The Sense (And Nonsense) In Jonathan’s State Of Emergency Declaration, By Zainab Suleiman Okino

Mrs. Zainab Suleiman OkinoBy the time President Goodluck Jonathan made his nationwide broadcast yesterday, it was clear to him, I think, that declaring a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, the way Nigerians know it, to rid the states of terrorist attacks, would attract a barrage of condemnations. So, he soft-pedaled and allowed constitutional authorities to continue to function. No matter how good intentioned, the military-style state of emergency (which supplants constitutional authority with martial rule) would have been misinterpreted as a ploy to capture militarily, states that the PDP could not overrun electorally in 2011 and for Borno and Yobe since 1999. First, it began with the presidency’s indiscretion of viewing the worsening security situation in the North-east in isolation of a national menace that it is. Therefore, ‘their’ and not ‘our’ problem approach did not work either. Now, the government appears overwhelmed by their inability to crack the debacle. And the president lacks the courage to fire his service chiefs for failing in their primary responsibility of securing the country. Perhaps, it was in that context that they felt that the hammer should rather fall on the governments of these states, albeit with caution. When news broke last weekend about the impending presidential solution in the form of emergency rule, it quickly set the polity on fire. Unfortunately for the government, its spokespersons, in their attempt to make a wrong move look good, they further bungled and complicated the issue and portrayed their principal as culpable. Between the Police Affairs Minister, Navy Captain Caleb Olubolade, who said calls for a state of emergency are a legitimate demand, and the President’s spokesperson, Reuben Abati, who said the federal government is ‘studying the situation (emergency rule option ) and would take a decision in the overall interest of the country’ is an affirmative declaration of support for the idea. So, whose idea was it in the first place—the people Olubolade said called (or are calling) for a state of emergency? Why did the president change the tone of the declaration to a mild one? Was he prevailed upon? Is it because of his democratic antecedents vis-a-vis the populace’s military hangover? How effective is emergency rule in curbing recurring and deep-rooted conflicts like Boko Haram’s and the likes? Emergency rule, Obasanjo’s type that is, has never achieved lasting peace. It’s an aberration; it is buck-passing and perhaps, it is punishment for opposition’s recalcitrance as against what should have been a collective sin, and guilt too. It is failure of leadership especially at the national level.  For example, the federal government is in control of the army, police and even the prison that was attacked in Bama. JTF takes orders from Abuja, while the states in question in practical terms fund its operations in spite of the large chunk of money, about 25 percent voted for security in the country’s budget this year. In most of the cases of attacks, security report vindicated the Borno and Yobe state governments and indicted the federal government for not taking proactive measures to avert them, yet the president could not sack any of his security chiefs, for infraction. Although the president mentioned, in his broadcast  that the Bayelsa case where policemen were murdered in cold blood, Nassarawa and Benue states, he did not say how he would deal with the situations in these states. Other atrocious and audacious assaults take place everyday and everywhere in the country. The South-east has almost become a no-go area and ungovernable because of kidnap cases, yet the president did not say how those would be tackled. Is it for the obvious reason that his staunchest supporters abound there. Despite the seeming skepticism and doubts about its workability, it is good at all that the president now views the Borno/Yobe violence as a national problem that must be confronted headlong. Again, the question is how different will this new thinking be? It is pertinent to ask this question because to the average Borno and Yobe person, the JTF which has been in operation for two years is a symbol of  the federal government? When General Shuwa was killed, it was brazenly done in front of the JTF troops. Does this pronouncement mean more troubles for these people? How many more innocent lives will be lost in crushing the insurgency? Again why did it take President Jonathan so long to take this proactive measure, assuming it is the right thing to do On their part, the governors of Borno and Yobe did try to tackle the menace within the limited powers they wield. Nobody can deny Governor Kashim Shettima’s compassion and how he has identified with victims of all forms of violence—JTF or Boko Haram’s. In the face of confusion, uncertainty and near war-situation, the governor continues to preach peace and reconciliation. On several occasions, at scenes of violence and at funerals, he has betrayed his emotions. Some of his cabinet members have been victims of the violence.  Last week, he adopted three children of slain policemen. So, he has been a pillar of support for his people and has remained consistent at that. Ditto for Governor Gaidam. With this, the president has realised that flaunting his grits and speaking carelessly would do no one any good. It is time to act right. It is time to show sincerity, transparency and genuine commitment to the course of peace. There is also another question of what will happen to the Amnesty Committee? How relevant can it remain in the face of the new realities? How can the committee members persuade the sect members to come out of their shells when henceforth, they will be hounded and haunted? Not up to two weeks after the committee was inaugurated, the Baga massacre of innocent civilians took place, to retaliate for the life of one soldier that was allegedly killed by Boko Haram. Then, people began to question the intention of the amnesty programme, and whether it was truly established as a panacea for peace or as a knee-jerk response that is not meant to work. These questions about the amnesty programme are relevant today more than ever before. I do hope this will not be like giving with one hand and taking away with another hand. The criticisms, condemnations and potshots from well-meaning commentators, local and international organisations, and countries of the world, which followed the Baga killings, should be a pointer to the fact that people do not welcome Boko Haram doctrines as much as they despise the authorities’ high-handedness in checkmating the situation. Good enough that the president did not allow vested interests to rail-road him into taking an unwise decision of imposing a military style emergency rule. It would have added to his ‘sins’ in the eyes of the opposition that he is intolerant. Let us hope good reason will continue to prevail.

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