THE POLITICS OF STATE OF EMERGENCY: An agitated President and a nation at war
He has become angry, very angry, lately. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, President and Commander-in-Chief of Nigeria, has not been sleeping pretty because of that.
Also, he has become constantly agitated. Looking mostly forlorn, Jonathan is aging fast. Therefore, at a meeting with the top apparatchik of the security services, it was an enraged Jonathan who asked his security chiefs to explain how the country descended to the abyss that it has found itself.
According to a source at the meeting of the National Security Council, NSC, the President expressed anger at the impunity with which “charlatans” have challenged the authority of the state.
“ The President told the service chiefs that the time has come for the country to stamp its seal of authority and rein in the deterioration of the country. It was a clear order and the import on the service chiefs was very manifest; and they knew that they must do something drastic”, the source said.
So when the NSC met again the second day after the President cut short his visit to South Africa and returned home, the skeleton of the probable actions to be taken by the security services was already on the table. There were suggestions that in order to, at least, reduce the capacity of the insurgents operating in the North East, there was the urgent need to deploy the full weight of the nation’s security services to confront them. Sunday Vanguard source said the Chief of the Defence Staff told the President that “there must not only be a show of force but also a willingness to respond firmly and resolutely to the challenge.
The source went on: “The Defence Chief’s proposal was that while the army would be deployed in full force in the three states now under emergency rule viz: Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, airforce helicopter gunships should also be deployed to give air support not only to the army on ground but also to stop the insurgents from escaping through the porous borders with Chad, Niger and Cameroun. Since Nigeria already had a military cooperation with the three countries, it was decided that the governments of Chad, Niger and Cameroun should be put on notice through appropriate diplomatic channels in order to ensure their full cooperation and participation in the planned military operations”.
According to another source, the state of emergency declaration would have been announced on Monday, but “the Federal Government needed to consult both locally and with the three other countries that share borders Nigeria in the north eastern flank to get their support and full cooperation.” After getting the support of the countries, the President then embarked on engaging local political leaders including the leadership of the National Assembly to inform them of the impending decision of government. “There was the need for the President to carry along all stakeholders so that it would not be seen as a witch-hunt,” the source added.
Sunday Vanguard investigations revealed that the initial plan by some security officials was for the state of emergency to be extended to Bauchi, Benue and Nassarawa States. In the case of Nassarawa and Benue States, proponents of the emergency rule argued that since there had been long-standing violent conflicts between Fulani herdsmen and local farmers as in Benue, or like the case of Nassarawa, which had been embroiled in a war of attrition amongst its various ethnic groups for a while, the state of emergency would provide security agents an opportunity to flush out the armed bandits that have continued to hold the local residents hostage.
Though ethnic clashes in Nassarawa have been going on for over a year, the crises have been under reported in the media and the President, who was said to have been inundated with security reports in the area, wanted to use the opportunity provided by the murder of security agents in Lafia to rid the area of small arms and bring the perpetrators of the heinous act to justice. In the case of Bauchi, it was argued that once the military began to squeeze the Boko Haram insurgents in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa and the international border with the three neighbouring countries are effectively closed to them, they would naturally gravitate towards Bauchi and try to establish new frontiers there.
But the proposal to extend the state of emergency to Nassarawa, Benue and Bauchi was later discountenanced as several factors were said to have weighed against them. From the security point of view, it was argued that for a country that has already overstretched its armed forces in carrying out internal security duties, extending the frontiers of the deployment in three more states, especially with the large number that was being envisaged, would send a wrong signal about the ability of government to maintain peace within its territory.
Secondly, since some of the states being envisaged to come under state of emergency are controlled by opposition parties, the argument at the meeting, Sunday Vanguard gathered, was that the opposition parties would read political connotation to government’s action thereby affecting the intention of government. The combination of the larger security and political implications was largely responsible for the reduction of the declaration of state of emergency to only three states.
In order to win the support of the local political leaders and ensure their full cooperation with the security chiefs in the execution of their mandate while the state of emergency lasts, the NSC decided that the governors of the affected states as well as other elected officials should be left to continue in office as a confidence building measure and to send a message that the emergency rule was not targeted at them but at dealing with the worsening security situation in their areas.
To convince the governors of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa of his sincerity, the President summoned them to the Presidential Villa to inform them of the impending decision of the Federal Government and to reassure them that it was not targeted at them. Although the governors were said to have been unhappy with the turn of events, the seriousness of the threat posed by the insurgents made them reluctantly accept their fate.
For Jonathan, his speech announcing the declaration of state of emergency was one of his strongly worded since he became President. While reiterating the resolve of the Federal Government to deal with the insurgency, he said,“We have a duty to stand firm against those who threaten the sovereign integrity of the Nigerian state. Our will is strong, because our faith lies in the indivisibility of Nigeria.
“ Following recent developments in the affected states, it has become necessary for Government to take extraordinary measures to restore normalcy. After wide consultations, and in exercise of the powers conferred on me by the provisions of Section 305, sub-section 1 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended, I hereby declare a State of Emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states.
