By Hannatu Musawa
So, after much deliberation and rigmarole, after much dissent by leading sectors of Nigerians, after the massacres and nauseating murders of men, women and children, the government has finally declared a state of emergency in three states. The unexpected declaration of the state of emergency to deal with the high rate of violence and spate of deadly attacks by militant groups has taken many by surprise.
Yesterday evening, 14th May 2013, President Jonathan delivered an address in which he gave the military powers to take over security in the states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. This step, which affects a broad range of civil rights, has already triggered widespread debate about the implications of the government's latest strategy, from the opposition, to religious groups, civil society and even the governor’s forum.
The state of emergency requires a presidential proclamation under conditions specified in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended under the provisions of Section 305 (1). It gives the authorities special temporary legal powers to arrest and search citizens without a warrant. It also imposes a curfew on the specified states, restricting residents to their homes between the times of a curfew. Other emergency powers regulations affect ‘habeas corpus’ and citizens’ rights to freedom of movement, assembly, association, speech, and privacy.
Over the past two years, the rate of violence in several states has increased dramatically, fuelled by the rise of militancy, extremism and the widespread availability of illegal weapons. Successive clamp down by authorities, an apparent trigger-happy task force, mismanaged deliverance of information on behalf of the government and a leadership that seems totally confused and not in control have had the utmost regressive effect, almost to the point of providing sympathy and understanding for the plight of the insurgents. In recent weeks, the country has been horrified by the series of violent murders. The situation became a lot worse, with the massacres in Baga and Bama town. Announcing the state of emergency, President Jonathan said, “The country is facing, not just militancy or criminality, but a rebellion and insurgency by terrorist groups which pose a very serious threat to national unity and territorial integrity”.
While I am often at variance with the utterances and policies of President Jonathan, it is not so difficult for me to understand why the president felt the need to take such an aggressive reaction, especially along his reasoning that no terrorist group, religious or tribal has a right to pose a threat to national unity and territorial integrity. Not Boko Haram or tramps and vagrants like Asari Dokubo or any other ignorant yobs who fancies themselves as the new Scarface and who happen to all be the same kind of bigoted criminals disguised in different garbs. The country cannot go to war because of some criminal elements have been threatening to overrun the Nigerian state under the guise of religious extremism, resource control, militancy or insurgency.
If reports that over a dozen local government areas in Borno State have been taken over by insurgents are true, if reports that in those local governments there is no semblance of authority are factual, then a state of emergency in those hotspots was absolutely and unquestionably necessary. Why should a whole nation be held to ransom by plundering and rancorous groups of brutes bent on creating havoc on a society, no matter how candid their grievance or cause? Why should a group of people organize themselves in guerrilla warfare and carry out the kind of offensive that is claiming the lives of innocent men, women and children? For goodness sake, when did our society sink to the depths of darkness we are in now; where we are forced to discuss the destruction of people’s lives and death of fellow human beings in such a blasé manner? That is what we have been reduced to. Every single morning, the minute one listens to the news or reads a paper, the first thing one is confronted with is stories of death, destruction and murder. I mean it is just so absolutely unbelievable for us to wake up every morning with news of the kind of senseless violence we have been witnessing. It is simply unacceptable. As a civilized society which has evolved from the dark ages, our current situation has got to be intolerable by every standard, even for those criminal Nigerians who are hell-bent on declaring a ridiculously, unnecessary and unfair war against innocent Nigerians.
It may be easy enough for those of us who are not directly affected by the violence to sit and judge this draconian declaration by the government, but even those of us that have not been directly affected by the violence and unwarranted massacres in the affected states have been shaken to the core by it and shudder at its domino effect. The situation of the murders and total disregard for human life has reached epic proportions; proportions which call for the authorities to respond in the most decisive manner possible.
There is no doubt that this measure which the government has taken will have an impact on the daily lives of innocent, law-abiding citizens in these areas and provide inconveniencies for them. It will limit people’s movements and give the regiment powers to arrest; it will even infringe on the fundamental rights and freedoms of the citizens, but, unless someone in authority takes the bull by the horn and affects this kind of stringent system, the situation in those areas will not be brought under control and it will come to a point when the violence cannot be contained. Those affected by the state of emergency should look at the bigger picture and recognize the need to protect them and bring the current violence surge affecting them under control. Many people have lost their loved ones to unnecessary violence in the past three years and unless something is done to restore normalcy in those areas, it will likely get worse.
Of course, there are other manners of dialogue and solutions that need to be adopted in order to bring this impasse totally under control; solutions that focus on long-term results to the problem and the fundamental issues that gave birth to the crisis itself has to be tackled. A state of emergency has a time-limit and therefore has a short-term effect and short term gain. Therefore, in addition to placing the state of emergency, the government must immediately sit down and identify what is driving this upsurge of violence in these respective areas and address the best way to bring an end to it, otherwise when the emergency is eventually lifted, it will be ‘violence’ business as usual.
To show sincerity in its wish to end the violence, the government should immediately make an undertaking to release the innocent women and children that have been detained without cause in the quest to clampdown on the guerrillas. Government should further undertake to rebuild and relinquish the Mosques and properties that belonged to the Jamā'a Ahl al-sunnah li-da'wa wa al-jihād movement before the Borno state government under the leadership of Ali Modu Sheriff launched its offensive against them, before the murder of their leader Imam Mohammed Yusuf. And most importantly, the on-going trial of the security operatives who murdered Imam Mohammed Yusuf and Alhaji Buji Foi should be intensified, together with the arrest and prosecution of the government officials who allegedly ordered their execution. Those actions would show the sincerity and commitment of government to tackle the root of this problem and bring it to an end.
Now that the presidency has expressed determination to root out the insurgents in the affected areas, the good people of those states should endeavor to cooperate with the authorities in order to bring an end to the horror that surrounds them every day. To restore law and order to the states, people should be able to give accurate and dependable information as well as advice to all seekers of peace. It is expected that if the society as a whole resolves to end the crisis today, there will be no more killing or kidnapping of our people tomorrow. If the communities do not provide a safe haven for those who are out to disrupt peace, there will be no place for any criminals to hide. Our brothers that have turned renegades should also be persuaded to embrace peace and end the killings of innocent people.
The security officials deployed in the three states ought to understand that democracy is still in place in Nigeria as a whole and even though a state of emergency has been declared in those states, we are still a democracy and overzealousness of any kind should by no means be exercised or tolerated. The authorities themselves cannot use lawlessness to fight lawlessness because violence begets and encourages more violence.
One prays that we will soon see an end to the violence and hopes that the government, in enacting this state of emergency can tackle the mayhem in the troubled areas in the most responsible manner and be committed to placing every resource at their disposal towards winning this war in a way that is in the best interest of the collective.
The current rate of violence dictated for more to be done and stronger action to be employed. The situation, especially in Borno State, could not have been expected to continue the way it was going without a response commensurate with the wanton acts of violence and lawlessness; it is a response that is necessary to halt the current spike in the hostile activity of insurgents in the shortest possible time. Desperate acts require desperate measures. So, even though the method is not ideal under our democracy, I can appreciate the current declaration of government to be more than a panic response. I do not see it through the lens of opposition, creed or tribe; I see it simply as a “state of emergency to slate the insurgency.”