Last week, the Nigerian Army announced it will commence a military exercise, Operation Crocodile Smile, nationwide.
A press statement noted that the yearly exercise will hold this year from October 20 to December 31, 2020. It also explained that Operation Crocodile Smile VI will include cyber warfare exercises designed to identify, track and counter negative propaganda on social media and across the cyberspace
The announcement was meant with suspicion and reservation in many circles. Although the Army has maintained that the exercise is not targeted at #EndSARS protesters, as Tuesday approaches, the emotion is now tilting towards tension.
Nnamdi Chife, a security intelligence expert, sees why.
“Ordinarily, this operation would have been the usual internal security operations to support the civil authorities during the yuletide season.
“But the current announcement by the army authorities tends to heighten fears, as this may be an attempt to suppress the #EndSARS protests.
“The history of army confrontation with protests has always had a fatal outcome,” Chife said.
Cheta Nwanze, who is the Lead Partner at SBM Intelligence, agrees with Chife.
“To be fair, since the outcry following the first Python Dance in 2016, the military has done similar operations in perceived hotspots around the country towards the end of the year. However, this is the first time they are doing one that is about cyber warfare.
“What makes this suspect is that their version of “cyber warfare” talks about propaganda, which should be the remit of other bodies such as the NIA, and not the army in an internal exercise.
“It is not unreasonable to fear that this may be an exercise in creating casus belli to accuse the protesters of serving external influences, and then coming down hard on them.”
So, what should #EndSARS protests and Nigerians in general expect during Operation Crocodile Smile?
Chife replies: “I expect the army to restrict movements to key protest flashpoints.
“The army may also use non-lethal force to put down the protest, if their intelligence brief covers that.
“But I do not rule out violent confrontation from the side of the army based on history.”