By David Onmeje

Exercise Crocodile Smile VI commenced yesterday , the 20th of October 2020, and is scheduled to last to the 31st of December. The exercise has been a huge success in dealing with criminals and scaling down the level of crime in many parts of the country in the past five years in areas like the Southwest, Southsouth and others within its scope.

But since the Nigerian Army made the announcement to launch this year’s exercise, some have gone to town with the wrong interpretations saying it is a ploy to unleash soldiers on EndSARS protesters. The mischief in that line of thought exposes in the fact  that since they launch Crocodile Smile in Warri, Delta State, in 2016, the exercise has been relaunched in five different phases every year within the same period of the year.

How the bid by the Nigerian Army to continue in that tradition became an issue this year due to the ongoing EndSARS protests befuddles the mind as there’s no link  between the commencement of the Exercise Crocodile Smile VI and the ongoing protests if not for the sake of mischief. 

The EndSARs protesters from Day One had made it clear that their angst is not with the Nigerian military but a unit of the Nigeria Police which they accuse of wrong doing and sought that it be disbanded and the Federal Government has complied with that.

They also sought the reform of the Nigeria Police due to perceived professional misconduct, which process again, is in place. 
At no time did any of the protesters list any act of wrong doing against the Nigerian Army though it has been in the field of operation and engaging terrorists and bandits that were making life hard for the people. 

Since 2015, when the Nigerian military took the fight to the doors of the insurgents, it has maintained high professional standards in the fight against terrorism and banditry and has adhered strictly to the rules of engagement that not even the insurgents have accused it of any professional misconduct or crime.

The Chief of Army Staff, Lt.Gen  Tukur Yusuf Buratai has even opened channels for people to report any act of abuse or professional misconduct by any soldier or officer. So, it is clear that the protesters hold the Nigerian Army under General Buratai in high esteem and have absolute regard for how it has conducted its affairs in the last five years .

This is why the Nigerian Army has insisted it is wrong to say the exercise is targeted at protesters explaining that this year’s exercise has no relationship with any lawful protest under any guise whatsoever.

Said the Nigerian Army:“For the records, Exercise CROCODILE SMILE is a yearly exercise in the NA Calendar/Forecast of Events which traditionally holds from October to December of each year.

“Thus, to now insinuate that it is an exercise meant to stifle the ongoing ENDSARS protest is to say the least highly misinformed. Exercise CROCODILE SMILE VI has nothing to do with the ongoing protest and the NA has never been involved in the ongoing protest in any form whatsoever. So far, the army has acted professionally since the civil protest started over two weeks ago.”

But beyond that, the Chief of Army Staff has built a reputation for himself as a General with high respect for human dignity and one who is a staunch defender of democracy and it values that no such fears should be entertained in the first place.

Gen. Buratai has brought many reforms to the army to foster military/ civilian relations and to defend democracy and rule of law.

It was the current Chief of Army Staff who introduced the Corporate Social Responsibility into the Nigerian Army  to make the institution give back to the society in terms of projects and other services. 

Under him, the Army Medical Corps have been deployed several times to assist civilians in getting medical care and health services. Such that as the Army is fighting criminals in many parts of Nigeria, the soldiers are helping people pick up the pieces of their lives.

In that bid, soldiers have organised classes in warring and war ravaged communities, helped in clearing blocked drainage  through environmental sanitation exercises as well as construct bridges in communities to ease transportation. 

General Buratai has also made it a policy to interact with the populace at the highest level by personally going to communities and engaging them in discussions. To further demonstrate his commitment to democracy and rule of law, the Chief of Army Staff also commissioned Situation Rooms for election monitoring to stop violence and other ugly incidents that go with elections. 

He has also partnered several times with media executives and Civil Society Organisations to foster a better understanding  between them and military. With the  measures he has put in place people’s perception about the military has begun to change and it is now common sight to see troops being welcomed anywhere they are sighted in any operation unlike before when people take to their heels.

It is high time people begin to appreciate the Exercise Crocodile Smile as it has achieved a lot in curbing crimes such as crude oil theft, kidnapping, banditry and others.

Through the exercise, the Army have destroyed several criminal hideouts and made further attacks on the public difficult for the criminals.

Its intention to extend the current exercise to cover cyber warfare  to identify, track and counter negative propaganda on social media is highly commendable as it would help track suspects from their bases.

Its inclusion of a  positive identification component aimed at identifying Boko Haram terrorists fleeing from the North East and other parts of the country is also brilliant. It will not be asking for too much giving the Nigerian Army benefit of doubt as it launches Exercise Crocodile Smile VI.

Onmeje wrote this piece from the United Kingdom.


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