“Accordingly, the Chief of Defence Staff has been directed to immediately deploy more troops to these states for more effective internal security operations. The troops and other security agencies involved in these operations have orders to take all necessary action, within the ambit of their rules of engagement, to put an end to the impunity of insurgents and terrorists.
“This will include the authority to arrest and detain suspects, the taking of possession and control of any building or structure used for terrorist purposes, the lock-down of any area of terrorist operation, the conduct of searches, and the apprehension of persons in illegal possession of weapons.
“I want to reassure you all that those who are directly or indirectly encouraging any form of rebellion against the Nigerian state, and their collaborators; those insurgents and terrorists who take delight in killing our security operatives, whoever they may be, wherever they may go, we will hunt them down, we will fish them out, and we will bring them to justice. No matter what it takes, we will win this war against terror”.
The swift deployment of the full force of the military capability to the affected states and the preponderant support the action of the President has received is, perhaps, an indication that the time has come for the security forces and, indeed, all Nigerians are agreed that the time of treating the insurgency of Boko Haram and other terrorist groups with kid gloves is gone.
After weeks of anxiety and suspense, the Federal Government, on Tuesday, finally declared state of emergency in the three states where a blistering rage of terrorist activities has not only led to the wanton loss of lives but has also, in a most profound way, threatened the territorial integrity of Nigeria as the Boko Haram insurgents and their associates had literally taken over some parts of the states, burnt down public buildings and hoisted their flag.
They were also said to have established a quasi-authority in their areas of operation by taxing the locals there to prosecute their brutal war against the Nigerian state.
The declaration of a state of emergency in the three states was not the first time government would wield the big stick to rein in security challenge in the country. During the tenure of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, government declared emergency rule in Plateau State when Christian militias attacked Muslims in the predominantly Christian state which led to a reprisal attack on Christians in the predominantly Muslim northern state of Kano, a natural flashpoint of religious bigotry in the country.
Before the latest declaration of the state of emergency, there were tell-tale signs that the burgeoning security challenge in Borno and Yobe needed an extra ordinary measure to restore normalcy to the states. Since 2009 when the activities of the Boko Haram attracted national and international attention following the crackdown on the Islamist group and the eventual murder in custody of its charismatic leader, Yusuf Mohammed, by the police, the scope and ferocity of the attacks by the group, which publicly announced its affiliation with the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, have been on the upswing. Government responded with increased military presence in the epicenters of the attacks, prompting accusations in some circles of high-handedness on the part of the security services.
But what appeared to have set the ground for the latest action of government was the bloody attack by members of the sect on government buildings, security services and their barracks which led to huge casualty on the part of the attackers, security agents and civilians. In April, a fierce attack by Boko Haram, in Bama, in Borno State, led to the death of over one hundred and eighty five people and the destruction of a large swathe of the houses in the fishing settlement.
Though the security services and the sect continued to trade blames on who was responsible for the attack and arson that followed, the large civilian casualty and large scale destruction that ensued sparked national and international outrage leading to the call by the government of the United States of America to call for an independent investigation into the incident. President Goodluck Jonathan ordered an immediate investigation into the incident and also gave his nod to the planned independent investigation by the National Human Rights Commission to get to the root of the attack.
While the outrage that greeted the Baga attack was yet to abate, the Boko Haram, in a daring raid, attacked the symbols of government authority in Bama, another town in Borno. In this attack, said to have been carried out by over 200 armed members, military barracks, police stations, prison facilities, government buildings and offices were targeted in a coordinated assault that led to the death of more than 55 people.
The gunmen were said to have killed 22 police officers, 14 prison officials, two soldiers and four civilians, while 13 of the sect’s members died in the clash with the Joint Military Task Force members. The suspected terrorists were also said to have freed 105 prison inmates during the attack which lasted several hours. Since the beginning of the bloody insurgency in the North, it was the first time that members of the security services, especially the police, would die in such a large number in one fell swoop. The leadership of the security services was outraged by the audacity of the insurgents and needed to reassure the nation that it still had the capacity to carry out its constitutional responsibility of protecting lives and property.
What was to follow in the orgy of attacks on members of the security services was beyond the widest imagination of even those who are most pessimistic on the capacity of criminals to carry out crimes. In Nassarawa State, a group of miscreants, alleged to be members of a cult, laid an ambush for a combined team of the police, the State Security Service and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps that was on a mission to arrest a suspect in the attack on some places in the state, allegedly dispossessed them of their guns and massacred about 80 security officials. It was one action that even, at the height of Nigeria’s civil war, never happened.
The national outrage that greeted the despicable act of the hoodlums found expression in the action of the president that followed. Jonathan, who was on a state visit to South Africa and was billed to proceed to Namibia for another visit, had to cut short the trip and rushed back home to personally supervise the reaction of the nation’s outraged security services to the brazen challenge to the authority of the Nigerian government.