The Nigerian Army yesterday commenced Operation Crocodile Smile 4, in the Niger Delta, through reaching out to residents of communities where the exercise is scheduled to take place with medical assistance and other humanitarian gestures.
The operation, an annual army level exercise carried out in the South-south region began October 8 and would last till 23 December 2019.
The army said it was aimed at consolidating on the gains of the previous exercises, noting that the purpose was essentially targeted at security challenges associated with militancy, oil theft, pipeline vandalism, kidnapping for ransom and politically induced violence amongst others on land, sea and rivulets.
Speaking during the flag-off of the free medical outreach yesterday, Brig. Gen. Valentine Okoro, Commander 16 Brigade, Bayelsa, who led his men, mainly paramedics, to Otuokpoti, Ogbia local government, said the exercise was to underscore the fact that the army was fully owned by Nigerians, noting that communities needed not be afraid of their own force.
Aside the medical assistance during the community relations activity, the army said it was granting educational support to schools and filling of potholes in some major roads within the metropolis.
Brig. Gen. Okoro, urged the people of Bayelsa State and environs to continue to support the Brigade during the exercise and enjoined them not to panic on sighting movement of troops and equipment during the period of the exercise.
“This is the first in series of activities to mark this year’s exercise. Others will be held in different communities in the state, culminating in the operation to curb the spate of criminalities and violence. We are doing this guided by the Chief of Army Staff’s vision to have a professionally responsive Nigerian army in the discharge of its constitutional roles.
“We would be embarking on a robust civil relations exercise to ensure better understanding of our host communities and to promote mutual confidence. We hope that the collaboration would yield positive result in this place and in Bayelsa in general..
We will work towards reduction of violence and synergise with other security agencies in the state,” he said.
Chairman of the local government, Ebinyo Turner, who lauded the exercise, said the collaboration between the army and the host communities was very welcome.
He urged for an expansion of the programme so that the poor communities would benefit from it, adding that Ogbia remained very peaceful, before calling the army to ensure that neutrality was maintained during the November 16 poll.
Also, the Commissioner of Health, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Dr. Inodu Apoku, urged the entire community to take advantage of the free health assistance which includes deworming, HIV counselling and testing, malaria treatment, free eye care treatment, diabetes among others.
Paramount ruler of Otuokpoti community, Azibakanye Wongu, in his remarks, disclosed that it was the first time since he became the traditional ruler of Otuokpoti that such a collaboration between the community and the military and urged his people not to be scared to take advantage of the exercise.
“We are happy that the army has incorporated us into their programme. Some of us might have been afraid when they saw the army vehicles, but let me assure our people that the army is here to solve some of our challenges. Our people should come out to benefit from this,” he said.