to resume well-paying banditry.
Driving on the Gusau-FuntuaZaria highway on Monday last week, I encountered dozens of military vehicles conveying war material towards Zamfara State. I saw these heavy duty Mack trucks conveying Armoured Personnel Carriers. When the Nigeria Army first bought those trucks in 1979, there was controversy because they were said to be American Army stores abandoned in Vietnam in 1975. Viet Cong guerrillas and the North Vietnamese Army seized, refurbished them and sold them to us. We couldn’t maintain them properly and very soon, the carcasses of these trucks were to be found in every Army barracks in Nigeria. They stood there for many years until they were sold in the 1990s and enterprising Nigerian mechanics soon put them back on the road. Apparently the Army retained a few of them because I saw them conveying equipment to Zamfara last week.
The Nigerian Army is busier these days than it has ever been at any time since the Civil War ended in 1970. For some years from 2013 the Army was carrying out an Operation Zaman Lafiya in the North East. That is, to live peacefully. The name made Ben Brucestyle common sense because Boko Haram was the anti-thesis of living peacefully. By exploding bombs in crowded places, abducting young boys to go and fight for it, abducting women and girls to go and become its fighters’ comfort women, killing everyone who does not agree with its ideology and capturing Nigerian territory and calling it a “Caliphate,” Boko Haram needed a lesson in Zaman Lafiya.
Now, when the hyperactive Lt General Tukur Buratai took over as Army Chief last year, he renamed the operation from Zaman Lafiya to Zaman Lafiya Dole. Native Hausa speakers should forgive Buratai because the new name was linguistically odd. “Dole” means compulsory; Buratai was trying to say that “we must live peacefully whether Boko Haram likes it or not.” Army spokesmen later found the name Operation Zaman Lafiya Dole to be too long and cumbersome so they shortened it to Operation Lafiya Dole. Linguistically, this was even more incongruous than the first change. But never mind the name’s linguistic correctness. The important thing is that Operation Lafiya Dole has been a smashing success, militarily speaking, and it has reduced Boko Haram to a faint shadow of its former self. Sure it is still potent enough to prevent millions of IDPs from returning to their homes but this is only a matter of time.
The Nigerian Army has been giving Hausa names to its operations for as long as i remember. During the Babangida era the army did a major exercise around Jaji which it called Operation Ruwan Zafi, that is, hot water. For many years during the Gowon and Obasanjo military eras the army’s annual sports exercise was called WASA. The acronym stood for West African Social Activities but wasa in Hausa means play or games. I do not know when this tradition started but it looks like it dates back to colonial times. The first military coup of January 1966 was code named Operation Damisa, i.e. leopard, by its chief plotter Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu. At least during the Civil War General Gowon used English names for his operations, such as Operation Tall Man of 1968. It is not my intention to disturb the Army’s tradition of using Hausa names for its operations. I only wish to recommend to it a few more operations to dislodge other criminals that have been making life miserable for us in recent years. Just like Boko Haram and the Zamfara bandits, these criminals too have seized territory and occupied it in our lives. Since the police, SSS, civil defence and other agencies have failed to dislodge them, I plead with Buratai to go and get approval from President Muhammadu Buhari to launch some more operations to rout them.
For example, the on-going military operation to apprehend the armed herdsmen that sacked Agatu in Benue State and later extended their operations into Enugu State should have been code named Operation Tunin Saniya. Tunin Saniya means to be gored by a cow. I think this name is appropriate because any warrior herdsman who hears it immediately has an idea of what it means to be gored by a long-horned cow. They will not attack Agatu or any other community again. We need another military operation in this country to rout highway robbers. Travelling on many of our highways is a nightmare because day and night, sometimes in the middle of the afternoon, men would appear in police or army uniforms and flag you down. Just when you think you are talking to state security men, they will let it be known that they are robbers. A friend who was stopped on the KanoKazaure highway said the men clad in military uniform told him, “Look, we are thieves. Just come out of the car.” I suggest to General Buratai that he should call it Operation Shurin Rakumi, that is, kick of a camel. A camel is a very patient animal but when it is pushed to the wall, it can kick with great force, just like its cousin the giraffe. I think such a name will send a message to highway robbers that we have been very patient with them since the days of Dr. Oyenusi and Mighty Joe so we are now ready to give them a camel kick.
Finally, we need in this country an Operation Cizon Maciji against communal warriors, people who fight over the ownership of pieces of land and those who summarily kill other citizens on allegations of blasphemy. Since clerics, traditional rulers, school teachers, parents and policemen have all failed to tell restive youths that no one should be killed outside constitutionally enshrined processes, it is time for Buratai to unleash another operation. Cizon Maciji means bite of a snake. From the looks of Buratai, he reminds me of a king cobra.
Travelling on many of our highways is a nightmare because day and night, sometimes in the middle of the afternoon, men would appear in police or army uniforms and flag you down