Delta Communities Embrace ‘Crocodile Smile’

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Sylvester Idowu reports on how residents of communities in Delta State benefitted from the Nigerian Army’s free medical outreach as part of its military exercise in the Niger Delta region

Seventy- year-old Wonder Abul sauntered into the military tent set up by 222 Battalion of the Nigerian Army in his Ogbogbagbene, an Ijaw community in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State. To his dismay, he saw hundreds of people, mostly women, aged and kids chatting with soldiers. This was strange to him.

As he moved further, he again saw another set of people consulting with and attending to patients in the presence of heavy presence of soldiers in another close by tent.

“I was shocked seeing soldiers in my community which is Ijaw. Soldiers were here before in pursuit of militants and we know what we went through. So seeing heavy presence of the military again made me jittery initially but I later learnt they are here to help us,” he told THISDAY after he had met with some of the soldiers.

But what is it that caused the heavy presence of soldiers into that community this time around. A teacher in the community’s primary school, Joseph Bebefagha, clutching some drugs, said the military came to the community to offer them free medical services. He said he had been attended to by the medical team.

“I was surprised because people had thought when the military comes there would be threats, but there was nothing like that. When they came the approach they came with was nice. I have been attended to for malaria and to de-worm,” Bebefagha said.

Both Abul and Bebefagha were amongst thousands of people in various communities in Delta State that benefitted from the Nigerian Army’s free medical care as part of the Operation Crocodile Smile recently launched across the Niger Delta region.

Contrary to the campaign by some local civil organisations to boycott the exercise, the people, mostly aged, women and children thronged the Ogbogbagbene, an Ijaw community in Burutu Local governent and Ugbokodo, an Itsekiri community both in Delta State, to benefit from the exercise which commenced last October, simultaneously.

Addressing beneficiaries at Ogbogbagbene, the Brigade Commander, 4 Brigade, Brigadier General Ibrahim Garba, explained that its ongoing exercise; ‘Operation Crocodile Smile II’, has no aggressive intention, but designed to firm up its already existing security design for the communities.

He said at the kick off of a medical outreach put together by the 222 Battalion, held in Ogbogbagbene, that the exercise was part of the army’s role in fulfilling government’s primary duty of protecting lives and property of Nigerians.

Garba said the medical outreach was a way for the army to draw the civilian populace close enough to understand the army’s intentions.

“Everything we do is done for the betterment of the community, we are here to provide security for the community, protect lives and property and the exercise Crocodile Smile, as I said earlier, is just to
rejuvenate the existing security architecture that we already have on the ground, to make it more effective for this period.

“There are other security challenges that are militating against the developmental goals of either the local government, the state or the country at large. So by providing security cover, protecting lives and property, we will be able to play our own bit in ensuring that the developmental goals of government are achieved. That’s basically why we are here.

“This medical outreach is just one of the programmes that are designed to bring the community closer to us so that they’ll be able to know our real intentions; we are not here to harm anybody. As I earlier stated, people might be having fears that the army has come and be wondering what we have come for. We have come with open arms, with good intentions and that’s why we are doing this, so that the populace can be free with us and give us the needed cooperation that we desire,” Garba noted.

Some members of the community who took advantage of the exercise told THISDAY that most members of the community, who heard of the operation before it came had been apprehensive, but were surprised to see soldiers coming out with free medical care for them.

At the Ugbokodo-Itsekiri Community medical outreach which was anchored by 3 Battalion of Nigerian Army, Effurun, Sector1 Commander of the Joint Task Force (JTF), Colonel Alhassan Grema, enjoined residents to embrace the free medical programme as well as help the Army with useful information during the exercise.

He explained that the exercise Crocodile Smile II was an avenue for the Army to train its personnel on how to deal with contemporary challenges and assured the people of the area that they have nothing to be afraid of if they are not criminals.

“You have nothing to fear if you are not a criminal. Enjoy our free medical outreach and cooperate. If you have any information that can help us in the exercise, we welcome it. It is in continuation of the first edition of this exercise. Last year, we had exercise Crocodile Smile I. This is exercise Crocodile Smile II. It’s not much. We are just using it as an avenue to train our personnel on how to deal with contemporary challenges.”

Also addressing the beneficiaries, Commanding Officer, 3 Battalion, Major Ahmed Abdulkadir, begged residents to report any areas of “critical security challenges” to the Army and other sister security agencies as well as provide same with vital information on areas that are of threat to them.

He said the exercise Crocodile Smile II was in synergy with all other security agencies including the Police, Department for State Security and other security agencies stressing that the Army was in the community to ensure that criminals were gotten rid of in the community with exercise Crocodile Smile II.

“Operation Crocodile Smile II is an all encompassing operation which involves both civil/military cooperation activities of the Army that will rid the entire area of criminals and lawlessness.

“This is just one of the series of activities lined up for the ongoing Operation Crocodile Smile. It is a way of bringing the Army closer to the people, just a way of telling the people that the Army is here for them.”

“The people of Egbokodo-Itsekiri Community are most lucky to be the first beneficiaries of this ongoing exercise Crocodile Smile II. Much more civil/military cooperation activities will still be conducted as events unfold.”

Spokesman of Egbokodo Community, Mr. Joseph Tete, disclosed that there was “no military intimidation” saying the Army has come to help them.

Tete commended the Army for the free medical care provided indigenes of the community. “We need more of this often to take care of our health. Thank you. They’ve tried a lot to bring the programme to our community