Nigerian Army Personnel
The controversial Operation Smile military exercises annually conducted in the Niger delta area to combat and eradicate militancy and banditry have commenced in the Niger Delta. According to the Nigerian Army, the exercise is intended to be used to reach out to residents of communities in the areas of its operation with medical assistance and other humanitarian gestures.
The military exercises had commenced on the 8th of October, 2019 and are scheduled to end on the 23rd of October, 2019. A Nigerian Army spokesman said the successes of previous exercises necessitated the continued conduct of the operations 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.
Brigadier General Valentine Okoro, Commander 16 Brigade, Bayelsa, while leading his mainly paramedics team to Otuokpoti, Ogbia local government area of the state said the exercise was to render service to the communities under the operational command of the military and appealed to the communities to feel free and accept the military as joint owners and partners.
According to the army spokesman, aside from the medical assistance, the army will also grant educational support to schools as well as fill potholes in some major roads within the metropolis. Gen Okoro called on Bayelsa state and environ citizens to support the military brigade during the exercises and enjoin them not to panic on sighting movement of troops and equipment during the period of the exercise.
“This is the first in a 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 the Army Staff’s vision to have a professionally responsive Army in the discharge of its constitutional roles.
Medical Outreach by the Military
“We would be embarking on robust civil relations exercise to ensure a better understanding of our host communities and to promote mutual confidence. We hope that the collaboration would yield positive results in this place and in Bayelsa in general.“We will work towards the reduction of violence and synergise with other security agencies in the state.” He said.
The host communities of Ogbia including the local government chairman Ebinyo Turner lauded the military exercise revealing that such collaboration between the army and the host communities is the needed tonic for peace and tranquility. He advocated for the expansion of the programme to include all sectors of people especially the poor and the vulnerable in the society.
Also speaking was a representative of the Commissioner of Health, Dr. Inodu Apoku who is the Permanent Secretary in the Health ministry, he too called on the entire community to avail themselves of the free health assistance which includes deworming, HIV counseling and testing, malaria treatment, free eye care treatment, diabetes among others.
The paramount ruler of the Otuokpoti community, Azibakanye Wongu, in his remarks, disclosed that it was the first time since he ascends the throne as the traditional ruler that such collaboration between the community and the military. He urged his people not to be scared to take advantage of the exercise.
The Paramount ruler said “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.