The Nigerian Army on Friday claimed victory in its skirmish with secession agitators across the South-east.
The announcement followed the conclusion of a one-day tour of the region by the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, who inspected ongoing operations and participated in a military medical outreach for residents.
The military launched an offensive last week to curb the activities of members of the Indigenous People Of Biafra, IPOB, who have recently intensified campaign for the secession of the Igbo-dominated region from Nigeria.
The military exercise is codenamed Python Dance, and it is ongoing across all the five states in the region. The Defence Headquarters also designated IPOB a terrorist organisation, a decision that was later backed by a federal court following complaints that the military lacked powers to make such pronouncement.
The Buhari administration approached the court for approval to proscribe IPOB in accordance with the dictates of the Terrorism Act.
“The usual violent activities of the outlawed Biafra “National Guards” (manning check points and extorting money from traders and motorists) have now been checkmated. Similarly, the outlawed Biafra terrorists group presence is no longer visible and people go about their normal businesses without fear, let or hindrance,” Sagir Musa, a Nigerian Army spokesperson, said in a statement.
Members of the separatist group began making inroads into several towns across the region following the release of their leader, Nnamdi Kanu, in April.
Mr. Kanu, who was granted bail by the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court where he’d been standing trial shortly after he was arrested in October 2015, had vowed to lead the Igbo out of Nigeria.
He also reportedly established a secret service outfit with formations across the South-east, a move that apparently irked Nigerian security agencies.
Mr. Kanu has not been seen in public since Nigerian troops besieged his residence in Abia State on September 12.
The incident, which was the second within three days, saw several of Mr. Kanu’s supporters wounded.
Although his lawyers alleged the Army knew about the IPOB leader’s disappearance, this claim could not be verified.
The confusion also led to the imposition of a dusk-to-dawn curfew in some parts of Abia State by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan and other leaders across the country have urged the military to conduct itself properly and avoid human rights violations in its pursuit of separatist elements.
But “despite the initial opposition” by IPOB “members” and “sympathisers”, “the general area of the South-east especially Aba in Abia State is now fully stabilised,” Mr. Musa, a colonel and deputy spokesperson for Army’s 82 Division in Enugu, said in his Friday statement.
The Army said it was getting support from other security agencies in the exercise, which was also aimed at reducing kidnappings, armed robbery, communal crisis, farmers- herdsmen clashes, cultism, violent agitations and insurgency, amongst others.
Relevant para-military organisations such as the Nigeria Police Force, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, State Security Service, Federal Road Safety Corps, National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency and Nigerian Immigration Service are all synergising and collaborating in the exercise to ensure attainment of these objectives, the Army said.
The Army said more than 2,000 residents benefited from the free medical exercise, which included dental, optometry, laboratory and blood pressure tests. The exercise is expected to end on September 23 in Imo State.
The Army also said it carried out raids that led to recoveries of arms and ammunition across the region.